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Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga is Uganda’s smallest national park, covering only 34 square kilometres. The park is very gorgeous. Mgahinga sits at the border of Uganda’s wilderness experiences, hidden behind the stunning volcanic skyline, in front of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and to the left of Mutanda and Bunyonyi – lakes so beautiful you can’t believe more people don’t know about them.

Mgahinga gorilla national park is located in the southwestern part of Uganda in the Kisoro district, and it is the smallest of the three national parks in the Virunga conservation area. The other two parks are Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and together they cover 434 square kilometres. The park was founded in 1991 and is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. It covers 33.7 square kilometres and is located between altitudes of 2,227m and 4,127m. It includes three Virunga volcanoes: Mt. Muhavura (4,127), Mt. Gahinga (3,474), and Mt. Sabinyo (3,645).

Mgahinga derives its name from the Kinyarwanda term “Gahinga,” which means “pile of volcanic lava stone piles where horticulture is carried out.” “Sabinyo” means “old man’s teeth,” and “Muhavura” means “Guide.” Mgahinga National Park was established primarily to protect mountain gorillas, but it has also become home to endangered Golden monkeys.

Mgahinga National Park is home to around 39 creatures, notably mountain gorillas, buffaloes, elephants, and endangered golden monkeys. Other species include gigantic forest pigs, bushbucks, leopards, spotted hyenas, and black-fronted duikers. It also includes around 79 bird species.

Gorilla Tracking

This is the most magnificent action in the park, and only the Nyakagezi gorilla group is tracked here. The monitoring of gorillas begins in the morning, with trackers departing from Ntebeko to track these giants. There are guides and park officials who are knowledgeable about the gorillas and the park as a whole, so trackers should feel free to interact with them and ask questions. This sport requires that you be physically fit because it is physically demanding, such as travelling through the forest, valleys, and steep slopes.

The duration of the tracking might be around 2 hours, 4 hours, or a day, depending on the position of the mountain gorillas, which travel in most cases in search of food. Make sure you have enough equipment, such as light clothing, weather-resistant cameras, a packed lunch, plenty of drinking water, surgical masks to wear while in the company of gorillas, and anything else that guides recommend.

 

Golden Monkey Tracking and Habituation

Golden monkeys are huge, curious, and mischievous old world monkeys found in the Virunga Volcanoes’ bamboo zone. Their torso, cheeks, and tail are vivid orange-gold, with black limbs, crown, and tail-end.

The monkeys forage through the bamboo jungle in search of food. They have become accustomed to human visits and continue their foraging and fun interactions without stop.

The trip over 2,500 metres is difficult, but not as difficult as gorilla tracking. There are two options: the ordinary walk with one hour of interaction and the habituation excursion, which lasts significantly longer on the mountain with the study team.

 

Guided nature walks and hikes

There are wonderful guided walking paths that take you high into the mountains if you spend more than a few of nights in Mgahinga. The hikes leave every day at about 7:30 and run between 7 and 9 hours, according on the trekkers’ fitness and interest.

The 1,100-meter ascent from the park gate to Gahinga’s top is the shortest. The trek to Sabyinyo’s top is an 8-hour round-trip ascent of 1,300 metres. Climbers should be aware that the final approach to the top involves a ladder climb up three successive rock faces.

The most difficult climb is to Muhabura Peak’s 4,127m top. Hikers should be on the lookout for indications of high altitude sickness after ascending 1,793 metres from the trailhead. There are no rock cliffs to climb, but the walk requires guts and effort as you plod over Afro-montane moorland.

 

Birding

Mgahinga National Park features 79 bird species, and birding may be done in the bamboo forest, the canyon between Mts. Sabinyo and Gahinga, and the montane forest, where you can easily view the Rwenzori Turaco.

 

Cultural Encounters

Mgahinga, with its thickets, has long been a home to the indigenous Batwa, where they dwell, hunt, eat, and engage in other forest activities. So, while in Mgahinga, guests may pay a visit to the Batwa’s homesteads to witness how they live, dress, eat, and dance, among other things; it’s a culture unlike any other.

The park is 510 kilometers from Kampala, Uganda’s capital, and may be reached by road or air.

On the road, it takes around 9-10 hours to travel from Kampala to Mgahinga, then another 8 hours to Kabale town, covering 434 kilometers, and another 76 kilometers to Kisoro town. This route is tarmacked and a bit rugged and steep.

There is also the option of taking a road from Kabale town that passes by the lovely Lake Bunyonyi before rejoining the Kabale-Kisoro tarmac. It’s about 14 kilometers from Kisoro to the park’s main entrance, Ntebeko.

The park can be reached by air, and you may arrange flights from Entebbe International Airport to Kisoro Air Field ahead of time. Flying saves time and is less tiring.

You should always expect rain when visiting Uganda due to its tropical location and  increasingly unpredictable environment. However, the biggest rainfall usually falls between mid-March and the end of May, and then again from the end of September to the end of November. While the rains from March to May are frequently brief, those from September to November are more frequently characterized by hours of mild drizzle.

Gorilla tracking is possible at any time of year, but it becomes more difficult when the pathways are mudslides and water runs down your neck, soaking you through. So the dry months of June to mid-September, as well as December, January, and February, are the most popular seasons to follow gorillas.

However, don’t dismiss the ‘rainy season.’ Permits are simpler to obtain on short notice, and there’s something invigorating about sitting amid a troop of gorillas, mud-covered and unconcerned, and feeling like you’re the only humans in the forest.