Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is another heaven for the most endangered species, the mountain gorillas. Found on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains in the extreme southwest corner of Uganda, the park has been conserved to provide a secure habitat for the endangered gorillas. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park sits high in the clouds, at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m. As its name suggests, it was set aside to protect the rare mountain gorillas that dwell in its dense forests, and it is also an important environment for the endangered golden monkey. As well as being significant for wildlife, the park also has a huge cultural importance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmie people. This tribe of hunter-gatherers was the forest’s “first people”, and their ancient knowledge of its secrets remains unmatched. Mgahinga’s most striking features are its three conical, extinct volcanoes, part of the stunning Virunga array that lies along the border region of Uganda, D.R. Congo and Rwanda. Mgahinga forms part of the much big Virunga Conservation Area which includes adjacent parks in these three countries. The volcanoes’ slopes contain a range of ecosystems and are biologically diverse, and their peaks provide a striking backdrop to this dazzling scenery.
Activities in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The 3-4 hour Gorge Trail amid Gahinga and Sabinyo can provide a stunning sightings of the Dusky turtle Dove, Olive Thrush, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Bronze Sunbird, Cape Robin-chat, Kivu-ground Thrush, Regal Sunbird, Blue-headed Sunbird, Black-headed Waxbill and Streaky Seedeater, Rwenzori Batis,.
More good birding areas are at the bamboo belt at about 2,500m above sea level, and the tall montane forest at 2,660m. The Rwenzori blue Turaco is mostly sighted at around 2,700m. Along the Uganda-Congo border and on level ground, the Chubb’s Cisticola, Banded Prinia, Red-faced Woodland Warbler and Doherty’s Bush-shrike are vocal yet inconspicuous inhabitants of the tangled vegetation at the forest’s edge.
For many years, Mgahinga’s intense forests were inhabited by the indigenous Batwa: hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors whose life depended so much on the forest for food, shelter and medicine.
After this national park was formed, the Batwa people were evicted from the forest and they abandoned their low-impact on nomadic lifestyle. The only time they are permitted to re-enter their cherished forest is as tour guides on the Batwa Trail, on which visitors will discover the magic of the Batwa’s ancient home while enjoying nature walks and learning about the cultural heritage.
The Batwa exhibit hunting techniques, gather honey, point out medicino plants and always demonstrate how to make bamboo cups. Guests are invited to the sacred Garama Cave, once a refuge for the Batwa, where the women of the community perform a sorrowful song which echoes eerily around the depths of the dark cave, and leaves guests with a moving sense of the richness of this fading cultural heritage.
Portion of the tour revenue goes directly to the guides and musicians, and then the rest goes to the Batwa community fund to cover basics like school fees, books and improve their livelihoods.
The trekking guide leads visitors for adventure through the gorillas’ world, surrounded by wild forest and impressive birdlife and explaining the mountain gorillas’ behavior along the way.
Trekking excursions regularly start from Ntebeko Entrance Gate at 8am daily and can last between three and five hours. What is important for visitors to note is that the Nyakagezi gorilla family group moves commonly into the adjacent forests in Rwanda and DR Congo, but may only be tracked when they are in Uganda. Visitors are allowed to spend a maximum of one hour with the group, this is intended to minimize on the disturbance and interference in the daily life on mountain gorillas.
Hiking and Nature Walks
A hike all the way through the forest to the deep Sabinyo Gorge – a huge gash in the edge of Mount Sabinyo – provides first-class birding opportunities and the possibility to find the Rwenzori blue Turaco. This walk takes four hours, and passes all the way through the Rugezi Swamp which is another fantastic spot for bird watchers.
The walk to the Congo border, takes you through different vegetation zones. Trekkers can cite the calderas on top of the Gisozi hill, look out for Kisoro and Bunagana towns and be captivated by Lake Mutanda.
The golden monkey trek is a lovely gentle slope but an interesting two-hour trek through former farmland to the bamboo forest. On a clear day, you may view the Virunga Volcano range and lucky come across buffalo and duiker.
All the Park’s three volcanoes can be summited. Mt. Sabinyo, at 3,669m, takes about eight hours to cover the 14km round trip, following a steep ridge up to the peak. It takes approximately six hours to ascend and descend Mt. Gahinga (3,474m), topped by a swamp-filled crater and giant lobelia. Lucky hikers may spot golden monkeys on their way through the bamboo forest.
Mt. Muhavura is the highest peak at 4,127m, and this 12km round trip takes around eight hours. Once at the top, climbers are rewarded on a clear day with views of the Virunga Volcanoes, Lake Edward, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the peaks of the Rwenzori mountainss.
Several of the steep mountain slopes hold caves formed by lava tubes, among them is the famous Garama Cave situated near the park headquarters. This is a sacred place for the Batwa, and during the Batwa Trail one can discover how it was used as a shelter during battles and a store for looted treasures.
The golden monkey being one of the endangered species is endemic to the Albertine Rift, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers a another rare opportunity to track these striking and naughty creatures, high in the intense bamboo forests on the Gahinga trail. There is an estimated number of 3000-4000 individuals in the Virunga area of which 42-60 are habituated in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park only.