Mgahinga National Park is one of the smallest national parks in Uganda located in the southwestern part of Uganda, Bufumbira County in Kisoro district and borders Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mgahinga national park covers about 33.7 square kilometers, lies between the altitudes of 2227 meters and 4127 meters. Mgahinga national park harbors the three Virunga volcanoes namely Mt Muhabura which is 4127 meters high, Mt Gahinga which is 3474 meters high and Mt Sabinyo which is 3645 meters high. Mgahinga national park was gazetted as a national park in 1991 and it was mainly established to protect and conserve the endangered mountain gorillas. Mgahinga national park is a home of various wildlife species including 76 mammal species such as buffaloes, elephants, giant forest hogs, bushbucks, leopards, spotted hyenas, black-fronted duikers, primates such as mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, and 184 bird species among others.
Activities done in Mgahinga National Park
- Gorilla trekking, gorilla trekking is an activity where visitors hike or trek in the dense forests in search of the mountain gorillas and it is the most popular activity done in Mgahinga national park. Gorilla trekking activity starts early in the morning at Ntebeko park headquarters where visitors first have a briefing on what to expect before going into the forest with the guide who shows them the trails to use and shares knowledge about the gorillas. Mgahinga national park harbors one habituated gorilla family called Nyakagezi which is composed of 10 members. Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga national park allows a maximum number of 8 people to trek Nyakagezi family every day and should be above 15 years of age and spend one hour with the gorilla family in the natural habitat taking photos, learning more about the gorillas among others. Trekking gorillas in Mgahinga costs $600 for Foreign Non-Residents, $500 for Foreign Residents and UGX 250, 000 for East African residents. The gorilla trekking permit should, however, be booked 4 to 6 months in advance before the trekking date because the permits are competitive and usually get sold out.
- Golden monkey trekking, this is a fascinating activity in Mgahinga national park apart from gorilla trekking. Mgahinga national park harbors about 6 habituated golden monkey trekking and allows a maximum of 6 people to trek each habituated golden monkey family and spend one hour in the presence of the family enjoying the golden monkeys in the tress, taking photos, recording videos among others. Golden monkey trekking is best done in the morning where you hike through the bamboo forest and the activity takes about 1 to 4 hours. Golden monkey trekking permits cost $90 for Foreign Non-Residents and Foreign Residents and 20,000 for East African residents. Mgahinga national park is the only park where the golden monkeys live in the forest with the mountain gorillas and is therefore referred to as a national park where gold meets silver.
Mountain climbing, this is the most exciting and adventurous activity in Mgahinga national park. Mgahinga national park harbors the three Virunga volcano mountains namely
- Mount Muhavura, the name Muhavura means guide and it is the highest volcanic mountain among the three which stands at 4127 meters high. Mount Muhabura covers about 12km and it takes about 8hours to reach on top where you will use trails via the shrubs, rock grounds, small grasses among others. While on top of Muhavura Mountain you will be able to view the Rwenzori peaks, Virunga volcanoes, Bwindi forest, Lake Edward in Queen Elizabeth national park which gives you great experiences.
- Mount Sabinyo, this volcanic mountain is also translated to mean the old man’s teeth because of the deep gorges and riverine that dissect it, Mt Sabinyo is 3645 meters high and is a challenging mountain among the three. When hiking on Mt Sabinyo, you will pass through the trails filled with mushy vegetation hence needs one to dress up in hiking boots. Hiking Mt Sabinyo takes about 8 hours and on top of the mountain, you will be standing in three countries at the same time that is Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- Mount Gahinga, the mountain is translated to mean a pile of stones and it is the smallest of the Virunga volcanoes. Mt Gahinga is 3474 meters high and covers 8kilometres. While hiking, you will pass through the bamboo forest, and on top of Gahinga Mountain, you will experience a swamp filled crater that is 180 meters wide and the stone piles in the gardens. All the three volcanic mountain in Mgahinga national park can be climbed in one day as long as you are in good shape. Climbing the three mountains is rewarding in form of the beautiful views of the bird species, animals like elephants, golden monkeys among others hence making your safari in Uganda memorable.
