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MGAHINGA GORILLA NATIONAL PARK

Mgahinga Gorilla National park is one of Uganda’s smallest national park with about 33 square km, and is a home for the rare mountain gorillas. This park has only one gorilla family called Nyakagezi with about 14 gorilla members and these gorillas have got a unique chance that allows them to live sometimes in Uganda and other times in Rwanda. So they are able to cross these countries without the visas. This is because the park is in the boarder of Uganda and Rwanda, and the side of Rwanda is Volcano National Park.

History of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Early Inhabitants: The area that now makes up Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has been inhabited for hundreds of years. Indigenous communities, particularly the Batwa pygmies, lived in this region long before the establishment of the area as national park.

Establishment of the National Park: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was officially designated as a national park in 1991. Its primary purpose was to protect the mountain gorillas, which were under threat due to habitat destruction and poaching. The name Mgahinga was derived from the word “Gahinga” which means piled stones in Kinyarwanda.

Part of the Virunga Massive: Mgahinga is part of the Virunga Massive, a contiguous mountain range that spans the borders of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This region is not only critical for gorilla conservation but also for the protection of other biodiversity, including various species of flora and fauna.

Trans-boundary Conservation: The Virunga Massif is a prime example of trans-boundary conservation efforts. Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have collaborated to protect this ecologically important area and its wildlife, particularly the mountain gorillas.

Mountain Gorilla Conservation: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is home to a small population of mountain gorillas. Conservation efforts have been aimed at monitoring and protecting these gorillas. The park has contributed to the growth of the overall mountain gorilla population in the region. There is only one gorilla family called Nyakagezi with about 14 gorilla individuals.

Cultural Heritage: The Batwa people, who have lived in this region for generations, have been a significant part of the park’s history. Efforts have been made to incorporate Batwa cultural experiences and livelihoods into the park’s tourism activities, aiming to both preserve their traditions and provide economic opportunities.

Tourism and Ecotourism: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has become an essential destination for tourists interested in gorilla tracking. Visitors come to the park to experience the thrill of observing mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Ecotourism has played a vital role in the park’s conservation efforts, as revenue generated from tourism helps fund conservation activities.

Challenges and Conservation: The park faces various challenges, including habitat degradation, illegal activities, and the need to balance conservation with the needs of the local communities. Conservation organizations and government agencies work together to address these challenges and ensure the long-term survival of the park’s unique ecosystem.

How Many Gorillas are in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a home for about 14 members and all in one gorilla family. These live a unique life as they have over 3 silverbacks living in the same gorilla family, something that is not seen anywhere else in the world.

Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers a unique and thrilling experience as you get the opportunity to observe mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Here’s what you need to know about gorilla trekking in Mgahinga:

Obtaining a Gorilla Tracking Permit:

Gorilla tracking permits are required to visit the gorillas in Mgahinga. You should obtain your permit in advance through by Sending an Inquiry as you will need to provide your travel details, like travel date, your passport picture.

Permit availability can be limited, so it’s essential to book your permit well in advance, preferably several months before your planned trek. As of our last knowledge update in January 2023, permit fees for gorilla tracking in Mgahinga were as follows: $700 for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents, and UGX 250,000 for East African residents.

Trekking Experience:

Gorilla tracking treks typically start in the morning from the park’s headquarters tracking briefing point.

You’ll be assigned to a specific gorilla group to visit, and each group is led by experienced guides and trackers who are familiar with the gorillas’ movements.

The duration of the trek can vary from a few hours to a full day, depending on the location of the gorilla group you’re assigned to and their movement patterns.

The trek can involve hiking through the lush forest, walking up steep hills, and navigating through dense vegetation, so it’s important to be in reasonable physical condition.

Meeting the Gorillas:

This is the most exciting point of the whole gorilla trekking journey. Once you locate the gorilla group, you’ll have one hour to observe and photograph them. This strict time limit is in place to minimize stress on the gorillas and to protect their natural behaviors.

You’ll be required to maintain a safe distance (typically around 7 meters or 21 feet) from the gorillas to prevent the transmission of diseases. However, sometimes gorillas may choose to come closer to you, and you are not required to move behind, just enjoy the close distance or sometimes their touches.

What to Bring:

Wear appropriate clothing and gear for the trek, including sturdy hiking boots, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and rain gear. The weather in the park can be unpredictable.

Bring enough water, snacks, and a packed lunch for the day.

A porter can be hired to help carry your belongings during the trek if needed.

