SAFARI TREKKING GUIDE ON MGAHINGA GORILLA NATIONAL PARK IN UGANDA
Mgahinga Park Introduction - Location, Wildlife & HistoryMgahinga Gorilla National Park is part of the greater Virunga Conservation Area, a 434-square-kilometer (167 square miles) swath of protected land that encompasses parts of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mgahinga Park occupies a tiny nook in the southwest corner of Uganda and is the smallest but perhaps most spectacular conservation area in the country. Spread over an area of just 33.7 square kilometers (13 square miles), the reserve sits at altitudes ranging from 2227 meters to 4127 meters. Visitors who spend their tour holidays at the park are always delighted to see the misty cloud cover that typically crowns the three volcanic peaks which dominate the landscape. As part of your Uganda safari vacation itinerary, you will be able to view Mount Gahinga, which towers at 3474 feet, Mount Muhavura at 4127 feet, and Mount Sabinyo at 3645 feet. View the crater lake on Muhavura, the swampy caldera on the top of Mgahinga, and the spectacular vistas from Sabinyo.
- Part of the Virunga Conservation Area that lies across Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo
- Covering an area of 434-square-kilometers allocated by the three countries for the conservation of the rare mountain gorillas
- Altitudes ranging from 2227 meters to 4127 meters standing on the southwest corner of Uganda
- Spectacular landscape with permanent mists crowning the three volcanic peaks
- Trekking expeditions organized to climb to the swampy caldera on Mount Gahinga
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1. Mgahinga - The Primary Home Of The Magnificent Gorillas
- Most notable feature being the Nyakagezi family of 8 mountain gorillas that are previously known to roam the mountains in all three countries. Mount Gahinga in Uganda is their current home.
- Fabulous diversity of landscapes including swamplands, Afromontane forests, bamboo woodlands, and Afro-Alpine trees
- Silverbacks tolerant of each other and cohabiting peacefully which is a rare characteristic
One of the main attractions of Mgahinga is the possibility of enjoying a gorilla-viewing expedition under the supervision of an expert guide. The park has just one habituated gorilla group, the Nyakagezi family. An interesting feature of this group is that its silverbacks are unusually tolerant of each other, and as a result, there are multiple alpha males in the family. In all, the group has 8 members, including 3 silverbacks, 2 adult females, 1 juvenile male, and 2 infants.
2. What Other Primates & Wildlife Exist In Mgahinga?
- Reserve hosting 40 to 60 individual golden monkeys habituated to the presence of humans
- Presence of 39 species of mammals including the forest elephant and Cape buffalo
- 115 species of birds exist in Mgahinga
In addition to the primates, you will also be able to see some 39 species of mammals here. Keep your eyes open for the forest elephant, buffalo, bushbuck, black-fronted duiker, and giant forest hog. Among the predators, there are leopards—spotted on very rare occasions in camera traps—and the golden cat, spotted hyena, side-striped jackal, and serval cat.
Birdwatching enthusiasts will especially enjoy holidaying in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park thanks to the 115 avian species that thrive here. You could spot species like the Rwenzori nightjar, paradise fly-catcher, yellow-vented bulbul, Pin-tailed whydah, Grey-capped warbler, waxbills, Rwenzori turaco, ibis, black kite, white-naped raven, and double-collared sunbird. The expert birding guide accompanying you may also help you identify the firefinch, speckled mousebird, stonechat, Rwenzori batis, and blue-headed coucal.
3. How To Plan Your Gorilla Trekking Experience In Mgahinga National Park?
- Immersive excursion of tracking the elusive mountain gorillas of Mgahinga taking up to 8 hours
- Forest hikes with sightings of beautiful flora, gorgeous birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, and other smaller creatures in the undergrowth
- High probability of spotting the mountain gorillas that are habituated to the presence of humans
- Only one Nyakagezi family group found in the park
Given that gorilla sighting expeditions begin early in the morning, your tour consultant at AfricanMecca Safaris will recommend that you arrive at the park a day earlier and stay the night at a lodge (where to stay in Mgahinga). While there is about a 90% chance of locating the gorilla family, remember that they are wild animals. Although they are habituated to the presence of humans, they may display unexpected behavior and move to further sections of the park when looking for food.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park hosts just one gorilla family – the Nyakagezi group. It’s known to wander in between the Virunga Mountains of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Do keep in mind that your trek can take up 8 hours, during which time you’ll be navigating steep inclines in humid weather that can change without much warning. You will have the opportunity to track the blue monkey and the rare and endangered golden monkey (separate permit), which thrives in the bamboo forests of the reserve. If you’re planning to include a trek to see these elusive primates, you may want to consider a 3-day stay in Mgahinga Park.
