Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is one of the most scenic parks in Uganda located in the southwestern part of Uganda. Seated high in the clouds at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m, it commands majestic natural beauty and is an important habitat to the remaining mountain gorillas in the world. Sharing a border with Parc National des Virunga in DR Congo and Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda, it offers tremendous activities that can only be enjoyed here including Mountain Gorilla Trekking, Golden Monkey Trekking, Mountain Hiking, exclusive birding adventures and cultural encounters rendering it an ideal destination for a travel looking for all those adventures in one location.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the country’s smallest national park protecting the Ugandan part of the Virunga massif, a range of extinct and active Volcanoes that straddle the border. The volcanoes’ slopes contain various ecosystems which are biologically diverse with their peaks providing a striking backdrop to this gorgeous scenery.
At the lower slopes of the park,the tropical rainforest has been depleted by the encroachment of farms,however,the bamboo and alpine forests remain largely intact and offer refuge to visiting gorilla groups from neighbouring DR Congo and Rwanda.
At 33.7 square kilometers, Mgahinga National Park is the smallest National Park in Uganda. The Park covers the northern slopes of the three northernmost Virunga Volcanoes and is home to three Virunga volcanoes, abundant wildlife, and awe-inspiring caves including: Mt. Muhavura (4,127 m), Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m), and Mt. Sabinyo (3,645 m) and is about 10 km south of Kisoro.
Mountain Gorilla groups from the neighbouring parks frequently ‘pop in’ and take temporary residence for a couple of months in this park. Mgahinga is also a favourite destination with hikers who come to explore the many caves and the three volcanoes,which lie partly within the park’s borders alongside Mountain Gorilla tracking as the main attraction.
Though Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is less popular compared to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, due to the one habituated family having a tendency to duck across the mountains into Rwanda or the DRC. The park has more to offer than just gorillas like a lifetime wildlife adventure. Immerse yourself in the stillness of nature by going hiking, take a nature walk in one of the most beautiful places, what better place to be rather than in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a very stunning place with the three volcanoes and great scenic views of vegetation. Mountain 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, DR Congo and Rwanda.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is home to about 39 mammals of these including the Mountain gorillas, buffaloes, elephants, the endangered golden monkeys, giant forest hogs, bushbucks, leopards, spotted hyenas, black fronted duikers, golden cat, side-striped jackal, bushpig alongside over 79 bird species.
The most famous animal that drives most travelers to this park is the Mountain Gorillas. Compared to the other two parks, Mgahinga is home to only one group that is tracked which is the Nyakagezi gorilla group. This group of Gorillas was a mystery to track back then due to its unpredictable availability as it moved from country to country until it made Mgahinga its home. The Park is also home to a troop of habituated golden monkey, which are endemic to the Albertine Rift and more-or-less restricted to the Virungas and can also be tracked. Birds in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is part of the Virunga Conservation Area (VCA)- the Virunga Massif rendering it one of Uganda’s scenic parks. The entire Virunga conservation area has well over 250 bird species with Mgahinga having a record of 115 bird species rendering it an interesting bird spot.
Bird watching in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park can be done all year round in the park, with the best time being April to Mid-May, and October to November with migratory birds in the park between November to April.
Notable birds and birding specials include:White-necked raven,Black kite,Pin-tailed whydah,Double-collared sunbird,Speckled mouse bird, Paradise flycatcher,Ibis,Whydah,Speckled Mouse birds, Fire Finch Stonechat,Grey Capped Warbler,Waxbills,Yellow-Vented Bulbul, Alpine chat,Archer’s robin-chat,Blue-headed coucal, Dusky crimson wing, Kivu ground-thrush,
Olive pigeon,Olive woodpecker, Ruwenzori batis,Ruwenzori nightjar,Ruwenzori turaco
Apart from Mgahinga there are a number of other parks that are good for bird watching in Uganda, these include Murchison Falls National Park, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Kidepo Valley National Park, and Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park covers an area of about is 33.7 sq. km. the area mostly consists of partly forested slopes and the extinct volcanoes. For someone approaching the park, the Virunga Mountains dominate the landscape and are quite a sight and are home to quite a variety of wildlife , the most special of which are the mountain gorillas. Almost half of the world’s mountain gorilla population is found here.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park experiences a climate which supports the subalpine zone This zone is divided into two; the moorland zone and the Afro montane belt. Neither zone has trees. The vegetation consists of mostly ground plants that are capable of growing in relatively cold conditions. At these levels mammals are rare though small rodents may be seen scurrying in search for insects, while butterflies hover over rare flowers and raptors soar on the thermals.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park vegetation consists of an afro montane forest covering the smallest area as a vegetation type on the continent. The Montane woodland is an open forest with dense ground cover consisting of woodland and only small area of pure montane forest at the base of Mt. Muhabura following encroachment by the growing population around the area.
