MGAHINGA NATIONAL PARK “WHERE GOLD MEETS SILVER”
Mgahinga national park protects the Ugandan part of the Virunga Mountains and its 3 major peaks that is Muhabura, Gahinga and sabinyo. Established in 1930 as a gorilla game sanctuary, the national park gazetted in 1991 when more than 2000 people were relocated from the park boundaries. Mgahinga is one of the two exceptional National parks in the country that are a home to the famous endangered primate species, the famous Mountain Gorillas. Covering less than 34km2, Mgahinga is Uganda’s smallest national park however it forms a cross border system of adjoining reserves in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Mgahinga National Park is arguably the most scenic national park in Uganda offering panoramic views that stretch northwards to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and in the south wards it is dominated by the volcanic cones of the Virunga. Mgahinga National park derives its name from a Bafumbira word “Gahinga”, which locally means a pile of Volcanic Stones cleared from farmland at the foot of volcanic mountains. The Bafumbira are part of Bantu ethnic group whose origin lies in Kisoro area, the same area where the National park is situated.
Mgahinga hosts 3 volcanic peaks and these are Muhabura (4,127), Sabinyo (3,669m) and Gahinga (3,474m) and all these can be hiked. The names to all these 3 peaks come to life in translation.
Muhabura means ‘the guide” and of which its famous cone that makes it a prominent landmark. The rim of the older sabinyo has weathered down into a ring of stubby peaks, earning itself a title ‘’old man’s teeth’’ and all these imposing cones over shadow Mgahinga mountain which is named for the local practice of eruptions the volcanic rocks that clutter to farmlands into ‘’small piles of stones’’ known as Gahinga.
Mgahinga protects 76 mammal species which include elephants, giant forest hogs, buffalos and a number of predators like leopards. The park hosts over 115 bird species that have been recorded and this is attributed to the park’s small size though the park is still a great spot for bird watchers as it hosts 12 Albertine rift endemic species. The park is also famous for the Mountain Gorilla tracking experience though the gorillas in this park are not permanent with in this park however a small number move freely between Uganda and the neighboring countries. Besides the gorillas, the park is a home to the endangered golden monkeys which are only known to be thriving in the Virunga region of which Mgahinga is among and Gishwati forest in Rwanda. This makes Mgahinga a unique site where gorilla trekking and golden monkey tracking takes place.
Uganda Safari Attractions in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Uganda Safari Activities in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Gorilla tracking as a Uganda Safari Activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Roughly 45 gorillas used to spend part of the year in Mgahinga moving to and from Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo before they eventually settled in Mgahinga Gorilla Park. The park has also habituated a number of gorillas from the volcanic saddles of Muhabura. Mgahinga has one of the memorable and most exciting activities and this is the gorilla tracking experience in the thick jungle. The park is home to one habituated gorilla group (nyakigyezi) is visited and has a bigger number of females, 4 juveniles and 2 infants. This group is mobile as it moves to and from Uganda and Rwanda. Booking for gorilla tracking is through the Uganda wildlife authority and it is at ntebeko where registration, briefing and trekking starts daily at 8am and can take up 2 to 8 hours with one hour of viewing. Gorilla tracking is Uganda’s most sought-after tourism activity you should book well in advance to ensure that permits for your safari are available.
Mountain hikes as a Uganda Safari Activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Guided day hikes to the 3 volcanic peaks can cost up to $80 per person inclusive of the guide and entry fees. A reasonable level of fitness is required to start the hikes, boots, rain gears and warm clothes are recommended. The 6-7 hour hike from ntebeko to mountain Mgahinga offers an opportunity to spot a number of forests bird species, bush back and duikers that inhabit the marshy crater at the peak. The most challenging hike but adventurous is to the Muhabura peak the highest peak where by a round trip can take up to 9 hours. The small crater on top of Muhabura is covered by giant lobelias and hikers may feel altitude related symptoms while at the peak due to ascent.
Golden monkey tracking as a Uganda Safari Activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
This is the next best thing to see after mountain gorillas while in Mgahinga national park as this is a distinctive rare species of the blue monkey a little known and they are more associated to the bamboo and have been listed endangered by the world conservation union. Endemic to the Albertine region, the golden monkey is a bright orange golden monkey with contrasting black limbs and a crown tail at the end. Mgahinga habituates about 4,000 Golden monkeys, living together in the bamboo forest areas. Golden monkeys make each day of their lives in the forest different, making it hard to easily predict their next moves, hence making the whole tracking experience interesting at an elevation of over 2,500m above sea level.
Nature walks as a Uganda Safari Activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Nature trails concentrate on the forest zone out of ntebeko. For birders, a 3 – 4hours walk along the sabinyo along the sabinyo gorge trail ascending through the heath around ntebeko is one of the best places in this park. This park is a good place to see the pretty golden monkey as well as beautiful francolins, kivu ground thrush, Rwenzori turraco, olivewood pecker and several other Albertine endemics. Another day trail leads to rugezi swamp where one can spot several forest bird species several bird species and animals like elephants, giant forest hogs and buffalos. Having a variety of wildlife, physical features and vegetation; Mgahinga National park is a prime Nature walk destination. Nature walks are rewarding in way that you get to encounter a number of mammal species such as elephants, buffaloes and many other mammals; primate species such as Mangabeys, golden monkeys and the black and white colobus monkeys.
Community tours as a Uganda Safari Activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
A tour to the Batwa people who belong to the Bantu ethnic group can never disappoint. The Batwa people have lived in forests and have highly depended on hunting bush meat while using bows, arrows and nets. They also gather fruits in the forest to supplement their meals, use leaves and roots as medicine to treat diseases; use papyrus and thatch to build their shelter. They are believed to have migrated from the Ituri forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Bird watching as a Uganda Safari Activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The park hosts over 115 bird species that have been recorded and this is attributed to the park’s small size though the park is still a great spot for bird watchers as it hosts 12 Albertine rift endemic species. They include Cape Robin-chat, Black-headed Waxbill, Bush-shrike, Brown Crowned Tchagra, Kivu-ground Thrush, Dusky turtle Dove, Chubb’s Cisticola, Banded Prinia and many others.
How to get to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Kampala – Masaka – Mbarara – Bushenyi – Kisoro 468Km 8Hrs
Kampala – Mubende – Fort Portal – Kasese – Bushenyi – Kisoro 649km 9Hrs
From Kisoro town to the Ntebeko gate 15Km 30min
Charter flights can also be arranged from Entebbe or Kampala (Kajjansi) to Kisoro airstrip.
Uganda Safari Accommodation in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Luxury / Upmarket
Mount Gahinga Lodge
Situated at the foot of the park between the volcanoes Sabinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura; the lodge has a luxury touch with 9 en-suite bandas huts (4 doubles and 5 twins). It has a massage room, restaurant and fully stocked bar.
Kisoro Travelers Rest Hotel
Located 14km from the park, outside Kisoro town, the hotel has 12 en suited rooms. It has a restaurant, stocked bar, bikes for rent and lounge.
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Kisoro Tourist Hotel
The hotel is located 500m away from the town of Kisoro. It offers a conference room, restaurant, gym, and laundry services. The rooms are en-suite
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Mutanda Eco Community Center
Located 6Km out of kisoro town, Mutanda is an eco-lodge owned by the community.
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