Sprawling in southwestern Uganda, Mgahinga National Park is remarkably one of a few special safari destinations. Incredibly, it is a renowned place where gold meets silver. This park covers the lush slopes of the 3 Virunga Mountain ranges with area coverage of about 33.7 square kilometers thus making it the smallest park in Uganda.
Remarkably ideal for gorilla safaris, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is lies at a far-flung southwestern Uganda, neighboring Rwanda in the south and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the west, with a geographical coverage of 33 square kilometers.
Situated 14kms from Kisoro town, Mgahinga Park covers the slopes of the three northern largely Virunga Volcanoes; Mountain Muhavura (4,127 m), Mountain Gahinga (3,474 m) and Mountain Sabinyo (3,645 m). The three countries, Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo, each takes care of its own portion of the Virungas, whereby Uganda is for Mgahinga National Park, Rwanda for Parc National des Volcans and DR Congo for Parc National des Virunga in that order. The three parks jointly form the Virunga Conservation Area (VCA) that occupies an area of 434-sq km, out of which, Mgahinga is has a share of 33.7 sq. km, constituting 8% of the VCA. The entire Mgahinga Park is in Bufumbira County in Kisoro District.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is made up of moderately forested slopes of three extinct volcanoes. From far away, the vast cones of the Virunga volcanoes govern the panorama and manifest as you approach. Once you arrive at the park you can get a considerable synopsis of the vicinity by walking up the standpoint, just 15 minutes from Ntebeko Gate. The park has an immense environmental value given that during the climatic changes of the Pleistocene ice ages, mountains like the Virunga provided a place of protection for mountain plants and animals that ascended and descended the slopes as climate became warmer or cooler. The Virungas are a habitation to a large diversity of wildlife; including about half the number of the planet’s gravely endangered mountain gorillas.
Things to see in Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park offers refuge to 76 mammal species including the rare mountain gorillas that make up part of 1004 individuals that still thrive on earth today. Besides, there are also elephants, buffaloes, golden monkeys, spotted hyenas, black fronted duikers, giant fronted hogs, bushbuck and not to forget over 115 bird species.
It makes up part of the mighty Virunga Conservation Area (VCA) that also comprises of Volcanoes National Park in northwestern Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in eastern DR Congo. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park straddles between elevation 2227 meters and 4127 meters comprising of Virunga Massifs like Gahinga where it derived its name and this straddles at altitude of about 3474 meters, Muhabura at 4127 meters and Sabyinyo volcano at 3645 meters. This park was gazetted in 1991 as a national park mainly to offer refuge to its diverse natural wonders.
Things to do
Though it is the smallest, it is the most scenic of all of Uganda’s parks. The park sits high in the clouds and it is one of the three Virunga National Parks. Popular for gorilla trekking, volcano hiking, and golden monkey tracking, this is the ultimate destination for those looking for an adventurous safari in Uganda.
For those of you who are interested in less crowded gorilla treks, Mgahinga National Park is incredibly the best option. It is Uganda’s second gorilla destination where mountain gorilla tracking is conducted. A gorilla safari in this park begins at Ntebeko with a morning briefing on dos and don’ts to be followed while in the forest searching for a group of mountain gorillas. For visitor experiences, Nyakagezi is the only group that has been habituated and readily set for tourism purposes. Like other destinations, only 8 visitors are allowed to track these creatures in Mgahinga National Park, and permits still cost $600 per person. Treks to see mountain gorillas in this park may last you about 2 to 6 hours or even more depending on the location of these creatures, the nature of the habitat, and your hiking speed.
Moving from Mgahinga national park trekkers can get higher above to Mt. Sabinyo which 3645metres, Mt Gahinga 3474 meters, and Mt. Muhavura 4127 meters above sea level.
