What to expect on a gorilla trek in Mgahinga National Park
What to expect on a gorilla trek in Mgahinga National Park. Mgahinga National Park is Uganda’s smallest park, bordering Virunga National Park in the DRC and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, both found in the Virunga region. It is home to one gorilla family that can be trekked daily following the gorilla trek rules and regulations. Still, besides gorillas, the national park is also home to other primates, including golden monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, and over 100 registered bird species, all living in the tropical rainforest that makes up Mgahinga.
Most Popular Safaris
The Nyakagezi gorilla family is the only one that is trekked in Mgahinga, and just like in Bwindi, you need to purchase a gorilla permit in advance (at least 6 months before the travel date) to be able to gorilla trek in Mgahinga. Eight permits are printed daily in Mgahinga and are in high demand during the peak season, which is the best time for gorilla trekking. The cost of a gorilla trek depends on the category of tourists you belong to, which is 300,000 UGX for Uganda citizens and other East African citizens, $800 for foreign non-residents, and $700 for foreign residents.
Mgahinga National Park has only one gorilla trekking session per day starting early morning with a briefing from the guides at the park headquarters. Some of the things/highlights that you should expect while gorilla trekking in Mgahinga include the following:
- Gorilla trekking is full of surprises; that is, you might trek gorillas for more than 5 hours, and yet other times, it will take less than an hour, depending on the location of the gorilla family on the trek day.
- Expect a lot of insects and butterflies around the park; that is why insect repellent and long-sleeved shirts are needed.
- Expect showers of rain even during the dry season because this is a tropical rainforest. Carry your raincoat with you even during the dry season.
- Expect to wander off the usual trek path during the trek in search of the gorillas by using unbeaten paths.
- During the wet season, the hike routes will be slippery and muddy.
- Due to the unpredictable time spent trekking gorillas, all tourists should at least be physically fit due to the different terrain in Mgahinga National Park.
What to expect on the Trek day
Tourists usually expect a lot on the actual trek day, but since this is a jungle, expect anything to happen. All you need to know is that it will be a fun and memorable day. After breakfast and a briefing at the park headquarters, the hike starts as early as 7:00 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. once allocation has been made. Tour guides keep reminding trekkers about the guidelines for gorilla trekking to protect both the visitors and the gorillas. Rangers and guides constantly communicate during the trek so that the gorilla family is easily spotted. Once you get to the gorilla family, you spend an hour with them, taking as many photos and videos as possible and studying the behavioral patterns of the gorillas. Remember to tip the team that has been with you throughout the trek, including guides and porters.
Gorilla trekking rules and regulations in Mgahinga
Gorilla trekking rules are set up by the Uganda Wildlife Authority to help preserve the almost extinct gorillas due to the constant poaching from the locals who used to live around and within the national park. The rules also help in conserving the park so that it is a healthy and clean environment for the gorillas, and these include the following:
- The distance between the gorillas and the tourists is 7 to 10 meters. This is to prevent easy human-to-gorilla infections and attacks, although these are rare.
- The minimum age for gorilla trekking is 15 years.
- When taking photographs, the flashlight should be turned off because it usually scares the gorillas off.
- Eating and drinking while next to the gorillas is prohibited.
- Gorillas rarely attack but once you are approached by one, do not stare at it straight in the eye, take a submissive posture like crouching down a bit lowering your head, and back away slowly. Do not attempt to run.
- Guests are not allowed to smoke when next to the gorillas
- Mgahinga has no toilets, but if you want to go during the trek, dig a hole and, after doing your business, cover it well to prevent the gorillas from getting infected.
- Only 8 people are allowed to trek with a gorilla family per day. This is to avoid large crowds that might disturb the daily behavioral patterns of the gorillas and also to reduce the infections from humans to gorillas.
- In cases where you fall sick before the start of the trek, it is best to volunteer out of the trek to protect the gorillas.
- During the gorilla trek, ensure that you talk in low tones and do not look the gorilla directly in the eye, you are to remain in groups during the trek and avoid making abrupt actions because gorillas are good at reading body language.
- If you feel like coughing or sneezing, turn away from the primates.
- Do not litter Mgahinga National Park.
Packing right for a gorilla trek in Mgahinga is one of the first things you should consider because packing right is the first step to enjoying your safari. Packing right and light is the best way to go, and some of the essentials that you should pack for the gorilla trek include the following:
Clothes: These are essential and shouldn’t be many to reduce luggage. The clothes packed should be of neutral color, coming in green or brown, avoid camouflage clothes since they are associated with the army, blue is associated with tsetse flies and black with heat. Carry comfortable clothes, long-sleeved shirts, and trousers to protect yourself from insect bites and tree and branch scratches. Avoid jean trousers because they tend to become heavy when wet.
