Mgahinga Gorilla National ParkGorilla Trekking, Nature Walks, Birding, Community, Culture & People
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
TOP THINGS TO DO IN MGAHINGA GORILLA NATIONAL PARK
Mgahinga is a part of a larger ecosystem, the Virunga Conservation Area (434sq. km) which includes two adjacent parks in Rwanda and Congo. Mgahinga Gorilla national park sits high in the clouds, at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m. It was formed to protect the rare Mountain Gorillas that inhabit dense forests, and it is also an important habitat for the endangered Golden monkey. Its most striking features are its three conical, extinct volcanoes, part of the spectacular virunga ranges that lie along the border region of Uganda, Congo, and Rwanda. Mgahinga forms part of the much larger Virunga Conservation Area which includes the adjacent parks in these countries.
The park offers a soothing aura of majesty with cool temperatures owing to the mountainous nature of the park. It’s a home to part of 300 gorillas located in the Virungs massif. It is indeed where gold meets silver where gorillas are house with the same habitat of the golden monkeys. The cultural heritage featuring folklore and traditional healing practices for local people covers the north slopes of the three northern Virunga volcanoes-Muhavura, Gahinga and sabinyo.
The park derives its name from “Gahinga” a Kinyarwanda word for a pile of volcanic lava stone heaps around which cultivation is carried out. On the other hand, Muhavura means “guide” as you can see it from many directions while Sabinyo means the “Old Man’s Teeth”. It is bordered to the south by Rwanda and to West by DR Congo.
While Sabinyo is deeply eroded with jagged crown and deep gorges and ravines, Gahinga has a swamp filled- crater about 180m wide and Muhavura has a small crater lake about 36m wide at its summit. While at the top of Sabinyo, you get to be set foot in all the three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo at the same time. Its view of the Volcanoes and gorges with the cool breeze of freshness is unrivaled. On some of the steep mountain slopes are caves formed by lava tubes, one of them being the famous Garama cave located near Ntebeko, The park headquarters.
Activities in Mgahing gorilla national park
The best birding in Mgahinga also takes in some of its most beautiful scenery in the gorge between Mt. Gahinga and Sabinyo, through the Bamboo forest, and in montane forest, where the beautiful Rwenzori turaco may be observed.
For generations, Mgahinga dense forests were a home to the indigenous Batwa - hunter gatherers and fierce warrior who depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicine. Now they lead visitors through the forest and introduce them to their old home and the techniques they used to survive in it.
The guide leads you through the gorillas’ world, surrounded by wild forest and impressive birdlife, exploring the gorilla behavior along the way. Tracking excursion leave from Ntebeko Entrance Gate at 8:00am daily and last between two and five hours.
Hiking and Nature walks
Hiking around the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes gives visitors the chance to spot forest birds, the Rugezi swamp, wild vegetation bamboo forest and glorious views of the surrounding lakes and agricultural villages.
Mountain and Volcano climbing
All three Volcanoes in this park can be summited, taking a full day each view from the peaks are well worth the effort-taking in Rwanda DR Congo, the Virungas, the Rwenzoris, Bwindi impenetrable forest and the lake Edward.
Attractions & Areas of Interest
The Virunga Volcanoes
The Virungas are a chain of eight volcanoes which dot the borders of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. Three of the conical peaks are in Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park:
Muhavura (4,127m) is the highest of the peaks in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The name means guide, and the Batwa used to look for its high peak to help orient themselves in the forest. Muhavura has a crystal clear crater lake about 36m wide at its summit. The top commands panoramic views far into Uganda, Rwanda and along the length of the Virunga chain
Mount Gahinga (3,474m) is the smallest of the Virunga volcanoes. It is named after the local practice of tidying the volcanic debris that clutters local farmland into neat cairns – or gahinga. Its swamp-filled crater is around 180m wide.
Sabinyo means old man’s teeth, a reference to its jagged summit which is dissected by deep gorges and ravines. The countries that share the Virungas – Uganda, Rwanda and the DR Congo – meet on the highest of Sabinyo’s stumpy peaks.
