Mgahinga gorilla national park is located in southwestern Uganda and it is the smallest national park covering about 33.8 sq km. This park is part of Virunga massif, a chain of 8 volcanic mountains that are shared by Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is one of the 3 national parks in the Virunga Mountains that host gorilla trekking safaris that lead visitors to the endangered mountain gorillas.
Mgahinga is home to 3 of the 8 volcanoes including mount Sabyinyo- an extinct volcano, mount Muhabura and gahinga which are dormant. Virunga area is a habitat for endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. These primates have been habituated for tracking in Mgahinga national park.
One group of gorillas called Nyakagezi is available for visiting and consists of 9 members with 4 silverbacks. In addition to gorillas, there are several golden monkey troops for tracking and habituation experience. There are other activities that take place which include hiking, forest birding, and visiting a community of Batwa pygmies.
Fauna & flora in Mgahinga gorilla national park
Mgahinga national park is covered by different types of vegetation and these include montane and bamboo forests, and afroalpine plants.
Montane forests are found on the lower slopes between 1800 to 2300 meters and contain high canopy ever-green tree species like bersama abyssinica, false assegaai(Maesa Lanceolata) and thickest having different trees like curry bush. Bamboo forests cover 60% of the park where gorillas, golden monkeys and other herbivores like forest buffaloes, bushbucks live.
Golden monkeys feed on bamboo shoots to obtain nutrients. This vegetation is usually used by the neighboring community in keeping the beehives, rope making among others. Above bamboo there is Afro Alpine vegetation between 2500 to 3000 meters. This consists of the Hagenia hypecerum forest which contains tree species like African olive wood, unique afro alpine plants like giant loberia and scenacio these grow up to 100 meters tall. At the top of mount gahinga there is a swamp crater filled lake.
The vegetation provides habitat and food to the wildlife including gorillas and golden monkeys among other species like; l’hoest monkeys, olive baboons, velvet monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys. Mgahinga is home to 115 bird species including, the Albertine rift endemics like critically endangered shelley’s crimsonwing, Regal sunbird, strange weaver, montane double collared sunbird, Rwenzori turaco and Kivu ground thrush. Mammals in the park include spotted hyena, bushbucks, black fronted duikers, bush pigs,giant forest hogs and forest buffaloes which are commonly found around mount Muhabura.
What to do and see in Mgahinga gorilla national park
Mgahinga national park offers a wide range of activities including gorilla trekking, golden monkey trekking and habituation, batwa community walk, bird watching, volcano hiking
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga is based on one group of gorillas that is habituated there. The Nyakagezi family consists of 9 members with 4 silverbacks, 2 female, 1 juvenile and 2 infants. Since it is the only group, it is easily monitored by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) trackers. They have ensured that the group stays within the park’s borders, Visiting the park rewards the efforts of UWA and local communities.
The gorilla trekking exercise starts at Ntebeko park headquarters where trekkers are briefed about the dos and don’ts of visiting gorillas. Hiking from this point in search of gorillas is a bit challenging due to the nature of the terrain. One is required to wear long pants and hiking shoes. Other items to carry include, drinking water and packed lunch, insect repellents, rain jackets.
Having the right packing gears prepares you for the trek given that it can last for 1 to 6 hours. Since hiking is challenging, tourists can ask for walking sticks which are always available at the briefing center and they can also hire porters.Tourists are divided into groups not exceeding 8 people being led by the park ranger. There is a chance of tracking gorillas in a group less than 8 people given that most tourists go to Bwindi.
Birding is anytime of the day in case one books with the park. There are guided and self guided trails such as the buffalo wall at the edge of the park. The park provides guides that will help during birding. One can carry their own or hire binoculars, telescopes, bird guiding books at park center or through a tour operator. Birding can also be done in the community with the help of a local guide.
Golden monkey tracking
Golden monkeys live in the bamboo zone above 2,500 m and spend most of their time in such areas and feed on bamboo shoots. There are several groups that have been habituated and a single troop consists of 30 to 60 members. There are two activities done on golden monkey visit that is to say; golden monkey habituation and golden monkey tracking. The tracking permit cost is $80 and the habituation permit is $100 per person available for booking through a tour operator or UWA offices.
hiking is done on 3 volcanic mountains that is to say mount gahinga,sabinyo and Muhabura. Mount gahinga is the lowest with 3474 meters and the easiest to hike, on top there is a swampy crater filled lake. Sabinyo with 3669 meters is the most challenging because of rugged terrain.
It has three peaks and the third one it’s where the three countries that is to say Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo borders are shared. Visitors are able to be in all countries at the same time. Mount muhabura (meaning the guide in english) being the highest among the 3 with 4127 meters above the sea level it gives a clear view of Virungas and the Albertine rift valley. Each volcano takes a day to hike
Batwa community tour
The Batwa are believed to have stayed in areas of Mgahinga national park before it was gazetted as a national park in 1991. They were pushed out of the national park and they are staying at the borders of the park. They are termed as people of the forest since they depended on forest for food through hunting and gathering in their ancient times.
Upon your visit to Mgahinga national park, don’t miss out this chance to visit Batwa community. Hiking on the Batwa trail takes about 4 to 6 hours on the slopes of Gahinga volcano. Batwa are now allowed to access the forests as tour guides.
At the start of the trail cultural traditions are carried out as a way of appealing to their gods bless them. This practise has been carried from the ancient times when they were going hunting. They pass through forests where tourists are shown how they used to gather honey, wild berries and food and are given a chance to taste those berries.
Tourists are shown how fire was made by rubbing two sticks, how to make medicine in the herbs. The trail leads up to the Garama cave where the king of Batwa lived. It also acted as a food store back then but now it is occupied by bats and cobwebs. At this point, the batwa will perform their traditional dances to honour their ancestors.
Batwa community has improved due to revenues earned from tourism, they also sell art and craft by purchasing them you will be supporting their livelihoods. There are many ways of supporting the community such as visiting schools or giving donations.
How to access Mgahinga gorilla national park
The park can be accessed using road transport from Kampala or Entebbe international airport. It is 498 km(9-hr drive) via Masaka-Mbarara-Kabale-Kisoro road. From Kisoro town to Ntebeko park headquarters is 13km. The marram requires using 4×4 safari vehicles. Mgahinga can also be reached from the southern Bwindi gorilla sector which include Rushaga and Nkuringo. One can also access the park from Volcanoes national park or Kigali through Katuna or Cyanika border towns of Rwanda. By air, there are chartered or scheduled flights from Entebbe or any other destinations to Kisoro airstrip.
The park is surrounded by a variety of good lodges that provide a comfortable stay at a reasonable price. Some of these are near park headquarters while others are in Kisoro town. These include, Mount Gahinga lodge, Amajambere Iwacu community camp. Those outside the park include, Traveller’s rest hotel in Kisoro town, chameleon hill lodge on shores of lake mutanda, and lake Mulehe safari lodge on shores of lake Mulehe.