Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in Kisoro District, 10 kilometers south of Kisoro town, and is bordered by the Republic of Rwanda towards the south and the Democratic Republic of the Congo towards the west. It has a total land area of 33.7 km2. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park borders Parc National des Virunga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda, forming the proposed Virunga Conservation Area, which covers 434 km2. The Park contains three Virunga volcanoes: Mountain Muhabura (4,127 m), Mountain Gahinga (3,474 m), which grants the park its name, and Mountain Sabyinyo (3,645 m).
Despite being the smallest national park in Uganda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a popular safari destination since it is home to a large population of mountain gorillas. In fact, it is the only one of two parks in Uganda that is home to half of the global total of endangered mountain gorillas, making Uganda a top destination for gorilla safaris as well as marvellous African biodiversity safaris. Savannah grasslands, woods, montane forests, tropical forests, marshes and swamps, bamboo forests, Afro-montane forests, bogs, and semi-alpine vegetation are features of the park. The three dormant volcanoes, Mountain Gahinga, Mountain Sabyinyo, and Mountain Muhabura, are the park’s most notable features. These hills are a part of the vast Viringa mountain ranges, which also include the Karisimbi, Bisoke, and Nyiragongo peaks. A large portion of the park is located at a high height of between 2,000 and 4,000 meters due to the three mountains.
The majority of the Kisoro area is populated by the Bafumbira ethnic group, who are primarily farmers or cultivators. They are the predominant ethnic group within the Kisoro District. The minority ethnic group in the area is made up of the native Batwa (Pygmies), who once lived in the caves and mostly subsisted on wildlife.
In the decades between the 1930s and 1950s, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was first established as a game reserve. However, it was mostly turned into an agricultural field in lower elevations. 1989 saw the beginning of biological surveys, ranger training, the destruction of wire traps, and the planting of trees. Locals were relocated outside the national park’s boundaries at the beginning of the 1990s, and in 1991, it was established as Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
The best time to visit Mgahinga National Park
The Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is open all year. The warmest and driest seasons to go gorilla trekking in Mgahinga are December to March and June to October. Whereas these months make hiking simpler, gorillas move much farther in search of food during the dry seasons. As a result, lengthy hikes may be required. It’s important to remember that the weather and temperatures are inconsistent. Rain can fall at any time of the year.
During the wet season, gorilla trekking is indeed possible. The rainy season gives ample food, and trekkers may encounter shortened hikes during the wet months of April, May, and November.
How to get to Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga Park can be accessed by both air and road transport means from Entebbe International airport;
The most popular route to get to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, which is 510 kilometres from Kampala, goes through Kabale and Kisoro. The road from Kisoro town is a mountainous tarmac road with sharp ascents and descending with spectacular views.
By road; car hire. It takes 8 hours to drive from Kampala to Kisoro town in a (4WD) Uganda safari vehicle.
It is also possible to travel to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park from Kigali, Rwanda, by flying into that city’s airport and then taking a safari vehicle for three to four hours across the Cyanika border to get there.
By Air; It is feasible to charter a flight from Entebbe to Kisoro Airstrip with Aerolink in Entebbe or Kajjansi Airstrip and then connect to the park.
Things to see in Mgahinga National Park
The Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is home to a variety of attractions. golden monkeys, three of the Virunga Mountains, endangered mountain gorillas, and rare flora and fauna. The top attractions in Mgahinga National Park are listed below.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda provides protection for approximately 83 Mountain Gorillas, accounting for the world’s 1063 individuals today. It thus renders it among the best Uganda national parks, and the second most successful alternative after Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The Nyakagezi Gorilla Family is Mgahinga’s sole accustomed gorilla family group. In 1994, it was trained for Uganda gorilla trekking tours. During habituation, it was led by the powerful Silverback Bugingo, but he was deposed by his own son Mark. Since then, Mark has held down the helm of the family, assisted by his brother Mafia. The family currently consists of nine members: four silverbacks, two infants, two adult females, and one juvenile.
