Mgahinga National Park, Gorilla Trekking & Rwenzori Mountaineering Service.

Mgahinga National Park is Uganda’s smallest national park covering an area of 33.7 square kilometers. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in the southwestern corner of Uganda and is entirely in Bufumbira County of Kisoro District. The Park covers the northern slopes of the three northern most Virunga Volcanoes: Mt. Muhavura (4,127 m), Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m), and Mt. Sabinyo (3,645 m).

The Park is about 10 km south of Kisoro and is bordered to the south by the Republic of Rwanda and to the west by the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each of these countries protects its own portion of the Virungas, in the Parc National des Volcans and Parc National des Virunga respectively. The three parks together form the 434-sq. km, Virunga Conservation Area.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is 33.7 sq. km and consists of the partly forested slopes of three extinct volcanoes. From far away, the huge cones of the Virunga volcanoes dominate the landscape and beckon you as you approach. When you reach the park you can get a great overview of the area by walking up the viewpoint, just 15 minutes from Ntebeko Gate. The parks altitude ranges between 2,227m and 4,127m.

Mgahinga Park has great biological importance because throughout the climatic changes of the Pleistocene ice ages, mountains such as these provided a refuge for mountain plants and animals, which moved up or down the slopes as climate became warmer or cooler. The Virunga is home to a large variety of wildlife, including about half the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas.

As well as being important for wildlife, the park also has a huge cultural significance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmies. This tribe of hunter-gatherers was the forest’s “first people”, and their ancient knowledge of its secrets remains unrivalled. The Batwa were self-sufficient – and visitors can see how during a fascinating tour with a Batwa guide to learn the secrets of the forest. It was created to protect the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests, and it is also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkey.

Safari Activities in Mgahinga National Park.

Gorilla tracking

Mgahinga’s habituated Mountain Gorilla family is something to see while on a Uganda Safari and tour. Gorilla permits are currently purchased at the park because of the migrating nature of its only habituated mountain gorilla family called Nyakagezi. The group currently has ten 10 members who can be seen by only 8 people per day for one hour utmost. Gorilla tracking starts in the morning at 08:00am. The activity takes around 4 hours (less or even more depending where the gorillas are) and is done under the guidance of a ranger guide. Tourists are permitted to take photos but without a flash.

Birding

With a long bird list of over 178 bird species Mgahinga Gorilla National Park provides awesome birding experiences. 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. The experience is more enjoyable under the leadership of a ranger guide who can make the bird identification a simpler process.

Nature walks

Tourists will most of the time find themselves traversing the park on foot and this enables tourists to see 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 boarder, Lake Mutanda, the towns of Kisoro and Bunagana; and the ranges of Gisozi.

Batwa cultural tour

Tourists can make visits to the Batwa community; a 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, the Batwa trail was established along which tourists can see how the Batwa used to survive in the jungle and hearing stories about how they are struggling to survive today outside the forest. A number of interesting activities which tourists can see the Batwa people doing or even sometimes engage in include, wild fruit harvesting, wild honey harvesting and extraction of plant substances for manufacturing medical herbs. The highlights of the Batwa trail include the Garama cave where the Batwa king’s palace used to be located and the beautiful songs and dances by the Batwa women.

Volcano climbing

There are various mountains and hills around the park that tourists and hike. Some of the Virunga Mountains hiked from Uganda are; Mount Sabyinyo rises to about 3645meters above sea level and offers three peaks to climb and explore. If you climb all the way to the top of the third, you could literally be standing in three countries at the same time, Uganda, Rwanda, and Democratic republic of Congo. That is bound to be an amazing experience for anyone.

Mount Gahinga: this volcano rises to about 3474meters above sea level. A climb up Mt. Gahinga takes about six hours. Gahinga in the local language means small piles of stones. Although by no means a small pile of stones, Gahinga is quite small when compared to the vastness of Muhavura. Mount Muhavura: rising to an impressive altitude of 4127meters, the Muhavura is the highest of all three volcanoes and the most popular with climbers. A hike up this mount takes approximately 8 hours over a distance of about 12km.

Golden Monkey trekking

Besides rare mountain gorillas, you can also engage in golden monkey trekking in Mgahinga National Park. Golden monkey tracking and gorilla safaris can be incorporated together. These striking creatures are habituated and this means they won’t fear as they are used to human presence. Habituation process lasts for 2 years. The rare golden monkeys weigh from 10 to 25 pounds and they feature golden bodies, cheeks and tails with black limbs, crown on their heads and tail end. Golden monkeys are sub species of the blue monkey and are thriving in the bamboo forests of the Virunga Mountains.

When to go Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga National Park

There are has 2 climatic seasons; the dry and wet season

The drier seasons: June to August and December to January

This is the best time to visit the park. The trails are drier and easier to traverse, making gorilla tracking much easier. The days are usually sunny and the air sometimes gets hazy and wildlife and bird viewing can be clouded. June to September is peak season with a relatively more people visiting the park than any other time of the year. You need to book your gorilla tracking permit well ahead of time if you plan to visit during this time.

The wet seasons: February to May and September to November

Mgahinga generally good scenic views all year round, but during the wet season, the scenery is even more amazing, and everything is beautifully green. This season is the best season for bird watching because there are migratory birds in the park. You can also go gorilla trekking during this season although it is best in the drier months because the trails are usually wet and hard to walk along , even hiking is quite challenging during this season although not impossible. It sometimes drizzles for days and hailstorms are a common occurrence.