Top Things to Do and See in Mgahinga Gorilla Park in Uganda
Mountain Gorilla tracking (trekking) in the African Rainforest of Mgahinga, Mountain Hikes and Climbing, Golden Monkey tracking (trekking), Nature Walks, Birding, Alpine Mountain Swamps, Cave Exploration, or simply relax at Lake Mutanda with a ride in a boat at sunset.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is set in the extreme southwestern side of the country about 8-10 hours’ drive from Entebbe or Kampala and about 10 km south of nearest Kisoro town. Mgahinga is the smallest National Park in the country – about 38 square miles and yet it is one of the most stunningly beautiful places in all of Uganda. This area is the oldest part of the Western Rift Valley and from here the Virgunga Chain of active and inactive volcanoes stretch over three countries, Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Park covers the northern slopes of the three northernmost Virunga Volcanoes: Mt. Muhavura (4,127 m), Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m), and Mt. Sabinyo (3,645 m). In fact when you climb up Mount Sabinyo you can step into the Congo, into Rwanda and back into Uganda. The volcanoes begin on the dry Rift Valley floors with all of its human bustling hustling about up and up through the bamboo and Hagenia-Hypericum Forests and into the high Afro Montane Region of the park with its windswept moorlands where you will find giant heathers, lobelia and groundsell. Simply awesome to the visitors who has never climbed a Mountain in East or Central Africa.
The Park came into existence in 1991 when people living there were relocated to nearby villages in the surrounding area of the park. It has been a major park for Gorilla tracking (trekking), but that can become a problem due to the movement of habituated gorillas into Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. (Habituated simply means that they are accustomed to have humans around them). Not tame, but not hostile to humans).
People living in the area have controlled and sustainable access to the park and there are the Bafumbira who are cultivators and the Batwa (Pygmies) who once lived in the park area and fed on wildlife and use many plants to make traditional medicine and supplement their diets.
Majority of the staff are from the surrounding area. The community receives 20% of the Park entrance fees for development projects.
Mgahinga like Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a mountainous area and a cool climate for Uganda. Animals found in the park are Mountain gorillas, Buffaloes, Elephants, bushbucks, the threatened golden monkey, and many others.
The scenic beauty of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is simply stunning and considered the most beautiful in all of Uganda. You can explore caves, go climb the volcanoes, track the blue and golden monkeys that are both quite rare and discover the birds of Mgahinga Gorilla Park.
Bird species include the Rwenzori Turaco, Crowned hornbill, Black kite and Crowned Cranes, Handsome Francolin, Lagden’s Bush-Shrike and Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird.
Mgahinga Park is beautiful forest with diverse flora and is a nice place to visit for all nature lovers. There are several activities you can do here, and it is wise to book in advance. Most popular are gorilla tracking, golden monkeys tracking and visit to Batwa people.
Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga Park
Mgahinga Gorilla Park is also home to 80 plus Gorillas and one habituated Gorilla Family open for Trekking in this park. Mountain Gorillas here located near Rwanda’s Volcano Park and the DR Congo’s Virunga National Park. In essence Mgahinga Gorilla Park is part of a much greater regional park that allows the gorillas and other wildlife to move in between the parks.
Bwindi’s impressive number of Habituated Gorilla Families is certainly tempting – thus majority of Gorilla trekking is done there and, since there is only one habituated group here – the Nyakagezi Family, only eight permits are issued out each day, this means Mgahinga Park is less busy.
The 9 member group used to have the migratory spirit within them and were frequent travelers, taking off for the DR Congo and Rwanda…..fortunately they have not done so in recent years. The group returned to Mgahinga Gorilla Park in 2012 and this time they seem to have discovered home – the Mgahinga National Park as their home once again. Mgahinga offers shorter treks and gorilla sighting chances here are guaranteed.
Golden Monkey Tracking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park – A Unique Experience
Despite the name, many people would say that Uganda’s smallest national park actually offers better golden monkey viewing than opportunities than elsewhere in East Africa. Mgahinga Golden Monkey tracking (trekking) is one of the top activities for visitors to this park. Like Gorillas and Chimpanzee, Golden Monkey are an endangered species and they are up to 4,000 in the Virunga Volcanoe Chain.
There are two types of monkey viewing on offer here. The standard visit gives you just an hour in the company of the little fellows and is similar to the golden monkey visits on offer in Rwanda. Much more interesting, and unique to Mgahinga, is the far more in-depth ‘Golden Monkey Habituation Experience’. The monkeys here have been at the center of a long running study into their behavior.
It it is one of the highlights next to the Gorilla tracking for those who have tried both treks. The hike is not too difficult and it’s about a 3km hike. You however, have to be in good shape to be able to go all the way up in the forest. It is about continuous 2 hours of climbing and going up a steep track…passing by various bushes, trees, flowers, bamboo trees until finally reaching the top but it’s so rewarding to ultimately see them. The monkeys live in a vast bamboo forest. With all the different colors, Golden monkeys are adorable and, though not as impressive as the gorillas, they are incredibly entertaining to watch! It has a bright orange-gold colored body, tail, black limbs, crown and tail end.
