Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the smallest park in Uganda covering an area of 33.7km2. It is located in the southwestern tip of Uganda in Kisoro district. The park adjoins Rwanda’s Volcano national park and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga national parks and is part of the Virunga conservation area. The park takes its name from “Gahinga” – the local word for piles of volcanic stones cleared from farmlands. It covers an altitude between 2227m – 4127m above sea level. While in the park, you will experience six vegetation types, Afromontane, tree heathers, montane forest, bamboo, montane woodland, and former farmland.
The Virunga ranges have eight volcanoes and three of the conical peaks are in Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla national park. Muhabura is the highest at 4,127m – the name is translated ‘guide’ in the local language, they used it as a reference to give direction because it towered above everything else. It has panoramic views of Uganda and Rwanda with a clear lake at its summit 36m wide. Gahinga at 3,474m is also the smallest of the Virunga volcanoes; its name is derived from the ‘piles of rock’ that are cleared from farmlands. It has a swamp-filled crater on the top that measures about 180m wide. Finally Sabyinyo at 3,669m is translated ‘old man’s teeth’ because of the deep gorges and ravines that dissect it. On the highest peak of Sabyinyo is where you find the intersection between Uganda, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo. You can take a hike to all these peaks in one day; you will be rewarded with magnificent views and great photographic moments.
Gorillas in Mgahinga Gorilla national park
The main attraction in the park is gorilla trekking just like its names suggests. The park has only one habituated gorilla family called Nyakagezi gorilla group with a Silverback Bugingo who is about 50 years old and leads the group. The rest of the gorillas have not be habituated for tourism.
Wildlife in Mgahinga Gorilla national park
Animals of Mgahinga Gorilla national park
Mgahinga Gorilla national park is home to 76 mammal species but many are difficult to see in the wild because of the vegetation. Look out for bush pigs, South African porcupines, forest buffaloes, bushbucks, forest Elephants, golden cats etc. The main animals that bring people to this park are the endangered mountain gorillas and the golden monkeys.
Birds of Mgahinga Gorilla national park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is home to about 180 bird species with some of the spectacular Albertine rift endemics. The park has varied montane habitats, which provide an excellent home for the different birds. The bird species in Mgahinga gorilla national park include Kivu Ground Thrush, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, White Starred Robin, Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori Batis, Archer’s Robin Chat, Olive Pigeon, and Black headed waxbill, Western Green Tinker bird, Cape Robin. More species include; White-starred Robin, Brown Woodland Warbler, Striped breasted Tit, Malachite, Scarlet-tufted, Greater Double collard Sunbirds
Safaris and Activities to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla national park
Gorilla tracking like all activities in Mgahinga gorilla national park is done on foot because the park is mainly mountainous. Early morning you will get to the starting point – Ntebeko gate at 8am where you receive a briefing about the expectations while you are tracking gorillas in Uganda. Your ranger guide will go ahead of you sharing stories of the gorilla highlands in Uganda. You will learn about the different members of the Nyakagezi family and general gorilla behaviors. The ranger will be in touch with the earlier trackers who will share information on where the gorillas nested the previous night. Once they are located – you have an opportunity to spend upto one hour in the presence of gorillas. Remember that should you have a communicable disease, you will not be allowed to track gorillas to avoid likelihood of passing on the disease to the gorillas. Carry long sleeved shirts, trousers, garden cloves, sun hat, rain pocho, and insect repellant and sturdy boots.
Golden Monkey tracking Mgahinga Gorilla national park
The other main activity in Mgahinga gorilla national park is golden monkey trekking. In Uganda, this is the only place you can track golden monkeys, which are also endangered and endemic to the Albertine rift valley. There is an estimated 3000-4000 individuals in the Virunga area of which 40-65 are habituated in Mgahinga gorilla national park. You will start your journey to track these beautiful primates with your ranger guide after a briefing. You need to be averagely fit to transverse the mountainous area because unlike gorillas which can in the same area for a while, golden monkeys tend to move a lot.
Bird watching Mgahinga Gorilla national park
Mgahinga offers excellent bird viewing opportunities with different trails. The gorge trail lies between Gahinga and Sabinyo takes about 3 hours for birders. Species to look out for while on this trail include Brown-crowned Tchagra, Rwenzori Batis, Black-headed Waxbill, Cape Robin-chat, and Bronze, Regal and Blue-headed Sunbirds.
You can in addition take on the bamboo trail, which starts from 2500m above sea level. Here you have increased chances of sighting the Rwenzori turaco, Banded Prinia, Doherty’s Bush-shrike, Red-faced woodland warbler and Chubb’s cisticola.
Nature and Hiking walks
Hike up Gisozi hill and experience great views of Kisoro and Bunagana town as well as Lake Mutanda. You will also view the Calderas while atop this hill.Walk along Congo border and transcend different vegetation zones.
Mountain and Volcano climbing
The Virunga volcanoes are a chain of eight volcanoes, which dot the borders of Uganda, DR Congo, and Rwanda. Three of the conical peaks are in Uganda’s Mgahinga gorilla national park.
Mt Muhavura is the highest at 4127m and it is a 12km round trip, which takes around 8 hours to hike. Hikers will enjoy views of the Virunga Volcanoes, Lake Edward, Bwindi impenetrable forest, and peaks of Mt Rwenzori. There is also a small crystal lake on its summit
Mt Sabinyo is next at 3669 m; it is a 14km round trip and equally takes about 8 hours to hike. Hikers follow a steep ridge to the peak. The border of Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo meet on the summit of Mt Sabinyo.
Lastly is Mt Gahinga at 3474m topped by a swamp-filled crater of about 180m wide and giant lobelia.
Caves are found on some of the steep slopes of the mountains and you can visit some while on your hiking adventure. The most famous is Garama Cave, found near the park headquarters. It was a home to the Batwa and acted as a fortress in times of war protecting them and their loot from their enemies.
Cultural experiences: Batwa trail
The Batwa lived in the forest for centuries. As hunter-gatherers, they depended on the forest for food, medicine, and shelter. The Batwa trail takes you back into the forest where you experience life as it was lived by the Batwa – they will guide you into the forest and demonstrate hunting skills, gather honey, pick medicinal plants and demonstrate how to use bamboo for various uses.
Access to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
You can reach the park by road from Kampala via Kabale to Kisoro. You can also take scheduled or chartered flight from Entebbe to Kisoro.
Mgahinga Gorilla Lodges and Camps
Mt Gahinga Lodge