Very ideal for Gorilla tracking, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is found in far southwestern Uganda, bordering Rwanda in the south and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the west, with a geographical coverage of 33 square kilometres. Located 14 kms from Kisoro town, the park covers the northern slopes of the three Virunga Volcanoes including Mountain Muhavura (4,127 m), Mountain Gahinga (3,474 m) and Mountain Sabinyo (3,645 m). The three countries, Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo, each protects its own portion of the Virungas, with Volcanoes National Park for Rwanda, Virunga National Park in Congo and Mhaginga on the Ugandan side. The three parks together form the 434-square kilometres of the Virunga Conservation Area (VCA). Mgahinga is 33.7 sq. km, just 8% of the VCA and the whole park is found Bufumbira County.
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 scenery of the area by walking up to the viewpoint located 15 minutes from Ntebeko Gate. The park has great biological importance since throughout the climatic changes of the Pleistocene ice ages, mountains like this one provided a refuge for mountain plants and animals that moved up or down the slopes as climate became warmer or cooler. The Virungas are home to a large variety of wildlife including the world’s seriously endangered mountain gorillas.
Tour Activities at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The park has about 39 mammal and 79 bird species. Animals like elephants, leopards, buffaloes and warthogs/bush pig are rarely seen at the park. But the most famous and common inhabitants of the park are the mountain gorillas.
1. Gorilla Trekking
Gorilla Tracking is the most thrilling tourist activity in Mgahinga forest. The habituated gorilla family in this park is called the Nyakigezi Family. This group consists of 9 members, 2 silver-backs, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 2 infants. It is an intensive experience that can last a day long. The tour guide leads you through the gorilla’s world, explaining comprehensively ecological and behavioural aspects of the gorillas. Whereas chances are high that you will the gorillas, this is not guaranteed. Gorillas by nature wild creatures with no fixed routine and finding them requires the skill and experience of your trackers and guides as well as luck by your side on that day.
The trackers and guides have helped to habituate the gorilla groups and know them intimately. They will take you to the area where they left the gorillas the day before. Before leaving they may be able to suggest how long the hike might be. While walking, please feel free to ask guides to slow down if they are going too fast and if you need a rest. Feel free to stop and look at birds or flowers, the guide will ensure that you don’t get left behind. The exercise can be tiresome, so better you are fit physically and please wear shoes with good traction ideal for steep muddy slopes and when taking photos dim and flash lights are not allowed since these animals are black in colour.
What to carry for gorilla tracking
For you to enjoy the gorilla-tracking exercise, kindly carry the following:
– Carry rain gear or a Rain Coat
– Sunscreen and a hut for the unpredictable weather.
– Water and food
– Hiking boots – ankle level boots are fine but make sure it is something handy.
– Carry binoculars especially for watching birds and far animals. But you can also hire from the park office.
– A warm cardigan
– Thick trousers and a long sleeved top are ideal for tracking.
– Video- filming is allowed in the parks though not outside the park
– Water proof container for their cameras
– If you prefer wearing a hat, a baseball cap is recommended.
Manners for Gorilla Visitors
When you go for gorilla tracking, you are advised to observe the following:-
(a) Keep your voice down or be quiet.
(b) Don’t point or waive your arms, it can be mistaken by the gorillas for a threat.
(c) Be slow in your movements
(d) Back away slowly to keep 5 metres separation if approached by a gorilla.
(e) Don’t use flash cameras as they can threaten the gorillas as well as bothering other visitors.
Moving from Mgahinga gorilla national park, hikers can transcend to Mt. Sabinyo which is 3645 metres high, Mt Gahinga 3474 metres and Mt. Muhavura 4127 metres above sea level.
– Volcano Climbing of Mt. Sabyinyo (366m)
The ‘Old man’s teeth’, like an old man, time has eroded Mt. Sabyinyo’s crown. Seeing the ‘Old man’s teeth’ on the top of Mt Sabinyo is another wonderful adventure. This volcano has 3 challenging peaks to climb. Climbing the mountain takes one up a ridge along the eastern side of the climb to peak. If you are to continue, the climb to the peak 11 involves walking a ridge with breath-taking drops into gorges of Rwanda and Uganda, a dual experience you will achieve here and enjoy. And the hike up to the peak 111 is steep with several ladders and mush scrambling. Your hands have to get dirty en-route to peak! But once you reach the top, you will be in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, what a triple memorable experience this one is!!! The journey takes about eight hours round trip to cover the 14km stretch.
