Planning a safari to Mgahinga National Park

Planning a safari to Mgahinga National Park

Planning a safari to Mgahinga National Park

Planning a safari to Mgahinga National Park: Planning a safari to Mgahinga national park is no different from planning a safari to any other gorilla trekking and mountain climbing destination. Below is all the information you need to plan a thrilling safari in Mgahinga National Park

Location and how to access Mgahinga national park 

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in South Western Uganda in Kisoro district close to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Park is situated about 8-10 hours’ drive from Kampala capital of Uganda. Mgahinga national park has one main entrance for visitors and it is accessible from all directions. The Ntebeko gate is accessible from Kisoro town and there is proper signage to the park headquarters quite very visible for anyone to miss it.

The park can also be accessed from Kigali –Rwanda which is actually the easiest route to reach the park with about 6 hours’ drive from Kigali, Rwanda. The can be accessed using both road and air transport. By air transport, only domestic flights from Entebbe airport to Kisoro airstrip are available. By road transport you can plan your own movement using the public transport mean since there are daily buses from Kampala city to Kisoro town however to save yourself from the hustle of finding the bus and all the details, you can hire a tour operator to plan your safari to Mgahinga national park inclusive costs of transport. 

What to see/find in Mgahinga national park

Before you go and visit any tourist attraction, it’s important to know the kind of activities to find on the destination you go to. Mgahinga national park has a number of attractions to choose from depending on one’s interests. The main attractions in Mgahinga national park include; Gorilla trekking, Golden monkey trekking, Mountain climbing, Batwa trail, Nature walk tours. 

Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga national park 

Gorilla trekking experience is the main activity that makes Mgahinga national park one of the most visited national parks in Uganda. Mgahinga national park has only one gorilla family called Nyakagezi group with about 12 members headed by a silverback gorilla. Gorilla trekking experience starts quite very early in the morning by reporting at Ntebeko park headquarters where visitors first have a briefing from the park officials before entering the rainforest forest. After the briefing is done, your allocated park rangers lead you to the starting point. Gorilla trekking experience on a daily requires a maximum of 8 people to trek Nyakagezi family. Trekking involves climbing up and down rainforest and bamboo forest, this experience is allocated between 2 to 8 hours depending in the location of the gorilla family. When finally, you find them, a maximum of 1 hour is allocated to you to view the gorillas while they feed and play. This is when you will also make use of your camera to take pictures and videos of the experience. 

Golden monkey trekking

The experience of both mountain gorillas and Golden monkeys in Mgahinga national park is the reason why the park is phased as “where Silver meets Gold”. Mgahinga national park is the only park in Uganda where we find the Golden monkeys. It is estimated that there are about 6 habituated Golden monkey families available for visitors to see. Golden monkey trekking experience is a daily activity that is carried out in Mgahinga national park. The process of preparing for the experience is the same as that of Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga national park. Start off with a briefing before you enter the forest in search of the Golden monkeys in the bamboo forest, an activity takes about 2 to 5 hours. In most occasions you will find them playing on tree branches and feeding. Spend an hour with them as the allocated time to spend in their presence. 

Mountain Climbing – There are 3 mountain providing hiking experiences to hikers in Mgahinga national park. Mgahinga national park is located on the Virunga Mountains and it covers the three mountains of Mount Muhavura, Mount Sabinyo and Mount Gahinga. Anyone interested in hiking to any of the 3 mountains, Mgahinga national park is the starting point of the hikes. Hiking on Mgahinga national park takes about 8 hours on each of the mountains on a daily and each mountains has its own feature that makes its interesting to hike. Mount Muhavura is the highest volcanic mountain among the three and it stands at a height of about 4,127 meters. It takes about 8hours to reach on top where you will use trails via the shrubs, rock grounds, small grasses among others. While on top of Muhavura Mountain you will be able to view the Rwenzori peaks, Virunga volcanoes, Bwindi forest, and Lake Edward. Mount Sabinyo has a height of about 3,645 meters and it is described as the most challenging mountain among the three to hike. Hiking on Mount Sabinyo takes you through the trails filled with mushy vegetation hence needs one to dress up in hiking boots and while on top of the mountain, you will be standing in three countries at the same time that is Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Mount Gahinga is the smallest of the Virunga volcanoes with a height of about 3,474 meters. It involves hiking through the bamboo forest, and while on top of Gahinga Mountain, you will sight a swamp filled crater that is about180 meters wide and the stone piles in the gardens. The entire three volcanic mountains in Mgahinga national park can be climbed in one day as long as you are in good shape. Climbing the three mountains is rewarding in form of the beautiful views of the bird species, animals like elephants, golden monkeys among others hence making your safari in Uganda memorable.

