Mgahinga National park is Uganda’s smallest national park that sits high in the clouds at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m. It is an important habitat to the remaining mountain gorillas in the world, the major reason as to why it was created. The park forms part of the much larger Virunga Conservation Area which includes adjacent parks in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. The volcanoes’ slopes contain various ecosystems and are biologically diverse, and their peaks provide a striking backdrop to this gorgeous scenery.
How to Reach Mgahinga Gorilla Park
Oone can board a plane from Entebbe to Kisoro Airstrip which is near the park. This is the quickest mode of access and it takes about 1 hour. There are daily scheduled flights which must be booked well in advance
One can access the park by use of a car from Kampala via Kabale to Kisoro. This journey takes about 8-9 hours. The park is also accessible from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. The journey to the park takes 5-6 hours. Most organised short gorilla treks to the park start rom Kigali.
Tourist Attractions in Mgahinga Gorilla Park
With a diverse collection of tourism activities, gorilla tracking stands out to be the leading activity at Mgahinga Gorilla national park. Mgahinga is a home to the habituated Nyakagezi gorilla group – a fairly nomadic bunch that have been known to cross the border into Rwanda and the Congo. The family includes the lead silverback Bugingo who is around 50 years old. Mgahinga Gorilla Park is the best point to trek the Nyakagezi gorilla group which frequently moves adjacent in the forests of Conga and Rwanda.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga forest starts from Ntebeko Entrance gate at around 8:00am taking 2-4 hours. A visitor is expected to budget for his/her time well while with a gorilla family since the maximum time allowed to spend with them is one hour.
The best time to visit Mgahinga Park for gorilla tracking is during the two dry seasons of mid-December to end of February and June to October when the park is easily accessed. It is during this time that the thick forests can be penetrated easily and when the paths are not as muddy as it is in the rainy season. However, gorilla trekking is possible any time and can be carried out throughout the year.
Mgahinga National park is a home to a variety of birds with 179-184 species recorded. The list includes the Ibis, Pin-tailed Whydah, Speckled Mouse bird, Stone Chat, Grey-capped Warbler, Wax Bills, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Fire finch, White-napped Raven, Black Kite, Rwenzori Turaco, Blue-headed Coucal, Paradise Fly-catcher, Rwenzori Batis, Double-collared Sunbird, Rwenzori Nightjar.
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 and Streaky Seedeater.
Other good birding areas are at the bamboo belt at about 2,500m above sea level, and the tall montane forest at 2,660m. The Rwenzori Turaco is mostly sighted at around 2,700m. Along the Uganda-Congo border and on level ground.
Seeing Golden Monkeys
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is one of the few national parks where you can have a perfect primate safari that combines gorilla tracking with golden monkey tracking. The park offers a rare chance to track these striking creatures, high in the dense bamboo forests on the Gahinga trail. Elsewhere this adventure can be done in the neighboring Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. There is an estimated 3000-4000 individual in the Virunga area which 42-60 are habituated in Mgahinga.
Experience the Batwa Trail
Mgahinga forest was initially a home to 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. The Batwa demonstrate hunting techniques, gather honey, point out medicinal plants and demonstrate how to make bamboo cups.
Visit the Garama Cave
Guests are invited to the sacred Garama Cave, once a refuge for the Batwa people, where the women of the community perform a sorrowful song which echoes around the depths of the dark cave, and leaves guests with a moving sense of the richness of this fading culture.
All the three volcanoes in Mgahinga park can be hiked. Mt. Sabinyo, at 3,669m, takes about eight hours to cover the 14km round trip, following a steep ridge up to the peak.
It takes around six hours to ascend and descend Mt. Gahinga (3,474m), topped by a swamp-filled crater and giant lobelia. Lucky climbers may spot golden monkeys on their way through the bamboo forest.
Mt. Muhavura is the highest peak at 4,127m, and this 12km round trip takes around eight hours. Once at the top, hikers are rewarded on a clear day with views of the Virunga Volcanoes, Lake Edward, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the peaks of the Rwenzori.
While at Mgahinga Gorilla national park, there are various lodges suitable for relaxation and overnight. These are found in Ntebeko, Kisoro and Lake Mutanda.