Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga is the smallest national park in Uganda, covering an area of 33.7 square kilometers and is positioned on the South-western side of Uganda. It was created/gazzeted into a National Park in 1991 mainly to conserve these critically endangered Giant Apes. Mountains gorillas-scientifically known as Gorilla beringei beringei are sub-specie of the eastern gorillas. The less known but scenic Mgahinga National Park is a haven to about 80 of the mountain gorillas and there is currently only one habituated gorilla group in this Park-The Nyakagezi gorilla group comprised of 10 members including one silverback named “Mark”. This interesting group inhabits the lower slopes of Mount Sabinyo which makes the group easy to track.  This group was once led by Bugingo (estimated to be now 53 years) and is still in the group which is rare because with mountain gorillas, once the reigning silverback is overthrown, he leaves the group and dies in exile, which makes this group worth visiting.

Gorilla trekking takes between 30 minutes and 8 hours depending on how far the group might have moved. The adventure starts by tourists arriving at the Ntebeko visitor Camp at 7am for pre-tracking briefing on the do’s and don’ts of the activity, after which gorilla tracking into the jungles starts at about 8am.

Mgahinga national park is also a home to 3 of the 8 volcanoes that form the Virunga Massif and they include mount Gahinga, Mount Sabinyo and Mount Muhabura.  Imagine such a small area with all these spectacular attractions, why wouldn’t you make it your next African safari destination?

Cost of Gorilla Permits in Mgahinga National Park

Because there is only one habituated group in this Park, only 8 gorilla permits (only 8 people can visit a gorilla group per day). Gorilla permits for the Nyakagezi group cost $600 for the foreign non-residents, $500 for foreign residents and Shs 250,000 for the East African Residents. Just like Bwindi Impenetrable national Park, UWA also offers discounted gorilla permits for gorilla trekking in Mgahinga National Park during the low seasons (April, May and November). Gorilla permits during the low seasons cost $450 for the foreign non-residents, $400 for the foreign residents and Shs 150,000 for the East African Residents.  Gorilla permits for Mgahinga national park are secured/acquired on ground (from the park headquarters at Ntebeko Visitor Center) because sometimes the gorilla group crosses the border to Rwanda and DRC. It is therefore important o first confirm their presence in the Park before permits are sold out.  However, since 2012 they haven’t crossed to visit their relatives in the other countries (Virunga National park and Volcanoes National Park) but are comfortably living in their home range (Mgahinga national Park).

The best time to visit Mgahinga national Park for gorilla trekking is the dry seasons from December to February and June to September because the tracking trails are less slippery and muddy during those months. This doesn’t mean that this Park cannot be visited in the wet seasons in April, May and November, but the trails are always slippery and muddy during these months. The advantage however of tracking gorillas in the wet season is that it is also a low season in Uganda hence you can get the chance to track the creatures when the gorilla permits are discounted.

What to Wear/carry for Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga National Park

To have a comfortable expedition into the jungles of Mgahinga national Park, you have to wear long sleeved shirts and long trousers to protect your arm and legs from stinging nettles or being scratched by grass and tree branches. Also wear water proof hiking boots with enough grip to allow you to hike easily through the jungles when searching for the mountain gorillas, wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your head and eyes respectively form the scotching sunshine. Also carry a rain jacket whether it is a rainy or dry season, carry a sweater for warmth when it rains, do not forget to carry your gorilla permit, a walking stick is also handy for support during hiking, carry drinking water and snacks, carry a backpack for your water, lunch, cameras and binoculars.

Gorilla Trekking Rules/guidelines for Mgahinga National Park

 Only 8 persons are allowed to visit a gorilla group per day, meaning only 8 permits are available for Mgahinga National park per day. This limitation in the number of people is done to avoid straining/stressing the mountain gorillas.

Also, tourists are allowed to spend only “one” hour with the mountain gorillas, though the process of tracking can take up to 6 hours.

Tourists are not allowed to visit or track the mountain gorillas if not above 15 years of age.

Tourists are advised to maintain a distance of 7 meters when with the mountain gorillas to avoid the possibility of spreading any diseases to the animals. Similarly, if you are sick with flue or cough, avoid visiting mountain gorillas to prevent transmitting the diseases to these Vulnerable primates.

Wash your hands before venturing into this activity, and do not touch then when watching them to avoid spreading diseases and because they are wild animals.

Do not eat or drink when with these animals, but instead do it away from them. Practice the principle of Pack it in, pack it out.-avoid throwing rubbish within the Park.

Besides gorilla trekking, tourists who visit this Park can also engage in the golden monkey tracking and habituation experience, birding, the interesting Batwa trail, Volcano climbing and nature walks.

In conclusion, besides Bwindi Impenetrable being known as a gorilla trekking destination, you would miss a lot if your didn’t add the riveting Mgahinga national park on your gorilla trekking bucket list.

Resources

  • Visit Mgahinga is an online resource with information you need to plan a gorilla safari in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
  • MgahingaGorillaNationalPark.com – Official Guide to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park with listings of the best things to see, what to do, travel tips and more.