Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Where Gold meets silver
Mgahinga Gorilla National park covers the Uganda slopes of the three of the Virunga volcanoes; Gahinga, Sabinyo and Muhavura. Though small in size, just 337km2, it adjoins Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga NP in Congo. Collectively these three form the transboundary Virunga Conservation Area which protects half of the world’s 780 mountain gorillas (the rest live in nearby Bwindi Impenetrable National Park). Gorilla conservation on the virungas dates back to 1925 when the Belgians gazette the portion of the rage in present day congo and Rwanda as a national park. The British administration declared the Uganda section as a game sanctuary in 1930.This was upgraded to national park status in 1991
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is home to 76 mammals including the endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkey. Other large mammals include elephant, buffalo, leopard and giant forest Hog though these are rarely encountered in the dense forest. Though the bird list currently stands at 115 species, this includes many localized forest birds and Albertine rift endemics, including the Striking Rwenzori Turaco.
Activities/ Attractions in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Ntebeko visitor’s center
The visitor center at Ntebeko is the trailhead for nature walks, volcano climbs, and golden monkey and gorilla trekking. Exhibits inside the building explore things relating to the Virunga environment. A trail along the adjacent dry stone buffalo wall (built to keep animals outside the neighbouring farmland) provides good birding and views of the dramatic backdrop.
Following a trail of trampled and snapped vegetation across the slopes of the Virungas to spend an hour in the company of a family of mountain Gorillas ranks among the world’s most sought after wildlife encounters. Contact time with Mgahinga habituated group is restricted tone hour and participants must be aged 15 and over.
Golden Monkey Trekking
Mountain gorillas are not the only endangered primates on the virungas. The volcanoes are the last stronghold of the golden monkey which can be tracked through its bamboo habitat on the slopes of Mt Mgahinga. As with gorillas, contact time with this rare primate is limited to an hour. Visitors who sign up for the habituation experience, however, can spend all day following this striking orange-coated monkey in the company of researchers.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park rises upwards to 3 of the Virunga’s 6 volcanic summits, all of which can be climbed in a day. Views from the peaks into Rwanda and Congo and towards the rift valley and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest-more than justify the effort.
The Park’s highest peak is Muhavura. The ascent passes through montane forest, bamboo stands and heather groves, before encountering bizarre forms of giant lobelias and groundsels at the summit. The 4127m summit which is adorned by a crystal clear crater lake,40m in diameter, commands panoramic views along the length of the Virunga chain. Mount Gahinga (3474m) is the smallest of Virunga volcanoes and its bamboo-covered slopes rises to a lust, swamp-filled crater, about 180m wide. The jagged crown of Sambinyo bears several summits, the highest which provides the rare privilege of standing 3669m high whilst in three counties Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC-at once.
Keen birders can seek rare Albertine Rift endemics and other forest birds in a range of scenic locations that include the Sabinyo Gorge (prime habitat for the beautiful Rwenzori Turaco); the saddle between Mounts Gahinga and Sabinyo and the Boundary Trail at Ntebeko with its incomparable volcanic backdrop.
The batwa trail
For generation, Mgahinga’s dense forest were home to the indigenous Batwa Pygmies, hunter-gatherers and warriors, who depend on the forest for shelter, food and medicine. Today,Batwa guides lead visitors through the lower slopes of the forests, introducing them to their old home and demonstrating the skills they used to survive in it. The highlight of the Batwa Trail is the descent into the Garama Cave for a subterranean performance of music and dance.
How to get to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is 524km from Kampala. The surfaced highway runs via Mbarara and Kabale to Kisoro, the 80km road between Kabale and Kisoro is winding drive through mountainous terrain with steep ascents and descents. Beyond Kisoro are rough 14km road with step, rocky section ascends to the park headquarters at Ntebeko.
Mgahinga can also be reached by daily flights from Entebbe International Airport to Kisoro Airfield.
Best time of the year to visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is open for gorilla trekking the whole year, but the best time is during the drier seasons from June to August and December to January. At this time the trails tend to be easier to navigate and spending a precious hour with the gorillas might be more pleasant when it isn’t raining.
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Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Pictures
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