Golden monkeys are unique to the Albertine Rift and are extremely attractive, big, curious, and naughty old-world monkeys. The bamboo zone of the Virunga volcanoes in Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo is home to about 5000 individuals. They have a black body, head, and tail-end, with vivid orange-golden cheeks. The most remarkable Uganda safari attraction in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is these beautiful endangered species. About 60 golden monkeys have been socialized with humans so they can be tracked.
The Virunga Mountains
The Virunga Mountains, also known as Mufumbiro, are a series of eight distinct independent volcanic cones linked along a fault line connected to the same geological process that created the Rift Valley, and they lie on the boundaries of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An English translation of the Kinyarwanda word ibirunga, which means “volcanoes,” is “Virunga”.
The chain includes Mount Nyiragongo in the Congo, an extremely dangerous and spectacular volcano that last occurred in May 2021 and is accountable for roughly 40% of recorded volcanic eruptions in Africa. The chain also includes 6 inactive and 2 highly active volcanoes. The most stunning features that visitors on Uganda safari tours are able to view in the park are three of these lovely volcanic cones, which can be located in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. These include Mount Sabyinyo (3,669 meters), Mount Gahinga (3,474 meters), and Mount Muhabura (4,127 meters).
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, which is home to more than 180 bird species, is one of the greatest Uganda birding locations to consider. The Park has 14 endemic species from the Albertine Rift, including numerous localized forest specialities, including Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori Double-collared Sunbird, Kivu ground thrush, Handsome francolin, Dusky Crimsonwing, Red-throated Alethe, Rwenzori nightjar, Rwenzori batis, Archer’s robin chat, Dwarf Honeyguide, Mountain Masked Apalis among others.
During your Uganda game tour to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, you can view over 76 other Ugandan animals in addition to gorillas and golden monkeys. However, many of these creatures are difficult to spot amid the untamed forest flora. They include Black-fronted duiker, Golden cat, Giant Forest Hog, Side-striped Jackal, Forest Elephants, Forest Buffalo, and Giant Forest Hog.
The Batwa Heritage Trail
The Batwa are a hunter-gatherer tribe that has lived in the woodlands for decades and decades. The males used crude spears, arrows, and bows to catch birds, monkeys, tiny antelopes, and bush pigs, while the women foraged wild honey, fruits, and berries. They led a classic hunter-gatherer culture.
Before it was gazetted to conserve the critically endangered gorillas and golden monkeys, the Batwa people lived in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park as one of their primary residences until early 1991. Due to their utter ignorance of contemporary lifestyles, the former hunter-gatherers found it difficult to adjust to life outside of the forest. However, with assistance from USAID and the Dutch Embassy, the Uganda Wildlife Authority created the now-famous Batwa trail as an aspect of their restoration and cultural preservation in consonance with tourism. Through this trail, the Twa have been kept in touch with their roots by expressing their rich culture and history with travellers on Uganda tours in Mgahinga.
Tourist activities are done in Mgahinga National Park
Although gorilla trekking represents the most remarkable safari activity available in Uganda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park also offers a number of other unforgettable safari experiences that are well worth taking part in. Starting at the Ntebeko Visitor Center are the majority of park activities.
The most exciting tourist activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is gorilla tracking excursions. The Nyakagezi gorilla group, which has nine members total and includes two silverbacks, three adult females, two juniors, and two babies, is the only habituated gorilla group in the park.
Gorilla tracking is a strenuous activity that might last all day. On this safari, a knowledgeable guide will lead you as you follow the gorillas’ territory and provide you with information on their general habits, ecology, and movements.
The first step in gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a briefing at the park’s administrative centre in the morning. Following receiving a briefing, you will begin a 30-minute to seven-hour forest journey with an expert guide, based upon where the mountain gorillas are located because they prefer to roam around in quest of food. Once the gorillas are located, you will be permitted to spend an hour interacting with them in their natural habitat, providing a chance to learn about their behaviours and habits, observe them feed, breastfeed, play, and take pictures. While trekking, you will also have the opportunity to see other primate species, birds, and different plant and tree species, among many others.