- Bird watching, Mgahinga national park is a great place for birding in that it harbors over 184 bird species. Bird watching in Mgahinga national park is best done in the morning whereby you wake up very early and meet with birding guide and follow trails in the montane and bamboo forest between Mt Sabinyo and Mt Gahinga. During bird watching in Mgahinga national park, you will be able to view different bird species such as Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori Batis, Handsome francolin, Kivu ground, Black-headed waxbill, Bronze Sunbird, Brown Crowned Tchagra, Cape robin chat, Western green tinker bird, Brown woodland warbler, Malachite sunbird, Striped breasted tit, White starred robin, Olive pigeon among others.
- Nature walks / hiking, this is an interesting activity in Mgahinga national park where visitors walk on foot around the park with the park ranger. Nature walk in Mgahinga national park is done around the edges of the volcanic mountains through the bamboo forests, Rugezi swamp which is a great destination for beautiful views of the agricultural villages, lakes like lake Mutanda where you will be able to view bird species, vegetation type such as afro-montane, montane forest, bamboo montane, woodland, farmland, tree heathers among others. Nature walk in Mgahinga national park provides you with a cool environment for relaxation and refreshment of the mind.
- Cultural encounters, this is an activity in Mgahinga national park where the visitors get an opportunity to interact with the local people in the community. During the cultural encounter the visitors will interact with the Batwa or pygmies who lived in the forest many years ago before it was gazette into a national park. The Batwa were the fierce warriors who depended on the forest for food and shelter, they used to hunt small animals, gather fruits and honey, used forest plants for medicine among others. During the Batwa trail experience, they will demonstrate their ways of life through hunting skills, music, dance, storytelling, visit the Garama cave which is a sacred piece of Batwa history in that they used to hide in the cave from the bantu invasion many years ago and also used it at a granary or storage area of the food staffs.
Attractions in Mgahinga National Park
- Wildlife, Mgahinga national park harbors over 76 mammal species including the giant forest hogs, bush pigs, forest buffaloes, elephants, bushbucks, golden cats, black fronted duiker, porcupines, side striped jackals among others though they are difficult to view while in the forest.
- Mountain gorillas, Mgahinga national park is a home of one habituated family Nyakagezi which is comprised of 10 members with 4 silverbacks, 2 adult females,2 infants and 2 black backs.
- Golden monkeys, Mgahinga national park is the only park in Uganda and Africa where the golden monkeys live in the bamboo forest together with the mountain gorillas.
- Birds, Mgahinga national park is a home of over 184 bird species such as grey capped warbler, wax bill, yellow vented bulbul, double collared sunbird, Rwenzori nightjar, Rwenzori batis, Rwenzori turaco, black kite, fire finch among others.
- Virunga volcanoes, Mgahinga national park is a home of the three Virunga volcanoes namely Mt Muhabura, Mt Gahinga, and Mt Sabinyo which provide great experiences to visitors who enjoy hiking and beautiful scenic views while at the top.
How to get to Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga national park is located in southwestern Uganda and can be accessed by both air and road transport
When you are going to Mgahinga national park using a private vehicle, you will drive from Kampala via Masaka, Mbarara, Kabale, Kisoro and then to the park. The whole journey takes about 10 hours’ drive. Mgahinga national park can also be accessed from Rwanda-Kigali in that you can fly to Kigali international airport and then connect by road to Mgahinga national park via the Cyanika border which takes about 3 to 4 hours drive.
There are also public means of transport where you can board a bus which leaves Kampala at 7:00am to Kisoro town where you will hire a private vehicle to the park headquarters which takes about 14kilometres from Kisoro to Mgahinga national park.
Mgahinga national park can also be accessed by Air transport means where you can book chartered flights from Entebbe Airport or Kajjansi Airfield to Kisoro Airstrip.
When to visit Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga national park can be visited anytime throughout the year and it experiences two rainy seasons that is from March to May and September to November and two dry seasons in the months of June to August and December to February hence the best time to visit is during the dry season when there is little rainfall in the forest. Activities like gorilla trekking, golden monkey trekking and hiking are best done in the dry season when the ground is dry and not slippery.