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Mgahinga Gorilla National park

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in the southwestern corner of Uganda. The Park covers the northern slopes of the three northernmost 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’ or VCA. Mgahinga is 33.7 sq. km, just 8% of the VCA. The entire Park is in Bufumbira County of Kisoro District.

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. 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 Virungas are home to a large variety of wildlife, including about half the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas.

The park has a checklist of over 115 species with 14 of the 24 species of the Albertine Rift mountains endemics and 39 of the 88 species of Afro-tropical highlands biome that occur in Uganda.

The park is also home to the world’s endangered mountain gorillas yet favours the gorilla tracking experience. Golden monkeys, Buffaloes, Elephants, Black-fronted duikers, Bushbucks, Giant forest hogs, Side striped Jackals, Egyptian mongoose, several cats, and spotted hyenas have been recorded here.

The park comprises of three parts of volcanic mountains, Mt. Muhavura (4127 m), Mt. Gahinga (3475 m) and Mt. Sabyinyo (3645 m). Gahinga is the lowest of these mountains and has given the park its name. This north-eastern part of the Virunga range seems to be extinct, but two western volcanoes on the Congo side are active and erupt every two year.

Foreigners  from across the globe come to Uganda for adventure and  also get the opportunity to engage in a variety of out door recreational activities such as;

  1. Valcano climbing.

    While in Mgahinga, one can easily engage in Vocano climbing. The volcanoes to be climbed are:

    Sabyinyo (366m) – ‘Old man’s teeth’

    Like an old man, time has eroded Mt. Sabyinyo’s crown. This volcano offers 3 challenging peaks to climb. A climb up the mountain takes one up a ridge along the eastern side of the climb to peak. If you are to continue, the climb to the peak 11 involves walking a ridge with breath-taking drops into gorges of Rwanda and Uganda, a dual experience you will achieve here. Finally, the hike up to the peak 111 is steep with several ladders and mush scrambling. You are guaranteed to get your hands dirty en-route to peak111! Once on top, you will be in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, what a triple experience this is!!! The journey takes about eight hours round trip to cover the 14km stretch.

    Mt. Gahinga (3474m)

    On your way to the park, look out for small piles of stones in the garden fields. The local people call such a pile a ‘Gahinga’. Mount Gahinga is quite bigger than the average ‘gahinga’ but sitting next to Mount Muhavura does make it look small. A hike, which takes you about, six hours round trip, goes through a good example of a pure Bamboo forest. Gahinga once had a Crater Lake on top but time has changed it into a Lush swamp. Distance to the swamp is 8km.

    Mt. Muhavura (4127m) – ‘The Guide’

    Seen from all over Kisoro, this volcano acts as a guide. The typical cone-shaped Mountain provides some of the best views in the country. Much of the climb passes a rocky surface covered by grasses 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 Mountain. The hike takes approximately 8 hours round trip covering 12km.You are advised to camp at the Muhavura base camp the night before the site has no facilities so you need a tent, water, food and sleeping gear.

  2. Birding.

    The varied habitats of Uganda’s smallest park make it home to a variety of birds with 179-184 species recorded. The list includes the Ibis, Pin-tailed Whydah, Speckled Mousebird, Stone Chat, Grey-capped Warbler, Wax Bills, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Firefinch, White-naped Raven, Black Kite, Rwenzori Turaco, Blue-headed Coucal, Paradise Fly-catcher, Rwenzori Batis, Double-collared Sunbird, Rwenzori Nightjar.
    The added bonus of birding in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is that always towering above you are the Virunga Volcanoes providing a most scenic backdrop to the activity in partaking in.
    79 different species of birds have been recorded here, but most birding experts realize that not enough has been invested here in finding various species.  A guide can be arranged to help you in taking you to the best birding spots within the park and this park is not just volcanoes, but also wetland areas that are great for birders.
  3. Gorilla tracking.

    The Nyakagezi Gorilla Family Group calls this their home – they are the only habituated gorilla family group found in Mgahinga Gorilla Park.  They have a bit of  wanderlust in them and like to see themselves as International Travelers and have gone into the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda – but in recent times they have reclaimed their Ugandan citizenship and can be tracked at the park.As you track the gorillas you will often see golden monkeys as a bonus and other wildlife and the birds that are found at Mgahinga Park.  Gorilla Tracking begins at 8 am in the morning with an orientation – no more than eight visitors are allowed at one time and there are certain guidelines that must be followed including the minimum age of 15 years.Gorilla Tracking is a once in a lifetime experience and Mgahinga Gorilla Park offers a lovely setting for it – there is nothing like tracking the gorillas in the shadows of three volcanoes that tower over the park.The habituated gorilla in this park is called the Nyakagezi, which consists of 9 members, 2 silverbacks, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 2 infants. However, due to their constant movement it is advisable to check the current location of the gorillas first.

    Gorilla tracking can be strenuous and may take the whole day. The guide leads you through the gorilla’s world, explaining aspects of their ecology and behavior along the way.
    We must stress that, while you have a very good chance of seeing gorillas, success is NOT guaranteed. They are wild creatures with no fixed routine, and finding them requires the skill and experience of your trackers and guides, as well as luck.

