How To Plan A Gorilla & Golden Monkey Tour in Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park is the only Ugandan park to host gorillas & golden monkeys. A gorilla & golden monkey tour is the best way to explore the park’s top attractions. The rare golden monkey occurs only in the Virunga mountains, where Mgahinga protects the Ugandan side of the ranges. Mountain gorillas occur in the Virungas and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
If you hope to see both endangered primates in the same park, Mgahinga is Uganda’s best and only option. A typical safari to see both would take at least 5 days and 4 nights starting from Entebbe, your entry point into Uganda.
Let’s discuss the most important things you should know when planning a gorilla & golden monkey tour in Mgahinga.
Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park is the remotest and smallest national park in Uganda. The tiny but biodiverse park is located in the extreme southwestern corner of Uganda’s border with DRC and Rwanda. It protects Uganda’s side of the Virunga Mountains, enclosing part of Mount Muhavura (4,157 m), Mount Gahinga (93,473 m), and Mount Sabinyo (3,634 m), in that order from east to west.
Mgahinga may be Uganda’s smallest national park, but it packs an impressive number of forest mammals. Thirty-nine mammal species have been recorded in Mgahinga, including the larger and most famous, the mountain gorilla. Other large mammals easily spotted in Mgahinga include buffalo and forest elephants.
The rarest and endangered primates found in Mgahinga and only in the Virunga Mountains are the golden and blue monkeys. Other inhabitants that you’re bound to bump into include golden cat spotted hyena, side-stripped jackal, leopard, bushbuck, duiker, giant forest hog, and others. The native forest people that initially occupied the park still live around the park boundaries and would be great for a short cultural visit.
Mgahinga has about 79 bird species that find refuge within the park, including several endemic to the East Congo Montane region. Birding in Mgahinga is one of the park’s biggest attractions that most travelers would include on a gorilla & Golden Monkey Tour.
However, the biggest attraction in Mgahinga is tracking habituated mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. Mgahinga has several mountain gorillas roaming between Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, DRC’s Virunga National Park but has only one habituated gorilla family available for tourism.
Like the golden monkeys, Mgahinga has one golden monkey group, with about 30 individuals, available for tourists. Guided small groups of tourists head out daily to spend at least an hour with the golden monkeys in Mgahinga’s bamboo forest zones.
Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga
Mgahinga National Park is one of the only three parks where gorilla trekking occurs and one of the two gorilla parks in Uganda. Mgahinga, together with the nearby but separate Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, protect more than half of the world’s mountain gorilla population.
Gorilla trekking is the most popular activity in the park, and park officials conduct daily guided tours of about eight people per day. Trekking in Mgainga is generally not as tedious as trekking in Bwindi. However, the experience of spending one hour with the mountain gorillas is pretty much the same and equated to nothing like any other jungle adventure in Africa.
With one habituated gorilla family available for tourism in Mgahinga, the Nyakagezi Gorilla Group, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) issues out only eight permits per day. Trekking excursions guided by two armed rangers and a tracker guide start at 08:00 in the morning and trek up the slopes for about 1-4 hours, depending on the gorilla location, when they find them spend at least an hour with them.
Before trekkers head into the mountain forests, they have to attend a briefing at the park’s headquarters located at the base of the volcanoes. Here, trekkers are checked for infectious disease, tracking protocols, and assigned rangers and trackers. After the briefing, which usually takes about 30 minutes, the trekkers are escorted in the forest to find the gorilla.
When planning your gorilla & golden monkey tour in Mgahinga, note that the primates can be anywhere in the park. There’s no accurate time to track them, so you would be in there for at least 1-4 hours before you find the gorillas. You have to prepare your physical ability months before joining the trekking group.
The price of a gorilla permit in Mgahinga is the same as Bwindi at $800 per person for foreign non-residents and $700 per person for foreign residents. UWA sells permits at the head office in Kampala. However, you can get yours through a licensed local tour operator like Encounter Africa Safari to avoid local bureaucratic logistics.
Because it’s just a small number of permits sold per day, availability is scarce. Please book your Mgahinga gorilla permit months in advance to avoid disappointment on your gorilla & golden monkey tour.
