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Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

On the border with Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo is the beautiful chain of majestic volcano ranges that rises to a maximum altitude of 4,507m/14,787ft. The few visitors who make it to these slopes and forests are rewarded by the rare encounters of golden monkeys and over 80 mountain gorillas. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was elevated from just a National reserve to a full National Park status in 1991 to protect its rare species, often in conflict with the neighbouring farming communities.

 The 34 square Kilometres Mgahinga National Park derives its name from a Kinyarwanda word, “Gahinga”, which means small lava rocks visible everywhere around the area that borders the park.

The park is covered by Montane-woodland, Bamboo and montane-Forest, home to a large population of the only golden monkeys found in Uganda. Furthermore, there is a gorilla family in Mgahinga called Nyakagezi, which is sometimes joined by another from Rwanda known as the Hirwa family. It is believed that Mgahinga gorilla National Park has valuable biological importance because, in the middle of climate changes of the Pleistocene ice ages, Virunga mountains have acted as a sanctuary for mountain plants and wildlife species that move up or even down the slopes as the globe gets warmer.

Gorilla Families in DR Congo

The park is covered by Montane-woodland, Bamboo and montane-Forest, home to a large population of the only golden monkeys found in Uganda. Furthermore, there is a gorilla family in Mgahinga called Nyakagezi, which is sometimes joined by another from Rwanda known as the Hirwa family. It is believed that Mgahinga National Park has valuable biological importance because, in the middle of climate changes of the Pleistocene ice ages, Virunga mountains have acted as a sanctuary for mountain plants and wildlife species that move up or even down the slopes as the globe gets warmer.

The park is home to Mountains, forests and swamps that are important water catchment areas with several small rivers and streams from the National park. Rivers like Ntebeko, Kabaranyuma and Nyabirerema are vital to the local indigenous Bafumbira, Batwa and Bakiga people since they supply the much-needed and hard-to-get water in the region.

What makes Mgahinga so special to us is that this park is so beautiful and diverse; it has it all from woodland, tropical forests, swamps, Bamboo, and semi-Alpine vegetation. Some of the cool features in the park include Mount Gahinga, Mount Muhavura and Mount Sabyinyo, which are part of the wider Virunga Ranges. Also, include Mount Bisoke and Karisimbi on the Rwanda side and the ever-active Nyiragongo Volcano on Congo.

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Our top safaris to Mgahinga

4 Days Gorillas and Golden Monkey

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Things To Do In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

We love Mgahinga Gorilla National Park because there are few tourists here; you will have the park for yourself whether you come for gorilla trekking, Nature hikes, Mountain climbing, Golden monkey trekking, bird watching, Batwa experiences etc. You will likely not have to book most of the activities apart from Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga.

Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mountain gorilla trekking in Mgahinga is one activity that brings people here. It starts at 8:00 am every morning. The trek lasts from 1 hour to 7 hours, depending on the gorillas’ movements. Once you meet the gorillas, you can spend at least an hour observing them and taking photos. Gorilla trekking is a truly hambling activity that you surely won’t forget easily.

There is one habituated gorilla family here known as Nyakagezi, which has 8 members that include a newborn baby Rukundo, Nvuyekure, Nshuti, Mutagamba, Bugingo, Mark and Mathew, and it is being led by an alpha male silverback called Bugingo.  Gorillas in Mgahinga are known to cross to the Rwanda side of the border, and others cross from Rwanda to Uganda.

In 2019, A gorilla family from Rwanda called Hirwa crossed to Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park led by the male silverback Munyinya. The Hirwa Gorilla Family was looking for abundant fruits and fresh leaves on the side of Uganda. Mgahinga has more fruits, yet it has few gorillas that live here. Just like humans look for greener pastures, the Hirwa gorilla family was also looking for ways to better themselves, thus crossing to Uganda.

Suppose mountain gorillas have moved from Uganda to Rwanda when you book the gorilla permits. In that case, the Uganda Wildlife Authority will refund the money paid by visitors or give them a chance to trek Gorillas in the nearby Bwindi Forest National Park.