    The trackers and guides have helped to habituate the gorilla groups and know them intimately. Before you set off on your trek, they may be able to suggest how long the hike might be. While walking, please feel free to ask guides to slow down if they are going too fast and if you need a rest. Take time to stop and enjoy the birds, trees and flowers. The guide will ensure that you don’t get left behind!

    Gorilla Tracking can be physically demanding, so go prepared. The Gorilla Rules prepare you for Gorilla Trekking and give guidance on conservation of the Mountain Gorillas.

  4. Golden monkey tracking.

    The rare and endangered golden monkeys can only be visited in Rwanda and Uganda are found in Mgahinga Gorilla Park .  You can  combine gorilla tracking along with golden monkey tracking.Like Chimpanzees and gorillas the golden monkeys are habituated meaning that they will not shy away when humans approach – a process that can take up to two years. Golden Monkeys weigh 10 to 25 pounds, have a golden   body, cheeks and tails with black limbs, crown on their heads and tail end.They are a sub-species of the blue monkey and are found in the bamboo forests of the Virunga Volcanoes. Mgahinga Gorilla Park presents a golden opportunity to track the golden monkeys of Mgahinga Gorilla Park.  Next to the tracking the mountain gorillas at Mgahinga Gorilla Park is tracking the Golden Monkeys – to see these beautiful primates bantering about is a sight to see and most enjoyable for the visitors to the park.

  5. Lodging.

    Lodging comes in many stripes and colors near Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.  There are two luxury lodges – one outside of the park and one a bit of journey.There is a moderate lodge along Lake Mutanda, budget options in Kisoro  and just outside the entrance to the park.  There is a choice for almost every budget found in the area.Great places to stay while visiting Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are those lodges that overlook scenic Lake Mutanda such as Chameleon Hill Lodge and Mutanda Lake Resort.

    It is nice to have a relaxing evening after a full day of volcano hiking.

    One of the things one should ask about is food, the kind of packed lunches prepared just to name a few.

  6. Hiking Sabyinyo gorge.

    This hike trail is 6 kilometer long and it goes along a really amazing mountain stream which meanders through that very dense forest covered by mainly the African-Montane kind of vegetation all the way to the gorge. This is a very rewarding nature walk, the hike may be tiring to a number of hikers but at the end of the trail, you will be amazed. On a very clear day, you will have a clear view of those ragged peaks of Sabyinyo.This hike usually takes about  5-6 hours because the truth is it relatively hard to hike but what is more attractive about this hike is the fact that on many occasions hikers get to meet  primates like the Golden Monkeys, small antelopes like Duikers and  many other mammals. The bird watchers will really enjoy this nature walk as they will be able to see a number bird species and the commonest is the Rwenzori Turaco specie which is one of the commonest species therefore one of the many that you can never miss seeing.The Sabyinyo gorge hike will take you through this really thick forest until you get to this really deep Sabinyo Gorge, it helps reveal the real height of Mt. Sabyinyo and it’s a really great destination for birding therefore chances of finding the Rwenzori Turaco are really high. You will go through Rugezi Swamp- also a great destination for those interested in bird watching.

  7. Nature walks.

    Nature walks in Mgahinga gorilla national park goes together with hiking because of the fact that this is a very hilly area and hiking is something that you can hardly avoid. There are several amazing places that you can always visit during your trip to Mgahinga gorilla national park. These are always guide nature walks, armed escorts are provided to walk along with you during your nature walk and so will the help of your guide, you will visit and see the scenery as well as the different tourism attractions in the area.There is the border trail walk. This walk to the border is yet another interesting nature walk that takes you through the different vegetation covers. It’s a relatively easy walk taking about 5 hours only and you will be walking through the lower areas of Mt. Sabinyo occupied by the montane forest. Once you get to there, you will have that clear view of Sabinyo Gorge and Sabyinyo peaks. Hiking is normally done during the morning hours because it can be really tiring especially if you are not an expert hiker.

    You can hike up to the caldera located on top of Gisozi hill, this is looking out of the nearby the nearby town which is Kisoro town as well as the Bunagana town. There are several other captivating features that you will see once you get up will many your day.

  8. Cultural encounter.

    The Batwa people are the indigenous people of this dense forest, they are basically hunters, fruit gatherers and they are also known to be really fierce warriors and they highly depend on this forest for their shelter, for their food and also medicine because they use a lot of herbs.You will visit their communities, have time to interact with them and get to learn about their cultures. The formation of this park led to the eviction the Batwa from the forest area and settled outside the forest and today they are working as tour guides on their tribe Trail and this way earn some money to help them care for their families. These guides will help you understand the magic behind the Batwa’s original home as you take your nature walks and will explain more about their the cultural heritage.Aside from ensuring that they have a source income, Batwa are guide along this trail because they are the best people to explain their culture, demonstrate their amazing hunting techniques, gather honey techniques, they will show and explain the different medicinal plants and how they get cups out of bamboo stems as well as how they build their traditional grass thatched huts. The women do most of the entertaining, they sing and dance for the visitors, they engage in income generating activities like craft making to sell to the visitors and this was since the government forced them out of the forest.  The guide can take you that sacred Garama Cave which was once a safe haven for Batwa people during their hard times protecting them from their enemies and while there, the women perform songs, some of them are really sorrowful songs though. At the end of that tour though, you will be moved by how rich the Batwa culture really is although it is slowly fading culture which is sad.

Globetrotters Travel and tours Ltd.