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 slope of Mts Muhavura, Mgahinga and Sabyinyo , three volcanoes that create unforgettable regional 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 are home to more than half of the world’s population of the endangered mountain gorilla .380 individuals roam slopes of the volcanoes while the remaining
340 live nearby in Uganda’s Bwindi impenetrable National Park. Fortunately for the gorillas, Mgahinga’s is small area is supplemented by those of two larger, adjoining parks in Rwanda (volcanoes NP) and DR Congo (virunga NP).
Through gorilla tracking is the park’s most popular activity, Mgahinga merits a visit simply to appreciate the scenery choice of hikes allows for the abilities, ranging from the 8 hour return trip to the summit of all Mt .Muhavura ,to gentle strolls across the lower slopes beneath the magnificent three peak backdrop.
The park experiences two rainy seasons’ march – may and September – November. October is the wettest month, with 250 mm of rain and July the driest with just 10mm.
How to get there
The park lies in the south west corner of Uganda 540km from Kampala .the journey take 8hours, including rests stops, passing via kabale and kisoro the 80km section between kabala and kisoro is a winding. mountainous drive on murram that take at least 2hours,while the park gate at Ntebeko lies a bumpy 14km(30minutes)south of Kisoro .charter flights can be arranged from Entebbe or Kampala (Kajjansi)to Kisoro airstrip.
At Ntebeko, the volcanoes Camp provides up market accommodation 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 zone is an area of grass and bush which was formerly encroached and cleared by farmers and is now regenerating .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 3000m and includes bizarre giant forms of lobelia and groundsel.
The park contains at least 39 species of mammal and 79 birds .Larger mammals include elephant,, leopard , buffalo and bush pig but these are rarely seen .Mgahinga’s most famous resident is the mountain gorilla .Less famous but equally rare and deserving of protection is the golden monkey which is found only in the Virungas and in other forest in Rwanda . Notable bird species include the Rwenzori turaco, crowned hornbill, black kite and crowned crane.
Kisoro district is heavily populated with 331 people /Km2.There are two main ethnic groups. The most numerous are the Bafumbira who are primarily farmers. The Batwa, who one practiced a subsistence hunter gather life in the forest, form a minority group.
Around the park
Ndebeko Visitor Centre
Park activities are arranged from the visitor centre at Ntebeko.
A viewing platform, 800m uphill from the visitor Centre, provides good views of the park and the surrounding areas. A guide is not necessary and access is free.
Mgahinga has three volcanic peaks, Muhavura (4127m), Sabyinyo (3669m) and Mgahinga (3474m).These can all be 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. Muhavura means ‘the guide’ and its towering cone is a prominent landmark. During the 19th century its crater still glowed to provide a natural lighthouse for travelers. The rim of the older Sabyinyo 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 tyding the volcanic rocks that clutter farmland into ‘small piles of stones’ – or gahingas
Sabinyo has three peaks. 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 .Peak 3 is reached by a steep and muddy scramble .The borders of three countries converge on this summit and you will find yourself simultaneously in Rwanda , Congo, and Uganda The 14Km round trip takes about 8 hours.
An ascent on Mt Gahinga climbs through bamboo forest to reach a lush swamp which lies in the carter 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 1700m 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 mountains. 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 of your chances of clear views).
Buffalo wall and Bird watching
Farmland along the northern edge of the park is guarded by a dry stone wall that keeps buffalo in the park and out 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, specked mouse bird, and the 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 insight s 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 is occupied periodically by Batwa who used it as a council chamber and a retreat after raiding their Bafumbira neighbours. Today the cave provides an atmospheric setting for a performance of Batwa music at the end of 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 by tourists. This consists of 11 members 2 silverbacks , adult females , 4 juveniles and 2 infants .This group is mobile and sometimes crosses into Rwanda and DRC, so9 check for updates from. Registration and briefing for gorilla tracking commences at Ntebeko at 07:45.Tracking starts at 08:30m and can take three to eight hours.
Gorilla tracking is Uganda’s most sought 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 hat5
- Insect repellent
- Drinks and snacks
- Porters are available at modest cost
To protect the gorillas and visitors, the following rules must adhered to:
- No one with a communicable disease, such as flu, 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
- Do not eat or smoke within 200m of the gorillas
- If you need to sneeze or cough, turn away from the gorillas and cover your nose and mouth
- Bury all human faeces in a hole dug at least 30cm (one foot) deep and ensure that it is properly filled in afterwards.
- All litter must remove from the park for disposal;
- Do not spit on vegetation or soil while in the park
- No person under 15 years is allowed to track gorillas
- When with gorillas d, avoid making loud noises or sudden movements
- Contact time with gorillas is strictly limited to one hour
- Please observe all instructions from your guide.