Located in the south-western corner of Uganda, 510 kilometers from the City, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the country’s smallest National Park extending for an area of approximately 34 square kilometers. Mgahinga was first established as a Game Sanctuary in 1930 by the British Administration and later a National Park in 1991.
This small National Park derived its name from the word “Gahinga”, the name to one of the 8 Virunga Volcanoes found in the Park and stands for “Pile of stones”. Besides Gahinga (3474 meters above sea level), this Park is a home to two other Virunga Volcanoes that include Sabyinyo (3645 meters above sea level) and Muhabura (4127 meters above sea level), and is adjacent to Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda which together form the vast Virunga Conservation Area.
This epitome of Beauty is characterized by different vegetation zones that range from the Bamboo forest in the lowlands, Albertine Rift Montane Forest, Ruwenzori-Virunga Montane moorlands and alpine vegetation in the higher elevations.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers shelter to over 39 species of mammals including primates. Some of the primates in this Park are the endangered Mountains gorillas, Golden monkeys, L’Hoests monkeys and blue monkeys, but other mammals such as leopards, giant forest hogs, bushbucks, spotted hyenas, black-fronted duikers and buffaloes have been spotted within Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a perfect birding spot with over 100 species of birds of interest including the Albertine Rift Endemics. Popular species here are the Kivu ground thrush, handsome francolin, blue-headed sunbirds, Rwenzori turaco, Mountain masked Apalis, collared Apalis, Red-faced woodland warbler, strange weaver, montane nightjar, Rwenzori double-collared sunbirds, Grauer’s swamp warblers and Red-throated Alethe among others.
Other attractions in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Three of the eight Virunga Volcanoes have their borders in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and they are Mount Sabyinyo (standing at 3645 meters above sea level), Mount Muhabura (4127 meters above sea level) and Mount Gahinga (3474 meters above sea level). These three Volcanoes can be hiked during your visit to Mgahinga National Park.
The Batwa people and mysterious Garama Cave
The Batwa people with the Garama Cave are interesting attractions visited during your visit to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. These people were original occupants of the forest before it was gazetted and their ancient ways of life hunting, gathering fruits, harvesting honey and construction of hats make visiting them interesting. During your visit, you will tour the Garama Caves and enjoy traditional dances and songs.
Interesting tourist activities conducted in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mountain gorilla trekking
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a haven to one trans-boundary gorilla family (Nyakagyezi) and together with the 20 habituated gorilla families in Bwindi makes Uganda the most popular gorilla trekking destination. Tracking mountain gorillas usually starts in the morning, lasts 1-4 hours and guarantees tourists of spending one hour with the gorilla family at $600 (price for gorilla permits).
Golden monkey tracking
Golden monkeys (Cercopithecus kandti) make Mgahinga National Park the most spectacular National Park in the country because of all the 10 National Parks, these endangered primates are only found here. They are characterized by their golden brown-orange body, tail and cheeks and usually occupy the bamboo forests making them easier and faster to track than the mountain gorillas.
Batwa cultural trail
The Batwa Culture trail is an adverse activity that introduces tourists to the comprehensive life of the Batwa people, the indigenous occupants of the forest before it was gazetted to learn more about how they comfortably lived in the forest, gathered food, dressed and many others. This activity involves hiking through some designated parts of the forest to meet the traditional healer, harvest honey and also enjoy cultural dances.
Three of the eight Virunga Volcanoes are in Mgahinga Gorilla national Park and can be hiked within hours. Reaching their peaks rewards hikers with the jaw-dropping views of the other Virunga Volcanoes, Rwenzori Mountains, Bwindi Impenetrable forest and Queen Elizabeth National Park as well as see the magnificent features on their summits that include the swamp on Mount Gahinga and Crater Lake.
With over 79 species of birds including the Albertine Rift endemic species, bird watching is conducted within Mgahinga Gorilla National Park through the gorge between Gahinga and Sabyinyo, bamboo forest and many other areas for a chance to spot the Rwenzori turaco, Kivu Ground thrush, Red-faced woodland warbler, strange weaver, montane nightjar and many others.
Several hiking trails in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are designed to reward tourists with the views of different attractions in the Park. Some of the must-try hiking trails in this Park are the Sabyinyo gorge walk, Batwa trail and Border trail.
Where to stay
There are few Accommodation facilities within and around Mgahinga Gorilla National Park but the few offer the best and comfortable stay. These facilities are Chameleon Hill Lodge, Mount Gahinga Lodge. Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp, Mucha Hotel Kisoro, Lake Mutanda Resort, Kisoro Tourist Hotel, and Travellers Rest Hotel among others.
Best time to visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park can be visited at any time of the year but the dry months of January, February, June, July, August and September are ideal for activities like gorilla trekking, golden monkey tracking and volcano hiking because during these months, hiking trails are less slippery and muddy.
The wet months of March, April, May, October and November are perfect for bird watching because during these months, migratory bird species are in large numbers. However, these activities can be conducted any time of the year.
How to Get There
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is about 510 kilometers from Kampala, Uganda’s Capital City and can be reached by both air and road transport. With the latter, you can opt for the 434 kilometer Kampala-Masaka-Mbarara-Ntungamo-Kabale route for 8 hours then continue another 76 kilometers to Kisoro through a Mountainous tarmac road.
Another route is the one you divert from the main road at Kabale to the shoreline of Lake Bunyonyi for its scenic views and latter rejoin the Kabale-Kisoro road to Muko unto Ntebeko. Alternatively, you can reach this Park through the nearby Bwindi Impenetrable National Park especially if you are from its southern sectors of Nkuringo and Rushaga.
For air transport, chartered flights are arranged from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airstrip (Kampala) to Kisoro airstrip them connect to the Park by road.