Shoes: Strong hiking boots that are ankle-length are recommended for the hike. They do not necessarily have to be new, but they should be fitting to avoid toe blisters, sturdy enough to withstand the slippery trek routes, and waterproof if possible. This gorilla trek is something other than what you would wish to try out with sandals or sneakers on because the trek paths are slippery and muddy.
Socks and gaiters: Pack enough big and comfortable socks because trousers are usually tucked in to prevent insects from crawling up your pants. They also keep you warm during the cold mornings and act as protection from nettles. The gaiters are normally used during the wet season, and we advise that you get adjustable ones.
Gadgets: A safari is incomplete without gadgets like phones, a camera, and binoculars. A camera comes with extra lenses, batteries, cleaning equipment, and binoculars. Although can be used to take photos, it is better to carry a camera, if this is your first time, an experienced guide will be around to help.
A sunhat and sunscreen for protection. The sun can be very hot, so you need to have a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen with you.
Wet wipes and biodegradable toilet paper
A raincoat and warm sweater are also essential for the wet season and during night hours when the temperature lowers.
Garden gloves: Get strong gardening gloves to protect your hands during the gorilla trek. During the trek, you get to hold onto tree branches and vines, and the garden gloves are to help.
A day backpack: This is used to carry the different items that you might need during the trek and this is to avoid carrying all the luggage around. Some of the things that you will need during the trek include a refillable water bottle, wet wipes, cameras, binoculars, toilet paper, sunscreen, insect repellent, toiletries, and any other personal items.
Insect repellent: You can carry any type of insect repellent for as long as it works for you. Carry it with you throughout the trek in case you need to reapply.
First aid kit: Tour guides usually carry a first aid kit in case of emergencies, but if possible, bring a personal aid kit that has all the necessary equipment like painkillers, bandages, plasters, spirit, iodine, and any other prescribed medicines from your doctor.
Other activities carried out in Mgahinga
The main activity that is carried out in Mgahinga is gorilla trekking; however, there are other activities that tourists can engage in to make the safari to Mgahinga an enjoyable one, and these include the following:
Golden monkey trekking: Golden monkey trekking in Mgahinga is the second most popular activity for tourists after gorilla trekking. This is an exciting and fun activity where you trek with the golden monkeys always searching for food and water. Golden monkey trekking is a bit easier than gorilla trekking, and this is because golden monkeys are found on lower ground, compared to mountain gorillas, which are usually found in higher areas. Golden monkey habituation was also introduced in the park and can be carried out throughout the year. Trekking can take 3 to 6 hours, depending on the location of the golden monkeys you have been allocated. Golden monkeys are playful and can easily be spotted and identified by the golden coats on their face and the parts of their bodies. There are some rules and regulations that need to be followed when golden monkey trekking. You need to have a Golden Monkey trekking permit. Every tourist must keep a distance of 7 meters from the primates, avoid flash photography, and spend an hour with the monkeys after trekking.
Enjoy the Batwa trail experience: The Batwa trail is one exciting experience every tourist should engage in while on a gorilla safari trek in Mgahinga. It is an opportunity for tourists to meet the Batwa people, also known as the pygmies, who once lived within the national park before they were evicted to protect the gorillas. The Batwa trail answers many questions, like whether you have met the forest people and had the chance to hike through the forest. The trail is like walking through a museum showing you how the Batwa people lived in the forest, their hunting expeditions, and how the warriors defended their people and searched for food, water, and medicine while in the forest. The Batwa trail was developed to teach tourists about the lifestyle of the Batwa, and the walks are led by the Batwa guides who have great knowledge about their history and culture. Some of the important things to note about the Batwa trail are that it was opened on June 11th, 2011, Batwa guides take you through the trail, and it is to help preserve the almost extinct Batwa culture. The trail can be trekked all year round, but the best time is during the drier months of June to September and December to February.
Birding: Over 184 bird species are recorded in Mgahinga National Park, which can be viewed throughout the year. Some bird species you can find in Mgahinga include the cape robin chat, western green tinker bird, white star robin, and handsome francolin, among others. The best time for birding is during the wet months of March to June and October to November.
Nature walks: This is one of the most interesting activities carried out in Mgahinga. Tourists get a chance to explore the national park and see the different primates, like monkeys, bird species, and different tree species. It is a very good way of connecting with nature.
Accommodation in Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga has several accommodation facilities categorized into three categories: basic/budget, mid-range, and luxury. These must be booked in advance, especially during the peak season of July to September. You also get an option of booking accommodation in town, which is about an hour away from Mgahinga, and these include Mount Gahinga Lodge, Community campground, Mount Gahinga Rest Camp, Virunga Hotel, Kisoro Tourist Hotel, Mucha Hotel, and Montana Guest House among others.
Mgahinga National Park is a good gorilla destination and expects to have a lot of fun, learn, and conduct research while on a gorilla safari to Mgahinga. Contact us to help you with the gorilla trekking safari to Mgahinga and other gorilla trekking destinations throughout the year.