Mgahinga gorilla national park is located in the south-western part of Uganda in the Kisoro district and is the smallest national park in Uganda covering an area of 37km2and it lies between altitudes 2,227m and 4,127m. The park is also part of the wider Virunga conservation region that includes the volcanoes national park in Rwanda and the Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mgahinga was upgraded from a game reserve to a national park status in 1991. The name Mgahinga was obtained from a Kinyarwanda word “Gahinga” referring to the small lava stones common in gardens at the foot of the mountain. Though the park is small in size, Mgahinga is naturally beautiful. The park is characterized by savannah grasslands, tropical forests, bamboo forests, swamps, woodlands and semi-alpine vegetation. The park is also blessed with the unique type of primates known as the Golden monkeys which are also found in volcanoes national park and these monkeys in Uganda are only tracked in Mgahinga national park. Mgahinga national park is also blessed with unique features lake mount Sabyinyo, Mount Mahavura and Mount Gahinga, these are three series of the volcanoes that form the Virunga Region. These great ranges offer great scenery and opportunities for hiking to travelers visiting the park. other attractions a traveler can find in Mgahinga national park is lake Mutanda and the batwa people who give a great cultural experience when they visit the park.
Wildlife in Mgahinga Gorilla national park.
Mgahinga Gorilla national park is a home of about 76 mammal species, of which the best known is the mountain gorilla. Where half of the total population of these endangered mountain gorillas live on the virungas and half in nearby Bwindi impenetrable national park. The bamboo zone in Mgahinga is also home to the another endangered primate, golden monkeys which occur only in the bamboo forests of the virungas. Other large mammals include buffaloes, elephants, spotted hyenas, bush babies, Red tailed monkeys, baboons, bushbucks, duikers, giant forest hogs though are rarely encountered in the dense forest. The reptiles in the park include snakes, chameleons, geckos to mention but a few.
Activities and attractions in Mgahinga gorilla national park.
Gorilla trekking is the most popular activity done in Mgahinga national park. most visitors visit Mgahinga for mountain gorilla trekking. There is only one habituated gorilla family open to tourism in Mgahinga i.e. Nyakagezi gorilla family. The Nyakagezi group is one of the two largest habituated mountain gorilla groups in Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. It takes a shorter time to allocate the Nyakagezi group than some families in Bwindi.
However, the gorilla trekking in Mgahinga national park starts daily at 08:00am with a briefing at the Ntebeko visitor Centre. After the briefing you head in the jungle to start the trekking led by the experienced ranger guide. While tracking the gorillas expect to see other primates and beautiful birds. The tracking takes about 3-5hours or more depending on where the gorillas are located because they like to move from one place to another looking for food. Once the mountain gorillas are found your allowed to spend one hour with them in their habitat, giving you opportunity to learn about their behaviors, habits, watch them feed, play, breast feed, take photos and record memorable videos. Permits must be booked in advance through the Uganda wildlife Authority Booking office in Kampala.
Golden monkey trekking:
This is an interesting and active activity visitors cannot miss to do on a primate safari. Mgahinga national park is the only destination in Uganda that harbors the endangered mountain gorillas. The primates are endemic to the Albertine rift and Virunga ranges in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. They look good with their beautiful golden coats. Though small in size they weigh about 20 pounds. They live in large groups that can contain 80 individuals and there very prayerful and active primates. They spend most of their time on top of trees feeding off bamboo shoots or insects on the slopes of mt Gahinga. “African Eagle is their chief predator. It is only Mgahinga national park in Uganda and Volcanoes national park in Rwanda with habituated golden monkey groups open to tourists.
However golden monkey tracking in Mgahinga national park starts in the morning with a short briefing at the park headquarters and it takes 30minutes- 3hours depending on where they are located. After finding the monkeys, visitors are given only one to be with them in their environment observing their behaviors, watch them jump from one tree to another, take photos and record the moments among others.
This is one of the attractive activity in Mgahinga national park that involves climbing the three volcanoes found in the park. they include Gahinga volcano which is 3474 meters above sea level and is the smallest volcano of the three in the park. Here the hiking takes 6hours round trip depending on your hiking speed. when you hike to the top of the summit you will find the crater filled with swamp and giant lobelia. Mount sabyinyo which is 3669meters above sea level here the hiking takes about 8 hours’ round trip. During the hiking you will pass through steep ridges, dense forests with Afro-montane vegetation where you will enjoy scenic view of primates like duikers, forest elephants, golden monkeys, beautiful birds among others. On reaching on the top of the summit will be standing in three countries i.e. Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. Mount Muhavura is 4127m and is the highest volcano of the three volcanoes in the park here the hiking takes about 10hours. During the hiking you will pass through different vegetation zones and the summit gives spectacular views of the Virunga volcanoes, queen Elizabeth national park, lake Edward and Rwenzori mountain ranges. One needs to be prepared and in good health to complete the hiking. It is important to travel with packed food, water, a sleeping bag and a tent in case you end up spending a night at the top. Therefore it is possible to hike the top of the three volcanoes in a period of three days.
