The smallest of Uganda’s national parks (34 sq-km), Mgahinga Gorilla National Park sits high in the clouds, at an altitude of between 2,272m and 4,127m. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is Afromontane tropical rainforest, with a montane forest belt, a bamboo forest zone and an alpine zone.
For a park of its size, it really has got more than enough to offer – from Gorilla tracking/trekking, golden monkey tracking, volcano climbing/hiking, birding the Albertine endemics and meeting the Batwa pygmies.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is part of the Virunga ecosystem and so it protects the Ugandan slopes of the Virunga mountains, a range of free-standing volcanoes that rise to a maximum of 4,507 metres on the border with Rwanda and the DR Congo.
The park’s only habituated gorilla family/group Nyakagezi is makes Mgahinga the alternative destination to Bwindi for mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda.
For visitors, there is more on offer than just gorillas. Other mammals though rarely seen because of the dense forest include elephants, forest buffaloes, bush pigs to mention but a few.
Given the park’s varied habitats, birdlife is prolific with more than 180 species of birds recorded.
In terms of weather and climate, given that Mgahinga is found high in the clouds, it rains all the time and the near constant threat of rain means Mgahinga does not have a dry season as such.
Like Bwindi, precipitation eases between June-August and December and January. However, Gorillas can be tracked all-year-round.
Getting to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Visitors can get to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park either by road (to see more of the country) or by Air as there are two scheduled daily flights into Kisoro town from Entebbe.
By Road – Mgahinga can be reached from Kampala via Mbarara and Kabale towns (10hrs) with an overnight stay in Kisoro town. It is from Kisoro town that most visitors stay overnight and then make the short drive to the park’s HQ.
A daily bus service leaves Kampala for Kisoro via Mbarara and Kabale. A matatu (public minibus), a hired car or boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) can be taken from Kisoro to the park’s gate.
By Air – Travelers can fly from Entebbe or Kampala (Kajjansi airfield) to Kisoro airstrip. From Kisoro, they can then make the road transfer to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park – a 1-hour drive.
Accommodation in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
There are not too many accommodation options inside the small park’s boundaries except for the upmarket Gahinga Lodge. Most of the visitors who come to Mgahinga can stay either in Kisoro or the nearby lodges in the Nkuringo and Rushaga sectors of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Things to do and see in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the alternative to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park when it comes to gorilla tracking. The small park has a single habituated gorilla family called Nyakagezi.
There are more than 70 gorillas on the Ugandan side of the Virunga volcanoes and 9 of them make up the Nyakagezi family/group. It is this family that visitors to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park get to track/trek.
Again, to track the Nyakagezi family, visitors have to buy and secure their gorilla permits in advance either by booking directly at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) headquarters or you can talk to one of our safari consultants to help you book your permits. Permits can be paid for up to two years in advance.
Only 8 visitors are allowed to track/trek to see this lone habituated group in Mgahinga. Participants must be aged 15 years and above, and they will be accompanied by UWA guides and rangers while with the gorillas.
Tracking the gorillas can last from a few hours to a whole day, depending on how far the group has moved since it was observed nestling up the previous evening.
Golden Monkey tracking/trekking
As a primate lover, if you have made it to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and have tracked the gorillas, we recommend that you add an extra day to track the Golden Monkeys and literally shoot two birds with one stone. Golden monkey trekking begins at 8.00am. Once the orientation is finished, visitors head into the forest along what is referred to as the Gahinga Trail. When you get into the presence of the Golden Monkeys you will know it – the forest comes alive with Golden monkeys everywhere. You are in their presence for 1 hour. If you wanted to spend longer with them, you can choose the Golden Monkey Habituation experience where you are in their presence for four hours, alongside researchers and trackers. You will enjoy your time with the Golden Monkeys of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Usually 1-hour is over and you come back to the starting point. The endangered Golden Monkey is endemic to the Albertine rift and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers a rare chance to track them high in the dense bamboo forests on Gahinga trail.
Birding in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers visitors an opportunity to see a good number of the Albertine rift endemics especially if you take the gorge trail. 180 bird species have been recorded here. Some of the birds you will see include; the Dusky Turtle Dove, Cape Robin-chat, Brown-crowned Tchagra Rwenzori Batis, Shelly’s Dusky Crimsonwing, Olive Pigeon, Western Green Tinker bird, Malachite Sunbird, Bronze Sunbird, Black-headed Waxbill and Streaky Seedeater. Others are Handsome Francolin, Kivu Ground Thrush, Cinnamon Bracken Warlber, White Starred Robin, Cape Robin, Malachite and Scarlet-tufted Sunbirds, Striped-breasted Tit and a lot more.
When you visit this part of Uganda, three volcanoes dominate the horizon in the distance and your eyes cannot miss them. They are the Virunga Mountains/Ranges – Gahinga, Sabyinyo and Muhavura – found in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mount Muhavura is the highest of the three and climbers/hikers can see Sabyinyo and Gahinga from its peak.
Mount Sabyinyo is a gateway to neighbouring Rwanda and the DR Congo while in Uganda. At its peak, visitors are geographically standing in Rwanda, Uganda and the DR Congo at the same time.
All three of these Virunga ranges can be climbed in a day each up to their peaks as long as you are in good physical shape.
Meeting Batwa Pygmies
When Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was set aside for the purpose of being a national park to protect the endangered mountain gorillas, the Batwa people or African pygmies shared the forest with the gorillas as hunter-gatherers. To create the park, they were expelled from the park but some of them still live around the park to participate in the tourism industry as porters or guides. The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has created a community tourism project – a Batwa trail experience for them to participate in Uganda’s tourism offering. The Batwa trail experience takes you through their history and transition over time. The Garama Cave, a very sacred piece of Batwa history is a good place to start.