Which Gorilla Families to Trek in Mgahinga National Park
If there is a gorilla trekking destination that is usually ignored, then it is Mgahinga National Park. But what most people forget is that Mgahinga National Park is the only place in Uganda where Silver meets gold. Mgahinga National Park is located in the far South-western part of Uganda in Kisoro district and it is the smallest Park in the country covering an area of 33.7 square kilometers. Mgahinga National Park is a home to three of the volcanoes that make up the Virunga Massif (Mount Sabyinyo at 3,674m, Mount Gahinga standing at 3,474m and Mount Muhabura with the highest point among the three stands at 4,127m).
This magnificent National Park was gazetted in 1991 together with Bwindi National Park. With only 80 of over 480 mountain gorillas found in the Virunga Massif, it does not receive as many tourists as the other Parks. However, we shall not refute the fact that this Park is one of the amazing places you have to visit for your gorilla trekking safari. Mountain gorillas being the key attraction in this Park makes it one of the treasures that Uganda holds. There is only one gorilla family in Mgahinga that is the Nyakagyezi gorilla family, and UWA therefore sells only 8 permits per day for this Park. So tourists who wish to experience this exciting group have to book for the permit in advance because of their high demand yet the permits are really few. This riveting family is comprised of 11 members including 4 silverbacks, 2 mature females, 2 blackbacks, 2 juveniles and 1 infant. The most fascinating thing about this family is that it is always mobile crossing the borders to Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Much as they move to other countries, they always know their home range and always go back. Just like the saying, East or West, home is the best. They know their home and will always go back. Why do they always cross to the borders of Rwanda and DRC? That’s the question that rings in my mind too. Apparently they always go to visit their relatives in Virunga and Volcanoes National Park. It is however believed that for the past 5 years (since 2012), they have not moved and are within Mgahinga National Park. They now have a permanent home within Mgahinga. Indeed home sweet home.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga national park is conducted the same way as it is in other national parks where these giant Apes are found. You have to ensure that you carry and wear the appropriate dressing and pack the required items for your ultimate experience. Wear long trousers, long sleeved shirts, garden gloves, long socks and strong but light waterproof hiking boots. Ensure that you carry your gorilla permit, camera, a pair of binoculars, walking stick, drinking water, energy giving snacks and a water proof backpack.
The trek begins from Ntebeko gate with tourists being briefed on the dos and don’ts of gorilla trekking and what to expect during this adventurous activity. Some of the guidelines you must follow include; avoid making noise while tracking or with the mountain gorillas, maintain a distance of 7 meters when with the mountain gorillas, avoid eating, smoking and drinking when with the mountain gorillas, do not track them if you have flue, cough or diarrhea, do not track these creatures if you are below 15 years and flash cameras are prohibited when taking photographs of these animals. Usually gorilla trekking in Mgahinga is considered easier than in Bwindi National Park because of two reasons. One reason is the fact that Nyakagyezi group (the only family you will track here) prefers a smaller home range for feeding, relaxing and nesting. Another reason is that they live within the lower slopes of Mgahinga hence it is not so strenuous to track them.
Just like in Bwindi National Park, a gorilla permit for tracking the Nyakagyezi family costs $600 for foreign non residents, $500 for foreign residents and Shs 250,000 for East African Residents. The low seasons have special rates with foreign non residents paying $450, foreign residents are charged $400 and the East African Residents pay Shs 150,000 per person. Because there is always uncertainty on the availability of the gorilla group (whether it is within Mgahinga or not), gorilla permits have to be booked from the Park Headquarters in Ntebeko. Tourists have to confirm at least 24 hours before even traveling to avoid paying yet they (Nyakagyezi family) have already crossed to the other countries.
Besides the popular gorilla trekking adventure, Mgahinga National Park is famous for golden monkey tracking because the Jungles also shelters about 3000-4000 endangered golden monkeys, mountain hiking and nature walks are also conducted. The interesting Batwa trail that will leave you breathless is conducted from this Park. Other attractions you are likely to see include Buffaloes, Golden cats, Jackals, Leopards, Elephants, Giant forest hogs, Colobus monkeys, Aardvark, Bushbuck and Porcupines among others. There are more than 100 species of birds recorded in Mgahinga and they include White-necked raven, double-collared sunbird, speckled mousebird, Paradise Flycatcher and Pin-tailed whydah among others. With all these interesting attractions and activities, what genuine reason do you have for not visiting Mgahinga National Park for a memorable gorilla trekking experience?
Classic accommodation facilities exist in Mgahinga National Park and they include Mutanda Lake Resort, Kisoro Tourist Hotel, Mount Gahinga Safari Lodge, Kisoro Traveler’s Rest Hotel and Virunga hotel and Campsite (budget) among others.
If you are interested in gorilla trekking in this captivating destination, you can access it by both air and road. Mgahinga is approximately 540 km/8-9 hours drive from Kampala. The commonly used route is Kampala-Masaka-Mbarara-Kabale-Kisoro and finally to the Park. Domestic flights can be organized to Kisoro town using Eagle Air.
In conclusion, because Mgahinga National Park is a home to some of the critically endangered mountain gorillas, the Park is an amazing place that tourists can visit for their ultimate gorilla trekking experience. This Park never runs short of interesting things for visitors to engage in.