The fact that Mgahinga National Park is a home to mankind’s close relatives-the mountain gorillas, it is undeniable that gorilla trekking in the main reason as to why tourists visit this National park. This Park is a home to only 80 mountain gorillas and only one mobile habituated gorilla group named the Nyakagezi group, which means only 8 gorilla permits for 8 persons are sold per day for this Gorilla group. Gorilla trekking within this Park starts with pre-tracking briefing at 7:00am from Ntebeko Visitor Center and only one hour is permitted for tourists to spend with these remarkable creatures.
The prime reason for visiting Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is to see mountain gorillas and visitors should first book a gorilla safari with one of the local tour operators. The best way to see gorillas is to go gorilla trekking with Uganda Wildlife Authority guides.
Trekking commences early morning from Ntebeko, the main visitor center. The park has only one habituated gorilla family called Nyakagezi with baby gorillas and a 50 year old Silverback gorilla which often moves long distances. Many trekkers hire a porter to assist in carrying bags or give you a push along steep climbs since you can’t tell when you’ll locate gorillas and return back from the forest.
Though seeing gorillas in the park is guaranteed, visitors should be aware of the steep terrain that requires fitness and unpredictable rainfall makes it necessary to carry enough drinking water, packed lunch and rain jackets.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is preferred for gorilla trekking because it’s easy to encounter them due to the availability of much vegetation which is food for gorillas and may move less as well as the forest cover which is bamboo covered. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) habituated one group of mountain gorillas called Nyakagezi Group which has 9 members including the 50 year old Silverback called Bugingo as well as two playful baby gorillas.
Experienced guides and trackers have knowledge about habituated gorilla manners. The park is close to Bwindi Forests where 400 gorillas live that make up half of the world’s mountain gorilla population, (only 880 mountain gorillas left on earth). This makes it easy for tourists to combine both Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for a wider gorilla tracking experience and a diverse collection of other activities. It’s in this park where you are guaranteed to encounter mountain gorillas because Nyakagezi group stabilized within Uganda and has for more than three years not moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or Rwanda instead we have it that other gorillas move from DRC and Rwanda and cross over to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
What is the Best Time to See Mountain Gorillas?
The best time for gorilla trekking is the dry season from June to October and December to February because hiking trails are less muddy and slippery, but the activity can also be conducted in the wet season which is also the low season where gorilla permits are discounted.
What is the Cost for Gorilla Permits?
Gorilla permits during normal seasons and the Peak season is $600 per person for foreign non residents, $500 for foreign residents and Shs 250,000 for East African Community residents. The discounted permits for the low season (April, May and November) cost $450 for foreign non residents, $400 for foreign residents and Shs 150,000 for East African Community residents.
Gorilla Trekking - Dos & Don'ts
Gorilla Trekking is one of the top wildlife adventures you can overtake in Africa. However, since the advent of gorilla tourism, strict rules have been put in place to ensure that mountain gorillas are protected well. That is why within all the destinations where tourists go for gorilla trekking, there are various precautions that one should put into consideration. These rules and regulations are strictly followed so that both tourists and mountain gorillas are protected as well ensuring smooth running of the gorilla trekking activity. So the following should be put into consideration;
- Protect the gorillas - if you are sick or have any infectious diseases, don't go. If you don't feel well you need to sit this one out to safeguard the well-being of these endangered animals.
- Remember your manners - if you cough or sneeze turn away and cover your nose and mouth to reduce the chances of transmitting bacteria or viruses to the primates.
- Don't overstay your welcome - expect to spend only the allotted one hour with the gorillas, departing when the time is up.
- Keep your distance - stay at least 5-7 meters (21 feet) away from the gorillas, not because they are dangerous but because they are wild and we can transmit diseases to them.
- Behave yourself - keep the noise levels down (from within 200m), don't point and don't use your flash when taking photographs.
- Go prepared - take warm and waterproof gear for the cool mountain conditions in these often wet forests and wear comfortable walking shoes.
- No snacking and smoking - you are not allowed to eat and drink or smoke around the gorillas.
- Clean up - wash your hands before going gorilla trekking.
- Keep your hands to yourself - You may not touch the gorillas even if they come close to you as these curious apes sometimes do.
- Hang onto your trash - don't litter.
- Remain calm - if a gorilla charges, do not run away. Crouch down slowly and avoid direct eye contact, until the gorilla moves off.
- Toilet etiquette - if you need to go then ask your guide to dig a hole in the forest and make sure it gets covered up afterwards.
- So having put the above precautions into consideration, you should now strive to get the best out of your gorilla trekking activity. Here are some of the tips to register the best memorable experience.
- Keep yourself covered - long pants, gaiters and socks help keep the bugs (red ants) at bay and gloves will protect you from stinging nettles and thorny branches.
- Get reasonably fit - the trek is usually a physically challenging and tiring mission through rough terrain, so you want to be relatively fit.
- Be equipped - carry enough water, waterproof bags for your camera and insect repellent as well sunscreen and a hat.
- Stay warm and dry - take warm and rainproof clothing with you to cope with the cold conditions up in the mountains.
- Join an organized gorilla trip - book through a tour company to simplify your travels and get the gorilla permits arranged for you beforehand.
- Choose your timing - try to avoid trekking in the rainy season (March to April and October to November) when the going gets tougher.
So I bet that when you happen to put the above into consideration, you will have your life time experience.