The best time to trek mountain gorillas in Mgahinga National Park is during the dry months of June to August and December to January. During this period, the trails are not muddy, making it easy to hike, and the gorillas tend to be not far during the dry season. Generally speaking, the mountains will be easier to navigate in the dry season than in the rainy season.

Golden Monkey trekking

Mgahinga National Park is the only park in Uganda where one can trek the golden monkeys. Golden monkeys are found in Bamboo zones of the Virunga Volcanoes. They are curious and playful monkeys with bright orange-golden hair. Golden monkey trekking usually starts at 6:30 am because this is usually when they are active in the bamboo forests in search of food bamboo shoots.

Golden monkey trekking can also be challenging but not as hard because you will be moving at least above 2,500 meters. Golden monkey trekking in Mgahinga National Park costs $60 per person, while Golden monkey Habituation costs $100 per person. Habituation involves accompanying researchers and vets who habituate these monkeys to human presence for tourism and conservation purposes.

Lwiro Primate Research Centre
Garama Caves in Mgahinga National Park

Mountain Climbing

 A visit in Mgahinga is not complete without hiking! Infact, those that are interested in mountaineering in Uganda often end up here. Some of the cool mountains in the park includes the Mount Gahinga (3,474 meters), Mount Muhavura (4,127 metres) and Mount Sabyinyo (3,669 meters). All these mountains are also that part of the wider Virunga Ranges that also included Mount Bisoke and Karisimbi in Rwanda side and the ever-active Nyiragongo Volcano in Congo.

Most visitors choose to hike Mount Sabyinyo because it is easier and offer an opportunity to stand between Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo and the same time at an altitude of 3669 above sea level. Mount Muhavura offers the hardest trek here that start from 7:30 am and last for about 9 hours depending on your speed. Those wanting to do these treks are strongly warned about high altitude sickness following an ascent of 1,793m.

However, experience hiker might find these hikes okay and easy but those who are unexperienced must be prepared both mentally and physically. The price of hiking these mountains start from 80$ per person for the day. Some visitors might find it hard to come back at the same day and end up spending the night on the top which might increase the fees

Bird Watching in Mgahinga National Park

Some of the birds to watch here includes Stone Chat, Ibis, Pin-tailed Whydah, Regal Sunbird, Grey-capped Warbler, Firefinch, Rwenzori Turaco, Blue-headed Coucal, Black Kite, Kivu-ground Thrush, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Wax Bills, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, White-naped Raven, Dusky Turtle Dove,  White-naped Raven, Malachite Sunbird, Mountain masked apalis,  Handsome Francolin, and many more some of which are rift valley endemics. You might also be interested in birding in Rwanda.

Those intending to come for birdwatching in Mgahinga are advised to come during the months of April to May and between October to November

The Batwa cultural trail

Nature Walks and Cultural Encounters

Nature and village walks are done around the edges of the volcanic mountains. The hikers do this activity around wild vegetation, bamboo forests, and the Rugezi swamp and Garama caves. It is through this opportunity that they are able to have beautiful scenic views of terraced areas, surrounding lakes such as Lake Mutanda, and also be able to see forest birds in the area.

 Mgahinga National park was once home to the indigenous Batwa tribe, where they hunted, graze, and do all their other activities in the forests. So while visitors are in Mgahinga they can have a visit to the Batwa villages outside the park. Here, they can see how they live, dress, eat, dance among others. It’s a culture like no other

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When is the best time to visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga is best visited during the long dry season, which starts in June and ends in August, which is the best time to visit. There is a short dry season in Mgahinga Park that occurs between January and February, and it is again a very good time of year to travel in Mgahinga Park during this time. Guests from North America and Europe prefer the dry season when they visit the park. It is the perfect time to introduce children over 15 years to the wonders of nature during those seasons. You are more likely to encounter fewer bugs during this time of year, and this reduces the risk of malaria during this time of year. On gorilla tracking excursions, you might find it easier to follow forest trails because the vegetation is sparse. In the dry season, Uganda sees an increase in tourist arrivals.

8 Days Gorillas Chimpanzees and Wild-life

Key Takeaways

Mgahinga is best visited during the long dry season, which starts in June and lasts through July and August. During the wet season, there are fewer tourists, lush greenery, excellent bird watching, and discounted rates on rooms. Viewing mountain gorillas is possible all year round, though during the wet season they tend to remain on the lower slopes

There is an increase in visitor arrivals during the dry season since it coincides with the summer months in the northern hemisphere, when schools are closed for the summer. Temperatures during the day range from 22 C (72 F) to 24 C (75 F) while the lowest temperatures during the night are between 10 C (50 F) and 12 C (54 F).

How to get to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

There are two ways to get to Mgahinga gorilla National Park, by air and by road either from Entebbe airport in Uganda or from Kigali Rwanda.

Getting to Mgahinga National Park from Kampala or Entebbe By Road

If travelling from Kampala the capital of Uganda to Kisoro then by small car to the park gate, the journey South Western is 509 km and it takes about 9 hours. The rough part of the journey is from Kisoro town to the park get. You will need to rent a strong 4×4 for this rough part.  The road is tarmac and pretty scenic passing the Equator crossing line, busy markets, farms and quite rural areas.

Getting to Mgahinga National Park from Kigali By Road.

This is a short option for those having limited time and travelling on a budget. You can get a bus from Kigali the Capital of Rwanda to Cyanika boarder with Uganda. The drive time is about 4 hours, what is quite interesting here is that this Gorilla permits here cost 700$ as compared to the other side of the boarder in Rwanda where permits cost 1500$. Is it better to trek gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda?

By Air

The park can be reached using local scheduled flights departing from Entebbe daily with 1 ½ hours flight time.

Accommodation in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

There are many lodging options for visitors coming to Mgahinga National park, these range from budget options, Midrange to Luxury lodges. Kisoro town that is near the park is also having many budget options but for those looking at staying next to the park the options for luxury are limited with only one Gahinga lodge as your only option. Since most activities carried out in the park start in the morning around 8:00 am, for that very reason, we advise you to book lodges and campsites that are near the park. Below are some of the hotels, lodges and campsites for those coming to visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

Mount Gahinga Lodge

Mount Gahinga lodge is a luxury option located just near the park gate in beautiful and cosy setting with beautiful views of the Virunga ranges. The lodge was build by Praveen Moman and opened its doors in 2002. This lodge is a perfect base for gorilla trekking and Mountain climbing.

Mount Gahinga lodge design is inspired by traditional Bakiga people. The lounge, dining room, and gardens have been remodeled, and two new deluxe bandas have been launched. The beautiful hand-built bandas reflect the magic of the aesthetic traditions of the Bufimbira people. There is a luxury shower room, fireplace, and private porch in each banda

Chameleon Hill Lodge

Situtated at the edges of Lake Mutanda, each room at chameleon hill has its own unique charm and character, with its own color scheme and private garden. They all share stunning views of the lake. In the en-suite bathroom you will find the finest showers in Uganda, as well as a panoramic window from which you can enjoy the view of the lake and volcanoes.

The lodge offers early morning tea or coffee brought to your room so you can take in the views sitting on your spacious veranda. This is before heading out for breakfast, gorilla tracking or any of our other activities.

Lake Mutanda Resort

Located on Lake Mutanda’s peninsula in the shadow of the Virunga Mountains.
The resort offers comfortable accommodation combined with the most picturesque views on planet earth thanks to the endless Virunga mountains. The lodge is a great base for those coming to do gorilla trekking, chilling on the lake and those who wish to come for birdwatching

Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp

In 1994, families that had been displaced by the demarcation of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (MGNP) established Ammajambere Iwacu Community Camp (AICC). The AICC was created to provide local families that lost farmland during the creation of MGNP with an alternative revenue source – tourism.

Initially, the camp operated with minimal operations, but thanks to friends in Sweden and a grant from USAID Peace Corps, the community constructed bandas to provide tourists with accommodation. As a result of investing in a community tourism campsite, the park management would strengthen its relationship with the local community, ultimately contributing to mountain gorilla conservation.

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