Bird watching experience 

Mgahinga national park is known as one of the best places in Uganda for birdwatching. Mgahinga is home to over 184 bird species such as Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori Batis, Handsome francolin, Kivu ground, Black headed waxbill, Bronze sunbird, Brown Crowned Tchagra, Cape robin chat, Western green tinker bird, Brown woodland warbler, Malachite sunbird, Striped breasted tit, White starred robin, Olive pigeon among others. Bird watching in Mgahinga national park is best done in the morning 

Nature walks experience 

Nature walk in Mgahinga national park is done around the edges of the volcanic mountains through the bamboo forests, Rugezi swamp is one of the places that provide nature walk experience for beautiful views of the agricultural villages, lake Mutanda, birdwatching and vegetation type such as afro-montane, montane forest, bamboo montane, woodland, farmland, tree heathers among others. Nature walk in Mgahinga national park provides you with a cool environment for relaxation and refreshment of the mind.

Cultural tours/Batwa trail walk 

Before Mgahinga was gazetted as a national park in 1991, it was occupied by the indigenous people of Uganda called the Batwa. The Batwa or pygmies lived in the forest many years ago and were the fierce warriors who depended on the forest for food and shelter, they used to hunt small animals, gather fruits and honey, used forest plants for medicine among others. So today, the Batwa trail experience is an activity that is organized by the park to support the Batwa community. The experience takes you through the lifestyle of the Twa as the local Batwa guide demonstrate their ways of life through hunting skills, music, dance, storytelling, visit the Garama cave which is a sacred piece of Batwa history as it was a place for their king and also a place they used to hide in the cave from the bantu invasion many years ago and also used it at a granary or storage area of the food staffs.

Best time to visit Mgahinga national park

Mgahinga national park can be visited anytime throughout the year. The low and high season erra no longer exist because of the changing weather conditions of Uganda. Mgahinga national park however it is recommended to visit the park during the dry months of January to March, June to September and in December despite that the rains are still expected in the dry season in Uganda. During the dry season, the forest is not muddy and slippery compared to the rain seasons in the months of April, May, October and November. October and April are the wettest month, with about 250mm of rain while July and January are the driest months with just 10mm. Most tourists go for gorilla trekking in the dry months and they are recommended to book your gorilla permits at least 4 months to the travel period given that there is a high demand for the Mgahinga gorilla permits for only one gorilla family.

Park fees required in Mgahinga national park

Mgahinga national park is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority which is also response for setting up park entry fees and other activities carried out in the national park. Gorilla trekking permit is the same price as gorilla permits for Gorilla trekking in Bwindi impenetrable national park. 

Gorilla trekking permit is at US$700 per person for foreign non-residents, US$600 per person for foreign residents and UGX 250,000 per person for East African citizens. The gorilla trekking permit includes fees for park entry, ranger guides and hiking fees. 

Golden monkey permit is at US$100 per person for foreign non-residents, US$100 per person for foreign residents and UGX40, 000 for East Africa residents’ inclusive fees for park entry, ranger guides and hiking fees. However, if you are interested in Golden monkey experience, the fees are US$140 per person for both foreign non-residents and foreign residents, fees include park entrance fees.  Volcano hiking fees are at US$80 per person for both foreign and foreign non-residents. 

Where to stay while in Mgahinga national park

If you are considering doing a gorilla trekking safari in Mgahinga national park or Golden monkey trekking, bird watching, or Batwa trail, you must know the accommodation options that you can choose from. There are several campgrounds, hotels and lodges around Kisoro town and Lake Mutanda Area. There are no developed lodging facilities inside the park but there are various lodging options near the Ntebeko’s entrances. Depending on the season, you will need to reserve hotels and campgrounds well in advance.

Given that Mgahinga national park is the smallest national park with limited attractions and for the fact that it is located close to Bwindi Impenetrable national park, the park has few accommodations while most of the accommodations are located in Kisoro district. Accommodations close to Mgahinga national park range from budget to Luxury accommodation. There are also several accommodations suitable for all tourist’s budget and tastes. The Kigezi region has very fertile volcanic soils and the food is amazing, most lodges or camps buy fresh veggies, fruits, meat, milk, honey that blend well with international cuisines. Some of the accommodations near Mgahinga national park include;

Mgahinga Community Camp, Virunga Lodge, Mgahinga gorilla lodge, Mount Mgahinga Climbers Rest camp, Travelers Rest House, Mount Gahinga Lodge. These accommodations are in the surrounding areas of Ntebeko main entrance gate which is the centre for local community development and you can visit women’s craft making projects get a local souvenir in craft shops. Other accommodations that are quite far from the park entrance gate which include; Lake Mulehe Safari lodge, Heritage Guest House in Kisoro town, Mucha Cottages, Countryside Guest House, Lake Mutanda Safari Resort, Kisoro Tourist Hotel just to mention a few.

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