Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in South Western corner of Uganda, bordering Rwanda and Congo, about 540 km from Kampala and an additional of 14 km from Kisoro town, this is the smallest in the country with an area coverage of about 33.7 km 2 but very vital in Uganda’s tourism Industry, as it is one of the only two parks in Uganda that offer habitat for the endangered Mountain gorilla
The Park covers the northern slopes of the three northernmost Virunga Volcanoes: Mt. Sabyinyo (3,645 m). Mt. Muhavura (4,127 m), and Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m), The Park is about 14 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. The Virunga, 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. Mgahinga National Park was gazetted in 1991 and is a part of the great Virunga Conservation Area
GORILLA TRACKING IN MGAHINGA
The most thrilling tourist activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The habituated gorilla group in this park is called the Nyakagezi, which consists of 9 members, 2 juveniles, 2 silverbacks, 3 adult females, and 2 infants. However, due to their constant movement at time crossing to Rwanda it is advisable to check the current location of the gorillas first.
Tracking Gorillas is an adventurous activity that can take the whole day. The guide leads you through the jungle in search for the endangered mountain gorillas, explaining aspects of their ecology and behavior along the way.
The guides 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 to take rest before getting the next point that may be assumed the gorillas are. Feel free to stop and look at birds or flowers, the guide will ensure that you aren’t left behind.
Chances of seeing gorillas are 99% however, success is NOT guaranteed. Gorilla are wild creatures with no fixed routine, and finding them requires the skill and efforts of you the trackers and guides, as well as luck.
The park has Afro-montane vegetation and a cool climate. The abundant type of Vegetation is the bamboo (60 %), which is a delicacy to the Mountain gorilla; other types of flora include the Lobelia, Haegenia species, among others.
Noted Bird Species
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is gifted with plentiful species of bird fauna; over 80 bird species have been so far recorded within the park, including several species from East Congo Montane region. Examples of bird species include Black kite, Augur Buzzards, Crowned Crane, Rwenzori Turacos, Fiscal shrike, Crowned hornbill,.Birding along the edge of the park very possible and can be arranged on request, the guides are readily available to take you out for birding from 5-6 p.m. If you book by 10am. that morning. A stroll along the Buffalo wall towards Congo takes you through a wetland where Ibis are, Grey-Capped Warbler, Whydah, Speckled Mouse bird, and Fire Finch are found, Stone chart, Waxbills and Yellow-Vented Bulbul are always seen around the campground. Ask your guide where the best spots are. Always be observant, take your time and go at your own pace .Do not forget to carry your your Binoculars as the major instrument in the activity!
The Local Community and batwa experience
The communities within Kisoro District are heavily populated with the Bafumbira who lead a simple life-style mainly as cultivators. These are the major ethnic group. The Batwa (Pygmies) who once lived in caves and fed on wildlife is the minority group.
When Mgahinga Gorilla National Park was established, the Batwa, a group of indigenous people, were suddenly evicted from the forest and forced to abandon their low-impact, nomadic lifestyle. Now landless, they work for local farmers. The only time they are permitted to re-enter their cherished forest is as tour guides on the Batwa Trail. A visit to the Batwa trail permits visitors to discover the magic of the indigenous people old home while partaking in nature walks and learning about the group’s cultural heritage.
Mgahinga avails three extinct volcanoes for physically fit mountain hikers
Mt. Muhavura (4127m) – ‘The Guide’
Greatly seen from all over Kisoro, this volcano acts as a guide. This 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 MUHAVURA [4127 m]
Seen from all over Kisoro, this volcano acts as a guide. This 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 other 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 12 km. 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 Sabinyo [3669m]
Due to erosion gradually, time has eroded Mt. Sabyinyo 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 one. If you are to continue, the climb to peak eleven involves walking a ridge with breath-taking drops into gorges of Rwanda and Uganda. 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 peak 11! Once on top, you will be in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda at the same time. The journey takes about eight hours round trip to cover the 14 km stretch.
Here you get to one of the caves where once the crafty Batwa (once warriors) lived and fought their neighbors. 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. The cave is just 3 km from the park head quarters and it takes about 2-3 hours.
Kisoro offers a wide range of accommodation facilities ranging from the basic Camp-sites to the luxurious full board hotels, these include; Virunga Hotel, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge ,Traveler’s Rest Camp, Mt.Gahinga Rest Camp, Virunga Hotel, Mgahinga Safari Lodge, Rugigana Camp Site, Mubano Hotel among others.
At the park gate, there is a community Camp ground with ample space where you can pitch your own tent, besides that excellent traditional Bandas managed by the local community are also in place.
Mgahinga National park lies in the south western corner of Uganda 540km from Kampala, (Uganda’s capital city), about (8-9 hours) drive via Kabale excluding the stopovers either for lunch or resting. The 80km section is a winding, mountain drive on a murram road that takes minimum of 2hours. A 4WD vehicle is recommended.
By Air: Scheduled flights to Kisoro are readily available operated by Aeolink Uganda from Entebbe to Kisoro Airstrip
Gorilla tracking regulations
For Conservation reasons, visits to the gorillas are tightly controlled. The following rules apply and must be strictly adhered to:
1. No one with a communicable disease (e.g. Flu,) is allowed to enter the park.
2 Always Stay together in a tight group while viewing the gorillas, avoid surrounding them.
3. Don’t point or waive your arms- this can be seen as a threat. Move slowly and avoid making loud noise or unnecessary move anyhow.
4. Turn off the camera flashes while taking gorilla photos.
5. Don’t eat or smoke when with the gorillas or within distance of 200 metres from the gorillas.
6. Bury all human feaces a minimum of one foot deep and ensure that the hole is properly covered.
7. Don’t litter. All litter must be carried out of the park and disposed of properly.
8. No person under 15 years is allowed to track gorillas.
9. If approached by a gorilla, back away slowly to keep 5m separation.
10. You are allowed a maximum of 1 hour with gorillas.
11. Don’t spit on vegetation or soil while in the park. Use your hankie or other garmen