The bamboo zone covers about 60% of the park and is the
favoured habitat of larger mammals. Bamboo is mostly found
between 1,800m and 3,300m and grows to
3–4m on average. It is an important resource for humans, who use it for ropes, beehives and furniture.
The main montane forest tree species grow up to the altitude of 3,200m (10,500ft) with a ground cover composed of grasses, mosses, lichen and liverwort.
The sub-alpine zone is divided into two, the moorland zone and the Afro-montane belt, this vegetation does not comprise of any trees and only consists of ground plants capable of enduring extreme conditions. This vegetation inhabits small rodents that may be seen scurrying in search for insects, while butterflies hover over rare flowers and raptors soar on the thermals.
At the highest altitudes of over 3000 m, you will find the giant senecio and lobelia with this part of the vegetation receiving a minimum rainfall thus the reason for gigantism.
Gorilla Trekking: Gorilla Trekking is one of the most exciting and unforgettable experience, which might take one through a thick jungle.Gorilla Trekking is one of the main reasons travelers visit Uganda to have an up close experience with these gentle giants.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is home to one gorilla group known as Nyakagezi Gorilla Family keeps crossing over the borders to other parks making their availability unpredictable.
Mountain Hiking: Mountain Hiking/Climbing in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers the travellers an opportunity to engage in mountain climbing. Summiting the park’s three majestic peaks of Gahinga (3,474 m), Sabinyo (3,669 m) and Muhavura (4,127 m) provides dazzling views of the surrounding forests, hills, Lake Edward and parts of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Birding: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is one the best places in Uganda to enjoy a birding adventure, with a long bird list of over 178 bird species. The key birding spots are the Gahinga and Sabinyo Mountains and the Buffalo wall that protects the park’s boarders and the neighboring farmlands. The birding experience lasts between 3-4 hours highlighting bird species like the Dusky turtle dove, Cape Robin-chat, Rwenzori Turaco, Regal sunbird and the olive thrush; just to mention a few.
Guided Nature walks: Travelers are offered an opportunity to traverse the park on foot to view the fauna and flora up-close. Nature walks are conducted along the gorge trail which offers opportunities to see a great number of birds in their natural habitats, passing through a swamp called Rugezi. During the walks tourists are served to views of the Congo border, Lake Mutanda, the towns of Kisoro, Bunagana and the ranges of Gisozi.
Cultural encounters: This Batwa-community-tour offers the travelers the opportunity to visit the Batwa ; the people who were sent out of the forest which they once called home and depended on for a livelihood. Today the Batwa struggle to survive in a land that they are not used to staying in with the aim of conserving the interesting details of their culture.
Cave exploration: Garama cave is one of the caves where once the crafty Batwa lived and fought their neighbors the Bantu. The cave is 342m in length and 14m deep, and it is now inhabited only by bats, it is 3km from the park headquarters and takes about 4 hours.
Golden Monkey Trekking: Golden Monkeys are very beautiful to look at with their various colors, including long golden hair, orange mixed into it along with its black limbs.Trekking these primates is an amazing activity and less exhausting compared to Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the Golden Monkeys do not move around and build new nests each day.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers accommodation ranging from camping to luxury accommodations that carter for people from different economic standards to ensure satisfaction for every traveler including:
- Mount Gahinga Lodge
- Mutanda Lake Resort
- Virunga Hotel
- Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge
- Traveller’s Rest
- Gahinga Rest Camp
When To Visit?
Yearning to achieve a maximum African Safari experience, be rest assured that Mgahinga Gorilla National Park can be visited all year round. The Park is nestled on a high altitude area and within a Tropical rainforest that receives rain all year round so expect down pours at anytime of the day.
However, the dry season from late May to early October and December to February is the perfect time for gorilla trekking since during these months,the trails are drier, passable and less slippery. The rainy season from late February to early May and mid October to November is not preferred because the tracking trails tend to be slippery and muddy hence gorilla tracking is challenging during these months. Also the roads leading to the Parks can become bad and literally impassable in some areas.
How To Get There?
By Road: Entebbe international airport is the main entry point into Uganda, the drive from Kampala to Kisoro is about 8 hours drive and then it will take you another 21/2 hours to get to the park.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is 510 km from Kampala with the most commonly used route passing through Kabale and Kisoro, the road from Kisoro town is a mountainous tarmac road with steep ascents and descents.
By Air: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park can also be reached by air using the daily flights from Entebbe International Airport to Kisoro airfield as it is possible to charter a flight from Entebbe to Kisoro Airstrip or book a scheduled flight.