Mgahinga Gorilla National Park protects the Ugandan slopes of the majestic Virungas, a range of freestanding volcanoes that rises to a maximum altitude of 4,507m on the border with Rwanda and DR Congo. It is an alternative destination to Bwindi for mountain gorilla trekking. Other attractions include hikes to the summit of three of the park’s volcanic peaks and golden monkey trekking.
Aside from the endangered mountain gorillas, Mgahinga is home to many other mammal species. However, as in all forests, animals tend to be hard to spot. The very rare golden monkey, endemic to the Albertine Rift, can be tracked. Other mammals include black-and-white colobus, buffalo, elephant, bushbuck, and duiker.
Mgahinga is best known as an alternative destination to Bwindi for mountain gorilla trekking, but it also offers good birding, and an opportunity to spent time with the localized golden monkey. The Nyakagazi group is the only habituated gorilla troop here. This means only eight permits a day are available resulting in a very exclusive experience on the day of trekking.
The Dry seasons (from June to August and December to January) are the best time for trekking gorillas in Uganda. The park stays open throughout the year, but in heavy rain, the trails might be difficult to walk and time with the gorillas and photography can be compromised.
Mgahinga is Uganda’s smallest park. It forms part of the Virunga Mountains and adjoins with the parks across the borders of Congo and Rwanda. The entire park is at a high altitude, and the views are out of this world. The most prominent feature is the volcanic cones of extinct volcanos in the mountain range. It also offers great views over Lakes Mutanda and Mulehe.
Not much research has been done so far regarding the birds of Mgahinga, but the park is still of great interest to birdwatchers. Over 180 bird species have been recorded, and several are localized forest birds – 12 of which are considered endemic to the Albertine Rift (birds restricted to this area). There are several guided mountain hikes on offer where birders get an opportunity to tick of some Afro-alpine endemics such as the scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird. Migratory birds are present from November to April.
The birdlife in Mgahinga is good year-round, but at its best from April to mid-May and from October to November. June and July have the least rain, and March to mid-May have the most rain. The heavy rains might result in delays due to impassable roads and slippery hiking trails, which can limit your bird-watching time. The main nesting season is in May and June. From late May through September, food is abundant. Migratory birds are in the park from November to April.
Mgahinga Gorilla NP is open for gorilla trekking the whole year, but the best time is during the drier seasons from June to August and December to January. At this time the trails tend to be easier to navigate and spending a precious hour with the gorillas might be more pleasant when it isn’t raining.
The near-constant threat of rain means that Mgahinga doesn’t have a Dry season as such, although the precipitation eases a little from December to January, even more mid-year. The park’s reputation for being one of Uganda’s coolest places is reflected in the average daytime temperature of 20°C/68°F. You’ll need plenty of warm, waterproof clothing during the dual Wet seasons (February to May and from September to November).
The climate in Mgahinga is mild to cold and wet. The high altitude (2,227-4,127m or 7,306-13,540ft) makes this one of the coldest destinations in the country. It is on average 20°C/68°F during the day, becoming cold in the evening (9°C/48°F).
Mgahinga experiences no real Dry season, so rain is always possible, but there tends to be less rainfall in December to January, while June and July receive the least amount of rain.
June, July & August – Generally the driest time, but rain is still possible. This is an excellent time for gorilla trekking. Daytime temperatures average 20°C/68°F, with an average of 8°C/46°F at night.
December & January – Rainfall is lower than in the Wet seasons but higher than June, July, and August. Temperatures will be around 21°C/68°F during the day but will differ depending on altitude.
February, March, April & May – Rainfall peaks in April. The road to Mgahinga can become tough to travel, and a 4WD is necessary. Hiking wet forest trails can be difficult. The park tends to be covered in mist, and hailstorms are not uncommon.
September, October & November – These months are comparable to February to May. Average temperatures will hover around 20°C/68°F in the afternoon and 9°C/48°F at night.
Mgahinga Gorilla NP lies 14km from the small town of Kisoro along a rough ascent road (allow 45 minutes). Your point of entry into Uganda is Entebbe International Airport (EBB), located about 46km/29mi from the capital, Kampala. It is possible to take a domestic flight from Entebbe to Kisoro.
Gorillas can be tracked year-round in Mgahinga. Predictably, the low seasons roughly coincide with the Wet seasons (February to May and from September to November), but be aware that some of the park’s accommodation shuts down in these months. The landscape of the park, dominated by the Virunga Mountains, can be better navigated in the drier months.
Mgahinga Gorilla NP is, in our view, a safe and secure park as are most other protected areas in Uganda. In addition to those employed by tour operators, the park and lodges, you will mostly encounter other tourists on safari.
It is smart to protect yourself from the risk of malaria by taking antimalarial medicine. Additionally, using mosquito repellent (those containing DEET are most effective) and covering up in the evening also helps. There are also vaccinations you should get before you travel – seek advice from your local doctor or travel clinic.
Although serious incidents are rare, gorilla trekking can be dangerous if you do not follow the directions of your guide. Doing so greatly limits any risks involved. Also, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park take the time to read. Further advice on limiting dangers and annoyances when traveling: