Information about Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in the extreme south-western corner of Uganda on the border of Rwanda, it is the smallest park with an area of 33.7km² but offers a great diversity of Wildlife and cultural encounters of the forest inhabitants the Batwa tribe.
This park is made of three distinct volcanic mountains rising at an altitude of 4,127m above the sea level and it has four unique vegetation zones of open woodland forests like Bamboo forests at 1,800m, tropical montane forest at 3,200m and the moorland Afromontane belt above 3,500m consisting of bare rocks, rare species of plants such as Giant lobelias, groundsels and tree heathers.
This national park sits high at an altitude between 2,227m to 4,127m and as its name – it was created to protect the rare Mountain Gorillas that inhabit its dense forests. It is a Ugandan park of the Virunga Ranges and one of the three Virunga parks that protect the Mountain Gorillas.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was gazetted to protect two rare species of primates that were endangered, the Mountain Gorillas and the rare Golden monkeys. The forest has a great cultural importance attached to the ancient heritage of forest warriors and the Garama caves is an evidence to prove the lifestyle of the Batwa people in modern times.
In addition to the rare species of the mammals, the park is a home to over 76 mammals, 350 species of birds including the Albertine rift endemics as well as various plants of medicinal importance.
Getting to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The only entrance gate Ntebeko, is always open between 07am to 06pm all year around. From Kampala it is 10hr drive like 482km. from Kisoro town the marram road covers 14kms and another route goes along the shores of lake Bunyonyi. Those with scheduled flights depart Entebbe Airport or Kajjansi air field in Kampala and land in Kisosro Airstrip just 1hr flight.
The climate and weather of the park
The best time to visit the park on a Gorilla Safari and volcano Hiking is during dry season from December to February and June to September. Although the forest is ever wet, Trails get dry and easy to hike. In the rainy season Gorilla trekking becomes cheap because the Gorilla permits are discounted.
Being on the elevation between 2,227 and 4,127metres above the sea level, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park provides a cool equatorial climate with a very pleasant and cool weather.
Fauna and Flora
There are 39 mammal residents in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park including the one Habituated Gorilla Family, most popular animals include Golden monkeys, forest elephants, Buffaloes, blue monkeys, spotted hyenas, bush buck, serval cat, stripped jackal, leopards, golden cats, black fronted duiker and giant forest hog.
For the birders, this is a good destination because there are 179 bird species including Albertine Rift and Eastern Congo forest biome species.
The biodiversity is also incredible from the woodlands and montane forests at lower slopes, through the Bamboo belts and Hagenia-hypericum to the afro-alpine rare plants like giant lobelias and groundsels on top.
Things to do in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Gorilla Trekking commences early morning from Ntebeko, the main tourist centre. This has only one Habituated gorilla family – Nyakagezi with baby Gorillas and a 51year old Silverback Gorilla which often moves long distances. For this case the Trekkers hire a porter to assist in carrying bags or give a push along steep climbs since you don’t know when you will locate the Gorillas and return back.
Seeing Gorillas is guaranteed, visitors should be aware of the steep terrain that requires physical fitness and the unpredictable rainfall makes it necessary to carry enough drinking water, packed lunch and rain jackets.
This National park is preferred for Gorilla trekking because of the availability of much vegetation which is food for gorillas and may move less distances as well as the bamboo cover. Experienced Guides and trackers have knowledge about Habituated Gorilla manners.
The park is close to Bwindi forests where 400 Gorillas live, this makes up to half of the World’s Mountain Gorilla population and this makes it easy for tourists to combine both Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for a wider gorilla tracking experience and diverse collection of other activities.
The Best time to see Mountain Gorillas
The best time for gorilla trekking is the dry season from June- October and February because hiking Trails are less slippery and muddy though the activity can be conducted in the wet season.
What to do and don’ts in Gorilla Trekking
Gorilla trekking is one of the top wildlife adventures you can take in Uganda and these are rules and regulations that are strictly followed so that both tourists and mountain Gorillas are protected as well as ensuring smooth running of the gorilla trekking activity;
- Protect the Gorillas – if you are sick and have infectious diseases please don’t go for trekking.
