Mgahinga is Uganda’s smallest national park but a rewarding place to visit in East Africa. The park protects the Uganda’s part of the Virunga ranges. Within the park, there are three volcanic mountains that offer a great backdrop scenery to visitors in south western Uganda. These ranges are inhabited by the mountain gorillas and gorilla trekking is the major activity that attracts visitors to the park.
While most of today’s forests are no more than 12,000 years old, Mgahinga’s vegetation has been weaving itself into tangles over at least 25,000 years, in the process accumulating a lengthy species list. This includes 310 species of butterfly, 51 reptiles, 200 trees, 88 moths and an exceptional 120 types of mammal including 10 primates.
The latter includes chimpanzee, L’Hoest’s, red tailed and blue monkey, black and white colobus, baboon, and Mgahinga’s most famous resident, the mountain gorilla. Mgahinga is a prime destination for birdwatchers. Its 350 species include seven which are IUCN red data listed and 90% of all Albertine rift endemics, species which are difficult or impossible to see in any other part of East Africa.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is not reliable of compared with the treks in Volcanoes National Park and Virunga National Park. This is due to that the only habitutaed gorilla group in the park sometimes cross to Rwanda or DRC. Hpwever since 2013, the group has been settled in the park and a good number of travelers taking gorilla safaris in Uganda have tracked these gorillas through the rainforest and bamboo covered slopes.
Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga National Park
We trek the gorillas through the rainforest and bamboo covered slopes, accompanied by a guide and trackers, in search of a mountain gorilla family. The walking can sometimes be tough and long, but when you catch a glimpse of the magnificent silverback, any discomforts will be quickly forgotten. When the gorillas are sighted, visitors will be guided to within 6 metres from the gorillas, sit around them for a whole hour while gazing into their big round eyes.
Gorilla trekking is unpredictable. It’s difficult to foresee how many hours you will hike. The gorilla excursion can take from 2 up to 8 hours. Expect to walk along distance in steep and muddy conditions, sometimes with rain overhead, before you encounter any gorillas. A good physical condition is recommended. For conservation purposes, time spent with the gorillas is limited to one hour. A ranger will brief you on how to behave with the gorillas.
Golden Monkey Tracking
The Uganda Wildlife Authority successfully habituated golden monkey troops for experiential tourism, the activity is very new and you should never miss to encounter the rare golden monkeys either during morning or afternoon hours depending on your interests. Expert estimated over 3000 golden monkeys inhabiting the bamboo forests at 2,000 meters above sea level, UWA habituated 42 to 60 of them and groups of six visitors led by experienced guides can closely encounter the rare primates not found anywhere else within Uganda. The activity costs 100 USD inclusive of park entry fees and usually lasts for four hours depending on the average fitness of visitors and capacity to move.
Other Wildlife Encounters in the Park
When tracking both gorillas and golden monkeys visitors are advised to keep their voices low so as to increase their chances of sighting other mammals such as forest buffalos, elephants, giant forest hog, golden cat, porcupines, side stripped jackal, bushbucks, black fronted duiker, bush pigs and many more. These are usually encountered in the lower woodland forest slopes although some mammals are hard to spot due to fact that some shy away from people or may be hidding in thickets. Binoculars will enhance your viewing of distant wildlife.
Mgahinga National Park has an alluring list of over 180 species of birds including Albertine rift endemics due to a band of different vegetation zones forming habitats for birds. Visitors all they need is packed lunch, a field guide book and good binoculars to spot your favorite species, birds can also be identified by their calls for the keen birders.species you can spot include the Rwenzori Turaco, Kivu ground thrush, Regal sun bird, handsome Francolin, crowned hornbills, montane Sooty babou, chubs Cisticola, olive woodpecker, western green tinker bird, African hill babblers just a glimpse of species.You need to get time and discover many of the species I have not written here.
Cultural Encounter- The Batwa Trail and Walk to Ancient Garama Caves
Most tourists find interest to visit the unique indigenous Batwa trail after gorilla tracking to discover how the Batwa used to live and survive on row fruits, bush meat, wild honey and then gather at their famous Garama caves just 3 km from Ntebeko visitors centre. Along the trail the Batwa guide clearly narrates their story before eviction from the forest and many young batwa women and boys will perform traditional beliefs such as dances to entertain visitors, fire making, hunting techniques right at the entrance of the 342 km cave. Visitors can enter inside to have a look at the ancient sitting places, rocks carvings that acted as their shelter during war times. A visit to this trail is a way of contributing to conservation of batwa cultures which are vulnerable to extinction and proceeds have helped most of them to improve their lives, access education like never before.The other dominant people in the region are the Bafumbira and Bakigawho are also friendly and welcoming.