Being the smallest National Park in Uganda, Mgahinga covers a total area of 33.7kms². The park derives its name from one of the volcanic cones called Gahinga “pile of stones” in local dialect. The British Colonial administration realized the eco-potentiality of the area and declared it a game sanctuary in the 1930s. In 1991, Mgahinga National Park assumed a status of a full National Park.
Located approximately 524 Kilometers from Kampala, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has an average elevation of between 2,227m and 4,127m above sea-level. Mgahinga is beautifully decorated by three iconic extinct Virunga volcanoes. Muhavura (the guide in the Twa Language), is the highest; it hits a height of 4127m. The peak is a host to an awesome 36m-wide crystal clear Crater Lake; the summit also offers a platform for panoramic views of that span as far as Rwanda. Sabinyo (old man’s teeth), a description by indigenous people to refer to the cone’s jagged peaks comes second in line. Sabinyo has three peaks and the highest and most spectacular sits at a height of 3669m above seal-level. The summit is phenomenal because that’s where the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and DR-Congo meet. The slopes are characterized by deep gorges and ravines famous for birding. Mount Gahinga is the smallest and least elevated of the three cones! The highest point on this cone hits a height of 3,474m above sea level. The crown of Gahinga is an approximately 18m-wide swampy crater. The three cones offer unrivalled Day-Hikes!
Flaura and Fauna
Small as it is, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has a diversity of wildlife! This park is home to one migratory Gorilla Family called Nyakagezi. It is the only National park in Uganda with Golden Monkeys. Bird-watching is awesome especially in the valley between Gahinga and Sabinyo as well as in the Sabinyo Gorge. Rwenzori Turaco is the most sought-after bird in this area. Forest Elephants and Buffaloes are among the big mammals in this Park.
Mgahinga is home to the habituated Nyakagezi gorilla group - a fairly nomadic bunch that has been known to cross the border into Rwanda and the Congo. The family includes the lead silverback Bugingo who is around 50 years old and father to most of the group; his silverback sons, Mark and Marfia; and two blackbucks, Rukundo and Ndungutse, who love to pose and play in the trees. The two females, Nshuti and Nyiramwiza, both have babies Furraha and Nkanda respectively.
The varied habitats of Uganda’s smallest park make it home to a variety of birds with 179-184 species recorded. The list includes the Ibis, Pin-tailed Whydah, Speckled Mousebird, Stone Chat, Grey-capped Warbler, Wax Bills, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Firefinch, White-naped Raven, Black Kite, Rwenzori Turaco, Blue-headed Coucal, Paradise Fly-catcher, Rwenzori Batis, Double-collared Sunbird, and Rwenzori Nightjar.
The endangered golden monkey is endemic to the Albertine Rift, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers a rare chance to track these striking creatures, high in the dense bamboo forests on the Gahinga trail. There are estimated 3000-4000 individuals in the Virunga area which 42-60 are habituated in Mgahinga.
Mgahinga is home to 76 species of mammals, although they are difficult to glimpse in the wild forest vegetation. They include giant forest hogs, bush pigs, forest buffaloes, elephants, bushbucks, golden cats, side striped jackals, black fronted duikers and South African porcupines.
The Virunga Volcanoes
The Virungas are a chain of eight volcanoes which dot the borders of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. Three of the conical peaks are in Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park:
Muhavura (4,127m) is the highest of the peaks in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The name means guide, and the Batwa used to look for its high peak to help orient themselves in the forest. Muhavura has a crystal clear crater lake about 36m wide at its summit. The top commands panoramic views far into Uganda, Rwanda and along the length of the Virunga chain
Mount Gahinga (3,474m) is the smallest of the Virunga volcanoes. It is named after the local practice of tidying the volcanic debris that clutters local farmland into neat cairns – or Gahinga. Its swamp-filled crater is around 180m wide.
Sabinyo means old man’s teeth, a reference to its jagged summit which is dissected by deep gorges and ravines. The countries that share the Virungas – Uganda, Rwanda and the DR Congo – meet on the highest of Sabinyo’s stumpy peaks.
Some of the steep mountain slopes contain caves formed by lava tubes, one of them being the famous Garama Cave located near the park headquarters. This is a sacred place for the Batwa, and during the Batwa Trail you can discover how it was used as a shelter during battles and as a place to store looted treasures.
Ntebeko Visitors’ Centre
The Visitor Centre at Ntebeko is the starting point for nature walks, volcanoes hiking, golden monkey and gorilla tracking and the short (4km) Batwa Trail. The trailhead of the long Batwa trail is at the base of Mt Muhavura. Exhibits inside the building explore themes relating the Virunga environment. A trail along the stone Buffalo Wall – built to keep animals out of neighboring farmland – provides good birding and views of the volcanoes.
Outside the Park
A worthwhile diversion on the route to Mgahinga from Kabale, Lake Bunyonyi is dotted with at least 20 small islands and encircled by steep terraced hills, Africa’s second deepest lake is unforgettably scenic. Visitors can stay overnight at a number of lakeside resorts or simply follow the lakeshore road to Kisoro and Mgahinga.
The moment you visit the park, the welcoming atmosphere is an evidence of adventure filled of natural beauty. A day trek through the forests of Mgahinga with a well-trained guide who explains the gorillas’ behavior along the way is a lifetime experience.
Normally, Gorilla trekking Safari starts from Ntebeko Entrance gate to around 8:00amin the morning daily taking 2-4 hours. A visitor is expected to budget for his/her time well while with a gorilla family since the maximum time allowed to spend with them is one hour.
When to track Gorillas at Mgahinga Gorilla national park
The best time to visit the place for tracking is during the two dry seasons when the park is easily accessed. It is during this time that the thick forests can be penetrated easily and when the paths are not as muddy as it is in the rainy season. The two dry Seasons best for Gorilla Safari are; mid-December to end of February and June to October. However, gorilla tracking tourism is possible throughout the year..
Mountain/volcano climbing in Mgahinga gorilla
All three volcanoes in this park 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 around six hours to ascend and descend Mt. Gahinga (3,474m), topped by a swamp-filled crater and giant lobelia. Lucky climbers 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, hikers are rewarded on a clear day with views of the Virunga Volcanoes, Lake Edward, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the peaks of the Rwenzori.
CULTURAL ENCOUNTERS IN MGAHINGA GORILLA
The Batwa Trail
The Batwa Trail is a special activity that takes tourists through the lives of the Batwa People. This hunter-gatherer community has unique knowledge of the forest. The trail is meant to give an experience of self-sustenance and co-existence with wildlife in the Forest. The apex of the experience leads to Garama Cave that served as a shelter and hideout for them during inter-tribal wars
For generations, Mgahinga dense forests were home to the indigenous Batwa: hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors who depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicine.
When the national park was established, the Batwa were evicted from the forest and abandoned their low-impact, 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 demonstrate hunting techniques, gather honey, point out medicinal plants and 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 culture.
Part of the tour fee goes directly to the guides and musicians and the rest goes to the Batwa community fund to cover school fees and books, and improve their livelihoods.
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