Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is an extraordinary experience and one of the highlights of a safari in Uganda. It offers a unique opportunity to get up close to a habituated mountain gorilla family in their natural environment. The trek takes you through the volcanic slopes of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, where you can spend one hour in the presence of these majestic creatures in the bamboo jungle. This adventure is a must-do for every traveler, and its popularity is rapidly increasing year by year.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is situated in the far southwest of Uganda, bordering Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park covers an area of 33.9 square kilometers and is home to three dormant volcanoes: Mount Muhabura, Mount Gahinga, and Mount Sabyinyo. These volcanoes range in elevation from 2,227 to 4,127 meters, creating a diverse and stunning landscape.
As one of Africa’s top gorilla trekking destinations, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park protects a rich variety of plant and animal species in its bamboo, montane, moorland, and alpine forests. However, its most renowned inhabitants are the endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys, which are endemic to the Albertine Rift region.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is part of the larger Virunga Massif, home to approximately half of the world’s mountain gorilla population. Many gorillas move between Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While most gorillas remain elusive and avoid human contact, a few gorilla groups in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park have been habituated for tourism purposes. The Nyakagezi Gorilla Group is the only habituated group available for trekking in Mgahinga.
The Nyakagezi Gorilla Group consists of around 10 members, including three silverback males. One silverback named Mark leads the group. Mark is known for his adventurous spirit and used to migrate the group across borders into Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and back to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. In recent years, he has primarily stayed within the boundaries of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Mgahinga issues a limited number of eight gorilla trekking permits per day for visitors aged 15 and above. These permits can be purchased for USD 700 per person per trek from Uganda Wildlife Authority offices or through licensed local operators like Trek Africa Tours.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park begins with a short briefing at the park entrance hall. At the briefing point, a warden will check if trekkers are carrying any infectious diseases, as mountain gorillas share 98% of their DNA with humans and are susceptible to human illnesses.
During the briefing, the warden will provide essential information on trekking rules, behavior around the gorillas, and guidelines for the one-hour encounter with the gorilla family. Trekkers are advised to avoid littering, stay with their trekking group, wear face masks when near the gorillas, and are assigned armed rangers for security purposes.
After the briefing, a small group of no more than eight tourists, accompanied by rangers, a lead tracker guide, and porters (if needed), will venture into the mountain forest. The duration of the trek can vary, ranging from 45 minutes to 4 hours, depending on the movement of the gorilla group.
It’s important to note that mountain gorillas inhabit relatively steep mountain slopes, making the trekking terrain challenging and uneven. While it may be physically demanding, it is manageable for those accustomed to hiking. However, it’s advisable to assess your physical fitness before the trek.
The trackers will maintain a pace suitable for the slowest trekker, providing short breaks to rest and hydrate. They will also share information about the forest and its inhabitants, enriching the trekking experience.
Once the gorilla group is located, the rangers and guide will find a safe and comfortable position for the trekkers to observe the gorillas. The gorillas typically ignore the presence of humans, occasionally casting curious glances. It’s important to maintain a safe distance of 10 meters and avoid any direct contact. Over the next hour, trekkers can capture memorable moments and immerse themselves in the tranquility of the silverback and his family.
After the hour is up, the guide will lead the group away from the gorillas without disturbing them. A suitable location will be chosen for a break, where trekkers can enjoy a packed lunch and reflect on their encounter before returning to the park headquarters. At the headquarters, a certificate of completion is awarded to trekkers, acknowledging their contribution to gorilla conservation.
After the gorilla trek, there are several other activities to explore in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. One popular option is tracking the endangered golden monkeys, which are only found in the Virunga region. A habituated group of over 30 golden monkeys is available for half-day and full-day trekking excursions.
For adventurous travelers, climbing one of the three volcanoes in Mgahinga is a thrilling experience. Mount Muhabura, Mount Gahinga, and Mount Sabyinyo offer stunning views of central Africa from their summits. Daily hikes depart from the Mgahinga park office, providing an opportunity to witness the breathtaking landscapes.
Visiting the Batwa tribe, who were the original inhabitants of the mountain forests, is another option. The Batwa now live on the outskirts of the park after being relocated to support conservation efforts. They showcase their ancient culture, including traditional dances, stories, and guided walks through their villages and forest trails.
Bird enthusiasts will be delighted by Mgahinga’s rich avian diversity, with over 180 recorded bird species. The park offers excellent birding opportunities, with rewarding trails through the gorge between Gahinga and Sabinyo, bamboo forests, and montane forests.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located approximately 500 kilometers southwest of Kampala. The most common route is a 10-hour drive from Kampala via Kisoro. The final stretch from Kisoro to Mgahinga, about 14 kilometers, involves a rough ascent road that requires a 4×4 vehicle, particularly during the rainy seasons from February to May and September to November.
You can reach Mgahinga by road from Queen Elizabeth National Park via Ishasha and around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which takes approximately 6-7 hours. There is also a route from Lake Mburo National Park via Kisoro.
If flying into Uganda, you can take a one-hour domestic flight from Entebbe International Airport to Kisoro Airport, which provides convenient access to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
While Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has limited accommodation options nearby, its proximity to Kisoro town and Lake Bunyonyi allows travelers to stay at either location and reach the Ntebeko trailhead in time for gorilla trekking.
The two accommodation options just outside Mgahinga are Amajambere Iwacu Camp (budget-friendly) and Volcanoes Mount Gahinga Safari Lodge (high-end).
Lake Bunyonyi offers excellent accommodation choices, including Birdnest at Bunyonyi Resort and Bunyonyi Overland Resort, which are both mid-range options. There are also numerous budget options in the area that can be recommended by consultants.
In Kisoro town, you’ll find a variety of accommodation options ranging from budget to luxury city hotels. Some recommended choices include Kisoro Tourist Hotel, Kisoro Travelers’ Rest Hotel, Countryside Guesthouse Kisoro, and Mountain Gorilla Safari Hotel. Consultants can provide further assistance in selecting the most suitable option.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga National Park is possible throughout the year, but the best time to visit is during the dry seasons from June to August and December to January. During these periods, the forest trails are more accessible, and the chances of encountering heavy rainfall during the trek are lower.
June to September is considered the peak season in Mgahinga and Uganda as a whole. Gorilla permits are in high demand during this time, so it’s recommended to book well in advance.
The wet seasons from March to May and September to November are characterized by heavy rainfall, making trekking more challenging. However, some travelers take advantage of the lower-season rates and still choose to trek during this time.
Trek Africa Tours is a local tour operator specializing in gorilla trekking safaris in Mgahinga. We offer customized trips that include accommodation, meals, transfers, and gorilla permit booking. The team at Trek Africa Tours works closely with travelers to design a safari that meets their expectations and ensures a worry-free and enjoyable trekking adventure in Uganda.
For more information or to start planning your trip, you can reach out to Trek Africa Tours via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their consultants will provide personalized recommendations based on your preferences and budget.