Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is situated in the Kigezi region Bufumbira county Kisoro district south-western Uganda. The park can be accessed by road and air through Kisoro airstrip. Ntebeko the park headquarters is 14 km (9 miles) south of Kisoro municipality, 55 km west of Kabale the largest urban center in the Kigezi region, 524 km (10-hour drive) from Kampala capital city, and 130km (3-hour drive) north of Kigali city via Cyanika border town of Rwanda. Stretching for 33.7 sq.km, Mgahinga Gorilla is the smallest of 10 national parks of Uganda. Despite its size, the protected area encompasses three dormant volcanoes including Mt. Muhabura (4127 m), Mt. Gahinga (3474 m) and Mt. Sabinyo (3645 m) which are part of Virunga Mountains straddling the border between Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The park is contiguous with Virunga and Volcanoes National Parks which form the transboundary Virunga Conservation Area (434 sq.km) an important habitat for endangered mountain gorillas (603 individuals). Mgahinga Gorilla National Park mainly visited for gorilla safaris in Uganda has habituated one gorilla group (Nyakagezi with 9 individuals). Besides, the park offers several activities to including golden monkey tracking, hiking Sabinyo, Muhabura, and Gahinga volcanoes, bird watching, and Batwa trail where the pygmies demonstrate their pre-historic ancient fire making Batwa style.
History of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
During the 1930s the colonial British administration in Uganda identified the upper volcano slopes of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park as a game sanctuary for gorillas while the lower slopes provided fertile volcanic soil for cultivation and domestic use of natural resources including building poles, water, and edible plants especially for Batwa pygmies (initially forest-dwelling people). Earlier in time, the Belgians had gazetted a section of the Virunga area as Albert National Park to conserve gorillas in Rwanda and DR Congo. In 1989 the Uganda Game Departments by then made future prospects for gorilla trekking and to safeguard the biodiversity of Virunga from degradation. Consequently, the protected area of Mgahinga Gorilla was established as a national park in 1991 together with Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The two along with Echuya Forest Reserve (34 sq.km) are managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority under the Bwindi-Mgahinga Conservation Area (BMCA). Founded in 1992 under the Uganda Trust, the conservation fund provides long-term reliable support for projects promoting research, conservation of biodiversity, and sustainable use of natural resources among the neighboring communities.
Wildlife in the Park
The vegetation in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park contains of bamboo at 2800 – 3100 m, hypericum –woodland at 3700 m, heather and moorland and alpine at the summit of the volcanoes. Swamps and two crater lakes also exist in the park on top of mount Gahinga and Mt. Muhavura. These habitats provide home to a variety of wildlife including mountain gorillas and golden monkeys, 75 mammal species including forest elephants and buffaloes, giant forest hogs, bush pigs and 115 species of birds of which 3 are globally threatened species including Albertine Rift Endemics such as Shelly’s crimson wing, papyrus yellow warbler, Grauer’s swamp warbler, scarlet-tufted sunbird, Rwenzori turaco, red-faced woodland warbler, mountain yellow warbler, mountain masked apalis, northern-double collared sunbird, moorland chat, handsome francolin, Archer’s ground robin chat, Rwenzori batis, stripe-breasted tit, are found only in a few other bird watching sites in Uganda.
Activities in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The park offers two primate trekking experiences including visiting gorillas and golden monkeys which are the main attractions of Mgahinga Gorilla. Other activities including Batwa trail, bird watching, volcanoes climbing and nature walks are available for booking at Ntebeko visitor center.