Golden Monkey Tracking
Golden monkey trekking, an exhilarating and physically demanding adventure that involves moving into the jungle in pursuit of the golden monkeys, is another activity offered by Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The endangered golden monkeys can only be found in Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and trekking there begins in the morning with a briefing at the park’s administrative centre. After the briefing, visitors will start hiking through the jungle in pursuit of the golden monkeys. Depending on where the golden monkeys are, this process could take from around 30 minutes to 3 hours. Since golden monkeys reside in lower areas than gorillas do, trekking among them in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is not as challenging as trekking gorillas. However, you must keep an eye out for fresh bamboo shoot leftovers because golden monkeys don’t leave behind obvious signs of where they were the day before. Once the golden monkeys have been located, you will be given an hour to spend with them in their natural habitat. During this time, you will be able to examine their activities, watch them jump from tree to tree, take pictures with flash cameras, record the events, and more.
One of Uganda’s top birding locations, Mgahinga National Park is the habitat of roughly 180 bird species, including 12 Albertine Rift Endemics. A variety of Ugandan birds, including endemics like the Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori nightjar, Rwenzori batis, handsome francolin, Kivu ground thrush, Dusky Crimsonwing, Red-throated Alethe, Archer’s robin chat, and stripe-breasted tit, blue-headed sunbird, and regal sunbird, are presented to enthusiastic birders during safaris and tours in Uganda. Visitors can expect to see black-headed waxbills, white-starred robins, yellow-vented bulbuls, white-naped ravens, western green tinkerbirds, bronze sunbirds, red-faced woodland warblers, pin-tailed whydahs, olive woodpeckers, many others, as well as migrant birds from Europe that congregate here between November and April.
In the centre of the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are three dormant volcanoes where hikers can go on adventures. The smallest of the three volcanoes in the park is Mountain Gahinga which is 3474 meters above sea level, and contingent on your hiking pace, a roundtrip hike takes about 6 hours. You will discover the Crater filled with wetlands and enormous lobelia when you reach the summit.
The hike up Mount Sabinyo, which is 3669 meters above sea level, takes around 8 hours in total. In addition to seeing primates like golden monkeys, duikers, forest elephants, and several bird species, the trip will take you through a lush forest with Afro-Montane vegetation and rocky peaks. When you reach the summit, you will be standing in 3 countries: Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mount Muhavura is a relatively high of three volcanoes in Mgahinga gorilla national park. Mount Muhavura is 4127 meters above sea level, and the hike takes approximately 10 hours. Hiking takes you through different vegetation zones, and the summit provides incredible views of other Virunga volcanoes, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Lake Edward, and the Rwenzori mountain scopes.
Scenic Hikes & Nature Walks
The Virunga Mountains’ foothills provide a thrilling terrain for walks and hiking trails through five vegetation zones: farmland, montane woodland, bamboo, montane forest tree heathers, and afro-montane. Hikes and nature walks begin at the Ntebeko Visitors Centre.
The Sabinyo Gorge Trail is a four-hour, six-kilometer hike that takes visitors through the Rugezi swamp and dense Afro-montane forest before arriving at the Sabinyo Gorge, a huge gash inside the side of Mt Sabinyo. It’s a superb hike for birders, with the best chances of seeing the Rwenzori Turaco against the backdrop of Mt Sabinyo. This trail is also frequented by golden monkeys and duikers.
The Batwa Trail and Cultural Visit
The Batwa Trail Experience is a must-do on any Uganda safari tour to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. This heritage trail is an unforgettable experience because it unveils you to the Batwa People, the very last surviving members of the pygmy tribe who have relied on the forest for shelter, food, and medicine for generations. For thousands of years, the Batwa lived peacefully and happily as hunter-gatherers in the forest. There was no forest destruction, and they coexisted peacefully with the gorillas. However, in 1991, things changed for them. The Batwa were moved and relocated to nearby areas in order to protect the rainforest and gorillas.
The Batwa trail journey begins with a prayer and it gives you the chance to encounter the Batwa people, discover their ancient cultures, and engage in their customs. The Twa guide will demonstrate off their hunting, honey gathering, and gathering prowess, along with how to make bamboo cups and start a fire by rubbing two dry sticks together. They’ll also take visitors to Garamba cave, which Batwa used as a food storage unit and a place to hide during the Batwa trail experience. A narrative and dance presentation by Batwa women marks the trial’s conclusion.
