Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park derived its name from the dormant volcanic mountain which lies on the Uganda-Rwanda border between Sabinyo and Muhavura mountains and rises up to 3,474 meters. Gahinga is a local Kinyarwanda/Rufumbira word which means “a small pile of stones cleared from farmland at the foot of the volcanoes” on the peak of Mount Gahinga is a swampy caldera which is believed to be 180meters wide.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is mainly covered by Afro-montane vegetation with bamboo forests which are a habitat to the critically endangered mountain gorillas which are the main attraction within Munt Gahinga National Park.
There are also other species of mammals and birds which form part of park’s ecosystem, most notably the golden monkeys.
A hike to mount Gahinga traverses the bamboo forest to a lush swamp overlooking the crater at the summit. It takes about 6 hours for a round trip from Ntebeko.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in Kisoro district in western part of Uganda. It is Uganda’s smallest National parks at an area of 33.7squarekilometers.
Mt Gahinga National Park was gazetted in 1991 mainly to protect the endangered Mount gorillas which roam freely in the Virunga region. It is bordered by volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mgahinga National Park has got one habituated Mount gorilla family which is available for tracking. Tourists can also visit the Batwa which is one of the minority and less know tribes of the people of Uganda, the most fascinating is when this visit is guided by the Batwa guide to learn the top secrets of the forest.
Mgahinga National park happens to be part of the Virunga Massif where a total of over 480 mountain gorillas are thriving from. The Park settles high at an altitude between 2,227m and 4,127m. The dense forests of this park are also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkeys. This brings out the meaning (Mgahinga National Park “where gold meets Silver”).
Mgahinga National park also has a cultural significance for the indigenous Batwa who lived in this dense forest as hunters and gatherers until recently when they were evicted to conserve the Mountain gorillas.
- Best visited in dry season
- Uganda, East Africa
- Mainly gorillas to see
- Can rain any time
- Good fitness level required
- Gorilla permit US$700
Attractions in Mgahinga
Flora and Fauna
The slopes of Mgahinga are covered with unique altitudinal species of vegetation while at the base of the mountain is mainly grass. The virgin lush vegetation begins with the montane woodland, followed by the bamboo area, then the montane forest and Ericaceous zone where the giant tree heathers are found. Mgahinga national park is home to at least 39 species of mammals and 79 species of birds. Some of the larger mammals include; forest elephants; leopards, buffalos and warthogs but these animals are rarely seen.
The park’s famous residents and star attractions are the mountain gorillas and the Golden monkeys though less famous but also equally rare and worth protection. The golden monkeys are only found in the Virungas and in one other forest in Rwanda.
Some of the notable bird species include the crowned hornbill, Rwenzori turaco, crowned crane and the black kite.
Local people and Culture
Kisoro district is a densely populated area with an average population of 331 people/ km2 and all these come from mainly two ethnic groups namely the Batwa who are then indigenous dwellers in the forest and these initially survived as subsistence hunter-gather in the forest and they form the minority group but with the richest culture. The major ethnic group are the Bafumbira and these are primarily farmers.
Ntebeko Visitor Centre
This is where all the park activities are arranged from and the Ntebeko is endowed with the breath taking views of about 800m uphill as well as the surroundings of the park.
There are 3 volcanic peaks that can be climbed by visitors in Mgahinga National park mainly Muhabura(4127m), Sabyinyo (3669m) and Mgahinga (3474m). There is no special equipment required to reach the peak of any of these mountains but a reasonable level of fitness is much necessary for those intending to enjoy the hiking experience.
The name of each of the 3 peaks has its attached meaning. Muhabura means “the guide” because of its towering cone which is a prominent landmark. Also, during the 19th century, the Muhabura crater glowed to provide a natural lighthouse for travellers.
Sabinyo means “the old man’s teeth” this name came as a result of the rim of the rim of the mountain which had weathered into the ring of stubby peaks. Gahinga means “a small pile of stones_ or gahingas” which is named for the local practice of tidying the volcanic rocks that clutter farmlands.
Activities in Mgahinga
Which involves negotiating path in the thick rugged jungle is the most exciting and memorable tourism activity is Mgahinga national park. The only habituated group called Nyakagezi is the only mountain gorilla group available for tracking and only a group of 8 people are allowed to trek this gorilla group every day. Nyakagezi gorilla group consists of 2 silverbacks, 3 adults, 4 juveniles and 2 infants which make up a total of 11 members.
Golden Monkey Trekking
There are two habituated golden monkey troops in Mgahinga Gorilla Park and it is probably the best place to track golden monkeys offering a four hour golden monkey habituation experience were visitors are given more time to observe and understand the lives of the primates.
There is a viewing platform of a bout 800 meters from the park’s gate that has been developed within the park. The top of this platform rewards with the thrilling scenery of park and its surroundings. There are displaying panels at the hill point to give you a hint of what you can see. The platform is very safe and one doesn’t need a guide to enjoy this experience.
Buffalo Wall and Bird Watching
At the northern edge of the park is dry stone wall where many buffaloes gather around the park and this trail is also ideal for bird watching. Look out for birds in the evening between 1700 to 1800 hours searching for species like ibis, speckled mous and fire finch among others.
Batwa Trail and Garama Cave
The Batwa trails begins from the base of Muhavura cave, the walk is conducted by the Batwa guide to provide insight into the traditional forest life and culture of the Batwa. The Garama cave is 342m long and lies beneath the plateau located at the northern edge of the park, approximately 3km from Ntebeko.
This cave is located in the former farmland zone but originally it was a cave forest and would periodically be occupied by the Batwa people who used it as a retreat after raiding the neighbours and a council chamber. Currently, this cave is where the atmospheric performances of the Batwa music take place after the Batwa visit.
Where to stay
There are various accommodation facilities in Mgahinga National Park ranging from Luxury, Midrange and budget. These include Mount Gahinga Lodge, Lake Mulehe Safari lodge Mt. Gahinga Rest Camp, Mutanda Lake Resort, Mutanda Island Lodge, Kisoro Traveler’s Rest, Sky Blue hotel, Virunga Hotel, Rugigana Campsite, Mgahinga Safari Lodge, Mubano Hotel, Mucha Hotel, Montana Guest House, 3Way Gorilla Resort, Muhabura Motel, Kisoro Travelers Lodge, Landmark Guest House, Mount Gahinga Rest Camp, Kisoro Tourist Hotel among other accommodation facilities located in and around the park.
How to get there
Mgahinga Gorilla National park is located about 519 km from Kampala and it is a 9-10 hours’ drive with 76km to Kisoro town on a mountainous tarmac road with steep ascents and descents.
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.