Mgahinga National Park sits high in the clouds at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m. As its name suggests, it was created to protect the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests and it is also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkey. The park has a huge cultural significance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmies. The park takes its name from “Gahinga” the local word for the piles of volcanic stones cleared from farmland at the foot of the volcanoes.
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. The volcanoes’ slopes contain various ecosystems and are biologically diverse and their peaks provide a striking backdrop to this gorgeous scenery.
Mgahinga Gorilla 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.
The wonder filled town of Kisoro is where Mgahinga Gorilla National Park stands amidst the grandeur of three of the Virunga Volcanoes. The Park is a cocktail of rain and bamboo forests, golden monkeys, silverbacks and deservedly described as the place where Gold meets Silver. You may access the park by road or by air from Entebbe to the Kisoro airstrip. Bordered to the south by Rwanda and to the west by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park presents a silent invitation to explore beyond these borders. Its location is also conveniently placed to suit one driving in from Rwanda or heading there after an excursion at the Park. In the midst of the scenic sights and adventurous activities at Mgahinga, Kagera Safaris picks out the top 5 things to do in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
There is something in the landscape of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park that your eyes will not miss; Volcanoes, a whole three volcanoes! They form part of the Virunga Ranges found in Rwanda, Democratic republic of Congo as well as Uganda. For each name given to these mountains is a literal translation: Sabinyo to mean Old man’s teeth, Gahinga to mean Pile of stones and Muhavura means a guide.
Mount Muhavura is the highest of them all with the advantage of seeing the other Virunga Mountains from its peak. It can be seen from as far as Kisoro town and is justifiably called the guide given how it leads one to the rest of the mountains in the ranges.
Mount Sabinyo is a gateway to Rwanda and the DRC while in Uganda; at its peak you are geographically standing in Rwanda, Uganda and The DRC at the same time! The way to the summit of Sabinyo is filled with mushy vegetation whose uncomfortable impact can be reduced by dressing appropriately in waterproof hiking boots.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is home to some of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas making gorilla trekking a must do activity while at the park. The trek commences at about 8am and lasts 2 to 4 hours, which duration is mostly dependent on the location of the gorillas or how far they moved in their search for food.
There are a few guidelines to keep in mind before you go gorilla trekking which you will be acquainted with at the orientation but we picked a few to keep in mind before then. Gorillas can catch human diseases so if you have a cold or other infectious diseases, it is wise that you save the adventure for after your recovery. If you have to ease yourself while gorilla trekking, all waste must be buried 30cm deep. Flash photography should not be used and all trekkers should be at least 15 years of age.
Only 8 people per trekking group are allowed. Depending on how far the gorillas moved, your reward for the trek maybe a silverback out of the 5 in the one family of Gorillas found in the park. This ought to remind you that by trekking you have a chance to see the gorillas but it is not a guaranteed that you will see them.
You can shoot two birds with one stone by using your gorilla trekking experience to simultaneously trek golden monkeys. These primates are small and fast which makes golden monkey trekking a rather active adventure. The activity takes about 4 hours per session during which you are allowed the opportunity to view, take photos of the primates before heading back to your lodge or camp.
They are a sub-species of the blue monkey and are found in the bamboo forests of the Virunga Volcanoes. Mgahinga Gorilla Park presents a golden opportunity to track the golden monkeys of Mgahinga Gorilla Park. Next, to the tracking of the mountain gorillas in Mgahinga Gorilla Park there is also is tracking of the Golden Monkeys to see these beautiful primates bantering about is a sight to see and most enjoyable for the visitors to the park.
The habituated family of these monkeys is about 6 in number and they have due to the habituation process grown fond and less evasive of human presence in their sanctuary.
Before the area on which mgahinga gorilla national park was set aside for the purpose of being a gorilla national park, the Batwa or African pygmies lived and thrived in these forests and mountains as hunter gatherers.
They were later displaced but some of them still live around the park to participate in the tourism industry as porters and guides. They are also entitled to a portion of the tourism proceeds and a tip for their guide services will be welcome. A Batwa trail experience is an activity that takes you through their history and transition over time.
Besides meeting the Batwa people as your guide, visiting their sacred Garama cave watching the dance at the end of the walk by the women with a haunting son (the cave was a place where their king lived and where they hid in times of war the cave is 342 meters in length so quite a place the Batwa people themselves directly benefit from this activity since a large part of the fee for the walk goes directly to them a few tips in Uganda Shilling would not hurt either.
The Dusky Turtle Dove, Cape Robin-chat, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Bronze Sunbird, Black-headed Waxbill and Streaky Seedeater, Handsome Francolin, Kivu Ground Thrush and Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, White Starred Robin, Greater Double collard Sunbird, Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori Batis, Shelly’s Dusky Crimsonwing, Archer’s Robin Chat, Olive Pigeon, and Black headed waxbill, Western Green Tinker bird, Malachite Sunbird, Cape Robin, White-starred Robin, Brown Woodland Warbler, Striped breasted Tit, Malachite and Scarlet-tufted Sunbirds, are some of the bird species found in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park which is said to have about 180 bird species.
Birding in this park can be an all year round. You will enjoy a good list of the Albertine rift endemics in this area especially on the gorge trail. Be ready to bird the whole day and therefore you should carry packed lunch.
There are several campgrounds, hotels and lodges around Kisoro and Lake Mutanda Area. There are no developed lodging facilities inside the park. There are various lodging options near the Ntebeko’s entrances. Depending on the season, you will need to reserve hotels and campgrounds well in advance.