Gorilla Safari Parks in Uganda: The pearl of Africa is a popular destination for the endangered mountain gorillas in Africa and the whole world. It has over 560 mountain gorillas that are harbored in their natural habitants therefore making Uganda perfect destination for gorilla trekking. There are two types of the gorillas that is the lowland and the mountain gorillas and Uganda has the mountain gorillas.
There are two gorilla safari national parks in Uganda and these are Bwindi Impenetrable National park and Mgahinga gorilla National park one of the Virunga massif.
is a gorilla safari national park. Bwindi impenetrable was gazeted into Bwindi Impenetrable forest reserve in 1942,in 1991 was upgraded into a Bwindi impenetrable National park with the purpose of protecting the endangered mountain gorillas and conserving nature and in 1994 was recognized as the UNESCO World Heritage. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is found in the South Western part of Uganda in Kanungu District and its on the perimeters of 327 square kilometers. Bwindi has a tropical type of climate with average temperature ranging from a minimum of 7degrees to 20degrees Celsius and a maximum of 20degrees to 27degrees Celsius this therefore means that Bwindi receives up to 2390mm of rain each year. Bwindi is called impenetrable because of the dense vegetation, montane and lowland forest therefore it is a thick forest. Bwindi Impenetrable National park is a home to over 360 mountain gorillas which makes a famous destination for gorilla trekking. It is known for having more than half of the world’s remaining gorilla population therefore the major tourist attraction are the mountain gorillas in the park therefore Bwindi Impenetrable was further subdivided into four regions and each of these regions has something special to offer. The following are the regions of Bwindi as a gorilla safari National park; Buhoma region found in the North Western part of Bwindi and it is the first and oldest region to be opened up and visited. It has the oldest habituated gorilla group which is the Mubare gorilla family others include; Rushegura gorilla family, Habinyanja group, Katwe gorilla family and Muyambi gorilla family. Rushaga region of Bwindi which has the highest number of habituated gorilla families and also gorilla habituation experience is carried out in this sector. It is situated in the southern part of the park. And the following are the families in Rushaga sector Nshongi gorilla family, Mishaya gorilla family, Bikingi group, Kahungye group, Busingye gorilla family, Bweza family, Mucunguzi gorilla family and Rwigi gorilla family. Kutu gorilla family is the only one that is still under habituation process. Nkuringo region of Bwindi which is found in the Southern part of the park and has least number of habituated gorilla families meaning that there are about 24 permits available per day and one group is still under habituation process the families include Nkuringo gorilla group, Bushaho gorilla group, Christmas gorilla group and Posho gorilla family which is under habituation implying that there are only 4 permits for gorilla habituation experience. Ruhija region of Bwindi found in the Eastern part of the park. Apart from gorillas this region is also rich in the bird species therefore it’s a birders spot destination thus an eco tourism site. This region has 4 habituated gorilla families including Oruzogo gorilla family, Mukiza gorilla group, Bitukura gorilla family and Kyaguliro group which is mainly used for research. Therefore with all these gorillas that are available for gorilla trekking one can choose an area of interest.
