Mgahinga National Park
At just 33.7km2, Mgahinga gorilla is Uganda’s smallest national park. However, it is also one of the most dramatic for the park lies on the northern slopes of Mts. Muhabura, Mgahinga and Sabyinyo, three volcanoes that create an unforgettable regoinal backdrop. these peaks are three of the six Virunga volcanoes that mark the southern limit of the Albertine rift valley and are divided between Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo. The Virungas ar home to more than a half of the world,s population of the endangered mountain gorilla. 380 individuals roam the slopes of the Volcanoes while the remaining 340 lives nearby in Uganda’s Bwindi lmpenetrable National park. Fortunately for the gorillas, Mgahinga’s small area is supplemented by those of the two larger, adjoining parks in Rwanda (Volcanoes NP) and DR Congo (Virunga NP).
Though gorilla tracking is the park’s most popular activity, Mgahinga merits a visit simply to appreciate the scenery. Achoice of hikes allows for all abilities, ranging fro the 8 hour return trip to the summit of Mt.Muhabura, to genle strolls across the lower slopes beneath the magnificent three peak backdrop.
The park experience two rainy seasons; March-May and September-november. October is the wettest month, with 250mm of rain and July the driest with just 10mm.
How to get there
The Park lies in the south-western corner of Uganda,540km from kampala. The journey takes 8 hours, excluding rest stops, passing via Kabale and Kisoro. The 80km section between Kabale and Kisoro is a winding, mountainous drive on murram that takes at least 2 hours, while the park gate at Ntebek lies a bumpy 14m (30 minutes) south of Kisoro. Charter Flights can be arranged from Entebbe or Kampala (Kajjansi) to Kosoro airstip.
At Ntebeko, the Volcanoes Camp provides upmarket accomodation while camping and basic cottages are provided in the Community Campground. A wide choice of lodging is available in Kisoro.
Flora and Fauna
Mgahinga’s slopes are covered with a series of distinct altitudinal bands of vegetation. The lowest zoneis an area of grass and bush which was formerly encroached and cleared by farmers and is now regenanting. Undisturbed vegetation starts with montane woodland, followed by the bamboo zone, montane forest and the Ericaceous zone which contains giant tree heathers.The sequence culminates with the spectacular alpine zone which occurs only on East African mountains above 3000 and includes bizarre giant forms of lobelia and groundsel.
The park contains at least 39 species of mammals and 79 birds. Larger mammals include elephants, leopards, buffalo and bush pig but these are rarely seen. Mgahinga’s most fomous resident is the mountain gorilla. Less fomous but equally rare and deserving of protection is the golden monkey which found only in the Virungas and in one of other forest in Rwanda. Notable bird species include the Rwenzori turaco, crowned hornbill, black kite and crowned crane.
Kisoro District is heavhly populated with 331 people per/km2. There are two main ethnic groups.The most numerous are the Bafumbira who are primary farmers. The Batwa, who once practiced a subsistence hunter-gather life in the forest, form a minoriyy group.
Activities around Mgahinga National Park
Ntebeko Visitor Centre
Park activities are arranged from the Visitor Centre at Ntebeko
A viewing platform, 800m uphill from the Visitor Centre, provides good view of the park and the surrounding areas. A guide is not necessary and access is free.
Mgahinga has three volcanic peaks, Muhubura(4127m), Sabinyo(3669m) and Mgahinga (3474m). These can all be hiked/climbed. Though no specialist equipment is required, a reasonable level of fitness is necessary if you intend to enjoy the experience.
The names of the three peaks come to life in translation. Muhabura means ‘the guide’ and its towering cone is a prominent land mark. During the 19th century its crater still glowed to provide a natural lighthouse for travelers. The rim of the older sabinyo has weathered into a ring of stubby peaks, earning it the title ‘old man’s teeth’. These imposing cones overshadow the stumpy Mt. Mgahinga which is named for the local practice of tidying the volcanic rocks that clutter farmland into ‘small piles of stones’ -or gahingas
Sabinyo has three peaks . An ascent leads first to peak 1 before climbing towards peak 2 along a narrow ridge that overlooks breathtaking drops into deep gorges on each side. peak3 is reached by a steep and muddy scramble. The borders of three countries converge on this summit and you will find your self simultaneously in Rwanda, Congo and Uganda. The 14km round trip takes about 8 hours.
An ascent of Mt. Gahinga climbs through bamboo forest to reach a lush swamp which lies in the crater at the summit. The round trip from Ntebeko takes around 6 hours
This classic volcanic cone is capped by a small but pretty crater lake; a modest reward for a 5 hour trek that rises steeply for 17oom to over 4100m. The real incentives for the climb are the mountain’s marvelous alpine vegetation and superb panoramas. The Muhavura trail provides the quickest and shortest ascent route to experience these dramatic plants while the view includes the five other Virunga volcanoes, the rift valley, Lake Edward and (in clear weather) the Rwenzori mountain. The 12km round trip takes around 8 hours. If you have your own equipment and food, you should consider camping at the ranger post at the base of the volcano to make an early start (and improve your chances of clear view).
Buffalo wall & Bird Watching Safari
Farmland along the northern edge of the park is guarded by a dry stone wall that keeps buffalo in the park handout of crops. The trail along the wall is ideal for birding. Guides will escort you between 17:00-18:00 if you book by 10:00 that morning. A stroll towards the Democratic Republic of Congo takes you through a wetland area where ibis, speckled mouse bird, and fire finch are found.
Batwa trail and Garama Cave
The Batwa Trail leads from the base of Muhavura to Garama cave. This walk is conducted by Batwa guides who provide insights into their traditional forest life and culture.
The 342m long Garama cave lies beneath a plateau near the northern edge of the park, 3km from Ntebeko. It is set in the former farmland zone but in earlier times, the cave lay deep in forest when it was occupied periodically by Batwa who used it as a council chamber and a retreat after raiding their Bafumbira neighbors. Today the cave provides an atmosphere setting for a performance of Batwa music at the Batwa Trail.
Mgahinga’s most exciting and memorable activity is tracking the mountain gorilla in thick jungle. The park has one habituated gorilla group (Nyakagyezi) which is visited and has females, 4 juveniles and 2 infants. This group is mobile and moves to and from Uganda and Rwanda. Booking is through Uganda Wildlife Authority (see contacts). Registration and briefing for gorilla trekking commences at Ntebeko at 07:45. Trekking starts at 08:30 and can take to eight hours.
Gorilla tracking is Uganda’s most after tourism activity you should book well in advance to ensure that permits for your requested dates are available.
What to take – a checklist
* Solid walking shoes or boots
* Rain gear and hat
* Insect repellent
* Drinks and snacks
* Porters are available at a modest cost
To protect the gorillas and visitors, the following rules must be adhered to:
* No one with a communicable disease, such as flu or diarrhea, is allowed to visit the gorillas.
* Do not surround the gorillas but remain in a tight group.
* Leave a distance of at least 5m between you and the gorillas.
* If they approach you.move back slowly
* Flash photography is strictly forbidden.
Safari Lodge Accommodation in Mgahinga National Park
Red Chilli Hideaway Gorilla Camp:
Located at the starting point for trekking the Mountain Gorilla at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park 20000 per night per Banda.
Mount Gahinga Rest Camp:
In the shadow of the dramatic Virunga volcanoes, the camp has 7 bandas (cottages).
Mgahinga Safari Lodge:
Mid-range with 7 rooms.
Mid-range hotel by African standards. In Kisoro town. About 8 rooms and 2 suites.
Blue Sky Hotel:
Basic hotel in Kisoro town. About 20 rooms.