Mgahinga Gorilla National Park gets its name from Gahinga; a local word for the Bafumbira tribe that means a pile of volcanic stones they retrieve from their farms.
It was declared a game reserve by the British administration in 1930, however, farming was allowed in the lower altitudes.
In 1989 specialized studies were initiated, game rangers trained, trees planted and settlers relocated.
It was gazetted as a national park in 1991 and is home to the habituated Nyakagezi mountain gorilla group. This park has other mammals that include black fronted duikers, buffaloes, bush bucks, elephants, forest hogs, the endangered golden monkeys, leopards, spotted hyenas among many. It also a sanctuary to over 79 bird species.
At 13 square miles in size, it is the smallest of the ten national parks in Uganda and is governed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers a stunning view of three extinct volcanic mountains that are part of the Virunga ranges which are in the border region shared by Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The park is of immense cultural importance to the Batwa pygmies who are the indigenous inhabitants of this area. This tribe of hunter-gatherers was the first to live in the forests there, and deeply understand the mountain peaks and slopes; the biological diversity and ecosystems.
Location of the Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in Kisoro district, in the south western part of Uganda. It covers the Ugandan slopes of three of the Virunga volcanoes of Gahinga (that means pile of volcanic land stones), Muhavura (that means guide) and Sabinyo (that means the old man’s teeth)
The distance from Entebbe airport via Mbarara town to the park is approximately 490 kilometers by road. The journey can take 9 to 10 hours depending on driving speed and the duration of the stop overs. The main stop overs on this route are at Mpambire drum makers, the Equator at Kayabwe, Lake Mburo National Park, Igongo Cultural Centre and Lake Bunyonyi.
Air travel from Entebbe to the national park is also possible by scheduled or chartered aircrafts. A scheduled flight at 7:00am from Entebbe airport can get you to Kisoro at 9:30am at a cost of $271.00. From the airport to Ntebeko – the park’s headquarters is about 15 kilometers.
The Best Time to Visit
The national park experiences no major dry seasons but has two wet rainy seasons of February to May and September to November. It is one of the coldest places in the country.
Though you can visit the park all year round, the trail get easier to maneuver during the months June, July and August.
Adventure Tourism Activities
When you set foot at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, be rest assured of having a good time with a variety of activities.
The park has a variety of bird species estimated to be about 79. Bird watching can be carried out through the bamboo forest that is in the gorge between mountains Gahinga and Sabinyo; as well as in the montane forest where you can easily see the Rwenzori Turaco – a beautiful African bird.
This is the premier and most spectacular activity of this park. There is only one family, the Nyakagezi gorilla group that has nine members. Gorilla tracking starts from national park headquarters – Ntebeko – in the morning with the guidance of park rangers. This family stopped its migratory tendencies so it easy to track it down.
The duration of the tracking could be dependent on the location of the mountain gorillas since in most cases they move to search of food.
The fact that this is the only group in the park, only eight permits are issued per day; therefore, booking is very important in order to make it on the tracking list.
In just one day, you can be able to climb to the three summits of the mountains and it’s as thrilling as it is adventurous.
It takes 6 hours, through a bamboo forest to get to the top of the 3,474 meter high Gahinga Mountain; there you will find a 180-meter wide caldera.
Mount Muhavura, which is 4,127 meters high has a crater lake at the top after 8 hours of climbing 12 kilometers of the mountain. At the top you can also see Bwindi forest, Lake Edward, Virunga volcanoes and Mountain Rwenzori peaks.
Mount Sabinyo gives you a unique experience whereby at its summit, you set foot in three countries; the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
Hiking and Nature walks
These are enjoyable and fascinating activities that are carried out around the edges of the mountains through the bamboo forests, wild vegetation and the Rugezi swamp. During the hikes and nature walks, you encounter forest birds, beautiful scenic views of hills with agricultural activity, and the surrounding Lake Mutanda.
Golden monkey tracking
This Park is a natural habitat to the endangered golden monkeys which live in groups and feed on young bamboo leaves, shoots and branches. They enjoy fruits and insects.
The Batwa have stayed, hunted, fed in the forests of Mgahinga. A visit to the Batwa’s homesteads is a unique experience; to observe their cultural values not see anywhere in the world.
Key Facts to have in Mind
Your travel bag should have equipment such as drinking water, packed food, surgical masks, light clothes and a waterproof camera. Surgical masks are used while in the presence of gorillas.
It also necessary to carry a tent and sleeping gear to enjoy a night at the base camp.
There are good accommodation facilities to choose from that include Ikoro Hotel,
Clouds mountain gorilla lodge, Nkuringo safari lodge, Traveler’s nest hotel, Mt. Mgahinga rest camp and Mount Mgahinga lodge among many.
The costs for the activities are as below.
A Gorilla tracking permits is for USD 600 and UgShs 250,000 for members of the East African Community.
For a Gorilla Habituation Experience it is USD 1,500 and UgShs 750,000 for members of the East African Community.
Golden Monkey tracking is for USD 50 and UgShs 20,000 for members of the East African Community.
Golden Monkey Experience is for USD 100 and UgShs 100,000 for members of the East African Community.
The entrance fee are for foreigners is USD 40 for adults and USD 20 for children and that for members of the East African Community, it is UgShs 20,000 for adults and UgShs 5,000 for children.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a key destination I recommend in 2019. It is only place you will find the Golden monkey and the Silver back.