– Volcano Climbing of Mt. Sabyinyo (366m)
The ‘Old man’s teeth, like an old man, the time has weather-beaten Mt. Sabyinyo’s crown. Seeing the ‘Old man’s teeth on the top of Mt Sabinyo is another superb exploration. This volcano has 3 challenging peaks to climb. Climbing the mountain takes one up an edge along the eastern side of the climb to the peak. If you are to continue, the climb to peak 11 involves walking a ridge with breath-taking drops into the gorges of Rwanda and Uganda, a dual experience you will achieve here and enjoy. And the hike up to peak 111 is steep with several ladders and mush scrambling. Your hands have to get dirty en-route to peak111! But once you reach the top, you will be in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda, what a triple memorable experience this one is!!! The journey takes about eight hours round trip to cover the 14km stretch.
– Mt. Gahinga (3474m)
As you are on your way to the park, you will come across small piles of stones in the garden fields locally known as ‘Gahinga’. Mount Gahinga is pretty bigger than the average ‘Gahinga’ but sitting next to Mount Muhavura makes it turn out to be visibly small. Here, a six-hour hike round expedition goes through a good model of a pure Bamboo jungle. Mt. Gahinga at one time had a Crater Lake on its peak but time has altered it into a flourishing swamp which is 8km away.
– Mt. Muhavura (4127m)
one can well see this volcano from all over Kisoro which acts as a point. The emblematic cone-shaped Mountain provides some of the best views in Uganda. For the most part of the hiking passes a rocky exterior enclosed by grasses and small vegetation. Hikers are presented with the sight of the Virunga volcanoes, Lake Edward in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Bwindi, and the Peak of Rwenzori Mountain once at the top of Muhavura. The trekking exercise takes about 8 hours round trip covering 12km. One is advised to base camp at the Muhavura campsite the night before hiking because the place has no facilities hence you need a tent, water, food, and sleeping stuff amongst others.
Cave Exploration (The Garama cave)
This is one of the caves were once upon a time the crafty Batwa warriors lived and fought their neighbors, the Bantu. The distance to the cave front entrance from the park headquarters is just 3 km and takes about 4 hours. Your guide will acquaint you with the Batwa history and show you how they lived and fought out of the cave. The cave, 342m in length and 14m deep are at present occupied by bats.
– Viewing platform, is about 800 meters from the Park gate. While on top, you will have a superior visualization of the Park and the neighboring areas. A guide is not considered necessary here and the activity is free of charge. Displaying panels at the hill point will give a quantity of information about what you can see.
– Border trail, is a free 5-hour walk that takes you first in the direction of Sabinyo. The trail goes up to the Sabinyo base for a while through fine montane forest before turning in the direction of the Congo. On your way, you will catch a fine view of Sabinyo’s gorge and peaks. When you go into Congo, you cut backside along the international border and come back to the Park Head offices which is a great segment for bird watching. Also, the two rest huts along the way are excellent places for a break. Observe closely the golden monkeys and elephants as you return. The hiking distance is 10 km.
Mgahinga Bird Watching
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park boasts of about 115 bird species, including a number of species widespread in the East Congo Montane province, and these consist of the Ibis, Whydah, Speckled Mousebirds, and Fire Finch Stonechat, Grey Capped Warbler, Waxbills, and Yellow-Vented Bulbul. For the whole Virunga Conservation Area, over 295 species are prevalent in the Albertine Rift Afromontane region making up 59% of the total of identified common species. Remember to speak to the Park Management for someone to guide you around for good viewing of birds and travel with all your birding equipment like binoculars.
Free Birding – One can enjoy free bird watching on the edges of the park but on request. The guides will take you out from 5-6 pm if you book early by 10 am on the day you want to watch birds. Freely choose your walk direction or simply relax in the camping ground. A gentle walk along the buffalo wall towards the Congo takes you through a wetland area where Ibis, Whydah, Speckled Mousebird, and Fire Finch are found. Stonechat, Grey Capped Warbler, Waxbills, and Yellow-Vented Bulbul are common at the campground. Inquire from the guide about the best spots and take your time and move. Bird Species at Semuliki include the Broad-billed Roller, Green Wood-hoopoe, African Grey Hornbill, African Moustached Warbler, rapacious Red-necked Falcon, Black-winged Red-Bishop, White-winged Widowbird, and Fawn-breasted Waxbill, Double-toothed Barbet, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Green-backed Eremomela, Piapiac, Black-chinned Quail-Finch, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, and Western Violet-backed Sunbird, the listing is continual. Walk on your own rate as birding needs no rapidity.
