Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a national park in the far south-west corner of Uganda covering the northern the slopes of the three Virunga Volcanoes: Mt Muhavura, Mt Gahinga and Mt Sabyinyo. Mgahinga is the smallest of all national parks of Uganda, but it forms part of a cross- border system of contiguous reserves in Rwanda and DRC extending over some 430km of the higher Virunga.
The park is about 10km south of Kisoro and is bordered to the south the republic of Rwanda and to the west by the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each of these countries protects its own portion of the Virunga, in the Parc national des volcanoes and Pac national des Virunga respectively. The three parks together from an area of 434 square kilometer Virunga conservation area VCA
Mgahinga is one of two locations in Uganda where mountain gorillas live, with the other being the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The park has one habituated gorilla group called the Nyakagezi, although this group sometimes crosses the border into Rwanda. The national park also includes three of the eight Virunga volcanoes: Mount Muhabura, Mount Gahinga, and Mount Sabyinyo, all of which lie on the Uganda/Rwanda border. Any of these can be climbed in one day from the park headquarters.
The park protects 76 mammal species, including the golden monkeys, black and white colobus mountain gorillas, leopard, elephant, giant forest hog, bush pig, buffalo, bushbuck, black- fronted duiker and several varieties of rodents, bats and small predators. Only 115 birds species have been recorded here, possibly a reflection of the park’s small size, the park is still of great interest to bird watchers, as several of the species recorded are localized forest birds, and 12 are considered to be endemic to the Albert Rift region.
By road, one can access the park by use of a car from Kampala via Kabale to Kisoro. This journey takes about 9 to 10 hours.
By air, one can board a plane from Entebbe to Kisoro Airstrip which is near the park. This is the quickest mode of access and it takes about 1 hour. There are daily scheduled flights which must be booked long in advance with your local Uganda safari operator.
When to visit the park
The best time to visit the place for tracking is during the two dry seasons when the park is easily accessed. It is during this time that the thick forests can be penetrated easily and when the paths are not as muddy as it is in the rainy season. The two dry Seasons best for Gorilla Safari are; mid-December to end of February and June to October. However, gorilla tracking tourism is possible throughout the year.
What to see and do:
The moment you visit the park, the welcoming atmosphere is an evidence of adventure filled of natural beauty. A day ‘trek through the forests of Mgahinga with a well-trained guide who explains the gorillas’ behavior along the way is a lifetime experience. The gorilla trekking safari starts from Ntebeko Entrance gate around 8:00amin the morning daily taking 2-4 hours. A visitor is expected to budget for his/her time well while with a gorilla family since the maximum time allowed to spend with them is one hour.
Guided day hikes are available to each of the three volcanic peaks in Mgahinga. A reasonable level of fitness and an early start are required for any of the mountain hikes, and good boots, rain gear and warm clothes are recommended. This starts at the base camp a few kilometers from the entrance gate and the round trip will take at least nine hours. Two trails – Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Muhavura require more than a day covering 14km and 12 km respectively. They are also much steeper than the day hikes as you climb to the tops of each of these volcanoes. The views, though, cannot be beat! On the Sabyinyo hike you get to stand in Uganda, DRC and Rwanda at the same time.
Golden monkey tracking
The next best thing to seeing after the mountain gorilla is the chance to track the golden monkey, a little- known bamboo- associated taxa primate listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union. Endemic to the Albertine Rift, the golden monkey is characterized by a bright orange- gold body, cheeks and tail, contrasting with its black limbs, crown and tail end. More likely, however, is that the Virunga volcanoes harbor the only remaining viable breeding population of this localized monkey.
Half- day nature trails concentrating on the forest zone run out of Ntebeko. Of particular interest to birders, the Sabyinyo Gorge Trail ascends through the heath around Ntebeko into a stand of bamboo forest before following a small stream through a lushly forest gorge. The bamboo forest is a good place to see the pretty golden monkey, as well as handsome francolin, kivu ground thrush and regal sunbird. The evergreen forest harbours such localized birds as Rwenzori turaco, western green tinker bird, olive woodpecker, African hill babbler, Archer’s ground robin, and so many others. And other trails leads to Rugezi swamp and Garama Cave.
The Batwa Trail:
A welcome diversion from the usual tawdry visits to impoverished Batwa/ Pygmy communities, this initiative provides a genuine opportunity to experience something of tradition Batwa forest culture. The event follows a trail along the lower slopes of Mgahinga Volcano to Garama Cave involves visitors and their Batwa guide in a range of practical interactions such as fire lighting, bivouac building, target practice with a bow and arrow and food gathering. The song culminates with a memorable performance of Batwa song and music in the Batwa’s council chamber in Garama Cave. The Batwa Trail is a partnership between UWA and the worthy United Organization for Batwa Development in Uganda.
The three to four hour Gorge Trail between Gahinga and Sabyinyo can provide a spectacular sightings of the Dusky turtle Dove, Cape Robin-chat, Kivu – ground Thrush, Olive Thrush, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Bronze Sunbird, Regal Sunbird, Blue-headed Sunbird, Rwenzori Batis, Black-headed Wax bill and Streaky Seed eater.
When at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, one should not worry about accommodation because there are various lodges suitable for relaxation and overnight. These are found in Ntebeko, Kisoro and Lake Mutanda. In Ntebeko, the accommodations are; Volcanoes mount Gahinga Safari lodge and Amajambere Iwacu camp. The lodges in Mutanda include; Lake Mutanda Chameleon Hill Lodge. In Kisoro, the lodges where a visitor can stay are; Kisoro Traveler’s Rest Hotel and River Mucha Hotel