Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park measures just 33.7 square kilometers making it the smallest National Park in Uganda. It is located deep in the far southwestern corner of Uganda bordering Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is situated about 15km from the closest town of Kisoro, 55km from the region's largest town of Kabale and 540 km from Uganda's capital Kampala. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is set high up in the clouds covering 3 conical extinct volcanoes of Mt. Gahinga (3,474), Mt. Muhavura (4,127) and Mt. Sabinyo (3,645). These are part 8 eight volcanoes of the spectacular Virunga Mountain Range that lies along the region bordering Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Mgahinga forms part of the wider Virunga Conservation Area that spans the three neighboring countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. Each part of the Virunga in each of the three countries is gazetted as a national park, that is, Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda and Virunga National Park of the Congo.
Animals and Birds of Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park protects various ecosystems and thus a diversity of wildlife, including 76 species of mammals. Mgahinga is one of the only two places in Uganda with the Mountain Gorillas; the other is Bwindi National Park. One gorilla group, Nyakagezi, was habituated and available for Gorilla trekking expeditions. Nyakagezi has 9 members consisting of 3 silverbacks, 2 blackbacks, and 2 females with 2 babies. However Nyakagezi is a trans-boundary group that keeps crossing into Rwanda and Congo every now and then. We keep track of its availability in Uganda and are always aware when it is back in Mgahinga, its rightful home. The other spectacular primate in Mgahinga is the endangered Golden Monkeys. These striking creatures are endemic to the Albertine region; about 3000-4000 individuals are believed to live in the Virunga area and about 42-60 have been habituated in Mgahinga. You can track these delightful creatures and see them high up in the dense bamboo forests in the lower slopes along the Gahinga trail. Other animals in Mgahinga National Park that you could catch a glimpse of include giant forest hogs, bush pigs, forest buffalos, elephants, bushbucks, golden cats, side stripped jackals, fronted duikers, and the South African Porcupines.
Mgahinga's varied ecosystems form a diversity of habitats that make it home to a diversity of birds, with 178-184 recorded species. Some of the birds include Pin-tailed Whydah, Stone Chat, the Ibis, Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori Nightjar, Speckled Mousebird, Grey-capped Warbler, Firefinch, Black Kite, Blue-headed Coucal, Wax Bills, Double-collarded Sunbird, Yellow-vented Bulbul, and Rwenzori Batis.
What to do in Mgahinga:
The most popular adventure activity in Mgahinga National Park is the gorilla trekking safari. Mgahinga has one habituated 9-member gorilla group called Nyakagezi. You require a gorilla tracking permit issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority to be able to join in the gorilla trekking expedition in Mgahinga. A maximum of 8 permits are issued per day meaning not more than 8 travelers can track the gorillas. You need to book gorilla tracking safari early enough as the permits are so limited that for a particular date they get finish even a month or so earlier. Nyakagezi group some times crosses over to Rwanda and Congo, it is advisable you confirm with the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Uganda before you chose do gorilla tracking in Mgahinga.
Golden Monkey Tracking
Though not as popular as gorilla tracking, golden monkey tracking in Mgahinga is a thrilling adventure. About 40-60 golden monkeys have been habituated, and Mgahinga offers a rare chance to catch these striking creatures. They move in large groups called troupes in the bamboo forests in the lower flanks of the mountain. They do not stay very high up giving you a great chance to see them at almost eye level.
Hiking the volcanoes
You can do hiking expeditions to each of the three of Sabinyo, Gahinga and Muhavura. You can hike to each of these volcanoes in one day, going through muddy trails, wooden ladders, and savor breathtaking scenery of the misty Virugas in Rwanda and Congo. Also expect to encounter a range of wildlife. You enjoy great views of the all three countries at the summit of Sabinyo.
Mgahinga is a formidable birding spot with a 178 to 184 recorded bird species including a number that are endemic to the East Congo Montane Region including Fire Finch, Stonechat, the Ibis, Pin-tailed Whydah, Waxbills, and Yellow-vented Bulbul. There are knowledgeable bird guides that shall take around for the birding expedition. Do not forget to carry your binoculars for better visibility.
Batwa Local Community Tour
Mgahinga National Park is surrounded by local communities of the Batwa pigmy tribe. The Batwa are former inhabitants of Mgahinga who were forced out of the park. These depended on Mgahinga for gathering and hunting which is their main source of livelihood. Mgahinga has huge cultural significance to the Batwa and their knowledge of its secretes is unrivalled. Take a tour with one of the Batwa people to learn more about the forest and Batwa people.
Getting to Mgahinga National Park
- Kampala - Kabale - Kisoro (about 8 hours)