Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

The park is located in South Westerner Corner Uganda, bordering Rwanda and Congo, 14 km from Kisoro. It is 33 square kilometers with an Altitude Range of 2227m – 4127m. It covers the northern slopes of the three northern most Virunga Volcanoes: Mt. Sabinyo (3,645m), Mt. Muhavura(4,127m) and Mt.Gahinga (3,474m). Park is like 10km South of Kisoro and is bordered to the south of 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 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 come within reach. 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 significance 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.

Gorilla Tracking

This is the most exhilarating tourist activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The adapted gorilla in this park is called the Nyakagezi, which consists of 9 members, 2 silverbacks, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 2 infants. However, due to their constant movement it is advisable to check the current location of the gorillas first.

Gorilla tracking can be tiring and may 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 opportunity of seeing gorillas, success is NOT certain. They are wild creatures with no fixed routine, and finding them requires the skill and familiarity of your trackers and guides, as well as luck. The trackers and guides have helped to habituate the gorilla groups and know them closely. Before you set off on your trek, 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 to rest. Take time to stop and enjoy the trees, flowers and birds. The guides have to make sure that you don’t get left behind!

Gorilla Tracking can be physically demanding, so go prepared. Take time to read through the Gorilla trekking rules before your trip.

Volcano Climbing

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) – ‘The Guide’

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.

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.

Birding

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is set apart 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 prevalent to the Albertine Rift Afromontane region representing 59% of the total of known endemic species.

Accommodation

If you wish to go camping there is ample space at the park gate and Mt. Gahinga Rest Camp. Besides that, there is also excellent traditional bandas managed by the local community. Kisoro town offers a wide range of accommodation facilities ranging from basic campsites to luxurious full board hotels, including: Mt. Gahinga Rest Camp, Nkuringo Safari Lodge, Virunga Hotel, Traveler’s Rest and Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge

Distance

Kisoro is about 540 km (8-9 hours) from Kampala. A 4WD vehicle is recommended.

Tourism Activities

Visiting Mount Elgon National Park (MENP) presents an exhilarating setting for extended hikes. In addition to the interesting and unique flora and fauna, you can expect to experience outstanding waterfalls, enormous caves, scenic peaks and gorges, and hot springs which bubble up at 48′C. The best times to visit are during the drier seasons from June to August and December to March. However, even in the wetter months trekking is manageable. No technical climbing equipping or skills are required, and all major peaks are accessible to hikers.

Camping

Five basic campsites are located at strategic points along the trekking circuit. Please respect Park regulations by camping only at designated campsites. No camping is allowed within the caldera. MENP camping is ancient, and all essential camping equipment must be carried with you. Some items such as tents and sleeping bags can be hired through the Park office in Mbale. Make sure not to forget a warm jacket and rain gear, as extreme weather conditions will add to your Mt. Elgon adventure! Also please take a fuel-efficient camp stove if possible to avoid placing additional pressure on MENP firewood resources.

Additional information