Bwindi Impenetrable National park has nineteen habituated gorilla families and these groups are found in different sectors of Bwindi. There requirements that one has to meet for him of her to be eligible for gorilla trekking and these include one must be of 15 years above. One must be physically fit since it involves in hiking long distances. One should be free from any kind of contagious diseases and lastly the major one, one must have acquired a gorilla trekking permit to take part in the gorilla trekking. And a gorilla trekking permit can be purchased directly from the Uganda Wildlife Authority main offices or through tour operators like the journeys Uganda travel company and this trekking permit costs 700dollars to the foreign non residents, 600dollars to the foreign residents and 250000 to the East African citizens and booking should made earlier like 3months to the trekking date. Gorilla trekking is done very early in the morning after the briefing at the park headquarters trekkers will be grouped in to eight people since each gorilla group in the sectors is being visited by 8 people per day. After that tracking commences at 8am and trekkers are accompanied by the guide having a first aid box incase of an accident happening two armed rangers to protect the visitors incase of an animal attack. Trekkers will be taken where the tracker last saw the gorillas and then proceed with the trail once a particular gorilla family is being tracked only a period of one hour is given to the visitors with the gorillas in their natural habitants. This will give them an opportunity to learn more about the gorilla behaviors and habits taking pictures and recording moments. There are set of rules and regulations that should be respected and followed during trekking and these include;1) You should keep your voices low not to scare off the gorillas and also other attractions which might be spotted during the trekking like the birds and animals. 2) If you feel the urge to cough or sneeze when your near the gorillas please turn your head away and cover your nose and mouth to minimize the spread of bacteria. 3) If you feel sick or have any contagious disease please endeavor to stay behind your money I’ll be refunded of another visit I’ll be organised for you. 4) If you feel like easing off yourself inform the guide and he will dig you a hole of about 30Cm deep and when your done cover it properly. 5) A seven meter distance should be observed all the times coz the more the distance in between you and the gorillas the more relaxed the gorillas. 6) In sometimes where the gorilla charge stay calm crouch down slowly don’t look the gorillas directly in the eyes and let it walk way. Don’t run. 7) You must stay in tight group when you are near the gorillas. 8) Don’t litter rubbish in the park everything u come with must go back with it. 9) Don’t touch the gorillas for they are wild animals. 10) Don’t eat, drink or smoke around the gorillas. 11) No flashlight on cameras. Remember after an elapse of an hour with the gorillas keep your voices down until your 200meters away from the gorillas.
Besides the gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable gorilla safari national park there are other tourist attractions the lure tourists to choose it as a destination and these are as follows; the gorilla safari National park is a a natural habitant to the over 300bird species including the 23 of the 24 Albertine Rift Endemics and the following is the list of birds in Bwindi Archers Robin chat, Waller’s starling, Dusky twinspot, Think billed Dusky Crimson wing, Oriole Finch, Grey headed Sparrow, Grauers Warbler, Malachite, Toro olive Greenbul, Cape Robin, Scarlet tufted sunbird, Ruwenzori Batis, Ruwenzori turaco, Red faced woodland Warbler, Grey Cuckoo shrike, White tailed crested flycatcher, Great blue turaco, Purple breasted sunbird, Striking handsome Francolin among others, the forest also protects about 200 species of butterflies like the moths, Cream banded swallow tail, African giant Swallow tail, Graphium gudenus, Charaxes foumiarea and the 42 Albertine Rift Endemics, different tree species which are more than 240species and 10 of them are found in Bwindi only and these include African Brown Mahogany, Ebony trees, Bamboo trees, Ceiba trees mention but a few, other 1000flowering plant species, 169 fern species therefore when it comes to the Vegetation, flora and fauna Bwindi is a ones stop point for that, 120 mammals including the other primate species like the Chimpanzee, Vervets, baboons, bush babies, Blue monkeys, White and black colobus monkeys etc animals like the bush pigs, duikers, forest elephants, buffaloes, Civet, giant forest hog, Warthogs, African golden cats, Jackals among others, 27 frog species, Amphibians and Reptiles. Bwindi has got much to offer when it comes to nature. This therefore means that there other tourist activities one can engage in while on their visit to Bwindi gorilla safari National park namely Bird watching, forest nature walks or hiking, village walks, Batwa cultural experience, mountain biking, boat canoeing, game drives and viewing, chimpanzee tracking and monkey viewing,.
There are number of accommodation facilities in Bwindi depending on the area of interest. Since Bwindi gorilla safari National park is further subdivided into 4 sectors therefore before one chooses a place to stay has to consider the proximity of the sector he or she is going to visit and here is a list to choose from: Buhoma lodge, Gorilla forest camp, Mahogany springs camp, Bwindi view Bandas, Engagi lodge, Sanctuary gorilla camp, Bwindi volcano lodge, Silverback lodge in Buhoma. Ichumbi lodge, Wagtail safari lodge, Rushaga gorilla safari lodge, Rushaga gorilla camp, Rushaga gorilla Resort in Rushaga sector. Trekkers Tavern cottages, Broadbill forest camp, Bakiga lodge, Ruhija gorilla friends camp, Ruhija hotel safari in Ruhija sector and in Nkuringo sector we have Clouds mountain gorilla lodge, Chameleon hill lodge, Gorilla heights lodge, Mutanda lake Resort among others.
