Uganda's National Parks
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in the southwestern corner of Uganda. The Park covers the northern slopes of the three northern most Virunga Volcanoes: Mt. Muhavura (4,127 m), Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m), and Mt. Sabinyo (3,645 m). The Park is about 10 km south of Kisoro and is bordered to the south by the Republic of Rwanda and to the west by the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each of these countries protects its own portion of the Virungas, in the Parc National des Volcans and Parc National des Virunga respectively. The three parks together form the 434-sq. km. 'Virunga Conservation Area' or VCA. Mgahinga is 33.7 sq. km, just 8% of the VCA. The entire Park is in Bufumbira County of Kisoro District.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is 33.7 sq. km and consists of the partly forested slopes of three extinct volcanoes. From far away, the huge cones of the virunga volcanoes dominate the landscape and beckon you as you approach. When you reach the park you can get a great overview of the area by walking up the viewpoint, just 15 minutes from Ntebeko Gate. Mgahinga Park has great biological importance because of the mountains the area became warmer or cooler. The Virungas are home to a large variety of wildlife, including about half the world's critically endangered mountain gorillas other wild life in the park include Buffalo, Elephants, bushbucks, the threatened golden Monkey and many others.
Mgahinga National park offers three extinct volcanoes for physically fit hikers although they do not require special mountaineering gears. These include;
MT. SABINYO (3669m) 'Old man’s teeth'
Like an old man, time has eroded Mt. Sabinyo’s crown. The volcano offers 3 challenging peaks to climb. A climb up the mountain takes one up a ridge along the Eastern side of the climb to peak one. If you’re to continue, the climb to peak two involves walking a ridge with breath-taking drops into gorges of Rwanda and Uganda. Finally the hike up to peak three is steep with several ladders and mush scrambling. You are guaranteed to make your hands dirty enroute to peak three! Once on top you will be in Rwanda, Democratic republic of Congo and Uganda at the same time. The journey takes about 8 hours round trip to cover the 14 km stretch.
MT. GAHINGA (3474m) ‘small pile of stones’
On your way to the park look out for small piles of stones in the garden fields. The local people call such a pile a ‘Gahinga’. Mount Gahinga is quite bigger than the average ‘gahinga’ but sitting next to mount Muhavura makes it look small. A hike which takes you about six hours round trip, goes through a good example of a pure bamboo forest. Gahinga once had a crater on top but time has changes into a lush swamp. The distance to the swamp is 8 kms.
MT. MUHAVURA (4127m) ‘The Guide’
Seen from all over Kisoro, this volcano acts as a guide. The typical cone-shaped Mountain provides some of the best views in the country. Much of the climb passes a rocky surface covered by grasses and small shrubs. Once at the top hikers are rewarded with the view of other virunga volcanoes, Lake Edward in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Bwindi and the peaks of Rwenzori Mountain. The hike take approximately 8 hours round trip covering 12 kilometers. Its advisable to camp at the Muhavura base camp the night before, the site has not facilities so you need a tent, water, food, a sleeping bag and mat.
This is one of the caves where once the crafty Batwa (who were warriors) lived and fought their neighbors, the Bantu. The cave is 342m in length and 14 m deep and is now inhabited by bats.
Birding along the park is now available on request. Most of the birds may be found on the excellent gorge trail, which loops half way on mount Sabinyo. The key species in Mgahinga include; Rwenzori Turaco, Kivu ground thrush, scarlet tufted Malachite sunbird, Montane double collared Sunbird, Dusky Turtle Dove, Lagden’s Bush shrike, White-tailed blue fly catcher, Alpine Chat, Rwenzori Night Jar to mention but a few.
Where to stay
There is ample space at the park gate and Mt. Gahinga Rest Camp for 'Do it Yourself Camping', besides that, there is also excellent traditional Bandas managed by the local community.
Kisoro Town which is 14 kms to the gate of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers a wide range of accommodation facilities ranging from the basic Camp-site to the luxurious full board hotels, these include Traveler's Rest, Sky Blue, Mt. Gahinga Rest Camp, Virunga Hotel, Mgahinga Safari Lodge, Rugigana Campsite and Mubano Hotel among others.
Good Manners for Gorilla Watchers
· Keep your voice down or be quiet. You will see and hear if you do.
· Don't point or waive your arms- this can be seen as a threat. Move slowly.
· If approached by a gorilla, back away slowly to keep 5m separation.
· Don't use flash, this could threaten the gorillas and bother other visitors.
This is the most thrilling tourist activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The habituated gorilla in this park is called the Nyakagezi, which consists of 9 members, 2 silverbacks, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 2 infants.
Gorilla tracking is an intensive experience that can take the whole day. The guide leads you through the gorilla's world, explaining aspects of their ecology and behavior along the way.
We must stress that, while you have a very good chance of seeing gorillas, success is NOT guaranteed. They are wild creatures with no fixed routine, and finding them requires the skill and experience of your trackers and guides, as well as luck.
The trackers and guides have helped to habituate the gorilla groups and know them intimately. They will take you to the area where they left the gorillas the day before. Before leaving they may be able to suggest how long the hike might be. While walking, please feel free to ask guides to slow down if they are going too fast and if you need a rest. Feel free to stop and look at birds or flowers, the guide will ensure that you don't get left behind.
Gorilla tracking can be strenuous walk, so go prepared. It is advisable that you:
Wear shoes with good traction, suitable for steep muddy slopes
Carry rain gear, sunscreen and a hut, as the weather is unpredictable.
Carry water and food
Carry binoculars, you will see much more, you can hire from the park office
When taking photos, remember your subjects are black animals in the forest.