Planning a photography safari to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Photography safaris help tourists capture the beauty of Mgahinga and all that is in with it and after getting the permit and paying the park entrance fees, you will be free to enjoy your Mgahinga safari. Note that taking photos around Mgahinga is free of charge but if you wish to take short film videos of the gorillas, you will have to first pay for a filming permit from the Uganda Wildlife Authority .
Most Popular Safaris
A packing list for a photography safari is important because you need to be comfortable to be able to enjoy your safari. When we talk about photo safaris, you do not need to be a professional for as long as you can have a clean shot, and there will be professional guides taking you through the process. Photo safaris are best carried out during morning hours when the lighting is perfect or in the evening hours.
Photography safari packing list
Packing for a safari is not as easy as everyone makes it out to be especially if this is your first time in Africa. The right packing list involves packing the right clothes, gadgets, and other personal items that you might need, and below is a detailed list of what we believe you need for the photography safari in Mgahinga.
A camera: This is an essential tool when it comes to photo safaris and you can use any type of camera although we suggest that you get a regular point-and-shoot camera especially if you are not a professional. You will need camera equipment which includes zoom lenses of both wide and mid-range angles, a bean bag, spare batteries, and lenses, a camera bag to keep your camera equipment, a tripod to take shots that require precision, and lens cleaning equipment.
Insect repellent: To avoid insect bites while in the rainforest, we advise that you carry insect repellent because some of them are disease-carrying insects and you do not want to go back with malaria.
Binoculars: Binoculars are a necessity especially if you are visiting the park for bird watching. These will help you zoom in and see the birds, primates, and gorillas easily and also spot the hidden and those that are far from you.
Day backpack: A day backpack is to help tourists carry their essential items while trekking through Mgahinga. It shouldn’t be more than 15kgs and some of the things that you can carry in your backpack include toilet paper, wet wipes, cameras, snacks, water bottles, insect repellent, and sunscreen among others.
Clothes: Clothes play an important role in having an enjoyable photography safari in Mgahinga and the most important thing that you should note about clothes is that you shouldn’t pack many and they should at least be of neutral color. Avoid blue clothes because they are associated with tsetse flies, camouflage clothes with the army and brightly colored clothes attract too much attention. Pack neutral-colored long-sleeved shirts and trousers, pack a few undershirts for when it gets too hot, and avoid jeans because they become too baggy when wet affecting the trek.
Hike boots: These do not need to be new but you should make sure that they are sturdy, comfortable, and fitting to avoid blisters. Ankle hike boots are the better option in this situation.
Thick socks and Gaiters: The thick socks are to protect your feet and for tucking in the trousers to avoid insect crawls and the gaiters should at least be adjustable (note that gaiters are best used during the wet season).
Garden gloves: The garden gloves are to protect your hands from scratches and blisters while trekking through the national park.
Other essentials that you will need include a first aid kit, sunhat, sunscreen, wet wipes, refillable water bottle, a flashlight, cash because you will not find ATMs near Mgahinga, snacks, toilet paper, a warm sweater, and rain jacket among others.
What to see in Mgahinga National Park
Before visiting Mgahinga National Park, it is important to first find out and get to know the different activities that are offered at the park. Mgahinga has a lot of tourist attractions providing a wide range of activities to choose from and the main activities that are carried out in the national park include gorilla trekking, hiking, Golden monkey trekking, nature walks, mountain climbing, and experiencing the Batwa trail.
This is the main activity that attracts large crowds of tourists to Mgahinga National Park making it one of the frequently visited national parks in Uganda. Mgahinga has one gorilla family known as the Nyakagezi family and it has 12 family members headed by the silverback. Gorilla trekking involves hiking through the park in search of the gorilla family and once it has been located, you get to spend an hour with them before getting on with other safari activities. Tourists need to purchase a gorilla permit to be able to participate in gorilla trekking and since there is only one gorilla family in Mgahinga, 8 permits only are printed per day therefore you should book in advance if you wish to gorilla trek in Mgahinga.
The activity starts early morning with a briefing at the headquarters from the tour guides reminding you about the rules and regulations that you need to follow when trekking and what to expect. When the briefing is done, you are allocated a tour guide and an armed ranger who will lead you from the start from the headquarters. Some rules and regulations that need to be followed during a gorilla trek in Bwindi include: Tourists get to spend an hour with the gorillas, minimum age for trekking is 12 years, a maximum of 8 people is allowed to trek the gorilla family, you are not allowed to litter the national park, avoid eating, drinking and smoking when with the gorillas, avoid making noise, do not approach the gorillas and keep a distance of 7 meters from the primates.