- If you cough or sneeze turn away and cover your nose and mouth to reduce the chances of transmitting bacteria or viruses to the primates.
- Don’t overstay on your Gorilla Trekking, just use one hour.
- Keep your distance like 21 feet from the Gorillas
- Keep the noise levels down, don’t point or use your flash when taking photographs
- Take warm and waterproof gear for the cool mountain conditions in these often wet forests and wear comfortable walking shoes.
- No eating and smoking around the Gorillas
- Wash your hands before taking on a trek
- Don’t litter the trails and the forest
- If a gorilla charges, remain calm do not run away until the Gorilla moves off
- If you need to go to toilet then, ask a guide to dig for you a hole and thereafter cover it well.
These are the dos on Gorilla Trekking;
- Keep yourself covered – long pants, gaiters and socks help keep the bugs (red ants) at bay and gloves will protect you from stinging nettles and thorny branches.
- Get reasonably fit – the trek is usually a physically challenging and tiring mission through rough terrain, so you want to be relatively fit.
- Be equipped – carry enough water, waterproof bags for your camera and insect repellent as well sunscreen and a hat.
- Stay warm and dry – take warm and rainproof clothing with you to cope with the cold conditions up in the mountains.
- Join an organized gorilla trip – book through a tour company to simplify your travels and get the gorilla permits arranged for you beforehand.
- Choose your timing – try to avoid trekking in the rainy season (March to April and October to November) when the going gets tougher.
The majority of Batwa were inhabitants of the rainy forests on which they heavily relied on it as a source of food and medicine for years. They are also excellent hunters and fruit gathers. These people are despised by their neighbours who don’t regard them as people.
More than 80% of Ugandan Batwa are landless because they were forced out of the forest by the Government of Uganda in a bid to conserve them (Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park) and another reason being the home of the Mountain Gorillas which is a big tourism attraction.
This has greatly disrupted their traditional way of life and caused extreme hardship leaving no option for the few but reside along the park edge but the Batwa have good news because of the formation of the United Organisation for the Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU) which is spearheaded efforts to restore their rights. These organisation intents to achieve this through formal and informal education, skills development, agricultural enhancement and advocating for human rights.
The Batwa Trails
The Batwa trails is a tourism project run by United Organisation for the Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU) that runs across the lower slopes of the Muhavura and Gahinga Volcanoes in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, here Guests are guided by the Batwa community members on the forest walks exploring the life experiences. Don’t miss the local entertainment and a variety of locally made crafts available on sale.
Most tourists find it interesting to visit the unique indigenous Batwa trail after Gorilla trekking exercise to discover how the Batwa used to live and survive on row fruits, bush meat, wild honey and their Garama caves just 3km from Ntebeko visitors centre. In this cave, the visitors are allowed to enter inside to have a look at the ancient sitting places, rock carvings that acted like shelter during war.
Experience while on the Batwa Trail
This allows you to experience the interactive ways of the ancient Batwa people who once lived in these forests for over 500,000 years. The only time they are permitted to re-enter their cherished forest is as tour guides on the Batwa Trail, on which visitors will discover the magic of the Batwa’s ancient home while enjoying nature walks and learning about the cultural heritage.
The Trail” is part of a project to restore dignity and hope by keeping the Batwa Culture and Traditions alive to the Batwa People, give employment to those who are in involved in the day-to-day project of the “Batwa Trail” from the dancers to the guides, pay for school fees for their children, books and beyond that buy land for the community.
How is the Batwa Trail conducted
The walk starts out with a Batwa elder dressed in skins telling the story of the Batwa creation and how they became people of the forest. Further down you may stop for a few berries that the hunter used to use for a meal prior to hunting. Learn the value of plants used for medicine such as blood pressure and other medical needs.
