Are you looking for a less crowded place to visit while on a self drive in Uganda that will give you an unforgettable and rewarding experience, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the perfect destination worth visiting.
The park was named after the Mgahinga mountain range which is home to several endangered mountain gorillas which are its main tourist attraction and is located in the Southwestern part of Uganda. It is part of the larger Virunga Conservation Area which includes national parks in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Apart from the gorillas, the park is also known for its diverse range of other wildlife and physical features. The park was established in established in 1991 with an aim of protecting the habitat of the endangered mountain gorillas and it runs under the Uganda Wildlife Authority and covers an area of approximately 33.7 square kilometers. The establishment of Mgahinga National Park was as a result of merging of different organizations namely; The Ugandan Government, The International Union for Conservation of Nature and the local communities and involved combining two separate reserves such as the Mgahinga Gorilla reserve and the Mountain Sabyinyo Game reserve.
What to see in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The park harbors a relatively small but unique and diverse range of mammal species numbered 39. Animals that can be found in Mgahinga National Park are; Mountain Gorillas which are the most group of animals that attract the biggest number of tourists, golden monkeys, African buffalos, leopards, bushbuck, tree hyrax, Bat-eared fox and African elephants.
There are about 180 bird species in the park making it a paradise for the bird watchers and researchers. Some of most seen birds in Mgahinga National Park are; the olive pigeon, black kite, Rwenzori Turaco, kivu ground thrush, white necked raven, cape robin-chat and many more.
The Mgahinga is part of the Virunga Mountains range, and it has several volcanoes like mountain Gahinga, mountain Muhavura and mountain Sabinyo which have breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.
The Batwa people are indigenous groups of people who have dwelled in Mgahinga area for thousands of years even before the establishment of the park. Visitors to the park can interact with the Batwa people and get to know their ways of living and their unique culture like dances and stories of their origin.
The park has several caves such as the Garama cave which was home to the Batwa group of people and can be visited by the tourists who are interested in the knowing the history of the Batwa people.
The park has water sources which provide water to both the wildlife and the groups of people living in the premises. These include; river Nketo which flows through the southern part of the park, river Muko which is located on the Northern edge of the park and small streams that flow through the park like the Ruriko stream which is located near the Garama cave.
Activities done in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Gorilla Trekking is one of the most popular activities carried out in the premises of the park.
To go for Gorilla trekking, the visitor should book for a gorilla permit in advance. There are rules that govern the activity of Gorilla trekking include; Only visitors beyond 15yrs of age are allowed to go for gorilla trekking, A maximum of 8 people are allowed per gorilla group per day, Visitors with communicable illnesses are not allowed to go for gorilla trekking, allowed time to spend with gorillas is only one hour to avoid disturbing and overstressing the gorillas.
Visitors must maintain a distance of 7 meters away from the gorillas to reduce the risk of disease transmissions, No flash photography is allowed in the gorillas’ premises, Visitors should follow the guide’s instructions throughout the gorilla trekking experience for safety.
Visitors can go for nature walks through the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park to explore the park’s diverse flora and fauna unique plants and elusive wildlife.
The park has several caves which can be explored by the visitors. The caves include the Garama cave which was anciently home to the Batwa people.
The park has almost 180 bird species which makes it a paradise for visitors who are interested in birdwatching and researching. T he activity involves park guides sharing their knowledge about different bird species and their behavior with the tourists. Birds are mostly spotted on tree branches and along water bodies in morning hours.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has about three extinct volcanoes such as; mount Muhabura, mount Sabyinyo and mount Gahinga which offer mountain climbing facilities to the visitors.
Cultural tours are done in order for the visitors to get to know about the traditions and way of life of the Batwa people who have spent thousands of years in Mgahinga.
Accommodation in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The park has several accommodation options which offer standard, mid-range, luxury rooms and budget camps to the visitors. Accommodation options in the park include;
Mountain Gahinga Lodge which is located on slopes of Virunga mountains and offers stunning views of the park and the surrounding areas. Prices range from $30-100 per person and per night depending on the specific camp, $150-300 per person per night for a mid-range room and $300-600 per person per night depending on the specific season and cottage.
Mgahinga Safari Lodge which is located near the park entrance and offers comfortable accommodation in 8 cottages each with its own veranda. Prices differ according to the cottage rendered for example; $250-350 for a single cottage per person per night depending on the season, $400-500 for a double cottage depending on the season.
Amajamber Iwacu Community Camp is a run by the Batwa community, located near the park entrance and offers affordable accommodation in traditional huts to the visitors. The Camp also offers a Batwa cultural experience. Prices range from $30-40 per person per night for a traditional hut and $50-60 per night for an En-suite room.
How to get to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
There majorly two ways of how to reach the park namely; by air and by road. The nearest and easiest Airport to the park is Kigali International Airport. Entebbe airport also offers daily flights to kisoro airstrip which is 14km from the park and after, one can organize for a self-drive by hiring a car from different tourist companies to the park.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park can be accessed by road from different towns and cities in Uganda. The park is about 510 km from Kampala, the capital city of Uganda and the journey takes about 8-9 hours depending on the conditions of the road and the traffic. The park can also be accessed from Kigali the capital city of Rwanda and the journey is about 120 km and takes 3–4-hour drive.
Best time to visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The best time to visit the park happens to be during the dry season because the weather is always dry and sunny which makes it easy for the visitors to hike and trek through the forests. During this time of the year, it becomes very easy to spot different wildlife species because they crowd along water bodies for water and refreshments.
However, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is worth your visit regardless of the seasons and weather because the park has a lot to offer depending on your desire.