Mgahinga gorilla national park Uganda
Mgahinga gorilla national park is located in southwestern Uganda. It was gazetted in 1991 to protect the mountain gorillas and golden monkeys which both critically endangered species are found only in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. Most visitors go to Mgahinga to see gorillas and golden monkeys. The park protects tropical montane forests and bamboo habitats and includes 3 of the 8 virunga of the virunga volcanoes. Gahinga, Muhabura and Sabinyo are dormant volcanoes rising at an elevation 2227 to 4127 meters above sea level. It offers volcano hiking trails which are moderate day hikes. The trails go through lush forests and take you passed swamp craters and beautiful scenery.
Mgahinga covers an area of 33.7 sq km, it the smallest park in Uganda but there’s plenty of wildlife and unique cultural encounters with BaTwa pygmies. There are more than 79 species of birds including Albertine rift endemics such as Rwenzori turaco which makes it an excellent area for bird watching.
Mgahinga is managed by Uganda wildlife authority. The park is open year round for gorilla tracking and other activities include golden monkey treks, hiking, birding and BaTwa cultural trail. The main visitor center Ntebeko is accessible from many lodges just outside the park or in towns of kisoro.
What to do in Mgahinga
Uganda wildlife authority has habituated 1 gorilla family in the whole of Mgahinga. The Nyakagezi family being the only habituated family tends to move frequently as they feed. For this reason, rangers and trackers are constantly monitoring the gorilla family. This makes it easy to locate gorillas for visitors during trekking. Though it can be strenuous due to steep terrain, the advantage of gorilla tracking in Mgahinga is that visitors have guaranteed to see gorillas. And the chances of being in a few groups of less than 6 people are high. Another advantage is that since few visitors go to Mgahinga, the gorilla permits for 8 people are available per day.
Golden monkey tracking
Aside from the captivating gorillas, golden monkeys are another popular attraction. Seeing these primates is done through golden monkey tacking which is also unforgettable primate adventure. Golden monkeys live in bamboo zone above 2000 meters but hiking is not strenuous.
The 3 volcanoes offer hiking opportunities for visitors. The volcanoes include Mt. sabinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura are among the beautiful landscapes and backdrop of virunga volcanoes. All volcanoes can be hiked to the top and then descend back in a day. However, hiking Muhabura which is the tallest 4127 meters is fairly strenuous, lasting for about 10 hours ascending to the summit and back. Hiking Mt. Gahinga 3473 meters lasts for 8 hours while for Sabinyo 3645 meters takes 5-6 hours. What you should be aware of is that your feet will get wet so get the right hiking shoes. And there are ladders to climb which require fitness.
BaTwa cultural trail
Batwa pygmies are forest hunter gathers who originally lived in the forests. Their culture and ways of living is unique from other people. the BaTwa trail gives visitors a chance to learn about the BaTwa during the walk, they will be your guides and show you their former kingdom at Garama caves, the revolution of fire started, as well as how they hunt, harvest fruits, and medicinal herbs. BaTwa were chased out of the forest when Mgahinga was gazetted in 1991, but through this cultural trail, these minority people are able to live their forest life. At the end of the walk, you will witness and participate in their traditional dances as well as show you their art works. The walk takes 3-5 hours but goes through beautiful scenery at the base of Mt. Gahinga
Bird watching in Mgahinga
Mgahinga offers excellent bird watching with more than 79 species most of which are endemic to Albertine rift and virunga area. The buffalo wall is a trail takes visitors through different habitats where you can spot Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori batis, brown crowned tchagara, banded prinia. Many species can be spotted when you hike above 2000 meters in the bamboo habitats.
Inside Mgahinga Park, there’s a camping at Gahinga rest camp and community owned bandas. Lodges and hotels are found outside the park in Kisoro town including traveler’s rest hotel, Nkuringo safari lodge.