Why Mgahinga National Park Receives Fewer Visitors Compared to Other Parks

Situated in the Southwestern Uganda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park features as Uganda’s smallest protected area including all the three Virunga Conservation Areas. Established in 1991, Mgahinga National Park covers an area of about 33.7 square kilometers. It is found between altitudes 2227 and 4127 meters and offers refuge to three of the spectacular Virunga Mountains that include Muhavura Mountain which stands at 4127, Mount Sabyinyo-3645 meters and Mgahinga at 3474 meters. Mgahinga derived its name from the Kinyarwanda word Gahinga meaning the “pile of volcanic Lava stone heaps where cultivation is conducted.” In addition, Sabyinyo that denotes the “old man’s teeth” and Muhavura meaning “Guide.”

Mainly established to refuge to the critically endangered mountain gorillas as well as the endangered golden monkeys, Mgahinga National Park is undoubtedly one of Uganda’s breathtaking destinations when it comes to primate safaris in the world. It is a home to over 39 mammal species some of which include the rare mountain gorillas, striking golden monkeys, elephants and buffaloes and many more. Besides, there are also Giant forest hogs, Leopards, Spotted hyenas; Black fronted duikers and many more as well as over 76 avian species, making it one of the incredible protected areas for your safaris and tours in Uganda.

Gorilla trekking in Africa is one of the rarest and most sought after adventures. Mountain gorillas are classified as the critically endangered primates in the world and they are mainly protected in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. For life time experiences, trekking permits in Uganda cost $600 per person. Habituated gorillas are only found in 4 national parks of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Southwestern Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Northwestern Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Whereas Uganda has habituated gorillas in Mgahinga, very few visitors are usually received in this national park as compared to the rest of the gorilla protected areas. Mgahinga National Park is a home to only one habituated gorilla group “Nyakagezi” that comes with about 7 to 14 individuals for tourists to track.

Below are some of the reasons why few visitors travel to Mgahinga for gorilla trekking

For mountain gorilla trekking permits, tourists who wish to track the Nyakagezi group, they need to book their permits in advance. In most cases, interested visitors are required to reserve their permits on ground and this at times turns to be a bit challenging as you won’t have any guarantee and the fact that prior purchasing your gorilla trekking permit, you need to book for the lodge and make all your travel plans successful, you will need assurance that your permit has been reserved for you. Usually, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) does not recommend advance payment for Nyakagezi habituated group given the fact that its members tend to migrate to Rwanda Volcanoes National Park or the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Nyakagezi gorilla group has time and a gain been very mobile up to date that its members have tried to settle.  The group used to move from the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park to either Volcanoes National Park or the Virunga National Park in DR Congo, making them to spend much of their time in the two countries other than Uganda. Due to this, most tourists have been scared off because they are not sure whether they will be lucky enough to track these apes in Mgahinga National Park. However, for the last two years, this group has been stable and there has not been any migration issue.

Since it is the only habituated gorilla group in Mgahinga National Park, visitors are not sure and mostly feel insecure that in an event that they fail to track or find it, they do not have any gorilla group as their next option to track within Mgahinga. For Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, there are more than 12 habituated gorilla groups set for tourism and research purposes and due to this, tourists have a wide range of options to achieve their dreams. As a result of many habituated groups in Bwindi, gorilla trekking in Mgahinga National Park has been hindered.

This park also faces stiff competition from the Southern side of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, mainly the Nkuringo and Rushaga sector gorilla groups. These sectors are found in Kisoro district side together with Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and chances are, tourists visiting the gorilla groups in Southern Bwindi can easily view these apes compared to Nyakagezi family.

In conclusion, for gorilla trekking safaris in Mgahinga National Park, tourists have only one habituated gorilla group set for tourism. For interested visitors, this group is currently stable and can easily be tracked in Mgahinga national park. Tourists usually reserve permits for the peak season which falls in the month of June, July, August and September when the groups in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the Rwanda Volcanoes National Park are fully booked.