Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is part of a larger ecosystem, the Virunga Conservation Area (434Sq km) which includes two adjacent parks in Rwanda and Congo.
The Park sits high at an altitude of 2,227m to 4,127m and is bordered by Rwanda in the south and DR. Congo to the west. The park was created to protect the rare mountain gorillas and golden monkeys that live within the dense forests. Mgahinga national park has three extinct volcanoes which are part of the spectacular Virunga mountain ranges which lie along the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda border. The larger part of the Virunga conservation area forms the Mgahinga gorilla park. This is also one of the few places in Uganda with a soothing aura of majesty accompanied by cool temperatures. The park is home to part of the over 300 gorillas located within the Virunga massif. It is indeed where gold meets silver where gorillas are house with the same habitat of the golden monkeys. The cultural heritage featuring folklore and traditional healing practices for local people covers the north slopes of the three northern Virunga Volcanoes – Muhavura, Gahinga and Sabinyo.
The name Mgahinga was derived from ‘Gahinga’ – Kinyarwanda word meaning a pile of volcanic lava stone heaps around which cultivation is carried out. The other Volcanoes ‘Muhavura’ & ‘Sabinyo’ mean ‘guide’ and ‘old man’s teeth’ respectively.
Mount Sabinyo is deeply eroded with jagged crown and deep gorges but with a spectacular view while at the top. You are able to set foot in three countries i.e. Uganda, DRC and Rwanda at the same time while at the top of Mount Sabinyo. Mount Gahinga has a swamp filled crater about 180 m wide and Mount Muhavura has a small crater lake about 36 m wide at its summit.
What to see & do in Mgahinga Park
Mountain Gorilla Trekking
Besides Bwindi forest, Mgahinga is among the few national parks where you have an opportunity to see the mountain gorillas. At the park, the guide leads you into the thick jungle forest to the gorilla world with an impressive bird life, vegetation while explaining along the way. Gorilla trekking excursions leave from Ntebeko Entrance Gate at 8:00 am daily and last between 2 and 4 hours.
Birdwatchers visiting Mgahinga national park have a chance to enjoy the best birding experiences. Common birding spots around the park include; the gorge between Mt. Gahinga and Mt. Sabinyo, bamboo forests and montane forests. Be sure to carry along binoculars and a good camera to see and capture the different bird species.
The Batwa people are some of the local tribes you will encounter while in Mgahinga’s dense forests. These indigenous hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors depend on the forest for shelter, food and medicine. Tourists to Mgahinga national park are able to visit the Batwa community homes and learn their ways of living including techniques they use to survive.
Hiking & Nature Walks
Hiking around the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes is another experience of its own. While on nature walks, visitors have the chance to spot forest birds, the Rugezi Swamp, wild vegetation, bamboo forests and glorious views of the surrounding lakes and agricultural villages.
All three volcanoes in this park can be summited taking a full day each. Views from the peaks are well worth the effort taking in Rwanda,DR Congo, the Virungas, the Rwenzoris, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Lake Edward.
How to Access Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located 510km away from Kampala, about a 9 – 10 hours’ drive. Visitors to this park can use Kabale and Kisoro route. The 434km journey from Kampala to Kabale can be completed in 8 hours on good tarmac. It is then a further 76km to Kisoro town on a mountainous and hilly tarmac road with steep ascents and descents.
Another route via Kabale leaves the main road and follows the shoreline of Lake Bunyonyi to rejoin the Kabale – Kisoro main road at its halfway point at Muko. The main entrance to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, (Ntebeko) is 14km away from Kisoro town with a murrum road.
Mgahinga national park can also be accessed by air using the daily flights from Entebbe International Airport to Kisoro airfield. Visitors can book prior before their travel date to allow easy planning for the aircrafts.