Mgahinga National Park is the smallest, but one of the most beautiful of Uganda’s parks. Set in the clouds amid the magnificent Virunga volcanoes at the confluence of the Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo borders, it is part of the larger Virunga Conservation Area that includes the Rwandan Parc National des Volcans and the Congolese Parc National des Virunga. Mgahinga National Park takes its name from Gahinga, the local word for piles of volcanic stones was first declared a game sanctuary in 1930 before being gazetted as a national park in 1991 to protect the endangered mountain gorillas that inhabit its afro-montane forests.
The world’s only golden monkeys can be found in the bamboo forests of the Virunga Mountains and visitors can now track and take part in habituating them. Although Mgahinga National Park is home to 76 species of mammals including giant forest hogs, bush pigs, forest buffaloes and elephants, they are hard to spot in the dense forest.
Mgahinga National Park’s most striking feature is the three extinct conical volcanoes; Mt. Sabinyo at 3,645m, Mt Gahinga at 3,474m and Mt. Muhavura at 4,127m above sea level. Hikers will enjoy the long treks to all three peaks that offer panoramic views of Margherita in the Ruwenzori’s, Lake Edward in Queen Elizabeth National Park and the neighbouring Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. At Mt. Sabinyo’s summit, visitors can curiously stand in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC at the same time!
Mgahinga National Park - Trekking & Bird Watching
Only about 80 mountain gorillas live in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and they frequently wander between Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC. The fairly nomadic 9-member Nyakagezi family with 2 Silverbacks, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 2 infants has been habituated to humans and can be tracked in the bamboo and montane forests. The lead silverback Bugingo, is about 50years old and has fathered most of the family including 2 silverbacks, Mark and Marfia. Rukundo and Ndungutse are the 2 blackbacks and Nshuti and Nyiramwiza are the family’s females and mothers of Furraha and Nkanda, the 2 infants.
Golden Monkeys can only be found in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC where about 5,000 inhabit the Virunga volcanoes. An endangered species because of the gradual destruction of their habitat, golden monkeys live in social groups of up to 30 and feed on mostly bamboo and fruits that they migrate to find as the seasons change.
Approximately 60 golden monkeys in Mgahinga have already been habituated to humans and can be tracked on the Gahinga Trail with visitors getting a full hour to watch these small and playful primates with the signature long golden hair on their backs.
On the golden monkey habituation experience, up to 6 visitors escort researchers and trackers through the bamboo forest that is also inhabited by the mountain gorillas, as they follow a group of about 100 golden monkeys, observing their interactions and activities for 4hours. While the parks in Rwanda and Uganda both offer golden monkey trekking, only Uganda offers golden monkey habituation experiences.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park provides diverse habitats for 79 recorded bird species. The 4hour Gorge Trail that lies between Gahinga and Sabinyo offers spectacular sightings of the Dusky turtle Dove, Cape Robin-chat, Kivu-ground Thrush, Olive Thrush, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Bronze Sunbird, Regal Sunbird, Blue-headed Sunbird, Rwenzori Batis, Black-headed Waxbill and Streaky Seedeater.
The Rwenzori Turaco is usually sighted in the park’s bamboo belt that lies 2,500m above sea level and montane forest at 2,660m. Other birding areas are the park’s swamps and the ground level of the Uganda-DRC border where the Chubb’s Cisticola, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Banded Prinia and Doherty’s Bush-shrike inhabit the tangled vegetation at the forest’s edge
Mgahinga National Park - Culture & Hiking
All three mountains in the Virunga Range can be climbed on single day hikes. It takes 8hours following a steep ridge to reach the peak of Mt. Sabinyo at 3,669m and 6hours through the bamboo forest to reach the swamp-filled crater with giant lobelias at the top of Mt. Gahinga at 3,474m. The hike to the top of the highest cone-shaped peak on Mt. Muhavura at 4,127m offers spectacular views from the snow-capped Ruwenzori’s, Lake Edward and Bwindi, to the hills and valleys across the borders with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The foothills of the Virunga Mountains make for an exciting landscape for walks and hikes, through 5 vegetation zones; farmland, montane woodland, bamboo, montane forest, tree heathers and afro-montane. Hikes and nature walks start at the Visitors Centre at Ntebeko
Sabinyo Gorge Trail – This 4hour, 6km hike passes through the Rugezi swamp and dense afro-montane forest to culminate at the Sabinyo Gorge, a massive gash on the side of Mt. Sabinyo. It is a fantastic hike for birders who have the best opportunities to sight the Rwenzori Turaco, with the backdrop of Mt. Sabinyo. Golden monkeys and duikers are also commonly sighted on this track.
Border Trail – This 5hour trail runs along the park’s extreme western boundary along the border with the DRC and hikers cross the dense montane forest on Mt. Sabinyo on both sides of the border and can also be followed to the beautiful Lake Mutanda in Kisoro. It is very rewarding for birders and forest elephants, buffaloes and duikers are can sometimes sighted. On a clear day, the view includes the peak of Mt. Sabinyo and the serene, island-dotted Lake Mutanda in Kisoro.
The 4km experiential Batwa Trail takes hikers to Batwa communities living inside the forests of the park and gives them the opportunity to learn about their ancient culture, how they hunt, collect honey and prepare their meals, how they make tools and crafts from the forest and even listen in on their tales and folklore. The trail includes a visit to the 14m-deep sacred Garama Cave that is said to have once been home to the Batwa King.
Although previously no outsiders were permitted to enter it, visitors can now make the descent into the deep chasm illuminated by only a dim light, and be entertained with eerie songs and dances by the Batwa women mourning the loss of their home in the forests. Part of the hiking fees is channelled back into the Batwa community in the park to improve their livelihoods.
Mgahinga National Park - What you need to know
Location And Getting There
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is 2,227m – 4,127m above sea level and occupies an area of 33.7sq. kms in the Southwestern district of Kisoro on the Uganda-Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) border. It is 510kms by road from Kampala. A 6 hours drive via Mbarara and Kabale from Kampala, and a 1hr drive to Kabale which is 55kms away by road. Alternatively, you can get there in 2hrs via a chartered flight from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airstrip in Kampala. Close to Semuliki National Park is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Climate And When To Visit
During the dry season in December-February and June-July, the park experiences a little less rain, making it the best time for chimpanzee trekking and birding.
The Batwa of Gahinga
A group of around 18 Batwa families became homeless when the Mgahinga National Park was formed. There have been many efforts to try and give the Batwa back the dignity and sense of pride that their rich culture and history warrants, there are well known for being the oldest surviving indigenous peoples in the Central African region. In 2018 we are pleased to say that those efforts have been rewarded and the Batwa now have a permanent place they can call home.