On the south-western side of Uganda bordering DRC and Rwanda is Mgahinga Gorilla National park, Uganda’s smallest Park measuring 33.7 square kilometers and home to the critically endangered Mountain gorillas. The Park that was gazzeted in 1991 derives its name from Gahinga, a Rukiga word meaning “piles of volcanic stones” that were cleared from Farmland at the base of the Volcanoes. This magnificent Park rests high in the clouds at an elevation ranging from 7218 feet to 13,572 feet. This Park was majorly created to protect and conserve the rare mountain gorillas that are found in its dense forests and was identified as an important habitat for the endangered golden monkeys.
Besides Mgahinga Gorilla National park being a home to over 39 mammal species and 79 bird species, it has a vast cultural significance in particular for the Batwa people (people of the forest). These people were hunter-gatherers and were believed to be the first people whose ancient knowledge regarding their existence is still a mystery up to today.
The most spectacular features of Mgahinga are the three extinct volcanoes that form part of the Virunga Massif that span Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. It is therefore undeniable that Mgahinga forms part of the Virunga Conservation Area that comprises of the certain adjacent national Parks in the mentioned countries. These Volcanoes found within Mgahinga include Mount Muhabura (the highest of the three standing at 13,540 feet), Mount Sabyinyo (standing 11,958 feet) and Mount Gahinga (with an altitude of 11,397 feet).
What to see and do in Mgahinga National park
Regardless of its small size, there are more than 39 species of mammals in this Park with the popular being the captivating mountain gorillas. There are 80 mountain gorillas that are estimated to be in Mgahinga National Park and there is only one gorilla group (Nyakagezi group) to be tracked by tourists. This Park is the only place where tourists can see and track the golden monkeys in Uganda (hence id the only place where “silver meets Gold”. Other mammals that tourists are likely to encounter include Elephants, Buffaloes, serval cats, Giant Forest Hogs, Side stripped jackals and Spotted Hyenas. 79 species of birds also exist and they include Crowned hornbill, Rwenzori Turacco, Yellow-billed Kite and Grey crowned crown Crane. The small size of the Park is also to its advantage because it is easier for tourists to spot the wild animals.
The existence of the three volcanoes such as Mount Gahinga, Mount Muhabura and Mount Sabyinyo makes Mgahinga a perfect destination for tourists interested in Mountain/volcano climbing and mountain biking. other activities tourists can engage in include gorilla trekking, golden monkey tracking, golden monkey habituation experience, the Batwa trail (Mgahinga is the best destination to exploit the Batwa cultural experience), birding and nature walks/forest hikes.
The park offers opportunities to birders to do what they love best, with a bird list ranging between 179 and 184 species including the Rwenzori Turaco and the White-starred Robin. Safaris and Tours to Uganda’s Mgahinga National park also present opportunities to meet a number of uncommonly seen species like the giant forest hogs, and the spikey South African Porcupines.
Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga National Park
But the park’s horn is sounded louder by its only habituated mountain gorilla family called Nyakagezi. Led by an alpha silverback called Mark, who personally loves to travel, the Nyakagezi mountain gorilla family makes seasonal excursions to the neighboring countries of Congo DR and Rwanda. But fortunately, of recent, the family seems to enjoy their Ugandan home more and can therefore support successful Gorilla Trekking Safaris in Uganda. Its unsettled nature has forced the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to sell gorilla permits for this mountain gorilla family at the national park.
Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga is a less tedious process if compared to its sister National Park Bwindi. Like in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a maximum of eight (8) tourists is permitted to visit this gorilla family per day. And once the treasure hunt is done tourists can enjoy a full hour with the Nyakagezi family. The family’s two black backs (Rukundo and Ndungutse) often win the hearts of visitors with their high sense of humor and their photogenic nature. It has become their thing to pose for the camera.
Today the family has 10 members including an aging Bugingo who is the father to most members of this mountain gorilla family including Mark and Mafia the other two silverbacks.
Embark on a a gorilla safari to see the mountain gorillas, the sliver of the forest and you will win yourself an experience of a lifetime decorated in awesome views of true African montane forests sheltering an abundant number of mammalian and bird species; not forgetting the bonus of intermingling with the legendary Batwa community; one of the world’s few remaining highly disregarded and marginalized groups of people. With the Park’s “gold and silver”, you will depart highly illuminated; nice and shiny. Welcome to Mgahinga!
Where to Stay While At Mgahinga National Park
There are several accommodation facilities in and around Mgahinga National Park and as far as Kisoro Town. The facilities include Mount Gahinga Safari lodge, Amajyembere Iwacu Camp, Kisoro Traveler’s Rest Hotel, Kisoro Tourist Hotel, Mutanda Lake Resort, Mutanda Eco-Community Center, Virunga Hotel and Campsite, Golden Monkey Guesthouse and Countryside Guesthouse Kisoro among others.
How to Access Mgahinga National Park
This magnificent is situated about 336 miles/8-10 hours drive from Kampala City. It is about 9.3 miles by road South of Kisoro town and about 34 miles west of Kabale town. This Park can e be accessed by both Road and air transport. Domestic flights can be organized be eagle air from Kajjansi airstrip or Entebbe Airport to Kisoro town. The commonest route used by tourists is Kampala-Masaka-Mbarara-Kabale-Mgahinga or Kampala-Masaka-Mbarara-Kabale-Kisoro-Mgahinga National Park.
Based on the interesting attractions in Mgahinga National Park including the 39 species of mammals such as the rare Mountain gorillas, the endangered golden monkeys, elephants, buffaloes and striped hyenas and over 79 species of birds, Mgahinga is an important tourist destination any tourist who visits Uganda should not miss.