Visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Located in the southwestern part of Uganda in Kisoro district created in 1991 covering an area of 33.9 kilometers squared is Uganda’s smallest national park Mgahinga. The national park is located in the Virunga mountains surrounding Mount Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabinyo bordering volcanoes national park in Rwanda and the southern part of Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mgahinga gorilla national park is approximately 15 km by road from Kisoro and 55 km by road from Kabale City. The national park is home to various primates like the mountain gorillas which are dominant and the golden monkeys.  The other animals of about 76 include elephants, leopards, wild pigs, buffaloes, and forest hogs. Since it is the smallest park in Uganda, it hosts the least number of tourists who mainly come to do gorilla tracking as well as golden monkey tracking and other activities like bird watching, Batwa trails and volcano hiking.

 Mgahinga gorilla national park is one of the few parks blessed with mountain gorillas second to Bwindi Impenetrable national parks and the others found in Rwanda and Congo respectively. The park is also blessed to host the golden monkeys, a unique and rare primate species, making it the only place one is able to trek these primates.

Explore Uganda Safaris

TOP ACTIVITIES TO DO IN MGAHINGA GORILLA NATIONAL PARK

This is the best-known alternative place to Bwindi national park for gorilla trekking tours and experiences. This is the second area harboring gorillas after Bwindi in the whole of Uganda.

Nyakagezi is the only gorilla family found in the park which has 9 members in the leadership of a silverback. This family has 4 silverbacks, 2 adult females, 2 infants and 1 juvenile. These are easy to trek since they are found in the lower areas of the park.

Mgahinga gorilla national park is a famous habitat for golden monkeys. These primates are easily trekked since they live in bamboo forests and in groups of 60 to 80 individuals. The golden monkey trekking experience is usually fun when done in the morning hours which gives you an opportunity to see them in large numbers.

Mgahinga gorilla national park is blessed with a number of eye-catching different bird species. Over 184 bird species are found in this park and can be spotted on a birding safari carried out in the park. These species include alpine swift, olive woodpecker, Ruwenzori turaco, Ruwenzori night jar, moorland cahrt, dusky crimson wing, and blue-headed curacao.

Are you a flora lover? Mgahinga National Park offers 6 different types of vegetation that are good to look at. They include shrubs, bamboo, subalpine, moorland, afro montane among others. This region that the park lies in supports the growth of all these different types of vegetation.

This is the stunning physical feature from which the park gets its name meaning a small pile of stones. This mountain stands at an altitude of about 3,474 meters above sea level lying between Muhabura and Sabinyo mountains. Dominated by bamboo and a swamp or call it a caldera of about 180 meters are all good food for the eyes to see.

There are other animals besides mountain gorillas and golden monkeys also found in the park. These animals include forest elephants, bush pigs, golden cats, forest buffaloes, and South African porcupines.

ATTRACTIONS IN MGAHINGA

This is the major activity carried out in the park since it is second to Bwindi impenetrable national park. Gorilla trekking begins in the morning with a short briefing carried out at the headquarters of the park where tourists are guided on how to walk through the trails, and how to behave once they get to encounter these endangered species. The trekking takes about 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the location of these gorillas since they are fond of moving to different places. 

You will get to encounter other primates along your trek such as birds, and once you get to see the gorillas, you are given a period of one hour to spend with them as you learn how they do their daily activities like feeding, breastfeeding, playing and taking care of their young ones. You can as well take photos of this experience as it creates memories that you wouldn’t get tired of reflecting on.

 Golden monkey trekking that is done in Mgahinga national park is one of a kind because it habits these species in large numbers. This activity starts in the morning starting with a briefing at the park headquarters where tourists are given guidelines on how to behave once they get to see these primates. 

It takes 30 minutes to 3 hours depending on the location of the golden monkeys. This activity is not so difficult and hectic as gorilla trekking since they are usually found in the lower areas of the park. 

Once you get to encounter these primates, you are rewarded with one hour to spend with them giving you a chance to see how they behave jumping from one place to another as you are taking photos of these rare moments.

 Home to over 115 different bird species, Mgahinga national park offers excellent bird-watching moments. The different birding areas are the montane forest, bamboo belt Gahinga and sabinyo. Some of the different bird species include Rwenzori batis, bronze sunbird, alpine chart, red-faced woodland, handsome francolin, and crowned hornbill.

This was a home for the Batwa tribe and the pygmies before it was gazetted as a national park. It all starts with a short prayer giving you a chance to meet the Batwa people, get to learn about their culture and the ancient ways of doing things.

