Mgahinga National Park
Mountain gorillas also form the main attraction at Mgahinga National Park, which protects the Ugandan portion of the Virungas, an imposing string of nine freestanding extinct and active volcanoes that runs along the border with Rwanda and the Congo.
33 sq km
Far southwest, bordering Rwanda and Congo, 14km from Kisoro town. (Uganda map) Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in the southwestern corner of Uganda. The Park covers the northern slopes of the three northernmost Virunga Volcanoes: Mt. Muhavura (4,127 m), Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m), and Mt. Sabinyo (3,645 m). The Park is about 10 km south of Kisoro and is bordered to the south by the Republic of Rwanda and to the west by the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each of these countries protects its own portion of the Virungas, in the Parc National des Volcans and Parc National des Virunga respectively. The three parks together form the 434-sq. km. 'Virunga Conservation Area' or VCA. Mgahinga is 33.7 sq. km, just 8% of the VCA. The entire Park is in Bufumbira County of Kisoro District. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is 33.7 sq. km and consists of the partly forested slopes of three extinct volcanoes. From far away, the huge cones of the virunga volcanoes dominate the landscape and beckon you as you approach. When you reach the park you can get a great overview of the area by walking up the viewpoint, just 15 minutes from Ntebeko Gate. Mgahinga Park has great biological importance because throughout the climatic changes of the Pleistocene ice ages, mountains such as these provided a refuge for mountain plants and animals, which moved up or down the slopes as climate became warmer or cooler. The Virungas are home to a large variety of wildlife, including about half the world's critically endangered mountain gorillas.
Where to stay
If you are the 'go camping tourist', then there is ample space at the park gate and Mt. Gahinga Rest Camp for 'Do it Yourself Camping', besides that, there is also excellent traditional Bandas managed by the local community.
Kisoro Town which is 14 kms to the gate of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers a wide range of accommodation facilities ranging from the basic Camp-site to the luxurious full board hotels, these include Traveler's Rest, Sky Blue, Mt. Gahinga Rest Camp, Virunga Hotel, Mgahinga Safari Lodge, Rugigana Campsite and Mubano Hotel among others. Be rest assured that you have big choice here.
Kisoro is about 540 km from Kampala (Uganda's capital city), it takes about 8 hours via Kabale by car. For public transport, there are daily buses/minibuses, which set off at 7.00pm from Kampala. Once in Kisoro Town, you can hike to the park if you are strong enough or hire a cab to the park gate.
What to do
This is the most thrilling tourist activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The habituated gorilla in this park is called the Nyakagezi, which consists of 9 members, 2 silverbacks, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 2 infants.
Gorilla tracking is an intensive experience that can take the whole day. The guide leads you through the gorilla's world, explaining aspects of their ecology and behavior along the way.
We must stress that, while you have a very good chance of seeing gorillas, success is NOT guaranteed. They are wild creatures with no fixed routine, and finding them requires the skill and experience of your trackers and guides, as well as luck.
The trackers and guides have helped to habituate the gorilla groups and know them intimately. They will take you to the area where they left the gorillas the day before. Before leaving they may be able to suggest how long the hike might be. While walking, please feel free to ask guides to slow down if they are going too fast and if you need a rest. Feel free to stop and look at birds or flowers, the guide will ensure that you don't get left behind.
Gorilla Tracking can be strenuous walk, so go prepared. It is advisable that you:
Wear shoes with good traction, suitable for steep muddy slopes
Carry rain gear, sunscreen and a hut, as the weather is unpredictable.
Carry water and food
Carry binoculars, you will see much more, you can hire from the park office
When taking photos, remember your subjects are black animals in dim light, and flash is not allowed.
Good Manners for Gorilla Watchers
Keep your voice down or be quiet. You will see and hear if you do.
Don't point or waive your arms- this can be seen as a threat. Move slowly.
If approached by a gorilla, back away slowly to keep 5m separation.
Don't use flash, this could threaten the gorillas and bother other visitors.
Mt. Sabyinyo (366m)
'Old man's teeth'
Like an old man, time has eroded Mt. Sabyinyo's crown. This volcano offers 3 challenging peaks to climb. A climb up the mountain takes one up a ridge along the eastern side of the climb to peak. If you are to continue, the climb to the peak 11 involves walking a ridge with breath-taking drops into gorges of Rwanda and Uganda, a dual experience you will achieve here.
Finally, the hike up to the peak 111 is steep with several ladders and mush scrambling. You are guaranteed to get your hands dirty en-route to peak111! Once on top, you will be in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, what a triple experience this is!!! The journey takes about eight hours round trip to cover the 14km stretch.
Mt. Gahinga (3474m)
On your way to the park, look out for small piles of stones in the garden fields. The local people call such a pile a 'Gahinga'.
Mount Gahinga is quite bigger than the average 'gahinga' but sitting next to Mount Muhavura does make it look small. A hike, which takes you about, six hours round trip, goes through a good example of a pure Bamboo forest. Gahinga once had a Crater Lake on top but time has changed it into a Lush swamp. Distance to the swamp is 8km.
Mt. Muhavura (4127m)
Seen from all over Kisoro, this volcano acts as a guide. The typical cone-shaped Mountain provides some of the best views in the country. Much of the climb passes a rocky surface covered by grasses and small shrubs. Once at the top, hikers are rewarded with the view of the Virunga volcanoes, Lake Edward in queen Elizabeth National Park, Bwindi and the peaks of Rwenzori Mountain. The hike takes approximately 8 hours round trip covering 12km.You are advised to camp at the Muhavura base camp the night before the site has no facilities so you need a tent, water, food and sleeping gear.
This is one of the caves where once the crafty Batwa (who were warriors) lived and fought their neighbors, the Bantu. The distance to the cave entrance from the park headquaters is 3 km long and it takes about 4 hours. Your guide will show you how the Batwa lived and fought out of the cave. The cave is 342m in length and 14m deep, and is now inhabited only by bats.
This is about 800 metres from the Park gate. Once on top, you will have a good view of the Park and the surrounding areas. A guide is not necessary and the activity is free. Displaying panels at the hill point will give some information about what you can see.
Border Trail - Visa Not Required
This hike takes you first toward Sabinyo. The trail climbs up the base of Sabinyo for a while through fine montane forest before turning toward the Congo. Along the way you will get a great view of Sabinyo's gorge and peaks. Upon reaching the Congo you cut back along the international border. The return leg to the Park Head Quarters is a great section for birding. The two rest huts along the way are good places for a break. Look closely for the golden monkeys and signs of elephants. Hiking time is 5 hours and distance 10 km.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is blessed with a unique bird fauna; 79 bird species have thus far been recorded within the park, including several species endemic to the East Congo Montane region.
For the Virunga Conservation Area as a whole, over 295 species in the Virungas are endemic to the Albertine Rift Afromontane region representing 59% of the total of known endemic species.
Remember to contact the Park Management for a guide who will take around for a good viewing of birds, do not forget your binoculars!!
Free birding along the edge of the park is now available on request. The guides are happy to take you out from 5-6 p.m. if you book by 10 a.m. that morning. You can choose where the walk will take you, or simply relax in the campground. A stroll a long the buffalo wall toward the Congo takes you through a wetland area where Ibis, Whydah, Speckled Mousebird, and Fire Finch are found. Stonechat, Grey Capped Warbler, Waxbills, and Yellow-Vented Bulbul are often seen around the campground. Ask your guide where the best spots are. Feel free to take your time and go at your own pace, there is no hurry when birding.