MGAHINGA GORILLA NATIONAL PARK
Mgahinga gorilla national park is located in the south western part of Uganda in Kisoro district and it is the smallest National park of the 3 national parks in the Virunga conservation area the other two parks are Virunga National park in DRC and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and all form 434-sq.km of this conservation area. The park was established in 1991 and it is governed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority with a size of 33.7-sq. km and it lies between altitudes 2,227m and 4,127m. It covers 3 of the Virunga volcanoes which are Mt. Muhavura (4,127), Mt. Gahinga (3,474), and Mt. Sabinyo (3,645).
The name Mgahinga was derived from the Kinyarwanda word “Gahinga” that means “Pile of volcanic lava stone heaps where cultivation is carried out”. To add on “Sabinyo” means “the old man’s teeth” and “Muhavura” means “Guide”. Mgahinga National park was established majorly to protect the mountain gorillas and in this same park also endangered Golden monkeys have made it their habitat.
It is really a stunning place with the three volcanoes as earlier mentioned where by hiking to the top of them gives an unforgettable experience. The Gahinga has a beautiful swamp at the top, Muhavura has a crater lake and the Sabinyo gives you the best and amazing experience ever whereby climbing to its summit you set a foot in 3 countries; Uganda DRC and Rwanda. Also along the slopes there are great scenic views of vegetation.
Mgahinga National Park is has about 39 mammals of these including the Mountain gorillas, buffaloes and elephants, also endangered golden monkeys. Others include; giant forest hogs, bushbucks, leopards, spotted hyenas, black fronted duikers among others. It also has around 79 bird species.
While in the park there is only one group that is tracked which is the Nyakagezi gorilla group, years before this group of Gorillas could move from country to country until it has to make Mgahinga its home, now also permits for tracking gorillas in this park are now available in Uganda and you are advised to book in advance.
How to get to Mgahinga
The park is 510km away from Kampala the capital of Uganda and you can get there by Road or Air.
On road, it is approximately a 9-10hours drive from Kampala to Mgahinga, that is around 8 hours to Kabale town covering 434km and there are more 76km to Kisoro town, this route is tarmacked and a bit mountainous and steep.
There is also an alternative of using a route from Kabale town passing near the beautiful lake Bunyonyi and joining again Kabale-Kisoro tarmac. From Kisoro to the park it’s around 14km to Ntebeko the park main entrance.
The park can be accessed by air whereby you can make earlier bookings on flights that move from Entebbe International airport to Kisoro air field, using flights saves more time and it is less tiresome.
Things to do in Mgahinga
This is the most breathtaking activity done in the park, and it is only Nyakagezi gorilla group that is tracked in this park. Gorilla tracking starts the morning where by the trackers start from Ntebeko to track these giants. There are guides and park rangers that are well informed about the gorillas and the park at large so the trackers are advised to be free with them and ask questions. Doing this activity needs when you are physically okay since its quite challenging such as moving in the forest, valleys and the steep slopes.
The length of tracking could be 2 hours, 4 hours or a day since it is dependent on the location of the mountain gorillas since in most cases they move to search of food. Make sure you have enough equipment such as light clothes, water proof cameras, packed lunch, enough drinking water, surgical masks for wearing while in the presence of Gorillas and any other thing just in case guides advise to have them.
This is an incredible activity, as you move through the forests you will hear the sound of birds in the tree, monkeys, and other animals, something memorable!
Note: the gorilla permit costs US$600 and it’s advisable you make your bookings in advance
There is nothing as thrilling and adventurous as climbing the 3 volcanoes. You can climb each to the summit in one day, they include;
Mt. Muhavura means “The Guide”
This volcano is 4,127m high and can be climbed in 8 hours covering around 12km. as you climb this mountain you move majorly in the small shrubs, grasses and the rock ground, this will give you some of the best views in the country, because when you reach the top you are able to see the peaks of Mt. Rwenzori, Virunga volcanoes, Bwindi forest, L. Edward in Queen Elizabeth national park and other things. After the long hike travelers are advised to spend a night at the base camp, and you are advised to carry sleeping gears, water, tent and food with you before you start the hike.
Mt. Gahinga means “a pile of lava stones heaps around which cultivation is carried out”
Hiking this mountain takes around 6 hours, the hike is taken in the Bamboo forest as you reach the top, you will find a swamp, and the distance covered is about 8 km. As you will see the stone piles in some gardens since it’s from them that the name “Gahinga” was derived.
Mt. Sabinyo means “Old man’s teeth”
The hike takes around 8 hours, and hiking to the top is quiet challenging but it is a great and an adventurous experience you get while hiking the eroded Sabinyo and also sloping to the gorges and ravines. When you reach its top what you get is a remarkable experience whereby you are in 3 countries at ago; Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mgahinga National park has different bird species around 79 species and birding can be carried out through the bamboo forest, in the gorge between Mts. Sabinyo and Gahinga, and in the montane forest where you can easily see the Rwenzori Turaco.
Hiking and Nature walks
This is done around the edges of the mountains and it is a very interesting activity where hikers do it around the wild vegetation, bamboo forests, the Rugezi swamp which gives them a chance to have beautiful scenic views of agricultural areas, surrounding lakes like Lake Mutanda and also forest birds.
Golden monkey tracking
This park happens to be a habitat for the endangered golden monkeys, these are amazing to watch with in the trees, and one should not miss out on this activity while on a safari in Mgahinga.
Over the years, Mgahinga with it thickets has been a home to the indigenous group of the Batwa, whereby they stay, hunt, feed, and do all their other activities in the forests. So while 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 various accommodation facilities ranging from Campsites, Budget, Midrange to Luxurious lodges and hotels, they include;
Clouds Mountain Gorilla lodge
This lodge is found in Kisoro and in the Sothern part of Bwindi Impenetrable, it lies on the Nteko Ridge, this lodge provides luxurious services. It has around 8 stone cottages with a very nice interior, fireplace, of which 6 are on double/twin occupancy and the other two are good for families. While at this lodge you can do all the activities in Mgahinga, you can access it by road as part of the safari or fly from Entebbe to Kisoro and transfer to the lodge.
Nkuringo safari lodge
This is located on the shores of Lake Mutanda and it is near Mgahinga National park, while at this lodge there are impressive views of the volcanoes. The accommodation facilities are very nice and affordable; lately the standards are really high. The rooms together with the tents are self contained. Other services offered are room services, laundry services among others.
Also there is a camping ground but camping can be done by only the individuals with private camping facilities. The meals are very delicious since it is cooked and stored in a fully equipped and clean kitchen. It’s the local stuff that prepares the meals especially breakfast and Lunch.
Traveler’s Nest Hotel
This is found just outside Kisoro in south western Uganda, it is among the oldest hotels in Uganda, it is a quiet place also offering spectacular views of the Virunga volcanoes; it has a fire place and nice comfortable rooms.
Mt. Mgahinga Rest Camp
It is located near Mgahinga national park, it is comprised of 9 grass thatched Bandas and 3 tents with private facilities most of the cottages face lake Mutanda and are en suited and have private balconies. Staying in this rest camp, gives you an opportunity for you of being in the 3 countries which include; Uganda, DRC and Rwanda. There is electricity and it’s generated from solar panels.
Being here you can do all the activities such as birding, gorilla tracking, mountain climbing, tracking golden monkeys among others.
Mount Mgahinga lodge
This lodge is located on the edges of the virunga volcanoes, and it provides a great ambiance together with great spectacular views. Rooms are just nice and the meals served at this lodge are a story to tell, they are delicious