The cost for a Golden Monkey Trekking is only 50 USD plus Park Entrance of 40 USD, which is a lot less either chimpanzee tracking or gorilla trekking making it a most affordable experience.
The guides and the trackers are so helpful in showing and explaining to you about the primates here.
Golden Monkey trekking permits are booked on ground at the Uganda Wildlife Authority park office on the main road next to the coffee shop before 6pm. Take 3 litres of water, food bars, video, camera, a jacket and long socks. If you are in semi decent shape you can handle the trek up and the guides will go at your pace.
This is the place to go for Golden Monkeys. It sounds anticlimactic after a day of gorilla trekking, but they are really fun to watch! This is the place to go for Golden Monkeys. It sounds anticlimactic after a day of gorilla trekking, but they are really fun to watch!
Tips – Take the bamboo walking stick you are offered at the bottom – it turns out to be useful.
Golden Monkey Habituation Experience in Mgahinga Park
Just like Gorillas and Chimpanzees, Golden Monkeys are wild animals who have to go through the 2-year habituation process in order to be open for tourism. Golden Monkey Habituation is the slow and gentle introduction of a family of wild golden monkey troop to the presence of humans. You are allowed to spend 4 hours observing the monkeys after finding them.
It is not just an extended version of the standard golden monkey trek where you spend 1 hour observing them. Golden Monkey Habituation Experience is much more interesting, and unique to Mgahinga, – it offers a far more in-depth understanding of the of these endengered fellows. You can spend four hours in the morning or four hours in the afternoon where you will be guided to the bamboo forest by a guide, one thing of note is that the size of your Golden Monkey Habituation group will only be six in number – this is smaller than the size of visitors to the Gorilla Groups that have been habituated where 8 can visit one gorilla group each day.
Nature Walks and Birding in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
There is certainly a variety of them and birdwatchers will have a field day here. Birding has been an underrated activity here because there has never been a real search of the kinds of birds that are here and the present list is about 160.
There is the Sabinyo Gorge Trail winding its way into bamboo forest, along a stream into a forested gorge.
The Bamboo Forest provides an opportunity to see the Golden Monkey but you might also see the Handsome Francolin, Kivu Ground Thrush and Regal Sunbird. The forest made up of evergreen trees is an area where you can find Rwenzori Turaco, Western Green Tinkerbird, Olive Woodpecker, African Hill Babbler, Archer’s Ground Robin, Rwenzori Batis, Montane Sooty Boubou, Lagden’s Bush Shrike, Strange Weaver and others.
Rugezi Swamp: Here you have an good opportunity to see Elephants, and the Giant Forest Hog on your return in the late afternoon. This is an all day trail with lots of birds to be seen on it.
Climbing the Volcanoes
One of the most fantastic possibilities at Mgahinga Gorilla Park is the climbing of the three Volcanoes including Mount Sabinyo meaning “Old Man’s Teeth,” referring to the ring of stubby peaks, Mount Muhavura is translated “the Guide,” because of its towering cone which is a landmark in the region, Mount Gahinga is translated “Little Rocks.” This name comes from the practice of farmers having to gather the volcanic rocks on their fields and creating piles of stones which are from Mount Gahinga.
Lifetime Experience Safaris offers Volcano Climbing of all three Mount Mgahinga Volcanoes…A 5 day Safari with three days of climbing and hiking up some of the most fantastic Volcanoes in this part of Africa.
There are 3 extinct volcanoes to climb for the physical fit, the longest climb takes a nine hour round trip up Mount Muhabura, while Mount Gahinga is 6 – 7 hours up and down and the easiest of the three climbs – the ascent is about 1100m but offers fabulous views. The toughest one even uses ladders in some instances, Mount Sabinyo is an eight hour hike-climb. Trekkers find them very rewarding with views of the Virungas as far as the eye can see. The Virungas are not a mountain chain as such but a number of volcanoes that are dotted across the landscape. .
Garama Cave: It used to be used by the Iron Age People of the region and then by the Batwa as a hiding place from warring neighboring tribes who did not like the little people of the forest. You an go in about 300 meters, but need a good flashlight and extra batteries. It is rumored that the cave extends and comes out in Rwanda, well you can find out.
We can create a safari that reflects your interests to this fabulous spot in Uganda that you do not want to miss. Just let us know.
As with all safari trips, you need to wake up very early in the morning, and arrive to the reception around 7:30am for document verification, and later tour briefing…tracking starts around 9am. Every day trackers go to the forest early around 6am to track the gorillas or monkeys, so they are located well in advance before visitors start climbing up, therefore ensuring you will definitely see what you paid for to see. Visitors are accompanied by one armed guard (to scare shoot in a case you come across buffalos…) and guides that are very professional, polite, patient and client oriented.
This park is not crowded which is nice. Not a lot of tourist stop there, but you really should add one day to your trip to go there.