Golden monkey tracking
Mgahinga National Park is remarkable that one place where gold meets silverback. Golden monkey tracking is that one exceptional primate adventure that is offered in this park. Permits for this adventure go at $50 per person and if you wish to take part in golden monkey habituation, you can obtain a permit at $100.
For nature lovers, Mgahinga National Park is perfect while on a nature walk which rewards you with the sights at its lush vegetation, bamboo forest, Rugezi swamp which comes with breathtaking views over the farmlands, Lake Mutanda, and others.
Pay a visit to the Batwa community and get the best of Africa’s unique cultures. A visit to this community offers you a chance to interact with the Batwa, explore their incredible cultures and traditions.
Accommodation in Mgahinga National Park
The notable safari lodges for visitor overnight stay while on Uganda safari in Mgahinga National Park include
Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge which is situated in the southern sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park just along the Nteko ridge;
Nkuringo safari lodge which is situated along the shores of Lake Mutanda just close to Mgahinga National Park;
Mount Gahinga Lodge (Luxury)
Mount Gahinga Lodge lies at the Mgahinga National Park entrance offering an ideal ground for you to track mountain gorillas and golden monkeys and also engage in breathtaking volcano hiking. It features an open fireplace, bar, restaurant, Laundry service, outdoor sitting space for birders and wild plants, solar power, and a sunroom overlooking the volcanoes.
Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp (Budget)
This camp is situated near the Mgahinga National Park entrance and it is about 12 kilometers from Kisoro district and 505 kilometers from Kampala. It offers stunning views of the 8 Virunga Massifs especially the Gahinga, Sabyinyo, and Muhabura. It features five bandas at the camp and two of them are dormitories.
Mucha Hotel Kisoro (Mid range)
This is situated on the banks of River Mucha with amazing views of the banana trees and other flora. It is six kilometers from Kisoro town and has spectacular views of volcanoes and River Mucha. It features 10 en suite bedrooms, with single, double, and twin beds. It has a restaurant, bar, garden area, lounge, and many other facilities.
Plan Your Trip
When to visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
When you think of a safari in this park, most importantly, the dry and wet seasons are the 2 significant reasons you need to put into consideration. The wet season usually starts from March to May and from October and this is characterized by heavy rainfall whereas the dry season begins from June to September and from December to February. The dry season is usually more preferable as it comes with a low rainfall amount and the habitat tends to remain relatively drier thus favoring gorilla trekking and many other safari activities at the park.
How to get to Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park can be reached by road and air. By road, it will take you about 8-10 hours and your journey may start from Kampala or Entebbe. Drive through the Kampala-Kabale route then connect to the Ntebeko part gate. The other option is for you to take a flight from Entebbe Airport or Kajjansi airfield and then you land into Kisoro airstrip where you can easily connect by car to Mgahinga National Park.
What to bring while trekking the Gorillas
To enjoy the gorilla-tracking exercise, carry along the following:
– Carry rain gear or a Rain Coat for changeable weather
– Sunscreen and a hut for the random weather.
– Water and food
– Hiking boots with a good grasp are ideal for the steep mud-covered slopes.
– Carry binoculars mainly for watching birds and far animals. You can also hire from the park office.
– A warm cardigan
– Thick trousers and a long-sleeved top are ideal for tracking.
– Video- filming is allowed in the parks though not outside the park
– Waterproof container for their cameras
– If you wish to wear a hat, a baseball cap is recommended.
Manners for Gorilla Visitors
Once you set off for gorilla tracking, please you are warned that you;
(a) Keep your voice down or be quiet.
(b) Don’t point or wave your arms, it can be misunderstood as intimidation. Be slow.
(c) Back away slowly to keep 5metres separation if approached by a gorilla.
(d) Don’t use flash, it can threaten the gorillas and bother other visitors.