On the other hand the second gorilla safari National park in Uganda is the Mgahinga gorillas National park.
is found in the South Western part of Uganda in Kisoro District and this park was created in 1991 covering an area perimeter of 33.9 square kilometers gazeted to protect the mountain gorillas and conserve nature. Mgahinga is the smallest park in Uganda and it harbors over 100 mountain gorillas with two habituated gorilla families namely Nyakagezi gorilla family and Hirwa gorilla group. Since it was created to conserve nature it also protects 39 mammals including the golden monkeys, buffaloes, duikers, elephants, giant forest hogs, bush bucks, about 115 bird species and the 3 Virunga volcanoes remember Mgahinga is one of the Volcano massif. The three dormant volcanoes are mountain Muhavura which is 4217meters above that sea level, mountain Gahinga which is 3474meters above the sea level and mountain Sabinyo which is 3645meters above the sea level
Since the park’s star attraction are the two gorilla families therefore gorilla trekking becomes the major activity in the park. The two habituated gorilla families available for trekking are Nyakagezi gorilla family which has 10 family members and was habituated in 1991 after Mgahinga being gazeted as National park and opened for trekking in 1994 after the habituation process. The Nyakagezi group was first led by silverback Bugingo who was later succeeded by Mark the head being assisted by his brother Mafia and the family consists of 5silverbacks inclusive of silverback Bugingo surprisingly when he was overthrown he didn’t leave the group, 2 adult females and 3 infants. The Nyakagezi got its name from the place where it was first sighted. This group was known for migrating into the neighboring destinations of Rwanda, DRC making its trekking impossible coz they would not be found but its now fully settled in Mgahinga this shouldn’t worry you. This group is one of the easiest gorilla family to trek since it lives in the lowland area of Mgahinga. Hirwa gorilla family. This gorilla family comprises of 13 members initially used to be have 17 members but unfortunately 4 of the them were struck down by lightening. The Hirwa family migrated from the Volcanoes National park in Rwanda and it split from the Susa gorilla family after the rising of the misunderstanding between the dominant leader of Susa and Munyinga. This resulted into Munyinga walking away thus forming the Hirwa family. He walked away with 2 female adults. This therefore means that in Mgahinga gorilla national park has only 16 gorilla trekking permits per day since the groups are two. Before one goes to trek the gorillas must have acquired the trekking permit which costs 700dollara to the foreign non residents, 600dollars to the foreign residents and 250000 to the East African community citizens. A person who is eligible for gorilla trekking must be of 15 years above. The gorilla trekking permits can be acquired directly from the main offices of UWA this could be done through making a direct call or emailing them or cab be acquired by the use of trusted tour operators like the Journeys Uganda. Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga starts very early in the morning just like in Bwindi Impenetrable gorilla safari national park and starts with the briefing at the park headquarters about the rules and regulations and the trekkers are being grouped in 8people since its by the rule that eight people trek a particular gorilla group per day. At around 8am the trekking commences. The trekkers together with the guide accompanied by a ranger start from where the gorillas were last spotted and once a particular gorilla family is tracked only a period of one hour is give to the visitors to stay with the gorillas. In this process you will learn about the gorillas behaviors and habit, lifestyles watch them eat and feed, take photos as you record moments.
Apart from the mountain gorillas in Mgahinga gorilla national park there are other attractions one may encounter during the gorilla safari and these include the bird species, wildlife, other primates in the park, vegetation and the three mountains. Therefore this means that besides gorilla trekking one get involved in other activities that the park offers and these include:
Golden monkey trekking. Golden monkeys come in the second position after mountain gorillas there golden monkey trekking is the second major tourist activity in the gorilla safari park since the park has many of them therefore golden monkey trekking just like gorilla trekking starts with the early morning briefing at the park headquarters (Ntebeko) after then you I’ll head to jungle for golden monkey trekking depending on where the golden monkeys were last seen. Golden monkey trekking usually lasts for 30 minutes to 3 hours and the advantage of trekking golden monkeys is that they live I lower areas making trekking simple and easy an once they are being tracked visitors are given just only one hours to spend with the golden monkeys.
