Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is Uganda’s smallest national park located in southwestern Uganda on the borders of Rwanda and DR Congo. The park occupies an area of 33.7 sq km which consist of three very tall dormant volcanic mountains of Mt. Muhabura, Mt. Gahinga and Mt. Sabinyo between altitudes of 2,227 to 4,127 meters above sea level. The volcanoes are part of the virunga massifs covered by woodlands, lush tropical montane rainforests, bamboo, moorlands and afro-alpine vegetation with rare plants such giant lobelias, groundsels and heathers.
Mgahinga was gazzetted in 1991 to protect the critically endangered mountain gorillas as well as the rare golden monkeys which are the main tourist attractions of the park. This clearly explains why the park is often referred to as a place where Silver meets Gold. Other wildlife which inhabit the park’s dense forests which are also of interest for tourists include 39 species of mammals, 79 species of birds including those endemic to Albertine rift and eastern Congo forests.
There are about 200 Mountain gorillas estimated to be roaming the park’s dense tropical forests and are believed to be part of the greater virunga massifs. They are the main attractions for tourists. Uganda wildlife authority, Uganda’s top wildlife management body successfully habituated one family of gorillas to enable tourists get close through gorilla tracking, the prime tourist activity in Uganda.
The habituated gorilla family is called Nyakagezi with 9 members including two young gorillas and a giant Silverback believed to be more than 30 years old. This family of gorillas is accessible by tourists with the help of Uganda wildlife Authority guides and trackers.
Tourist numbers are limited to 8 only who can visit this gorilla family daily. Gorilla viewing is restricted in order to prevent gorillas from human disturbance and human diseases transmission such as colds/influenza. Gorilla tracking starts very at 07:00am from Ntebeko the main tourist centre in the park where guides give a short briefing about gorilla tracking etiquette.
With walking sticks and escort armed rangers, tourists hike through the forests until gorillas are found. This may take several hours because gorillas in this park tend to forage on higher slopes. Once you find the gorillas usually in bamboo zones where photographing and viewing is good, you will spend one hour with them and later return to your lodge. The vegetation and terrain also tend to challenge trekkers a reason why you are recommended to carry packed lunch, wear solid boots, rain jackets and hire a porter who will support during hiking.
Apart from the mountain gorillas, there are also golden monkeys about 3000 living in the park. Troops consisting of 40 to 60 individuals have been accustomed to humans are accessible by tourists with the help of guides through golden monkey as a tourist activity.
Mgahinga National Park is also of cultural importance being a home to the ancient forest dwelling Batwa pygmies. The Batwa perhaps the shortest people in Africa were traditionally hunter gathers and their cultural heritage features their unique traditional folklore. There are ancient lava tube caves that used to be their homes before they were evicted from the forest in 1991. The Garama cave is the popular and often visited by tourists with interest in culture experience of the Batwa. Tourists have a chance to visit the Batwa and follow up their footsteps during a cultural trail walk as an additional activity to gorilla tracking.
The three dormant volcanic mountains include Mt. Gahinga 3,474 at meters above sea level. It features 180 m summit Crater Lake and the park was named after this volcano (Mt. Gahinga) which means a pile of rocks. The other volcanoes include the cone shaped Mt. Muhabura which is the highest at 4,127 meters above sea level with a 36 m Crater Lake and Mt. Sabinyo at 3,366 meters above sea level.
These offer incredible hiking opportunities with impressive breathtaking sceneries of virunga volcanoes across Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. Tourists can arrange one day hiking excursions. Hiking permits are sold right at Ntebeko and it does not need advance booking.
There are accommodations in Ntebeko, Kisoro and Lake Bunyonyi where tourists can stay. These are not far from the main gorilla tracking center Ntebeko. Safari Lodges and tour operators usually offer transportation to the park.
Mgahinga can be accessed from Entebbe airport by flight to Kisoro airstrips. By road from Kampala to the park it’s a long 9 hour drive covering 484 km but full of amazing en route attractions such as the Ugandan equator line and the rolling terraced hills of Kigezi region referred to as the Switzerland of Africa.