Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park – Gorilla Trekking Uganda

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is found in Kisoro district in the southwestern corner of Uganda. The home to Mountain gorillas, the park covers an area of 33 sq kms. Gorilla Tracking and Golden Monkey Trekking are the major thrilling tourist activity. The habituated gorilla in this park is called the Nyakagezi, with 9 members, 2 silverbacks, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 2 infants. Gorilla tracking is an intensive experience that can take the whole day. The guide leads you through the gorilla’s world, explaining aspects of their ecology and behavior along the way.

Mgahinga 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 bounded to the south by the Republic of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the west. Each of these countries protects its own portion of the Virungas, in the Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda and Parc National des Virunga in DR Congo. The three parks combined form the 434-square kms that make up the ‘Virunga Conservation Area’ (VCA) and Mgahinga covers 8% of this conservation area. The Park is entirely in Bufumbira County of Kisoro district.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park 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 point of view, 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.

Activities at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Activities at the park include; Gorilla Tracking, Birding and Free Bird Watching, Volcano Hiking and Cave Exploration.

Gorilla Trekking

This is the most thrilling tourist activity in the park and almost takes a whole day with help of an experienced guide who understands well the biology and behaviours of the of the mountain gorillas in Uganda. The habituated gorilla in this park is called the Nyakagezi, which has 9 members, 2 silverbacks, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 2 infants. While you have a very good chance of seeing gorillas, success is not definite. Gorillas are wild creatures with no fixed routine and finding them requires the skill and experience of the trackers and guides plus some bit of luck. The trackers and guides have helped to habituate the gorilla groups and know them familiarly. They will lead you to the location where they left the gorillas a day before and at the start of the hike, guides may tell you how long the walk might take. While walking, please feel free to ask guides to slow down if they are going too fast and if you need a rest. You are at liberty to stop and look at birds or flowers, the guide will ensure that you do not get left behind.

Gorilla Tracking can be a tiring hike, meaning you have to be prepared and it is wise to :

  • Wear good-traction shoes ideal for muddy slopes.
  • Carry rain gear, hut and a sunscreen since weather is unpredictable.
  •  Move with water and packed food
  • Carry your binoculars or hire from the park office to be able to a lot.
  • When taking photos, flash is not allowed.

Manners as you watch Gorillas:

  • Keep quiet or lower your voice.
  • Do not point or waive your arms as it can be perceived as a threat. Move slowly.
  • If approached by a gorilla, back away gradually to be 5m away.
  • Use of flash is prohibited as it could threaten the gorillas and inconvenience other visitors.

Bird Watching

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is endowed with an exceptional bird fauna; 79 bird species have been recorded, including several species widespread in the East Congo Montane expanse. For the Virunga Conservation Area as a whole, over 295 species in the Virungas are endemic to the Albertine Rift Afromontane region representing 59% of the total of known endemic species. A guide will take you around for a good viewing of birds and remember to have binoculars for an excellent watching.

Free Birding

On request, one can enjoy free birding along the periphery of the park. The guides are happy to take you out in the evening in case you happen to have booked in the morning. You can decide where the hike will take you or simply settle down in the campground. A leisurely walk along the buffalo wall toward the Congo takes you through a wetland area where Ibis, Whydah, Speckled Mousebird, and Fire Finch are found. Stonechat, Grey Capped Warbler, Waxbills and Yellow-Vented Bulbul are often seen around the campground. The guide will tell you the best bird spots. Feel free to take your time and go at your own pace, there is no rush while birding.

Hiking: Volcano Climbing. Mt. Sabyinyo (366m) ‘Old man’s teeth’

Similar to an old man, time has weather-beaten Mt. Sabyinyo’s top. This volcano offers 3 challenging peaks to ascend. Going up to mountain takes one up a ridge along the eastern side of the climb to climax. In case you want to continue, the climb to the peak 11 involves walking a ridge with breath-taking drops into gorges of Rwanda and Uganda, a double familiarity you will accomplish here. As a final point, the hike up to the peak 111 is steep with several ladders and mush scrambling. Definitely, your hands will get soiled 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 the way to the park, look out for small loads 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 makes it appear smaller. A trek, which takes you about, six hours round trip, goes through a good model of a wholesome 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 offers some of the best views in the country. A great deal of the climb passes a rocky surface covered by grasses and small shrubs. While at the top, hikers are rewarded with a spectacular view of the Virunga volcanoes, Lake Edward in queen Elizabeth National Park, Bwindi and the peaks of Rwenzori Mountain. The hike takes something like 8 hours round trip covering 12km. it is wise always to camp at the Muhavura base camp the night before. The site has no facilities therefore one needs a tent, water, food and sleeping stuff.

Cave Exploration – Garama cave

This is one of the caves where once the crafty Batwa warriors resieded and fought their neighbors, the Bantu. The distance to the cave entry from the park headquarters is 3 km long and it takes about 4 hours. A guide will show you how the Batwa lived and fought out of the cave. The length of the cave is 342m and 14m deep and currently inhabited bats only.

Viewing Platform:

This is roughly 800 metres from the Park gate. While on top, you will have a superior observation of the Park and the adjoining areas. Here, a guide is not necessary and the activity is free. Displaying panels at the hill point will give some information about what you can see.

Border Trail – Visa Not Required

This hike leads you initially in the direction of Sabinyo. The path climbs up the base of Sabinyo for a while through fine montane forest before turning on the way to the Congo. Along the way you will get an immense sight of Sabinyo’s gorge and peaks. Upon reaching the Congo you cut back along the international boundary. The return leg to the Park Head Quarters is a great section for bird watching. The two rest huts along the way are excellent places for a break. Look closely for the golden monkeys and signs of elephants. Hiking time is 5 hours covering 10 km.

Accommodation Options

In cane you are the ‘go camping tourist’, ample space at the park gate is available and for ‘Do it Yourself Camping’, Mt. Gahinga Rest Camp is ideal. There is also excellent traditional Bandas run by the local community. Kisoro Town situated 14 kms from the gate of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has a wide range of accommodation services ranging from the basic Camp-site to the luxurious full board hotels, like the Traveler’s Rest, Sky Blue, Mt. Gahinga Rest Camp, Virunga Hotel, Mgahinga Safari Lodge, Rugigana Campsite and Mubano Hotel to mention.

Getting there

Kisoro is about 540 km from Kampala and it takes about 8 hours via Masaka, Mbarara and Kabale by road. When in Kisoro Town you can hike to the park if you are energetic enough.
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