During the trial, the designed tour guide will show you some ways of hunting, fruit gathering, and honey harvesting. You will get a chance to sit down as the elders tell you some interesting stories as you enjoy traditional dances from traditional women.

Mgahinga Gorilla national park has three volcanoes namely Muhabura at 4127 meters, Gahinga at 3474 meters and Sabinyo at 3649 meters. These are easy for hiking every single day. Hiking takes about 7 to 10 hours to reach the tip of the volcanoes.

Most hikers prefer climbing mount sabinyo because it has rugged nature and the fact that one is able to step into Rwanda, DRC Congo and Uganda at the same time makes it an added advantage for the hikers.

Enjoy fresh views of fauna and flora as you walk through the gorge and the muddy trails to Ntebeko Park headquarters. The walk takes about 6 hours and along the way, you will come across different bird species like the endemic Rwenzori turaco.

HOW TO GET TO MGAHINGA

The park is an approximately 9-hour drive from Kampala via Masaka, Mbarara, Kabale, and Kisoro to the park headquarters.

 One can also access the park through public transport but we wouldn’t advise that since you will encounter a lot of difficulties. You can also use a domestic flight from Entebbe or Kajjansi to Kisoro airstrip. 

Aerolink can also organize flights to Mgahinga gorilla national park. These flights from Entebbe can start at 7:00 am and arrive at Kisoro at around 8:20 am.

BEST TIME TO VISIT MGAHINGA

One of the best times to visit Mgahinga is around June to August and December to January because they are regarded as dry months. The trails seem to be easier when it’s dry than when it’s wet. When it’s wet, the trails are usually slippery and it needs a lot of energy and flexibility to encounter them.

In March, May, September and November are the worst seasons because these are rainy seasons and the trails are usually challenging.

SAFARI ACTIVITIES IN UGANDA

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

After reading about the mountain gorillas, meet them physically and watch the silverback protect its family, mothers nurse and youngsters play. Half of the total population of the mountain Gorillas call Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga Gorilla national park home.

Mountain Gorillas are only found in the pearl of Africa, around the vast Virunga chain of mountains which spans through Uganda, Rwanda and the DR Congo. All trekkers must be 15 years and above, with a valid Gorilla trekking permit which can only be used once-the date of the activity.

Gorilla trekking permits are purchased from Uganda wildlife Authority, or through a licensed tour agency and costs 700Usd for foreign non-residents, 250,000ugx for East African residents and 600$ for foreign residents. 

Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda

Chimpanzees trekking is done in Kyambura gorge, Kibale national park, Kalinzu forest and Budongo forest. This is one of the must-do safari activities in Uganda, and thus one of the best for holiday goers. Get to experience the silence of the jungle, know what the forest has, and encounter other forest inhabitants.

The Gorilla trekking experience is done in the morning and afternoon hours, taking about 1-4 hours on foot. It is open for only persons aged 16 years and above in groups of not more than 8 persons. One can combine chimpanzee trekking with other activities like game viewing, boat cruise, hiking, birding and more. At Kibale forest National Park, you will visit Isunga community for the top of world hike and coffee experience.

Game drives and camping safaris

Akagera national park is the only place where game drives are done in Rwanda. The park is located in the eastern part of Rwanda, with a wide range of flora and fauna, cool weather, and classic lodging options.

Game viewing in Akagera National Park is rated as one of the best in the continent, and offers high chances of encountering among others; the African elephants, cape Buffaloes, lions, leopards, Rhinoceros, forest genet, zebras, wild dogs and more. There are birds, plants and more to explore during your stay in the park. Game drive is best in the morning and late evening hours.

Boat cruises

Boat cruise experiences in Murchison falls national park, Lake Victoria, Lake Mburo, Bunyonyi and Kazinga channel are quite unmatched. The best way to explore water, and uncover the aquatic world. Get closer to Nile crocodiles, hippos, kingfisher, water duck, shoebill stock and more, the papyrus swamps, and cool water breeze. This experience takes about 1-3 hours, in either morning or afternoon hours.

Bird watching tours.

Uganda is a host to 10% of total bird species in the world. Birds are found across the country, in the swamps, lake shores, mountains, river shores, and forests. For bird enthusiasts, you get to learn of these birds by name, and character.

Take time to capture numerous photos of the many species notably; Turacos, eagles, Kori bustards, shoe bill stock, cranes, francolins, Albertine owlets, kivu ground thrush, Rwenzori Turacos, regal sunbirds, mountain masked Apalis, Red-billed quale, western nicator eagles, African Jacana, eastern black korhaans, lover birds, guinea fowls and more.