Gorilla trekking takes between 1 to 7 hours depending on the location of the gorillas and once you get to the Nyakagezi family, you get to spend an hour studying them and taking as many photos and videos as you need.
The Batwa trail
Mgahinga National Park was the home of the indigenous Batwa people before it was gazetted off to protect the gorillas and other wildlife species found in the national park. The Batwa people also known as pygmies due to their height lived in the rainforests for a long time many years ago and they were warriors who lived on fruit gathering and hunting. The Batwa trail experience takes you through the experience and lifestyle of the Batwa people and it was set up as an activity to support the Batwa community after they left the park. A Twa guide will take you through the Batwa trail where you get to see the Garama cave which is believed to be sacred as it was a place where the King used to hide, and it was also used as a center for battle strategy and hiding food during the war. The guides will also tell stories showing the Batwa culture through songs and dance, showing how hunting and fruit gathering was done, and many other interesting things about the Batwa. Do not forget to buy souvenirs from the community as it helps them improve their community economically.
Nature walks in Mgahinga National Park are usually carried out during the dry season using the different trek routes around the park. You get to walk around the edges of the mountains, explore the bamboo forests and also get to trek to the Rugezi swamp which offers beautiful scenery of the Batwa agricultural villages. The nature walks offer a relaxing and calm way to explore Mgahinga and during the walks, you will be able to spot the different wildlife species like mountain gorillas, monkeys like L’Hoests monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, Golden monkeys, and several bird species.
Golden monkey trekking
Mgahinga is the only place in Uganda where gorilla trekking and golden monkey trekking is carried out and that is why some tourists refer to it as the place where silver meets gold. Golden monkey trekking involves trekking through the forest in search of the golden monkeys that can be easily identified by the golden coat covering their face and part of the body. Unlike gorillas which are sometimes hard to find, golden monkeys can easily be found because they live in the lower parts of the park and all you need to do is follow the bamboo shoots on the ground. Mgahinga has about 6 golden monkeys habituated families and you will need a permit to get access to the monkeys. The trek starts with a briefing at the park headquarters and the trek usually takes between 30 minutes to 5 hours. The same rules for gorilla trekking apply to golden monkey trekking and these are do not use a flashlight when taking photos, you are not allowed to feed the golden monkeys, keep a distance of 7 meters and you get to spend an hour with the golden monkeys. Golden monkeys are also quite playful and can be seen jumping from one bamboo tree to the next and these are best trekked during the dry season.
Mgahinga National Park is a birding destination in Uganda with over 184 bird species recorded both endemic and migratory species. Birding can be carried out all year round although the migratory birds are best seen during the wet season from October to November and March to May. The different bird species in Mgahinga include the White star robin, handsome francolin, Western green tinker bird, striped-breasted tit, Olive pigeon, Brown woodland pigeon, and the cape Robin-chat among others.
Accommodation in Mgahinga
When planning a photography safari in Mgahinga, accommodation is one of the first things you should look into because they are usually fully booked especially during the dry season when there are large crowds of tourists visiting the country. There are several options you get to choose from and these are categorized into basic, mid-range, and luxury accommodations and these are either lodges or hotels. You need to book in advance irrelevant of the season you are traveling and although there are no developed facilities within the national park, there is a variety you can pick from near Ntebeko’s entrance and around Kisoro district and these include Mount Gahinga Lodge, Mount Mgahinga climbers Rest camp, Mgahinga community camp, Travelers Rest House, Virunga lodge, countryside Guesthouse, Lake Mulehe safari lodge, Kisoro Tourist Hotel, Mucha cottages and Heritage Guest House among others.
Best time for a photography safari in Mgahinga
Photography safaris in Mgahinga are carried out throughout the year whether during the dry (December to February and June to September) season or the wet season (March to May and October to November). The best time to go for a photo safari is during the dry season however the activities that you wish to engage in will also determine the best time for example if you want to go for bird watching, the best will be during the wet season and if you wish to go for a gorilla trek, golden monkey trek, and hiking then the best time for a photo safari is during the dry season.