Mgahinga is a home of over 115 bird species which makes it one of Uganda’s best birding destination. Birds in mgahinga national park are spotted in different places such as forests, caves, lakes, bamboo belt, and mountains of mgahinga national park. During the bird watching visitors will be able to view bird species including; white-starred Robin, white-necked raven, white-naped raven, yellow-vented Bulbul, yellow-throated long claw, western green tinker bird, wax bills, thrush and cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Striped breasted Tit, Streaky seedeater, among others.
The Batwa Trail:
Mgahinga national park is surrounded with many tribes but the most interesting are the Batwa people. It was formally there home even before it was gazzetted to a national park status. The batwa lived in the forest for thousands of years as hunters and gathers. However, the batwa trail experience gives you a chance to meet with the batwa people, experience their ancient ways, explore their ancient cultures. While on the batwa experience, the Twa guide will demonstrate their hunting, honey harvesting and gathering skills as well as how to make the bamboo cups, fire by rubbing two dry sticks against each other. The trail concludes with the story telling and dancing presentations by the batwa people.
The best time to visit Mgahinga national park.
Mgahinga national park can be visited all year round though the best time is during the dry season in the months of June, July, August, September, December, January and February. There is less rainfall in the park during the dry season thus making access roads, hiking and gorilla trekking trails passable compared to the wet season, when the trails are muddy and slippery it makes trekking difficult. However, though wet season is characterized by heavy rainfall, it is also the best time for bird watching where bird lovers view majority of the birds.
Access to Mgahinga national park.
Mgahinga national park can be reached by air or road from Kampala or Entebbe.
The distance from Kampala to the park is about 524km through a surfaced highway that runs via Mbarara and kabale to Kisoro and then to the park which takes about 9 to10 hours in a 4×4 safari vehicle. One can also access Mgahinga national park by using a road from Kigali international Airport either through Cyanika or katuna border with Uganda it takes about 4hours to reach the park.
Mgahinga national park can also be reached by taking a chartered flight from Entebbe international Airport or Kajjansi Airstrip to Kisoro Air strip near the park. This is best for visitors who do not like travelling along way and flights can be made by our tour operators.
Accommodation in Mgahinga national park.
Mgahinga national park offers good accommodation facilities to the clients. There are several hotels and lodges and these are near the park, in Kisoro and in kabale town. Many of the hotels are located strategically so that visitors can use them as bases to do activities in both national parks. These lodges offer services that cater for budget, midrange and luxury travelers. The lodges are built in form of basic campsites, bandas or standard cottages. Considering that some of the park activities like gorilla trekking starts early in the morning, it is always wise to book a hotel which is not far from the park offices. Some of the hotels and lodges in mgahinga include;
Chameleon Hill Lodge:
This is a luxury lodge and it was built overlooking the beautiful lake Mutanda. It has got a beautiful compound with great views of the three volcanoes in the park. It is a good lodge for those who have come for gorilla trekking, birdwatching, golden monkey tracking, visiting the batwa or canoeing on lake Mutanda.
Mount Gahinga lodge:
This lodge is owned by volcanoes safaris. The lodge is situated near the park gate and in an area with natural setting and views of Virunga Mountains. The lodge offers luxury bandas with fire place to contain the cold environment brought about the volcanoes. The rooms are either twin/ double or single Both international and local food is served to clients in the morning, afternoon and night.
Traveler’s Nest hotel:
This among the oldest hotels in Uganda. It is found outside Kisoro town with large spacious and comfortable rooms and a fireplace. It also offers spectacular views of the mountains in Mgahinga.
Bwindi Jungle Lodge:
This lodge is built near lake Mulehe. It was built strategically to offer accommodation facilities to visitors going to both Bwindi and Mgahinga National park.
Mutanda lake Resort:
Mutanda lake Resort is also built on the shores of lake Mutanda between Nkuringo and Kisoro. The resort is suitable for those who desire quality services but on a budget. It has got tented self-contained rooms with 24/7room and laundry services. The rooms are clean and spacious each with a verandah. The resort organizes birding trips by boat on lake Mutanda, nature walks, visits to the gorilla highlands and Bwindi forest. The resort is suitable for those who have come to do gorilla trekking in Mgahinga or Bwindi.
This is a budget hotel and is built behind the park office. The rooms are self- contained with showers and generally clean interiors. It is also having a bar, restaurant and a large space for parking.
Lake Mutanda Campsite:
This campsite is suitable for those who love nature and wish to experience the African wilderness in a true natural setting. With great views lake Mutanda and volcanoes in the park, it also offers affordable accommodation in an amazing environment.
Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge:
louds mountain is a luxury lodge built in the town of Kisoro. It has got eight cottages made of stone and grass thatched with both twin and single rooms which are beautiful and set up with a fire place.
Mount Gahinga Rest Camp:
The lodge is built at the foot of the volcanoes with beautiful views of lake Mutanda and the mountains in the park. it has got nine grass thatched rooms(bandas) own tents with private balconies. Besides the bandas, it is possible for visitors to pitch their own tents in designated places. Electricity is supplied using solar panels.