The minuscule 34sq km, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in the extreme southwest corner of the county is Uganda’s silver of the volcanic Virunga ranges, and this outspreads in grander part to the magnificent thick tropical rain forests of Eastern DRC and northern Rwanda. The 434sqkm Virunga Conservation Area that is communal amongst the three countries is home to half the world’s mountain gorilla population. Given Uganda’s trifling share of the park, its one habituated gorilla family regularly stoops across the mountains into Rwanda. This adds a certain irregularity to gorilla tracking here, and accounts for the park’s relative anonymity compared to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park takes the name from the term “Gahinga” a Kinyarwanda word which is the indigenous term for the “piles of Volcanic lava stones” cleared from farmland at the base of the volcanoes. To add on “Sabinyo” which means “the old man’s teeth” and then “Muhavura” which means “guide”. The park was declared a game sanctuary by the British administration in the year 1930 and set apart as a national park in 1991. The park Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is situated high in the hazes at a loftiness of between 2,227m and 4,127m. As the name states, the park was gazetted to protect and conserve the endangered mountain gorillas that reside in the solid forests, and it is also an important haunt for the endangered Golden Monkeys.
Mgahinga is not only significant for wildlife, but the park also has a vast cultural impact, in particular for the native Batwa pygmies, this community of hunter-gathers was the forest’s primary people and their ancient acquaintance of its secrets remains unrivalled. The national Park’s most prominent geographies are its three conical, extinct Volcanoes, part of the outstanding Virunga Range that lies along the border region of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. Mgahinga forms part of the much greater Virunga conservation Area which includes contiguous parks in these countries. The Volcanoes gradients contain various ecosystems and are biologically diverse, and their peaks provide a salient backdrop to this gorgous, dazzling scenery.
Mgahinga is a stunning place to visit with three Volcanoes as earlier mentioned where by taking a hike to the top gives you an amazing unforgettable experience. The Gahinga has a beautiful swamp at the top, Muhavura has a crater lake which leaves you breathless at the sight of it and then Sabinyo gives you the best and amazing experience ever whereby climbing to its summit you get a chance to set foot in the three countries at once Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. Then also along the slopes there are great scenic views of vegetation.
The park is endowed with about 39 mammal species of these are the mountain gorillas, buffaloes, and elephants, and then also the endangered golden monkeys. The other wildlife include; giant forest hogs, bushbucks, leopards, spotted hyenas, black fronted duikers and so many more. The park not only has mammals but it is also home to about 79 bird species. The main activity you can do while in the park is mountain gorilla trekking and so the park has only one gorilla family that can be tracked which is the Nyakagezi gorilla group, years before this gorilla family could move from one country to another until it had to make Mgahinga its home, and now permits for trekking this gorilla family in this park are now available in Uganda and hence tourists are advised to book in advance.
Things to do While in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
This is the utmost thrilling and breathtaking activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The habituated gorilla family for trekking is called the Nyakagezi which comprises of 9members, 2 silverbacks,3adult females,2juveniles and 2 infants. However due to their continuous movement since they move from one place to another it is advisable to check and know their up-to-date location first. Gorilla trekking starts in the morning where by trackers start from Ntebeko to track these gentle giants and it is wise for one to be really physically fit, health and in perfect health in order to do this activity since it involves a lot of movements you have to hike up and down on the slippery grounds of the forest in search of the mountain gorillas. But coming to sight with these mountain gorillas is the most rewarding experience one can ever participate in, this activity can take from 2-8hours depending on the location of the mountain gorillas. Finally, when you encounter the gorillas you are given one hour with them to take photos and observe their life style, how they feed, how the adults groom the juveniles etc. This is fantastic activity and experience of your gorilla safari, as you move through the forest you will also be able to hear the bird songs in the trees, monkeys and other wildlife, something that is memorable and worth holding onto for the rest of your life.
There is nothing as inspiring, delightful and adventurous as ascending the 3 volcanoes, you can ascent each to the summit in one day and they include;
Mt. Muhavura (The guide)
This volcano is about 4,127m high and can be hiked in 8hours covering around 12km. as you hike this mountain, you move mainly in the trifling shrubs, grasses, and rocky ground, this will provide you some of the best eye catching views in the country because when you reach the top you can be able to see peaks of Mt. Rwenzori, Virunga Volcanoes, Bwindi Impenetrable forest, lake Edward in Queen Elizabeth National Park and other things. Afterwards the long hike travelers are advised to devote a night at the base camp so before hiking to the mountain tourists are advised to carry their sleeping gears, water, tents, and food with you before you start off with your hike.
Mt. Gahinga (pile of lava stones)
Hiking this mountain takes about 6hours, the climb is engaged in the Bamboo forest as you touch the top, you will find a wetland, and the distance covered is about 8km. on your ascent you will be able see the stone piles in the gardens since its from them that the name “Gahinga” was derived. Mount Gahinga is relatively superior than the average ‘gahinga’ but sitting next to mount Muhavura does make it look small. A climb, takes you through a worthy samples of pure Bamboo forest, Gahinga has a crater lake on top but now has reformed into a lush marsh and the detachment to the swamp is 8km.
Mt. Sabinyo’s (Old Man’s teeth)
Similar to an old man, period has battered Mt. Sabinyo’s crown. This volcano offers 3 interesting peaks to ascent. A hike up the mountain takes one up a ridge laterally the eastern side of the hike to the peak. If you are to carry on, the climb to the peak 11 includes rambling a ridge with breath-taking globules into gorges of Rwanda and Uganda, a twofold experience you will accomplish here. Finally, the hike up to the peak 111 is sheer with numerous ladders and mush scrambling. You are assured to get your hands muddy en-route to peak111, when on top you will be in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, what a triple experience this can be! The voyage takes around eight hours’ round trip to cover the 14km stretch.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is endowed with irreplaceable bird fauna, about 79 bird species have hence far been documented within the park, including several species endemic to the East Congo Montane region. The Virunga Conservation Area in total, above 295 bird species in the Virunga are endemic to the Albertine Rift Afromontane region signifying 59% of the total of recognized endemic species.
Over the centuries, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park with its thickets has continued to be a home to the native group of the Batwa, whereby they reside, hunt, feed and do entirely their other activities in the forests. So whereas visitors are in Mgahinga they can have a visit to the Batwa’s home steads to see how they live, dress, eat dance among others, it’s a culture like no other.
Where to Stay
There are countless accommodation facilities varying from campsites, Budget, Mid-range to Luxurious lodges, hotels and these are;
Kisoro is approximately 541km which is around (8-9hours) drive from kampala the capital city of Uganda and usually a 4WD tourist vehicle is recommended. But the park can also be accessed by air where by you can board your flight in Entebbe international airport or Kajjansi air strip to Kisoro airstrip.