Find Golden monkeys and a sense of peace while walking in the rain forest and surprisingly doubles as one of the best place for gorilla treks. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park sits high in the clouds, 2,227 to 4,127 metres above sea level. Its most outstanding features are three extinct volcanoes that form part of the magnificent Virunga range, which lies along the border between Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda.
As its name suggests, Mgahinga was created to protect the endangered mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests. It’s also an important habitat for golden monkeys, which you can track in the forests. There’s only one habituated mountain gorilla family and it often moves across the border into the DRC or Rwanda with over 15 individuals of the family.
Mgahinga forms part of the much larger Virunga Conservation Area, which includes adjacent parks in the DRC and Rwanda. It’s unclear how much effective conservation is being done on the DRC side at present because of political instability there. The park contains various ecosystems and is biologically diverse, while its peaks provide a backdrop to the forest landscape.
If you enjoy peace and quiet and love trekking and walking, Mgahinga is ideal; you can wander the rain forest and have the place almost to yourself because of the lack of interest by mainstream mountain gorilla tourists. Although the park isn’t frequently visited, it has a huge cultural importance, particularly for the Batwa pygmies – hunter-gatherers who are the forest’s ‘first people’, and know the secrets of the forest.
Tourism & Activities in Mgahinga
Tourists can visit the park any time throughout the year, although conditions in the park are more difficult during the rainy season. Available tourist accommodation includes lodges notably Lake Mutanda Chameleon Hill Lodge, Gahinga Safari Lodge, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Gorilla Safari Lodge, all these are located close to Bwindi and with easy access to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Alternative accommodation can be sought in Kisoro town. The park is in a remote location, and reaching the park involves a long journey accessing it from Kampala the capital of Uganda.
Gorilla Tracking Safari is the park’s main tourist attraction although it is less popular than the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park due to the one habituated gorilla family having a tendency of moving across to DRC or Rwanda. Tourists wishing to track gorillas must first obtain a gorilla permit to do so. Wild Discoveries gets for you gorilla permits before your arrival to make your safari a seamless one. Otherwise gorilla permits are purchased at Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Gorilla Tracking Safaris generate much revenue for Uganda Wildlife Authority and neighboring communities which is crucial for gorilla conservation. The gorillas seldom react to tourists. There are strict rules for tourists to minimize the risk of diseases passing from them to the gorillas. At Mgahinga, there is much more on offer on top of the Gorilla Tracking Safari which include; golden monkey tracking; volcano trekking in the stunning Virungas; Batwa Trail Experience and cave explorations. All activities are booked through Uganda Wildlife Authority in Kisoro.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Gorilla Tracking Safaris, Gorilla Trekking is Uganda’s smallest park. It forms part of the Virunga Mountains and adjoins with the parks across the borders in Congo and Rwanda. The entire park is at high altitude and the views are out of this world. The most prominent feature is the volcanic cones of extinct Volcanoes in the mountain range.
Other Activities in Mgahinga
Birding in Mgahinga Gorilla
The best birding in Mgahinga also takes in some of its most beautiful scenery – in the gorge between Mts Gahinga and Sabinyo, through the bamboo forest, and in the montane forest, where the beautiful Rwenzori Turaco may be observed.
The three to four hour Gorge Trail between Gahinga and Sabinyo can provide a spectacular sightings of the Dusky turtle Dove, Cape Robin-chat, Kivu-ground Thrush, Olive Thrush, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Bronze Sunbird, Regal Sunbird, Blue-headed Sunbird, Rwenzori Batis, Black-headed Waxbill and Streaky Seedeater.
Other good birding areas are at the bamboo belt at about 2,500m above sea level, and the tall montane forest at 2,660m. The Rwenzori Turaco is mostly sighted at around 2,700m. Along the Uganda-Congo border and on level ground, the Chubb’s Cisticola, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Banded Prinia and Doherty’s Bush-shrike are vocal yet inconspicuous inhabitants of the tangled vegetation at the forest’s edge.
Cultural Encounters in Mgahinga Gorilla – The Batwa Trail
Batwa men at Garama Cave, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Gorilla Tracking Safaris
For generations, Mgahinga’s dense forests were home to the indigenous Batwa – hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors who depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicine. Now they lead visitors through the forests and introduce them to their old home – and the techniques they used to survive in it.
When the Mgahinga Gorilla national park was established the Batwa were evicted from the forest and abandoned their low-impact, nomadic lifestyle. The only time they are permitted to re-enter their cherished forest is as tour guides on the Batwa Trail, on which visitors will discover the magic of the Batwa’s ancient home while enjoying nature walks and learning about the cultural heritage.
The Batwa demonstrate hunting techniques, gather honey, point out medicinal plants and demonstrate how to make bamboo cups. Guests are invited to the sacred Garama Cave, once a refuge for the Batwa, where the women of the community perform a sorrowful song which echoes eerily around the depths of the dark cave, and leaves guests with a moving sense of the richness of this fading culture. Part of the tour fee goes directly to the guides and musicians and the rest goes to the Batwa community fund to cover school fees and books, and improve their livelihoods.
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 – Lake Bunyonyi
Lake Bunyonyi – Mgahinga Uganda
A worthwhile diversion on the route to Mgahinga from Kabale, Lake Bunyonyi is dotted with at least 29 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 lake shore road to Kisoro and Mgahinga.