Golden Monkey Trekking in Mgahinga
Golden monkey trekking in Mgahinga is much the same as gorilla trekking, but in this case, you’re tracking smaller and more active primates. Trekking up the volcano slopes to find the golden monkeys is pretty much the same as trekking to find gorillas.
Golden monkeys in Mgahinga live in the bamboo forest zone, about two kilometers from the starting point. After briefing at the headquarters located at the park base, two rangers and an expert tracker lead a group of trackers into the bamboos to find the golden monkeys. You could be lucky to bump into a gorilla family; that would be the highlight of your gorilla & golden monkey tour.
One golden monkey family is available for tourism with about 30 members. The number of visitors is not restricted like gorilla trekking. You could buy a golden monkey permit in the park offices. However, that is not guaranteed—Talk to your tour operator to help you secure yours before the trip.
The golden monkey permit in Mgahinga costs $100 per person and allows you only one hour with the habituated golden monkey family. To spend at least four hours with the golden monkeys, book a golden monkey habituation permit, which costs $140 per person per trek. Contact Encounter Africa Safaris Ltd’s consultants at firstname.lastname@example.org to help you purchase your gorilla permit before your scheduled trip date.
A Typical Gorilla & Golden Monkey Tour
A typical gorilla and golden monkey tour in Mgahinga will take at least 5 days and 4 nights in Uganda. You’ll most probably spend a night in Entebbe, your entry point into Uganda, and spend the next day traveling through hilly southwestern Uganda to get to Mgahinga National Park.
The drive from Entebbe to Mgahinga could take about 10 hours on a surfaced road via Mbarara – Kiroro cities. This journey can be broken down with a night halfway through the journey at Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda’s smallest savannah park, for a game drive safari. Or you take a one-hour scheduled local flight from Entebbe to Kisoro airstrip and take a 2-hour drive to Mgahinga.
Spending a night around Mgainga, or Kisoro town where most of the accommodation is found, you’ll wake early and be at the starting point by 7:30 AM, ready to start trekking the gorillas or golden monkeys. Because both activities begin at the same time, 8:00 am, depending on the date of your permits, you can start with either the gorillas or golden monkeys but not both on the same day.
After half the day in the mountain forests, you can join other activities around the park, like visiting the forest Batwa people’s villages or hiking to the caldera. The next day, you head back into the forest for another half-day on the gorilla & golden monkey tour experience.
Most travelers will stay another night around Mgahinga and drive back to Entebbe the next day. Others will join the western Uganda safari route to other national parks immediately after the trek. Talk to your tour operator to advise you on the best course after your forest adventure.
If you’re an active adventurer, you can tick around Mgahinga National Park, hike the Virunga Volcanoes, or go birding around the park.
Accommodation on the gorilla & golden monkey tour in Mgahinga is scarce. Most travelers choose to sleep in Kisoro town, which has a good concentration of accommodation choices. Although Kisoro is about 2 hours drive from Mgahinga, most travelers make it in time for the trekking excursions.
When To Go
Although the park is open all year through, the best time to go to Mgainga for the gorilla & golden monkey tour is during the dry seasons from June to August and December to February.
In the dry months, the trails are easy to navigate, and your time with the primates is much pleasant when it’s not raining. The dry months are also the high seasons in Uganda, which means the trekking permits are scarce during this time. We advise you to book with us early to avoid missing out on your travel date.
March, April, May, October, and November are low seasons with high rains. During this time, most travelers will avoid visiting Mgahinga, but other travelers take advantage of the low season discounts at lodges. If you can stand the rains (besides, you’ll be trekking in a rainforest), this is the best time to travel on a budget.
Booking You Gorilla & Golden Monkey Tour
Mgahinga National Park is the only park in Uganda (one of the three worldwide) where you’ll see the endangered gorillas and golden monkeys. The logistics of booking a gorilla & golden monkey tour may be challenging for a first-time visitor to Uganda, especially during these uncertain times. Still, with the help of a licensed tour operator who has experience operating such trips for years, you’ll concentrate on having the experience rather than planning the tour.
Send our consultants an email to book your permits, organize your transport and plan your accommodation and meals. We will give you the best choices based on your budget, guide you through the trip planning, and manage your tour so that you can enjoy your holiday.