Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
At the extreme south western tip of Uganda on the borders with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo lies Uganda’s smallest national park covering 33.7 square kilometers.
The Mgahinga Gorilla National Park established in 1991 is also one of Uganda’s newest national parks. It is an integral part of the Virunga Conservation Area and is contiguous with Parc National Des Volcans in Rwanda and Parc National Des Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Three extinct volcanoes lie within the park: Mount Muhabura, at 4,127 meters; Mount Gahinga at 3,475 meters; and Mount Sanbinyo at 3,645 whose peak lies along Uganda’s border with Rwanda. Mgahinga is afro montane tropical rainforest, and the vegetation is typical of this terrain, with a montane forest belt, a bamboo zone, an ericaceous belt, and an alpine zone. The park is surrounded by the terraced fields of the Batwa and Bafumbira people. The Batwa lived in the forest as hunters and gatherers but have since resorted to farming.
Most of the lower forest in the park has been lost as a result of human pressure over the last five decades. Bamboo and alpine habitat are largely all that remain. The local people benefit from the park with a portion of gorilla permit fees going to local development and conservation.
Kisoro where Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located is 496 kilometers from Kampala, 213 kilometers from Mbarara and 66 kilometers from Kabale.
When to go
As a rainforest the park is always wet even more so during the rainy seasons of April – May and October – November. But as Gorilla permits are hard to come by for only a limited number of people per day, it’s advisable to track the Gorillas when you can. It’s important to note that Gorilla permits are discounted during the months of March-May and September – November with visitors only paying 450 USD as opposed to the 600 USD paid during the peak seasons of June- August and December – February.
Do the Math and compare that with a Rwanda Gorilla Permit that costs 1,500 USD all year round and you will notice that you will be saving a whooping 1,050 USD.
From Mbarara continue towards Kabale on the main tarmac road to the south west through the towns of Kinoni and Ndejja to Ntungamo, the headquarters of Ntungamo district a 66 kilometer drive from Mbrarara. There the main road heads more directly southern through Rubare, Rushenyi, and Bukinda to Kabale, which 86 kilometers past Ntungamo.
Kabale in southwestern Uganda is the unofficial capital of the Kigezi region and is a beautiful mountainous area with steep sided hilly slopes. It s an area crisscrossed by numerous tracks and paths making it a haven for hikers. One of the most beautiful attractive places is Lake Bunyonyi , which is situated over a ridge to the north west of Kabale Large and irregular Lake Bunyonyi features a number of islands and is surrounded by heavily cultivated hillsides.
From Kabale its about 66 Kilometers by road to Kisoro, the road offers spectacular views of the peaks of the Virunga mountain range. If you feel like exploring in Kisoro while waiting for the Gorilla tracking activities, you can visit lakes Mutanda and Muhele a few kilometers north of the town.
Getting to the Gorillas
Before tracking the Mountain Gorillas you have to make an advance payment for which a Gorilla permit shall be issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The Uganda Wildlife Authority will also give you updated information regarding Gorilla Permit availability and current fees. The gorilla viewing situation is constantly changing so we avail you with updated information prior to travelling.
Gorilla Tracking permits cost 600 USD for Foreign Non-Residents and 400 USD for Foreign East African Residents (You qualify to be an East African Resident if you reside in Uganda, Kenya, Rwandaand Tanzania)
On the day you intend to track the Gorillas you have to be at the Park headquarters at Ntebekko Camp at the mountain foothill by 0830. Once there be prepared for some strenuous walking and scrambling through thick undergrowth. You must be in good physical shape. To protect the Gorillas from disease, children under the age of 15 and people who are ill are prohibited from entering the park. Keep in mind that Gorillas are primates and there DNA is closely linked by 97% with that of humans; so they can contract disease from humans like flu that’s why it’s advisable to stay clear when you’re ill. Follow you tour guide’s instructions because these animals are wild and capable of killing people. There are less than 800 mountain gorillas in the world of which almost half live in the Virunga conservation area and the other half in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, about 25 kilometers north of Mgahinga. If you’re taking photographs remember not to use the flash feature on your camera because the Gorillas are dark and their habitat is dark. Carry along a specialized camera or smart phone that won’t necessitate using flash.
Besides Mountain Gorilla Tracking, other activities on offer at the Mgahinga National Park include tracking the Golden Monkey and the park also supports uniquely adapted animals and plants. More than 185 bird species have been recorded in the area.
There are also a number of exciting hiking options to take while at the park which showcase Mgahinga’s dramatic views, lush vegetation and wildlife. Visitors may for instance attempt the full day challenging climbs to the tops of Mount Muhabura and Mount Gahinga, who summits offer great view of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. You’re bound to see lots of unique alpine vegetation and a small volcanic lake hidden away at the top of Mount Muhabura. For safety reasons climbing the nearby Mount Sabinyo is not recommended but you can hike through the beautiful and dramatic Sabinyon Gorge.
Another outing can be arranged at the Garama Cave, where humans once sheltered during the late Iron Age. The cave rumoured to cut through to Rwanda is about two kilometers from Ntebeko Camp. The visit last two to three hours and does not require any special hiking skills.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park also features a 13 kilometer nature trail, providing the opportunity to learn about the ecology and wildlife of this park. During the walk you might see the Golden Monkeys, Duikers and Bushbucks. For trekking to see the gorillas or going on any of the organized hikes, good hiking boots or gumboots (Wellingtons), good rainwear and warm clothing are recommended.