Uganda Wildlife Authority has habituated only one gorilla family – Nyakagezi with 9 individuals including two dominant silverback. For that reason, most people chose Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for its many gorilla families (22 groups). There are reasons to go for gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Firstly is to reward the effort of rangers who monitor the group daily and keep it off from crossing the border to Rwanda or Democratic Republic of Congo. Secondary, you are likely to have small group of visitors on the trek and thirdly the view of the volcanoes is spectacular and the open bamboo vegetation offers great visibility for keen photographers. Enjoy gorilla safari to see Nyakagyezi gorilla family in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park with Africa Adventure Safaris
Golden monkey tracking
Golden monkeys are endangered primate species of the old-world monkeys with an estimated population of 2500 – 3500 individuals endemic to Virunga area including Kahuzi Beiga, Volcanoes, Mgahinga Gorilla and Virunga National Parks. The behavior and ecology of golden monkeys is quite distinguished from other primates by their color with golden-orange fur on the upper flanks, back and crown. They are capable of moving fast in large social groups including 30 to over 60 individuals and inhabit the bamboo zone between 2800 – 3100 meters above sea level where food is abundant. Golden monkey diet includes up to 30 plant species including bamboo shoots, leaves and fruit. Hiking to the bamboo forest is quite straightforward, though challenging given the steep volcano slopes. Recommended getting a porter for $20 as it’s a good thing to help out the local communities. The Uganda Wildlife Authority has habituated 2 troops in the park for golden monkey tracking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The golden monkey trek offers 1 hour to spend with the primates. The golden monkey tracking permit cost is $100 per person available for booking through Uganda Wildlife Authority head offices in Kampala capital city or through tour operator.
With over 115 species of birds including Albertine Rift Endemics, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a must visit for ardent birders on Uganda safari. Nature walks in the park including buffalo wall trail, Mt. Sabinyo gorge and Gahinga volcano hike offer a chance to spot Albertine Rift Endemics including Rwenzori turaco, northern-double collared sunbird, moorland chat, handsome francolin, Archer’s ground robin chat, black-crowned tchagra (Tchagra senegalus) etc. Some of these species also exist in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Nyungwe Forest National Parks top bird watching sites for Uganda and Rwanda safari. The trail along the buffalo wall in particular offers spectacular view of the Virunga Mountains across Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo.
Batwa cultural trail
Batwa (pygmy) originally lived in the tropical forests for over 6000 years but were evicted out of in 1991 when the park was gazetted. They were left vulnerable to poverty and diseases until 2000 when the United Organization for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU) came at their rescue. The non-profit organization advocates for equal rights for the pygmies including land and housing, education and adult literacy, income generation through agriculture, forest access, benefit sharing and tourism. The Batwa trail was formed to offer an authentic Batwa cultural experience for visitors while generating income for them. The activity offers a chance to learn their hunter gather lifestyle including the pre-historic ancient fire making Batwa style, hunting expedition, food gathering and visiting the Garama volcanic rock caves (secret place of gathering) where they perform rituals such as singing and dancing. The hike is moderate and lasts between 2 to 6 hours depending on the slowest person in the group. Take drinking water, rain jacket and extra money for tipping your guide/ranger or the pygmies themselves.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park contains three of 8 Virunga volcanoes including Mt. Muhabura 4127 m, Mt. Sabinyo 3669 m and Mt. Gahinga 3474 m; all of which can be hiked in a day from Ntebeko visitor center. Hiking to the summit of any the volcanoes offer spectacular views for enthusiast photographers on Uganda safari. The highest peak of the park Muhabura volcano offers a full day 12 km hike through a variety of vegetation including giant lobelias and a crater lake (40 m in diameter). The view from the top is spectacular stretching across Albertine Rift Valley including snowcapped peaks of Rwenzori, Lake Edward and Lake Bunyonyi. Mount Gahinga is the smallest volcano offers 8 hour moderate hike through the golden monkey bamboo zone to reach at its top with larger swamp Crater Lake at 180 meters in diameter. Sabinyo volcano has a jagged peak in shape of an old man’s teeth. Hiking Sabinyo is quite challenging with 14 km roundtrip of steep ascents but worthwhile to stand at the intersection of three countries including Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is Uganda;s hidden gem. Travel with Africa Adventure Safaris to discover the beauty of Mgahinga, Uganda’s smallest National Park