Some of the steep mountain slopes contain caves formed by lava tubes, one of them being the famous Garama Cave located near the park headquarters. This is a sacred place for the Batwa, and during the Batwa Trail you can discover how it was used as a shelter during battles and as a place to store looted treasures.
Ntebeko Visitors’ Centre
The Visitor Centre at Ntebeko is the starting point for nature walks, volcanoes hiking, golden monkey and gorilla tracking and the short (4km) Batwa Trail. The trailhead of the long Batwa trail is at the base of Mt Muhavura. Exhibits inside the building explore themes relating the Virunga environment. A trail along the stone Buffalo Wall – built to keep animals out of neighboring farmland – provides good birding and views of the volcanoes.
Outside the Park
A worthwhile diversion on the route to Mgahinga from Kabale, Lake Bunyonyi is dotted with at least 20 small islands and encircled by steep terraced hills, Africa’s second deepest lake is unforgettably scenic. Visitors can stay overnight at a number of lakeside resorts or simply follow the lakeshore road to Kisoro and Mgahinga.Source: ugandawildlife.org
Accessibility to this park
By road: Mgahinga gorilla national park is 510km from Kampala, the most commonly used route passes through Kabale and Kisoro. The 434km journey from Kampala to Kabale can be completed in 8 hours on a good tarmac road; it is the 76km to Kisoro town on a mountainous tarmac road with steep ascents and descents.
An attractive alternative route leaves the main road at Kabale and follows the shoreline of the superbly scenic lake Bunyonyi to rejoin the Kabale -Kisoro main road and its half-way point at Muko.
Ntebeko the main Entrance to Mgahinga gorilla national park is 14km from Kisoro at the end of dirt road with some steep and rocky sections.
By Air: Mgahinga can also be reached by Air using the daily flights from Entebbe international Airport to the nearest Kisoro Airfield.
Accommodation in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
- Mgahinga Community Campground: located at Mgahinga UWA Ntebeko Gate HQ with 1 self contained banda, 3 non self contained bandas and a dormitory.
- Mount Gahinga Lodge: Located outside the Ntebeko gate offers more up market accommodation on a full board basis in luxury banda.
- Travellers Rest Hotel: Located in town 100m from the National Parks office.
- Kisoro Tourist Hotel: located in Kisoro town with Self-contained rooms all with showers and balcony. The hotel has large garden and safe secure parking.
- Mgahinga Rest Camp: Located outside the Ntebeko Gate at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
- Nkuringo Safari Lodge: Located within 14 kms outside of Kisoro on Lake Mutanda. Tented camp with en-suite bathrooms and toilets. Bar and restaurant.
- Bugondo Guesthouse: Located at 56 Chuho Road and sign posted on your approach to Kisoro Town. 12 rooms 8 of which are self-contained, DSTV in rooms, safe and secure parking facility.
- Heritage Guesthouse: Is opposite the Standard Bank on Kisoro’s short strip of tarmac.
- Countryside Guesthouse: Located on Bunagana Road 500m from the taxi park. 14 clean rooms, restaurant and camping ground.
- Landmark Tours and Travel Guesthouse: Located on very central at Plot 27 Mutanda Road that loops behind the main Bunagana Road.
- Virunga Hotel: Located behind the National Parks office. Cheap clean rooms. Clean toilets and hot water showers. Restaurant and bar. Secure parking.
- Lake Mutanda Campsite: located on a peninsular with panoramic views out over the lake. The site also known as Sheba’s Campsite provides a uniquely tranquil venue for visitors looking for simplicity and wishing to be in a natural setting.
RECOMMENDED GORILLA SAFARIS
Best time to go gorilla trekking in Uganda
Mgahinga is open for gorilla tracking all year long, but the best times to go gorilla trekking are from June to August and December to February. At these times the forest trails are drier and therefore less slippery.