Mgahinga National Park Overview
Mgahinga National Park is Uganda’s smallest national park located in the southwestern corner of Uganda. The Park covers the northern slopes of the three northernmost Virunga Volcanoes: Mt. Muhavura (4,127 m), Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m), and Mt. Sabinyo (3,645 m). The Park is about 10 km south of Kisoro and is bordered to the south by the Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda and to the west by the Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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 National Park forms part of the much larger Virunga Conservation Area which includes adjacent parks in these countries but the entire Park is in Bufumbira County of Kisoro District. The volcanoes’ slopes contain various ecosystems and are biologically diverse, and their peaks provide a striking backdrop to this gorgeous scenery.
In Mgahinga National Park at least a troop of 40 – 60 golden monkeys are habituated and visitors hike to higher altitudes in the bamboo zones where they stay most of the times. These primates are very striking to photograph with their golden and silvered black fur, though they move swiftly you just have to be good at taking pictures.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) successfully habituated golden monkey troops for experiential tourism. The activity is very new and you should never miss encountering the rare golden monkeys either during the morning or afternoon hours depending on your interests.
For generations, Mgahinga’s dense forests were home to the indigenous Batwa – hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors who depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicine. Now they lead visitors through the forests and introduce them to their old home – and the techniques they used to survive in it.
The Batwa demonstrate hunting techniques, gather honey, point out medicinal plants and demonstrate how to make bamboo cups. Guests are invited to the sacred Garama Cave, once a refuge for the Batwa, where the women of the community perform a sorrowful song which echoes eerily around the depths of the dark cave, and leaves guests with a moving sense of the richness of this fading culture. Part of the tour fee goes directly to the guides and musicians and the rest goes to the Batwa community fund to cover school fees and books, and improve their livelihoods.
Mgahinga National Park is home to critically endangered mountain gorillas, the major reason as to why the park was created. The park protects these endangered apes that roam through the Virunga ranges that are spread through Uganda, Rwanda & DR Congo. Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga is the most exciting and memorable activity in the thick jungle. The park is home to one habituated gorilla group (Nyakagyezi) which is visited by tourists. This consists of 11 members; 2 silverbacks, 3 adult females, 4 juveniles and 2 infants.
In Mgahinga National Park, the trekking is more enjoyable during the dry season from June to October and December to February because hiking trails are less muddy and slippery, but the activity can also be conducted in the wet season which is also the low season where gorilla permits are discounted and very cheap.
All three volcanoes in this park can be summited. 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 Rwenzoris.
Mgahinga National Park is blessed with a unique bird fauna; 79 bird species have thus far been recorded within the park, including several species endemic to the East Congo Montane region. The best birding in Mgahinga also takes in some of its most beautiful scenery – in the gorge between Mts Gahinga and Sabinyo, through the bamboo forest, and in the montane forest, where the beautiful Rwenzori Turaco may be observed.
Visitors going for birding only need packed lunch, a field guide book and good binoculars to spot your favorite species. Birds can also be identified by their calls for the keen birders. You can also take a guided birding tour with a local tour guide. Hire a guide to lead you along the buffalo wall trail or choose from other shorter birding trails.
The Nyakagezi gorilla family is the only fully habituated gorilla group in Mgahinga National Park. Given that it is the only habituated gorilla family, it offers visitors a great opportunity to track the rare mountain gorillas in the wild. The Nyakagezi family has composed of 9 members; 4 silverbacks, 2 infants, 2Adults females 1 juvenile. The dominant silverback is Mark who took over leadership from his father Bugingo. The other members include Mathew and Mafia (silverbacks), Nyiramwiza and Nshuti (adult females), Nkanda (juvenile), Mutagamba and Rukundo (Infant). Bugingo the oldest silverback is believed to be more than 54 years. A rare but an interesting fact about the Nyakagezi group is that Bugingo still lives in the family yet in most cases, once the dormant silverback is overthrown, he is banished and dies in isolation or seeks refuge from other gorilla groups. For example in the Mubare group, after Kanyonyi took over leadership from Ruhondeza, the latter left the group and lived a solitary life until he died.
The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga National Park allows you to experience the interactive ways of the ancient Batwa People who once lived in these forests. These where hunters, gatherers and fierce warriors who depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicine. When the national park was established in 1991. 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 guide on the Batwa Trail, on which visitors will discover the magic of the Batwa’s ancient home and forest life while enjoying nature walks and learning about the cultural heritage. The Trail” is part of a project to restore dignity and hope by keeping the Batwa Culture and Traditions alive to the Batwa People, give employment to those who are in involved in the day-to-day project of the “Batwa Trail” from the dancers to the guides, pay for school fees for their children, books and beyond that buy land for the community.
Mgahinga 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.
An attractive, alternative route leaves the main road at Kabale and follows the shoreline of the superbly scenic Lake Bunyonyi to rejoin the Kabale-Kisoro main road at its halfway point at Muko.
Ntebeko, the main entrance to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is 14km from Kisoro at the end of a dirt road with some steep and rocky sections.
Mgahinga can 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 almost four 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.
Accommodation is one of the key areas of a safari When you are considering to taking a gorilla safari to Mgahinga national park as your next destination to track the Nyakagezi gorilla family, you would also be interested in knowing the accommodation options that you can choose from. They include the following;
Many people wonder about the best time to visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park? Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a destination that can be visited all year round. Its pleasant climate makes almost every adventure activity possible throughout the year.
All that can be said is that Mgahinga National park is open for tourism throughout the year. This Park is an assortment of several interesting tourism activities, which tourists can participate in at anytime of the year. Gorilla trekking for example is an all year adventure hence you can visit at anytime you desire. However, a maximum satisfaction is achieved if the activity is conducted during the dry seasons from December to February and June to September because this is when the hiking trails are not/less slippery and muddy.
The dry season is also the peak season where the demand of gorilla permits and the lodging facilities is high; hence tourists are advised to book for the adventure at least 5 months in advance to avoid disappointment. Like it is said that every good thing has a certain flaw, gorilla trekking in the dry season is not exceptional because no matter how the hiking conditions tend to be Favorable, this season does not offer clear views because of the hazier air associated with the dry season.
The rainy/wet season from April to May and October to November is not preferred because the tracking conditions are not favorable in that the trails tend to be slippery and muddy hence making tracking to be challenging. Not only that, this season is associated with a lot of mist and hailstorms which make it challenging to sight wildlife and birds from a far distance. This season however offers clearer views than in the dry seasons because after it rains, the clouds disappear and the mist lifts up unlike the dry season associated with hazy air. Not only that, the scenery is breathtaking and vegetation greener during the rainy seasons.