Hiking and Mountaineering activities.

Nature walk and hiking are some of the best safari activities done in your holiday. It is an activity where everything is within your presence, notably; the birds, plants, water and more. It is a much practical way of uncovering Mother Nature and doing physical exercise.

Spend a few nights above the ground, by hiking to the summit of Mount. Rwenzori; one of the tallest mountains in the continent of Africa. Other destinations include; Mountain Elgon which offers a scenic view of the magnificent caldera, coffee plantations and more.

Other activities in Uganda include; City tours, cultural tours, night life, and religious tour.

F.A.Q.

There is no standard price for Uganda, Rwanda or Congo gorilla permit –each country has its rates. In Uganda, the charges vary depending on the visitor category. The foreign non-residents are charged USD 700 to have their gorilla permits booked, USD 600 for foreign residents and Ugandans (East Africa citizens) pay shs. 250,000 per person. To have a gorilla permit secured/booked, you need USD 1500 for Rwanda and this is most ideal for luxury/high-end travelers interested in visiting the endangered mountain gorillas.

When booking a gorilla permit, it is also a good thing to have a destination of your desire in mind. The key places to consider a must-visit on gorilla tour include Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park –these are gorilla trekking destinations for tourists on a tour in Uganda. In Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park is where you can locate habituated mountain gorilla families and crossing the D.R. Congo, you can explore Virunga National Park.

It is a good thing to also understand when best to book your gorilla permits to avoid having issues on actual date of gorilla trekking. Considering our experience, we always recommend our clients to have their permits booked early enough at least 2-4 months. This can save you from last minute stress, especially if you plan to travel during the dry season also considered to be the peak season. The peak months of the year fall around June, July, August to September, and December, January to February.

Gorilla permits are among the relevant documents visitors must have to be allowed to track gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Not any gorilla permit should be presented on actual gorilla trekking adventure but a valid one. Booking gorilla permits is part of making the entire gorilla trip complete and should be done early enough before the actual visit to see mountain gorillas or eastern lowland gorillas.

To have your gorilla permit booked, there is a process one should undergo through and is generally tedious. Considering your tight schedule back home, you may wonder how easier you can have your permit booked in advance to avoid last minute stress.

The easiest way to secure your gorilla permit in Uganda or Rwanda is by dealing with a recognized tour operator/company on the ground. This is where our reservation team comes in. As part of your gorilla safari requirement, our team being on ground will ensure that your permit is booked early enough and everything else that is needed for gorilla trekking is put together.

The beauty about dealing with local safari company such as ours is that we have knowledge on the different gorilla groups and surrounding communities plus various accommodation facilities for your night stay. This is in addition to making the entire gorilla permit booking process easier on behalf of our clients.

There is also an option of booking the permit directly through the reservation team of respective park authorities. But the challenge is that you must undergo through the long process to have your permit booked and this may not favor you depending on your schedule. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is an organ in charge not only for conservation of wildlife in the Pearl of Africa but also sets prices for tourism activities in the parks including gorilla permits. In Rwanda, you can contact Rwanda Tourism Board/Rwanda Development Board to have your permit booked.

The East African tourist visa is a joint visa that permits one to travel to specific countries within East Africa, namely Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda only. A joint tourist visa can be used several times for various purposes as long as it’s not overdue. 

Tourists should therefore find it important to always remember that the tourist visa lasts for only 90 days.  Processing the tourist visa takes a maximum period of two working days. It is also important to note that the tourist visa prohibits employment.

The process of applying for a tourist visa has been made easier since it can be done with the help of a tour operator or by the individual themselves online through the Ministry of Internal Affairs immigration portal. Visitors are required to log in to the portal, go ahead and accept the terms and conditions for the tourist visa, select the Visa / permit type, the subcategory and category, complete the application form and upload the required documents. 

A reference number will be generated and sent to you through your email, submit it and proceed to payment. It’s important to note that the payment can be made using Visa cards.  An approval letter will be sent to your email after the above process.

Report at the immigration office or border post for the biometric capture with all the necessary documents, receipt of payment, approval letter and your passport. Visitors should regard it as important to enter through the home country issuing the visa.

The East African tourist visa costs a fee of $100 only, meaning that it can be obtained by all travelers ranging from the budget to luxurious ones.

  • Persons aged 15 years and above are allowed to trek gorillas.
  • Avoid sneezing in the presence of gorillas.
  • Always stay away from gorillas by observing distance
  • Do not try to feed gorillas
  • Do not chew in the presence of gorillas
  • Do not take photos with flash light on.