Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Travel to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park – Virunga Mountains of Uganda
Located in the far southwestern corner of Uganda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the smallest park in Uganda with an area of only 34 sq. km. This park makes up the Ugandan part of the Virunga Conservation Area which spans three countries: Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each country has established National Parks to protect the tropical rainforest watersheds and wildlife of the Virunga region. As its name suggests, Mgahinga is a another refuge in Uganda for the mountain gorilla. Gorilla tracking (on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains) is possible in this scenic park.
Virguna is a Kinyarwanda word which means ‘boiling pots’ and references the mountains’ volcanic origins. At least one volcano in the range is active – last erupting in 2001 – and which contributes to the unique nature of the mountain range. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park boasts three extinct volcanoes: Mount Muhavura (4,127m), Mount Gahinga (3,475m) and Mount Sabyinyo (3,645m). Gahinga is the lowest of these mountains and has lent its name to the park.
The vegetation of Mgahinga is typically afro-montane, with a forest belt, a bamboo zone, an ericaceous belt and an alpine zone. Many local herbs grow in the park, including a giant relative of the herb St. John’s Wort that grows in the form of a tree.
The park supports 39 recorded mammal species, although it is believed there may be another 50 species unrecorded. Of the larger mammals Mgahinga boasts are the mountain gorilla, buffalo and elephant. The endangered golden monkey, a subspecies of the blue monkey also finds its home in this region. Leopard and several other cat species can also be found here.
Recordings of 294 bird species have been made in the Virunga region, among which are the handsome Francolin, the Rwenzori Touraco and the Side-breasted Tit. Twenty of these species are endemic to the Albertine Rift Valley.
The rugged mountainous terrain makes gorilla trekking strenuous work and visitors should be prepared for up to 8 hours of hiking (good physical condition is a must). No-one with any sign of communicable disease will be allowed to trek. The habituated gorilla family in Mgahinga is called the Nyakagezi group and consists of approximately 15 members. Access to gorilla permits for trekking in Mgahinga are not as reliable as in Bwindi given the tendency of the gorillas to move across the borders of Rwanda and DRC. They are usually resident in Uganda during the months of April, May, June, October, November and December.
Mgahinga also offers the challenge of a days hike to the summit of Mount Muhavura (translated to ‘The Guide’); the highest point in the park. Magnificent views of the other Virunga volcanoes, Lake Edward in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Bwindi and the Rwenzori Mountain peaks can be seen from its summit where a crater lake is also found. The hike takes approximately 8 hours round trip and covers 12 km.
Less strenuous hikes are available to the top of Mount Gahinga or to the breathtaking Sabyinyo Gorge. Golden monkey walks, a historic Batwa cave, village walk through the Batwa area along the edge of the park and a unique swamp walk are all interesting activities for those who have extra time to spend in the area.
Relax at Mount Gahinga Lodge which lies nestled in the foothills of the dramatic Virunga volcanoes, on the border or Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC.
Mgahinga is approx. 510 km from Kampala (8-10 hours drive). Kisoro is the nearest town to Mgahinga. From Kabale to Kisoro is around 80 km on unpaved roads (2-3 hours). From Kisoro to the park gate at Ntebeko is 13 km (3 hours walk or 1 hours drive). The road is generally in poor condition and 4WD is recommended. Hiring private transport with knowledgeable driver/guide provides the most reliable and flexible transport to Mgahinga.
- For those that make the effort – take a trek and savour one of life’s most memorable experiences with a sighting of mountain gorillas in the wild
- Grab your binoculars and search for the brilliantly-coloured Rwenzori turaco – one of Mgahinga’s more spectacular birds, found in montane forest
- Pull on your hiking boots, hire a guide, and set out on foot in breathtaking volcanic scenery on one of several varied hiking trails – you may even be tempted by Mt. Muhavura and its clear water crater lake!