Mountain Climbing or hiking. Mgahinga gorilla safari National park has three dormant Volcanoes in its heart therefore visitors can participate in mountain climbing. Mountain Muhavura as the highest amongst the 3 volcanoes with 4217meters above sea level an hiking it takes about 10hours round trip. While on a hike on mount Muhavura you will pass through different vegetation zone and you will observe the beautiful scenic views of Virunga volcanoes, Queen Elizabeth National park, Lake Edward, Ruwenzori mountains among others, Mountain Sabinyo which it the second highest having 3669meters above the sea level and takes about 8hours round trip. While climbing this mountain you I’ll pass through the steep ridges, dense forest with Afro montane vegetation giving you an opportunity to observe the scenic views of the primates like golden monkeys animals like forest elephants, duikers and the different bird species. At the top of Sabinyo you will be rewarded being present or standing in the 3 countries that is Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. Mountain Gahinga has 3474meters above sea level an hiking this mountain takes about 6hours round trip and at its top you will find a crater lake filled with swamp any giant lobelia. Therefore mountain climbing will give you an amazing experience that is unforgettable.
Birding is also an activity one can engage in since the park has about 115 bird species thus making it a birders spot. Birding can be done around areas with the montane forests, swampy areas, bamboo and the gorge trail between Gahinga and Sabinyo and the following birds will b observed Ruwenzori batis, Brown crowned Tchagra, Regal sunbird, blue headed sunbird, Steaky seed eater, Bronze sunbird, Dusky turtle dove, Cape Robin chat, Olive thrush, Red faced woodland, Alpine chat, Scarlet tufted, black kite, blue headed coucal, Yellow vented bulbul, Malachite sunbird, handsome francolin, Crowned crane, Crowned hornbill, Ruwenzori Turaco, Pin tailed Whydah, White necked raven, Speckled mouse bird, Paradise flycatcher, Kivu ground thrush, Archer’s Robin chat among others.
Batwa cultural trail experience. Before Mgahinga was gazeted into a national park the reserve used to b a home settlement for the Batwa people. The Batwa trail gives you an opportunity to learn, know and explore about the ancient ways and cultures of the Batwa people and this trail starts with the prayer from the Twa guide after he will start the demonstrations of the hunting, honey harvesting which were used by the Batwa people, showcase the crafts like the cups made out of the bamboo, visiting the Garamba caves which where used as storage units. Visitors will be entertained with the cultural dances and songs performed by the Batwa women, story telling and legends giving an insight of their traditions and ancient life of the Batwa people. Other activities are forest nature walks, primate viewing, mountain riding among others.
There are many places to stay catering for all classes of tourists this means that they range from luxury , midrange to budget and these offer good services to the tourists no matter the range. They are in forms of Bandas, cottages, campsite. Before choosing a place to stay its always better to consider the proximity of the hotel to the park headquarters since gorilla trekking starts very early in the morning and here is a list of the accommodation facilities Virunga hotel, Amajembere Iwacu community camp, Mountain Mgahinga Rest camp, Mountain Mgahinga lodge, Community camp ground, Bwindi jungle lodge among other. The charges of the hotel range for the budget range from 50dollars to 100dollars, midrange range from 150 dollars to 200dollars and the luxury range from 300dollars to 2500dollars. Therefore it will depend on your budget and income to choose where to stay.
Mgahinga can be visited all year around any time one feels like is ready can go. But the best recommended time is during the dry season when there is no rainfall or little rains since the roads are dry making trekking and hiking through the jungle simple and easy and the dry season comes in the months of December to February and June to early September. If you want to have an easy and interesting trek then choose to visit the park in the dry season which is also known as the peak season where there are many tourists in the park. This means that one has to book the permits earlier like 3 months to the date.
How to get to Mgahinga gorilla safari national park. One can access Mgahinga by both Road and Air transport depending on his the budget. Road transport for one coming from Entebbe or Kampala will drive via Masaka, Mbarara, Kabale, Kisoro and then head to the park headquarters. This is roughly a 9 to 10 hours drive. Your advised to use 4WD safari vehicle because of the nature of the roads and its not advised to use public means of transport since they don’t make it on time and they don’t get to reach the park. Those coming from Kigali will go to Kigali international airport to book a flight and they will get to the park through the Cyanika border this is about 3 to 4 hours drive. Air transport will book a chartered flight and depart from Kajjansi airstrip and land in Kisoro airstrip then after connect to the park headquarters by road.