The black crust of ants nests used for applying to fungal infections of the skin. You will notice them demonstrating hunting and trapping techniques, starting a fire with stick, gathering honey, the huts that they lived in and more. Most conservationists argue that their lifestyle had a low impact on the forest environment and their surroundings. However, they can no longer stay in the forest! Outside there are celebratory dances and music demonstrated by these Batwa people also known as the pygmies of Uganda. Experiencing the Batwa Trail is commonly done if you are tracking Gorillas in the Nkuringo, Rushaga Area of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Give it a try please
Birding in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
It’s the most fascinating bird watching destinations in Uganda, over 180 bird species including Albertine Rift endemics due to a band of different vegetation zones forming habitants for birds. The park harbours about 39 bird species of the total 88 of the Afro-tropical high lands biome bird species that occur in Uganda.
There are good chances to spot rare and colourful bird species especially if you are looking for some Albertine rift endemics and eastern Congo forest birds. Visitors going for birding only need packed lunch, a field guide book and good binoculars to spot your favourite species.
Birds can also be identified by their calls for the keen birders. You can also take a guided birding tour with a local tour guide. Hire a guide to lead you along the buffalo wall trail or choose from other shorter birding trails.
Birding Trails in Mgahinga National Park
The best bird viewing/watching trails in Mgahinga national park include the Gorge trail between Mount Gahinga and Mount Sabinyo and offers beautiful sighting of the Regal Sunbird, Bronze Sunbird, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Blue-headed Sunbird, Kivu-ground Thrush, Black-headed Waxbill, Dusky turtle Dove, Rwenzori Batis, Cape Robin-chat, Olive Thrush and Streaky Seedeater among others.
The Bamboo trail that lies at 2500 meters and the montane forest at 2660-2700 meters above sea level are popular for the Rwenzori Turaco. Along the level ground of the Uganda-DRC border, you will encounter the Doherty’s Bush-shrike, Chubb’s Cisticola, Banded Prinia and Red-faced Woodland Warbler.
Tourists considering visiting Mgahinga National park for bird watching should book in advance and have to carry binoculars, cameras, wear long sleeved shirts, long trousers, rain jacket and waterproof hiking boots.
The best time for birding is the wet season from Early march to mid-May and September because it’s a bleeding season for the birds and the best time for seeing migratory bird species is from November to April.
Golden Monkey Tracking
Golden monkeys are the endangered species of monkeys that only live in central Africa and Virunga Massifs with the population of about 3,000 to 4,000 individuals in the whole World. In this National Park at least a troop of 40-60 golden monkeys are habituated and visitors hike to higher altitudes in the bamboo zones where they spend rest of their time.
Unlike gorilla trekking, visitors are not required to book for golden monkey tracking in advance. The UWA habituated 42 to 60 of the Golden Monkeys and groups of six visitors led by experienced Guides can closely encounter the rare primates not found anywhere else in Uganda.
Depending on the visitor’s fitness level, experienced Uganda Wildlife Authority Guide helps you to choose and make the most of your time in Hiking, which is a big attraction in Mgahinga National Park which has 3 dormant volcanoes believed to have formed way back 1.8 million years ago and forms part of the Virunga chain of 8 volcanoes.
The tallest volcanic mountain is Muhabura with 4,127 metres above the sea level, with a crater lake measuring 36metres. It is difficult to hike because it takes a full day including steep climbing ladders but on its top you enjoy a spectacular scenic views of all the Virunga chain of 8 volcanoes and the snow-capped mountain of Mountain Rwenzori. The word Muhabura means ‘’Guide’’ by the Batwa and Bafumbira people.
Mt. Sabinyo has a toothed summit a reason why it’s referred to as an old man’s teeth by the locals. Visitors hike past several deep gorges and ravines before standing in a great location where the three countries Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo borders meet.
Mt. Gahinga is 3,473 metres above sea level is the lowest and easy to hike about 6-8-hour loop trail leads to a 180 meters wide swamp that covered up the Crater Lake on top. According to the local legend, Gahinga means a pile of volcanic stones that surround the local farmlands on its lower slopes, hence the name of the park, Mgahinga. Mt. Gahinga is mostly loved not for less strenuous hikes, but for the 2 km stretch of bamboo zone and a trail ladder access to the middle of the beautiful swamp where lucky visitors encounter serval cats hunting black fronted duikers. Golden monkeys and blue monkeys can also be spotted.