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Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Extending for only 34 square kilometers, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is Uganda’s smallest National Park but one of the richest in terms of attractions. Is it the mountain gorillas you wish to see? Or it is the golden monkeys, numerous birds and natural scenic beauty that attract you. Are you interested in immersing yourself in the peacefulness of nature? Pack your bags for mountain climbing, Cave exploration or unforgettable cultural encounters and nature walks in the jungles of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

The Park was first gazetted as a Game Sanctuary in 1930 and later a National Park in 1991 to protect the Mountain gorillas. This Park comfortably sits in the clouds, on the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes between 2227 meters and 4127 meters above sea level. Three of the eight Virunga Volcanoes (Mount Gahinga, Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Muhabura) have their borders in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was named after Mount Gahinga (one of the Virunga Volcanoes) and means piles of volcanic stones that were cleared from farmlands on the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes. The Park is situated within the south-western corner of Uganda in Kisoro district, adjacent to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (also in Uganda), Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo which together form the massive Virunga Conservation Area.

Attractions 

Fauna

There are currently over 39 species of mammals in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park including the Mountain gorillas (that make the Park popular), Golden monkeys, Blue monkeys, Servals, leopards, buffaloes, bushbucks, elephants, spotted hyenas and Golden cats. There are also side-striped jackals, giant forest hogs and black-fronted duikers in this small National Park.

Also, about 79 species of birds call the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park home and of these there are species that are endemic to the East Congo Montane region as well as the Albertine Rift Valley. Look out for the Rwenzori batis, Grauer’s swamp warblers, Rwenzori double-collared sunbirds, blue-headed sunbirds, handsome francolin, Strange weavers, Mountain masked Apalis, Kivu ground thrush, Archer’s ground robin and Blue-headed sunbirds among others.

Flora

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park shelters one of the smallest remaining Afro-montane forests in the African Continent, popular being woodlands and pure montane forests at the foot of Mount Muhabura. There is also Bamboo forest on the western edge of Mount Sabyinyo and lower slopes of Mount Muhabura.

Virunga Volcanoes

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a home to three Virunga Volcanoes that are Mount Gahinga, Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Muhabura that are trekked for their natural features that include a swamp, crater Lakes and forests as well as their beauty and ability to see other Virunga Volcanoes.

Tourist activities 

Gorilla trekking

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a home to one habituated Gorilla family known as “Nyakagyezi”, an ever-mobile family that receives only 8 persons spending one hour with them per day. With a permit of $700 per person, persons above 15 years can trek the Nyakagyezi gorilla family.

Golden monkey tracking and the habituation Experience

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the only place in Uganda where Golden monkey tracking is conducted. The activity is conducted like gorilla trekking although the golden monkeys are usually found in the lower areas occupied by bamboo forests. For this activity, tourists have to be 12 years and can also spend only one hour with a habituated golden monkey community.

Birding

This Park is considered one of the best places to see forest and Albertine Rift endemic bird species that usually occupy the Bamboo forest, foothills of the Muhabura, Sabyinyo and Gahinga Volcanoes as well as the montane forest. Expect to see the regal sunbirds, Cape robin-chat, blue-headed sunbirds, Dusky turtle doves, Rwenzori batis, strange weavers, streaky seed-eaters and Brown-crowned Tchagra among others when you walk along the 3-4 hour Gorge trail. The bamboo belt is a perfect place for spotting the Rwenzori turaco, Doherty’s Bush-shrike and Red-faced woodland warblers among others.

Nature walks

Nature walks in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park involve taking walks through the verdant forest to the deep Sabyinyo gorge through Rugezi swamp where outstanding bird species especially the Rwenzori turaco can be spotted. Other walks are conducted to the Congo border where the beautiful views of Lake Mutanda, Kisoro and Bunagana Towns can be enjoyed.

Volcano hiking

The fun-rewarding hikes of the Virunga Volcanoes (Gahinga, Muhabura and Sabyinyo) await tourists to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The Gahinga Trail lasts 6 hours and leads tourists to the peak of Mount Gahinga while the Mount Muhabura and Sabyinyo trails last days to complete.

The Batwa cultural experience

The Batwa Trail takes tourists through the Mgahinga Forest, a former home of the Batwa people to be introduced to their ancient way of life that included hunting, honey harvesting, use of traditional herbs to treat illnesses, making of bamboo cups and this tour is climaxed by a visit to the sacred Garama Cave where cultural songs and dances are performed.

Accommodation facilities 

Tourists planning to visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park have options of staying within the Park and outside especially in Kisoro Town or the nearby Lake Bunyonyi. These facilities are inform of budget, midrange and luxury, and these are Kisoro Tourist Hotel, Bunyonyi Overland Resort Mount Gahinga Lodge, Amajambere Iwacu camp, Kisoro Travelers’ Rest Hotel, Mountain Gorilla Safari Lodge and Mucha Hotel Kisoro among others.

Packing list for your visit

Your packing list for Mgahinga Gorilla National Park tours should include a backpack, camera, long and short sleeved shirts, hiking boots, sandals, swimsuit, pajamas, toiletries, a hat, insect repellant, travel documents, gardening gloves, warm sweater, rain jacket, pair of binoculars and sunglasses among others.

How to get there

Found in the south-west of Uganda, approximately 540 kilometers by road from Kampala and can be accessed by both air and road transport. The Park is 8-10 hours’ drive from the City of Kampala (in Uganda) as well as only 5-6 hours’ drive from the City of Kigali (Rwanda). Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is only 15 kilometers by road south of Kisoro Town and about 55 kilometers by road west of Kabale Town.

For persons departing from Kampala, the best route to use is Kampala-Masaka-Mbarara-Kabale-Kisoro lasting 8-10 hours with stopovers and lunch break. Private and public transport means can be used although there is no flexibility with the latter whereby buses leave the City by 7:00am and upon arrival at Kisoro, you will be required to hire a Cab or Motorcycle to the Park gate.

For air transport, chartered flights can be arranged from Entebbe International Airport and Kajjansi Airstrip to Kisoro Airstrip. Proceed to the Park by road. However, it is important to note that the roads from Kisoro to the Mountainous National Park are murram and winding hence requiring drivers to be cautious and drive slowly.

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