Accommodation in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The selection of lodging options close to Mgahinga National Park includes inexpensive, moderately priced, and upscale Uganda safari lodges. The lodges offer luxurious guestrooms and suites for an affordable price, ensuring a comfortable stay. A variety of services and amenities are offered by mid-range and luxury lodges to make your stay more enjoyable. The following are some of the selected lodges;
Mount Gahinga Lodge
This budget-friendly safari vacation lodging is adjacent to the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park’s main gate and boasts stunning views among the verdant foliage of tastefully designed gardens. Spend time in the lounge, which is warm and inviting and has windows on both sides and a fireplace. Hardwood floors, area rugs, and cheerfully printed pillows enliven the rooms, while wooden rafters support the thatched roof and give the lodge a rustic appeal. Enjoy the views of the volcanic cones in Mgahinga Park while relaxing on the open verandah. Furthermore, the lodge features a spa where visitors can have massages.
There are just eight rondavel-style banda rooms at Mount Gahinga Lodge, and each one has a sizable covered porch and a conical papyrus roof. Guests have the option of staying in a bedroom with one double bed or two single beds. The chalets contain wooden chests at the foot of the beds, hardwood floors, and modest indoor and outdoor lounging areas. The rooms are made more comfortable by area rugs, and on chilly nights, your private butler will warm your room by lighting a fire in the stone fireplace. During your stay in Mgahinga, you can charge your electronics in each of your rooms. The ensuite bathrooms feature a separate shower area and stone accents. Hair dryers and bathrobes are offered to visitors.
Mucha Hotel Kisoro
This is a mid-range hotel with cosy amenities that is suitable for overnight stays. Its location along the banks of the River Mucha makes for ideal views of the area’s stunning flora and surroundings. The Mucha Hotel, which is about six kilometres outside of Kisoro town, offers rewarding views of the volcanoes and the River Mucha. The hotel has ten en-suite single, double, and twin rooms. Also, it has a permanent restaurant with trained chefs, a garden area with banana trees, a lounge, a bar, a coffee shop, a private vegetable farm, and more.
Mgahinga rest camp
The Mgahinga rest camp is located adjacent to the park and has 3 tents and 9 bandas with grass roofs. Spending the night here gives visitors an excellent opportunity to travel to other regions of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Travellers on safari to Mgahinga National Park or to other nearby safari locations can easily participate in the mountain gorilla encounter in the three nations because of its strategic position.
Mutanda Lake Resort
Mutanda Lake Resort is located on a coast in Lake Mutanda, between Kisoro and the national parks of Mgahinga and Bwindi. The property has breathtaking views of the lake that extend all the way to the Virunga Mountains! It is ideal for experienced gorilla trackers who want to enjoy a variety of activities from a comfortable base. Excellent resort located between Kisoro, Mgahinga National Park, and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, with thirteen cottages with family rooms, a pleasant restaurant, bar, and an observation deck offering tracking gorillas and golden monkeys, walking, hiking, boating, and cultural tours.
Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp
Just around 12 kilometres from Kisoro town, close to the entrance of Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, is where campers can stay in luxury. You will be rewarded for staying the night by having stunning views of the Virunga Mountainous region of Sabyinyo, Muhabura, and Gahinga. Three bandas and two dorms are present in this camp. Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp is the greatest choice for those who enjoy being outdoors.
Travellers’ Rest Hotel
Travellers’ Rest Hotel is also a mid-range accommodation option and one of Uganda’s oldest hotels. It is located in Kisoro, just a few kilometres from Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. This hotel has 11 well-appointed rooms ranging from single, double, twin, suite, and triple. It has a restaurant, laundry services, a garden, internet access, and other amenities.
Chameleon Hill Lodge
Between the Bwindi and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks, on the banks of Lake Mutanda, is where Chameleon Hill Lodge. The lodge offers picturesque views of Lake Mutanda, the surrounding islands, and the surrounding hills. And the beautiful Virunga Volcanoes loom in the distance. It is fantastic for tourists who are thinking about going gorilla tracking and taking part in many other activities as well! It can be reached by plane or by car, for instance from Kampala, and is located close to the town of Kisoro.