Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Positioned in the sky’s limit, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a tiny 34-sq-km park with an altitude ranging from 2,227 to 4,127m. It is located in the far southwest corner of the country’s sliver of volcanic Virunga range extending to greater parts to the dense tropical rainforests of eastern DRC and northern Rwanda. it was gazetted to protect the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests as well as the endangered golden monkey.
The 434-sq-km Virunga Conservation Area that is shared between the three countries is home to half the world’s mountain-gorilla population. Uganda has the tiniest share of the park, with one habituated gorilla family though Rwandan gorilla families regularly ducks across the mountains to join their relatives in Mgahinga. There is much more offered here beyond the gorillas including the challenging but rewarding Volcano treks plus golden monkeys, elephants, buffaloes and a variety of rare bird species.
Mgahinga’s most striking features are its three conical, extinct volcanoes, part of the spectacular Virunga Range that lies along the border region of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. Mgahinga forms part of the much larger Virunga Conservation Area which includes adjacent parks in these countries. The volcanoes’ slopes contain various ecosystems and are biologically diverse, and their peaks provide a striking backdrop to this gorgeous scenic beauty.
Gorilla trekking is the prime activity attracting tourists to this area. With only habituated gorilla group (Nyakagezi) in Mgahinga gorilla national park, it is flocked so much that you at times fail to secure a permit in this sector. Unlike in the past when the gorilla family regularly ducked across the mountainsto the neighboring Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, Nyakagyezi has permanently settled in Mgahinga making it reliable for trekking. Just like in the adjacent Bwindi impenetrable forest national park, a gorilla permits at a cost of 600usd. On each day, eight permits are available to eight people allowed to trek. The unpredictable forest weather requires travelers to carry rain jackets, sweaters, hiking boots and hand gloves to ensure smooth hiking vi the steep slippery grounds. While with the gorillas, trekkers are reminded to keep a distance of seven meters away, keep a low tone, move at a low rate and littering in the park.
Whereas they are inevitably overshadowed by the gorillas, golden monkeys are very rare subspecies of the rare blue monkey found only in this part of the world. This isanother sole reason that lure visitors to Mgahinga. You spend an hour with these beautiful and quite playfulcreatures living in large groups. Golden monkey tracking starts at 8.30am, and the guides can find the habituated troop 85% of the time.The golden monkey track is a gentle steep but an interesting two-hour trek through former farmland to the bamboo forest. On a clear day, you may view the Virunga Volcano range and come across the buffalo and duiker.
Mgahinga gorilla national park shelters 3 of the eight Virunga volcanoes in the Virunga conservation area and all can be summited. The three volcanoes are; Mt. Muhavura translated as “guide” in English is the highest and most strenuous at 4,127 meters above the sea level. This is a 12km round trip taking around 8 hours. Once at the topon a clear day, hikers are rewarded with views of the Virunga Volcanoes, Lake Edward, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the peaks of the Rwenzoris. Mt. Sabinyo translated as “old man’s teeth” standing at an elevation of 3,669m, takes about eight hours to cover the 14km round trip, following a steep ridge up to the peak. Mt. Gahinga translated as “a small pile of stones” standing at an elevation of 3,474 meters above the sea level and is the most hiked being less strenuous which take roughly 6 hours to ascend and descend the summittopped by a swamp-filled crater and giant lobelia. Lucky climbers may spot golden monkeys on their way through the bamboo forest.
For centuries, Mgahinga’s dense forest was occupied by the indigenous Batwa: hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors who depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicine. When the national park was established the Batwa were evicted from the forest and abandoned their low-impact, nomadic lifestyle. The only time they are permitted to re-enter their cherished forest is as tour guides on the Batwa Trail, on which visitors will discover the magic of the Batwa’s ancient home while enjoying nature walks and learning about the cultural heritage. Explore and discover the Batwa cultural experience and get to Learn, enjoy as they guide ushers you through the forest, dancing, singing and storytelling about their traditional ways of farming, handling the bow and arrow, gather honey, and picking herbal medicine from roots and leaves, a local way of treating the local people. Get a chance to share a local meal with them from plants and goat stew this will be another way of learning a life of Batwa people. The experience shows you how they lived in grass thatched houses, caves, hunted small animals which were used for food. The trail begins with a nature walk, hike through the forest as you learn from the first keepers of the forest this takes 3 hours your simple presence will give a great honor to the Batwa people
Part of the tour fee goes directly to the guides and folk musicians while the rest goes to the Batwa community fund to cover school dues as well as improving their livelihoods.
Harboring over 100 bird species, with migratory birds seen only in the months of April, May, October and November, renders bird watching in the area another iconic activity. Birding in Mgahinga is associated with the scenic beauty most especially around the gorge between Mountains Gahinga and Sabinyo, through the bamboo as well as the montane forest, where the beautiful Rwenzori Turaco may be observed.
The three to four-hour Gorge Trail between Gahinga and Sabinyo can provide spectacular sightings of the Dusky Turtle Dove, Cape Robin-chat, Kivu-ground Thrush, Olive Thrush, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Bronze Sunbird, Regal Sunbird, Blue-headed Sunbird, Rwenzori Batis, Black-headed Waxbill, Streaky Seedeater, white necked raven, pin-talled whydah, black kite, paradise flycatcher, ibis, speckled mouse birds, grey capped warbler, Double-collared sunbird, alpine, Blue-headed Coucal, Archer’s Robi-chat, Yellow-vented bulbul, Olive pigeon, Olive woodpecker.
Visitors follow different trials into the forest guided and escorted by armed experienced park ranger and guide as they explore different forest zones. Hiking around the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes gives visitors the chance to spot forest birds, Rugezi Swamp, wild vegetation, bamboo forests and glorious views of the surrounding lakes and terraced agricultural villages. A hike through the forest, deep to Sabinyo Gorge is a massive gash in the flank of Mount Sabinyo providing excellent birding opportunities with a glimpse at the Rwenzori Turaco. This walk takes four hours, and passes through Rugezi Swamp which is fantastic for bird watchers. The walk to the Congo border transcends different vegetation zones, sightings of the calderas on top of the Gisozi hill, as well as a panoramic view of Kisoro and Bunagana towns captivated by Lake Mutanda.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is 510km from Kampala; the most commonly used route passes through Kabale and Kisoro. The 434km journey from Kampala to Kabale can be completed in 8 hours on good tarmac. It is then a further 76km to Kisoro town on a mountainous tarmac road with steep ascents and descents.
The main entrance to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is Ntebeko, 14km from Kisoro at the end of a dirt road with some steep and rocky sections.
Mgahinga can also be reached from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. From Bwindi’s southern gorilla tracking trailheads at Nkuringo and Rushaga, Kisoro lies 28km south and Mgahinga 14km beyond. Mgahinga is about 4 hours’ drive from the main trailhead at Buhoma. Dirt roads from Buhoma pass the Ruhija trailhead to join the Kabale-Kisoro tarmac road (see above).
Mgahinga can also be reached by air using the daily flights from Entebbe International Airport to Kisoro airfield.
Mgahinga gorilla national park accommodation has variety of lodging choicesranging from basic Camp-site, budget, midrange to the luxurious lodges some of which are mentioned below; Ikoro hotel, Kisoro traveler’s Rest hotel, Sky Blue, Virunga Hotel, Volcanos mount gahinga Safari Lodge, Rugigana Campsite, Amajambere Iwacu camp, Countryside guest house, Kisoro tourist hotel and Mubano Hotel.