A. How To Acquire Uganda Gorilla Permits For Mgahinga & Expected Prices?
- Visitors advised putting in a request for procuring the permit at the time of booking their trip
- Only 8 permits given out each day since there is just one gorilla family
- The minimum age for signing up for these excursions is 15 years
- The gorilla permit cost is US $700 per person - subject to change
We will book your permit on your behalf and make full payments for it. Please keep in mind the popularity of gorilla trekking expeditions in Mgahinga Gorilla Park during the peak season when availability of permit numbers are at its lowest. When you apply, you will be asked to provide complete personal details as noted on your passport. Be sure the information you send is accurate to avoid any confusion over errors. Furthermore, all trekkers must be over 15 years of age and in entirely good health to be allowed to participate in the safari holiday excursion, as mandated by the Ugandan authorities.
B. How To Pack For Your Mgahinga Gorilla Trekking Safari In Uganda?Having the proper clothing and other essential supplies on your gorilla tracking tour will ensure that you enjoy your excursion in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park safely. Here are some of the recommended items to have along:
- Long-sleeved shirts and long pants for protection against thorny bushes and bugs
- Sturdy all-terrain boots for navigating steep, slippery, and muddy inclines and trails
- Heavy-duty gardening gloves to protect your hands from brambles and nettle stings
- Waterproof jacket in case of unexpected showers
- Walking stick or pole
- Water or other hydrating beverages (1-2 liters per guest)
- Nourishing high-energy bars and other filling snacks, in case the trek is longer than expected
- Wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen; mosquito repellent and band-aids are also recommended
- Waterproof backpack to protect photographic equipment, food, and beverages from unexpected weather conditions in Mgahinga Gorilla Park
- Camera with spare batteries and memory cards
- Extra cash to pay the porters who carry your bags and other equipment
C. How Fit Should You Be For Uganda Gorilla Trekking In Mgahinga?
- Each expedition is unique since accurately predicting the movements of the primates is not possible
- Treks may last anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours with the trail going over steep inclines
- Visitors advised acclimatizing on high altitude before arriving in Uganda
D. Protecting The Incredible Mountain Gorillas Of Mgahinga?
- Rules and regulations put in place by the Uganda Wildlife Authority
- Rules designed to protect the primates from contracting human illnesses since their DNA is 98% similar to humans, but have an underdeveloped immune system
- Gorillas are habituated, but humans requested to exercise caution when in their presence
E. Guidelines & Regulations to Follow When Tracking Down Gorillas In Mgahinga?The gorillas found in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are an incredible species – one of the last of their kind in Africa. The Ugandan authorities have visitor regulations for safari vacationers to protect the gorillas, while also allowing wildlife lovers the experience of viewing them. Here are some of the rules you must follow when in the company of the rare mountain gorillas:
- Visitors must remain at a distance of 22 feet or 7 meters from the gorillas; if they start to approach, you must move away slowly
- Visitors under the age of 15 are not permitted to go gorilla tracking or on excursions to view the famed golden monkeys
- Each group of visitors can have a maximum of 8 guests
- Each group is allowed only 60 minutes in the presence of the primates
- If you have any kind of infection or are sick with a cold or flu, do not visit the gorillas – you could transmit the pathogens to them
- If you must cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and slowly move away from the gorillas
- Do not spit or leave trash in Mgahinga Gorilla Park
- Speak only in a low voice and do not make sudden movements that can scare the gorillas
- Before you begin your travel, your guide will train you on how to act if the gorillas vocalize or charge at you: lower your head in submission or look away and stay very still, indicating that you are submissive and don’t want confrontation nor want to fight
- Do not eat or drink while in the company of the gorillas
- Never make eye-contact with the primates as, in the gorilla world, the act signifies a challenge
F. Porter Assistance During Your Uganda Gorilla Trekking In Mgahinga
- Porters available to help visitors carry supplies, equipment, food, and beverages and also assist in navigating challenging trails
- Fees payable to porters is around $20 depending on the amount of gear carried
- Porters required to stop a short distance away from the animals since they are not given permits
- Opportunity to interact with the locals who reveal amazing information about the forest and folklore
- Each group assigned an experienced guide by the Uganda Wildlife Authority to accompany the excursion
The porters will help carry your gear and regale you with local lore and other tidbits of information about the wondrous primates you will see. If needed, they can also help by supporting you over the tough trails of Mgahinga Park. The porter fees are paid to the porters directly, and your contributions will help support the economy of the region. Typically, the fee is $20 for full porter services. Since the porters don’t have permits, they will stop a short distance away from the gorillas and request you to continue with only a few items that you absolutely need for the next 60 minutes.
G. Rules To Follow For Taking Gorilla Photographs & Videos In Mgahinga?
- Casual visitors allowed to bring DSLR or action video cameras to take pictures as mementos
- Fee applicable for professional photographing and filmmaking to take images and video shoots
- Visitors may find photography challenging because of the dim lighting and regulations against using the flash
H. When Does Gorilla Trekking Expedition Begin In Mgahinga?
- Trekkers required to arrive at the trailhead at 7:00 a.m. and bring all necessary supplies and documents
- An orientation session to instruct trekkers on what to expect during the hike
- Visitors only are allowed in the park between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. and must return to the gate by 6:00 p.m.
