The great Mgahinga gorilla national park located in the extreme south part of Uganda is the country’s smallest national park covering an area of 33.7 kilometers squared, it borders volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga national park in Congo. Mgahinga national park derives its name from mount Gahinga to mean “piles of stones” as named by the locals because of the small piles of stones gathered in heaps from their farmlands. The park was first gazetted as a game sanctuary in 1930 and later established as a national park in 1991.
Mgahinga national park is also home to three of the Virunga ranges that is Mount Sabinyo, Mount Muhabura, and Mount Gahinga. The Virunga ranges are known for harbouring the only mountain gorillas in the world with half of them found in Bwindi impenetrable national park in Uganda.
Gorilla trekking is the main activity for tourists at Mgahinga national park, mountain gorillas share 98% DNA with humans making them humans closest relatives, you can encounter these unique primates at Mgahinga national park without any crowds like in Bwindi impenetrable national park.
The only habituated gorilla family in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park is the “Nyakagezi gorilla family”. The family is composed of 2 adult females, 2 infants, 2 black backs, a toddler and three silverbacks led by Mark as the dominating silverback assisted by the others.
Nyakagezi gorilla family was habituated in 1991 and was formally opened up for tourists to visit in 1994. The family is one of the easiest Gorilla groups you can ever trek since they have a more limited range of mobility.
Mountain Climbing and Hiking
Mgahinga gorilla national park is home to 3 of the Virunga ranges volcanoes that can all be hiked for an unforgettable experience. Mount Sabinyo is one of the volcanoes you can hike and it can only be done from the Ugandan side because of its rugged nature from the Rwandan side, standing at an elevation of 3,669 meters above sea level which takes about 8 hours round trip to reach the peak.
Mount Gahinga, on the other hand, is 3,474 meters above sea level with scenic views and crater at its peak, the hike roughly takes about 6 hours for a round trip depending on, the speed of the hikers.
Mount Muhabura is the highest peak of the Virunga volcanoes in Uganda at an elevation of 4,127 meters above sea level. The climb to mount Muhabura will require some physical fitness but the reward of stunning views at the top are worth the hustle.
Golden Monkey Trekking
The renowned golden monkeys are endemic to the Albertine Rift and on the list of some of the endangered species of monkeys in the world. Mgahinga gorilla national park is home to over 4000 golden monkeys, trekking golden monkeys are not so strenuous like gorilla trekking because they live in the lower slopes, unlike gorillas who occupy the higher slopes.
One of the advantages of trekking golden monkeys is that there is no limited number of persons to trek a given group unlike gorillas where only 8 people are allowed to track in a group, the golden monkey permits are also cheaper costing only $50 per person.
Mgahinga gorilla national park is not only home to mountain gorillas and golden monkeys but there are many of other animals living in the park like; bushbucks, duikers, bush pigs, waterbucks, civets, giant forest hogs and primates such as the black and white Columbus monkeys, blue monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, De Brazza monkey, L’ Hoest monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabey and so many others.
Birding in Mgahinga
Mgahinga national park is home to various birds some endemic to the Albertine region, there are 79 species of birds recorded within the park and some of the examples are; Grey-capped warbler, yellow vented bulbul, speckled mousebird, firefinch bird, whydah, stonechat, Lagdens bush shrike, scarlet tufted Machalite sunbird, black kite, crowned hornbill, Kivu ground thrush, montane double collared sunbird, dusky turtle dove, crowned crane, white-tailed blue flycatcher, Ruwenzori Turaco, Chubbs cisticola, Alpine chat, Dohertys bush shrike, cinnamon chested bee-eater, Mackinnon fiscal, Alpine chat, white-eyed slaty flycatcher, yellow-crowned canary, grassland pipit, wing snapping cisticola, yellow-throated long claw and many others.
The Batwa trail Mgahinga national park is one of the a must visit places to visit while in Mgahinga gorilla national park, this will provide you with an insight to the Batwa tribe whose guide will give you all the information you need about the Batwa tribe who once lived in the forest before it was made a national park, the Batwa people were hunter-gatherers who depended in the forest for everything.
The trail leads you to the Garama cave which is about 300 meters long which the Batwa used in the ancient days as a counseling chamber the visit ends up with a Batwa traditional dance performed by the local dancers at the cave. On the way, you can encounter various wildlife and birds not forgetting to learn from the Batwa guide on different plant species and how they use them.
Accommodation in Mgahinga
Mgahinga national park doesn’t provide a variety of accommodation options but tourists can sleep in mount Gahinga lodge or do camping; the other lodges near in Kisoro town are mount Gahinga rest camp, Kisoro travelers inn, Mgahinga safari lodge, Virunga hotel, Muhabura motel, Kisoro tourists hotel, 3 way gorilla resort and Mucha hotel to mention a few.
Best time to visit
Mgahinga gorilla national park can be visited all year round though some months are better than the rest of the month. The best season is during the dry season from June to September and December to January when the roads are good and passable. Mgahinga national park can be reached from Kampala the capital of Uganda by car within 8 to 10 hours drive with magical views along the way but the easiest way is to fly into Kigali Rwanda and then drive to Mgahinga within 4 hours time by road.