Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is one fascinating and thrilling activity that is hardly mentioned when gorilla trekking in Uganda is being talked about and yet the park is a little hidden treasure with a size of 33 square kilometers. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a scenic beauty that travelers should seriously consider visiting any time of the year. The park is located in the southwestern region of Uganda in the district of Kisoro. The park is part of the Virunga Conservation Area, one that is renowned for inhabiting the world’s endangered great mountain gorillas. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was gazzetted as a national park in 1991 to preserve the mountain gorillas that inhabit the park and also the natural habitat itself. The park has a number of attractions like the three conical-shaped extinct volcanoes that beckon you as you head to the park, a variety of bird species, butterflies and animals many of which can be seen on a nature walk in the park. It is, however, the mountain gorillas in Mgahinga that speak volumes of the park.
There are about 80 gorillas in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park that are both habituated and wild. Only one gorilla family is fully habituated in Mgahinga, and it is this family that a number of tourists from far and wide come to visit on a gorilla trekking safari. The Nyakagezi gorilla family of Mgahinga was habituated in 1991 but it was until 1994 that it was made available for gorilla trekking to travelers. This gorilla family is unique for it has an ousted silverback living together with the entire family, peacefully at that. The Nyakagezi gorilla family has a total of five silverbacks, a rear occurrence for it is not common to have such a big number of silverbacks living together. The family also has 2 adult females, 3 juveniles and 1 infant. Visiting them while on a gorilla trekking safari would be rewarding for the juveniles are a pack to marvel at with their curious and playful nature.
Not so long ago, the Nyakagezi gorilla family was the only available one in Mgahinga that travelers could visit, making it only 8 permits available in Mgahinga per day. The migration of the Hirwa gorilla family from Rwanda has had the number of trekkers per day to grow, and it will be so until the elusive gorilla family returns home or decides to go to the Congo instead.
For one to undertake a gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park safari, the purchase of a gorilla permit is mandatory. Since only 8 but currently 16 permits are available per day, travelers are advised to book in advance to secure their slot and be guaranteed of visiting the endangered mountain gorillas. Gorilla permits cost $700 for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents and ugx250,000 for East African citizens and can be purchased directly from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, a body that regulates and levies fares to the tourist attractions of the country, or through a reputable tour operator.
Carrying the right items, most times refeed to as the essential gorilla trekking gear is important for one to have a successful gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park safari. Some of the items that are very much advised include good hiking shoes that have a good grip, long-sleeved shirts, long safari trousers that can allow you have free movement during the hike, a waterproof jacket, waterproof backpack to secure your items, insect repellant creams, a hat, energy giving snacks, among so many others. hiring a porter at the start of the gorilla trek could be great for those persons that think they’d make use of them. Having a hiking stick is highly recommended, and it can be got from either you lodge of stay or at the visitor center at the park headquarters from where the trek starts.
Mentally preparing oneself for the gorilla trek is also important such that you do not be overwhelmed by the whole thing and fail to do the trek. Physical preparedness is also important for the trek is not for the unfit. Some level of fitness is required to be able to trek the gorillas without much difficulty. Having walks or jogging sessions months prior to your safari could be great. Nevertheless, the park rangers follow the speed of the slowest member during gorilla trekking, and also porters and sedan chairs are available for hire to ease on your burden of trekking. The porters can help pull or push you whenever required during the trek and also carry your backpack such that you are not overladen, while the sedan chairs can be used to carry you all throughout the trek at a cost that depends on one’s weight but usually not less than $500. Booking sedan chairs well in advance is required as not so many of them are available. The elderly and persons with limited mobility also have an opportunity to visit the gorillas with the use of sedan chairs.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park starts early in the morning with a briefing by the rangers on what to expect, and the rules and regulations to be followed during the trek. Travelers then embark on the search of the mountain gorillas at 8 am. During the trek, travelers can lookout for a number of attractions like mammals, birds and the rangers and guides can share with you their knowledge of the park and its inhabitants and point out worthy features. When you do encounter the gorillas, travelers are allowed one hour with them and you can take pictures, videos or simply enjoy their presence as they go about with their activities say eating, playing, grooming each other, making nests for a nap or spend the night and so on. You then get to trek back after the allocated time and be awarded a certificate of successfully having trekked the gorillas. The whole trek can take between 30 minutes-4 hours or more depending on the location of the gorillas.
The rules and regulations that are supposed to be followed by travelers on a gorilla trekking safari include among others;
- Persons under the age of 15 cannot do gorilla trekking
- Sick persons with contagious illnesses like flue cannot trek gorillas
- Maintain a 7-meter distance away from the gorillas
- Do not surround the gorillas, and not stare at them
- Stay within your group at all times
- Do not touch the gorillas
- If approached or charged at by the gorillas, stay calm and follow instructions from the ranger guides
- Do not use flash photography
- Always follow instructions from the rangers, they are more knowledgeable about the park and the inhabitants
- Do not litter the park
- Do not make noise
- Do not eat, drink or smoke near the gorillas
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park takes place throughout the year, but it is during the dry season of June-September and December-February that travelers are most recommended to visit as the roads are less slippery. Rains in this rainforest fall at any time though, packing warm clothing is important. Contact a tour operator to help you put together a suitable gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park safari.