Gorilla Trekking Rules:

  • Gorilla tracking in Mgahinga is subject to strict rules to protect the gorillas and their habitat. You must follow the guidance of the park’s staff, including guides and rangers.
  • Do not approach the gorillas too closely, and do not touch them.
  • Do not visit the gorillas if you are sick, as they are susceptible to human diseases.
  • Photography and Videos:
  • Photography is allowed during your encounter with the gorillas, but it’s important to use a camera with no flash and sounds to avoid disturbing them.
  • Video recording is also allowed, but it’s best to consult with your guide on the appropriate settings to use.
  • The cameras should not have GPS connected.
  • Do not shout at them, though some people get so so excited and they end up shouting emotionally.

 

Other activities done near Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

While gorilla tracking is the park’s primary draw, the surrounding area is rich in natural beauty and cultural experiences. Here are some of the other activities and attractions you can enjoy near Mgahinga Gorilla National Park:

Golden Monkey Tracking: In addition to mountain gorillas, Mgahinga is known for its population of endangered golden monkeys. You can go on guided treks to see these charismatic primates. The golden monkey tracking experience is a unique and enjoyable activity.

Hiking and Nature Walks: The park offers various hiking and nature walk options, ranging from short walks to more extended treks. Some of the popular trails include the Sabinyo Gorge trail and the Batwa Trail, which provide opportunities to explore the park’s diverse flora, fauna, and beautiful landscapes.

Volcano Climbing: The park is home to three volcanic peaks: Mount Muhabura, Mount Sabyinyo, and Mount Gahinga. Climbing any of these volcanoes is an exciting adventure for those seeking a more strenuous activity. The climb to the summits offers spectacular views of the surrounding region.

Batwa Cultural Experience: The indigenous Batwa pygmies have lived in the region for generations. You can participate in cultural experiences to learn about their way of life, including traditional dances, storytelling, and visits to Batwa communities.

Bird Watching: Mgahinga is home to a variety of bird species, making it an excellent destination for bird enthusiasts. You can go birdwatching and spot numerous bird species in the park’s diverse habitats.

Lake Mutanda: Lake Mutanda is a stunning crater lake near the park, surrounded by lush hills and small villages. You can take boat rides, go canoeing, or simply relax by the lakeshore, enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Border Crossings: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located near the border with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. You can explore the nearby towns and villages, interact with local communities, and even cross the borders to visit other attractions and national parks in these neighboring countries.

Cultural Encounters: Beyond the Batwa cultural experiences, you can also interact with the local Bakiga and Bafumbira communities to learn about their traditions, food, and daily life.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park: Bwindi is another nearby national park famous for gorilla tracking. While it’s a separate park, you may consider combining your visit to Mgahinga with gorilla tracking in Bwindi to maximize your gorilla-watching experience.

 

How to get to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Getting to the park involves a combination of road and air travel. Here are the typical steps to reach Mgahinga Gorilla National Park:

International Travel: If you’re coming from abroad, your journey will likely start with a flight to Entebbe International Airport (EBB) or Kigali International Airport (KGL) in Rwanda. Entebbe Airport is the main international gateway to Uganda, and Kigali Airport is the nearest major airport in Rwanda.

Travel to Kisoro: From Entebbe or Kigali, you’ll need to make your way to the town of Kisoro, which is the nearest major town to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

From Entebbe: You can take a domestic flight from Entebbe to Kisoro, although flight schedules to Kisoro may be limited, and you may need to check with local airlines for availability.

From Kigali: You can hire a private vehicle or take a bus from Kigali to Kisoro. The road journey is approximately 2-3 hours, and the border crossing into Uganda is at Cyanika. Ensure that you have the necessary travel documentation, such as visas, for both Rwanda and Uganda.

Road Journey to Mgahinga: Once you’ve reached Kisoro, it’s a short drive to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. You can hire a local taxi or arrange for a transfer with a local tour operator. The park’s headquarters are easily accessible from Kisoro.

Accommodations: It’s a good idea to have accommodations booked in advance, as there are various lodges and campsites near the park, offering a range of options to suit different budgets.

When planning your trip, keep in mind the following considerations:

Travel Documentation: Ensure you have the necessary visas and permits for both Uganda and, if applicable, Rwanda. Gorilla tracking permits for Mgahinga need to be booked in advance.

Road Conditions: The road journey from Kisoro to the park may be bumpy and rough in some sections, so be prepared for varying road conditions.

Weather: The weather in the region can be unpredictable, so it’s advisable to bring appropriate clothing and gear, including rain gear, especially if you plan to hike or trek in the park.

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