Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the smallest of all Uganda’s national parks sitting high in the clouds at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m. It covers three of the Virunga Volcanoes; Muhavura, Sabinyo and Gahinga. Though small in size, just 33.7km2 , it adjoins Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga National park in Congo. Collectively, these three parks form the trans boundary Virunga Conservation Area which protects half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas (the rest are in the nearby Bwindi Impenetrable National park).The park is also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkey and also Batwa encounter while on your visit to the park.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was first declared a game sanctuary by the British administration in 1930. It was gazetted a National Park in 1991. It has only one habituated trans- boundary gorilla group.
When the park was established, the Batwa were evicted from the forest. Today, they re-enter the park as guides on The Batwa Trail, where they invite visitors to discover the magic of their old home.
During this trail tour, the Batwa exhibit hunting techniques; gather honey; point out medicinal plants and show how to make bamboo cups. Guests are finally invited to the sacred Ngarama Cave, once home to the Batwa King, where the women of the community perform traditional dances.
Tracking the habituated Nyakagezi Gorilla family in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a rewarding experience. The Nyakagezi Gorilla Group is the only family in Mgahinga Gorilla Park Gorillas in Mgahinga look far much bigger than those in Bwindi.
The gorilla group is led by Mark, the dominant Silverback, who likes travelling and keeps on crossing borders between Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Over the past few years however, the group has been stable on the Ugandan side.
Due to the nomadic nature of the Nyakagezi gorilla family, tracking permits for this group can only be booked at the local Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Mgahinga Gorilla Park
Mt. Muhavura (4127m) – ‘The Guide’
Seen from all over Kisoro and the surrounding districts, Mt Muhavura acts as a guide. Its Original name was Muhavura (meaning guide) before it was misspelt by Europeans as Muhavura. The typical cone-shaped Mountain provides some of the best views in the country. While hiking, much of the climb passes a rocky surface covered by grass and small shrubs. Once at the top, hikers are rewarded with the view of the Virunga volcanoes, Lake Edward in queen Elizabeth National Park, Bwindi and the peaks of Rwenzori Mountains. The hike takes approximately eight hours round trip covering 12km.
Mt. Sabinyo (3,645m) – ‘Old man’s teeth’
The climb to the peak involves walking a ridge with breath-taking drops into gorges of Rwanda and Uganda. Once on top, you will be in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda at the same time. The hike takes about eight hours round trip to cover the 14km stretch.
Mt. Gahinga (3474m)- “Stones”
Gardens in Kisoro are dotted with small piles of small volcanic stones called ‘Gahinga’. The piles are the origin of the name of the Mountain Gahinga. A hike of the mountain takes about, six hours round trip and goes through a good example of a pure Bamboo forest. Gahinga once had a Crater Lake which has since turned into a swamp. Distance to the swamp is 8km.
The Park has a unique bird fauna with 79 bird species recorded including several species prevalent to the East Congo Montane region. For the Virunga Conservation Area as a whole, over 295 species are prevalent to the Albertine Rift Afromontane region representing 59% of the total of known endemic species. Keen birders seek the rare Albertine Rif Endemics and other forest birds in a range of scenic locations that include the Sabinyo Gorge, the Saddle between Gahinga and Sabinyo and the Boundary trail at Ntebeko with its incomparable volcanic backdrop.
The Batwa Trail
For generations, Mgahinga’s dense forests and bamboo were home to the Indigenous Batwa-pygmies, hunter-gatherers and worriers who depended on the forest for shelter, food and Medicine. Today, Batwa guides lead visitors through the lower slopes, introducing them to their old home and demonstrating the skills they used to survive in it. The highlights of the Batwa trail is the descent into the Garama cave for a subterranean performance of music and dance.
Golden Monkey tracking
Mountain Gorillas are not the only endangered primates on the Virungas. The volcanoes are a strong hold of the golden monkeys which can be tracked through their bamboo habitat on the Slopes of Mt. Gahinga. As with Gorillas contact time is limited to an hour. Visitor who sign up for habituation experience can however spend all day following these striking orange coated monkeys in the company of researchers.
Mgahinga Gorilla National park is 564km from Kampala. A surfaced highway runs from Kampala via Masaka, Mbarara and Kabale to Kisoro. The 100km road between Kabale and Kisoro is a winding drive through mountainous terrain with steep ascents and descents.
Beyond Kisoro, a rough 18km road with steep, rocky sections ascends to the park headquarters at Ntebeko.
Mgahinga can also be reached by daily scheduled or chatered flights from Entebbe international airport to Nyakabande Airfield in Kisoro.