– Mt. Gahinga (3474m)
While on your way to the park, look out for small piles of stones in the garden fields locally known as ‘Gahinga’. Mount Gahinga is quite bigger than the average ‘gahinga’ but sitting next to Mount Muhavura makes it appear small. Here, a six-hour hike round trip goes through a good example of a pure Bamboo forest. Mt. Gahinga at one time had a Crater Lake on top but time has changed it into a Lush swamp which is 8 km away.
– Mt. Muhavura (4127m)
This volcano one can properly see it from all over Kisoro, it acts as a guide. The typical cone-shaped Mountain provides some of the best views in the country. Most of the climbing passes a rocky surface covered by grasses and small shrubs. Hikers are rewarded with the view of the Virunga volcanoes, Lake Edward in queen Elizabeth National Park, Bwindi and the peaks of Rwenzori Mountain once at the top. The hike exercise takes about 8 hours round trip covering 12km. one is advised to camp at the Muhavura base camp the night before the site has no facilities so you need a tent, water, food and sleeping gear among others.
Cave Exploration (The Garama cave).
This is one of the caves where once the crafty Batwa (who were warriors) lived and fought their neighbors, the Bantu. The distance to the cave entrance from the park headquarters is just 3 km and takes about 4 hours. Your guide will tell you the Batwa history and show you how they lived and fought out of the cave. The cave, 342m in length and 14m deep is currently inhabited by bats.
– Viewing platform, it is about 800 metres from the Park gate. Once on top, you will have a good view of the Park and the surrounding areas. A guide is not needed here and the activity is free of charge. Displaying panels at the hill point will give some information about what you can see.
– Border trail, this visa-free 5-hour hike takes you first toward Sabinyo. The trail climbs up the base of Sabinyo for a while through fine montane forest before turning toward the Congo. On your way, you will get a good view of Sabinyo’s gorge and peaks. When you enter Congo, you cut back along the international border and return leg to the Park Head offices is a great section for bird watching. And the two rest huts along the way are good places for a break. Watch closely for the golden monkeys and elephants and you return. Hiking distance is 10 km
The has 79 bird species, including several species endemic to the East Congo Montane region and thse include the Ibis, Whydah, Speckled Mouse birds, and Fire Finch Stonechat, Grey Capped Warbler, Waxbills, and Yellow-Vented Bulbul. For the whole Virunga Conservation Area, over 295 species are endemic to the Albertine Rift Afromontane region constituting a 59% of the total of known endemic species. Do not forget to contact the Park Management for some to guide you around for a good viewing of birds and move with all your birding equipments like binoculars.
Free Birding – You can also enjoy free birding on the edges of the park but on request. The guides will take you out from 5-6 pm if you book early by 10 am on the day you want to bird. Freely choose you walk direction or simply relax in the campground. A stroll a long the buffalo wall toward the Congo takes you through a wetland area where Ibis, Whydah, Speckled Mouse-bird, and Fire Finch are found. Stonechat, Grey Capped Warbler, Waxbills, and Yellow-Vented Bulbul are common at the campground. Inquire from the guide about the best spots and take your time and move on. Bird Species at Mgahinga include the Broad-billed Roller, Green Wood-hoopoe, African Grey Hornbill, African Moustached Warbler, rapacious Red-necked Falcon, Black-winged Red-Bishop, White-winged Widow-bird and Fawn-breasted Waxbill, Double-toothed Barbet, Yellow-throated Leaf-love, Green-backed Eremomela, Piapiac, Black-chinned Quail-Finch, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike and Western Violet-backed sun bird, the list is endless. Walk on your own pace as birding needs no speed.
4. The Batwa Trail
Getting to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park:
The park is located 540 kilometres Kampala, the Capital City of Uganda, which is an 8-hour going through Kabale. If one is to use public transport means, there are daily busses that set off for the journey at 7.00 am in the morning from Kampala. While in Kisoro Town, you can hike to the park if you are strong enough or hire a cab to the park gate
Accommodation near Mgahinga
If you are the ‘go camping tourist’, then there is ample space at the park gate and Mt. Gahinga Rest Camp for ‘Do it Yourself Camping’, besides that, there is also excellent traditional Bandas managed by the local community. Kisoro Town is just 14 kms to the gate of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and offers a variety of accommodation facilities like the basic Camp-site, luxurious full board hotels and these include:
1. Traveller’s Rest Hotel Kisoro
2. Sky Blue Hotel
3. Mount Gahinga Rest Camp
4. Virunga Hotel,
5. Mgahinga Safari Lodge,
6. Rugigana Campsite
7. Mubano Hotel
8. Community Camp ground with ample space for ‘ Do it you Self-Camping
Take a 3 Days Gorilla Safari to Mgahinga National Park