Next, administrators will check your paperwork and verify your identity to confirm that you’re the legitimate owner of the permit. Once done, you will have a safari briefing and proceed for your trek in Mgahinga Gorilla Park by 8:30 a.m.
I. Your Mgahinga Gorilla Trekking Day - Truly A Life-Changing Opportunity
- An experienced guide and two rangers provided to each group of trekkers
- Expert ranger leaves ahead to scout around for the current location of the primates and relays the information back to basecamp
- The countdown for 60 minutes begins as soon as the primates are sighted
- Visitors may be asked to enact gorilla submissive behaviors in case of danger
- Watching primates climbing trees, napping, grooming babies, or feeding
- A life-changing experience that evokes respect for nature and educates visitors on the importance of conservation
If you’re not sure if you can endure a long trip in Mgahinga Gorilla Park, let your guide know in advance so he can make arrangements for a porter to carry your backpack, supplies, and any other equipment you have with you. The rangers will be carrying guns to keep you protected from dangers like irate forest elephants or charging gorillas, should you encounter them. However, such instances are extremely rare, and rangers only need to fire in the air to scare the animals away. Further, they are well-trained in instructing you to enact gorilla submissive behaviors where you can remain safe until the danger has passed
Traveling along the trails in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a magical experience. You will be walking along paths that your guide has just cleared for you using his machete. You will be pushing aside low-hanging branches and bushes or grasping them for support on the inclines. If you need a break, let the guide know so he can stop and give you time to sip on some water before you continue. Once you locate the gorilla family, the guide will begin the countdown to 60 minutes and signal to you to stop a safe distance from them. He may also clear away branches and bush so you can see them more clearly. Watch how they ignore you completely, seeing you as a part of the landscape of Mgahinga as they go about their usual activities.
Have a life-changing holiday experience as you watch these beautiful primates napping, climbing trees, caring for and grooming the babies, or chewing on their favorite food, bamboo shoots. You will be awestruck to see the size of the dominant silverback that stands well over 6 feet, gently handling the babies when they wander too far from the adults.
Take all the photographs on your safari to capture your moments in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park for eternity – but take care to turn off the flash and the camera sounds to avoid disturbing the primates. Your 60 minutes with them will be over all too soon, and it will be time to return to the park headquarters. Visitors often talk about how they are humbled and enchanted by the encounter and hope to come back someday for another trip.
You will no doubt come away convinced of the importance of conservation in Africa and the need to protect these incredible primates from extinction.
4. What Kind Of Flora (Vegetation) Exist In Mgahinga?
- Fabulous flora thanks to the diverse altitudes and climate conditions
- Afromontane woodlands on the lower slopes, bamboo forests higher up, and Hagenia-Hypericum zone on Mount Sabinyo
- Afro-Alpine belt on Mount Muhavura that showcases giant Lobelia and Senecio varieties
5. Brief History Of Mgahinga
- Established as a game reserve in the year 1930 under the British rule and gazetted in 1991
- Takes its name from the term for “piles of volcanic stones”
- Overseen by the Uganda Wildlife Authority and home to the Batwa Pygmies that have lived here for centuries
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WHERE & BEST PLACES TO STAY IN MGAHINGA
Mgahinga only has one proper tourist accommodation that AfricanMecca Safaris can recommend i.e. Mount Gahinga Lodge which offers a deluxe, rustic ambiance with just 8 rondavel-style banda rooms.
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SAFARI & TOUR IN MGAHINGA
The primary two activities at Mgahinga Park are gorilla trekking and golden monkeys experience. Other tours are birdwatching excursions, gorge and caldera hikes, Batwa cultural trail, climb Virunga Volcanoes etc.
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BEST TIME TO VISIT MGAHINGA
The long dry season in Mgahinga is the best time to visit and starts in June to August. The short dry season occurs in the months of January and February, and is again a very good time for gorilla safaris.
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GORILLA FAMILY GROUPS IN MGAHINGA
Should you plan a gorilla viewing safari to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, you will learn that the park has only one resident gorilla family that is habituated to the presence of humans.
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EAST AFRICA SAFARI BOOKING TRIP IDEA FOR MGAHINGA IN UGANDA
When visiting Mgahinga Park for your gorilla safari trek, we recommend combining it with Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls, and Kibale (chimpanzee safari) alongside your city tour visits of Kampala and Entebbe.
You may optionally extend out to other wilderness areas such as Bwindi to track down gorillas in a different park, Jinja for whitewater rafting on the Nile River, and Semliki, Lake Mburo or Kidepo for an offbeat wildlife tour.
You can end your vacation on the beach at Lake Victoria or even extending out to the exotic spice island of Zanzibar or Lamu, or even Mombasa.
Best Safari Planning Ideas & Trip Experiences For UgandaBelow are guide references on how to plan each of the below safari experience in Uganda. Alternatively, go to the summary section for a quick overview of each trip planning experience.READ MORE
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