Mgahinga Gorilla National Park stands at high elevation amidst fog, at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m. As its name suggests, it was created to protect and conserve the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests, and it is also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkeys as well as being important for Uganda cultural & wildlife safaris, due to a huge cultural significance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmies. This tribe of hunter-gatherers was the forest’s “first people”, and their ancient knowledge of its secrets remains unrivalled.
Mgahinga Gorilla national park is mainly a wonderful tourist destination to explore the three historical extinct volcanoes which form part of the spectacular Virunga ranges that lie along the border line of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. Mgahinga Gorilla national park forms part of the bigger Virunga Conservation Area that incorporates adjacent parks in these countries, like Volcanoes national park, and Virunga national park in Rwanda and Congo respectively. The volcanoes’ slopes are surrounded by various ecosystems which are geographically diverse, and their peaks provide a striking backdrop to this beautiful scenery.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla national park
Mgahinga national park is located in southwestern Uganda on the edge with Congo and Rwanda. Covering an area of about 33.7 sq. kilometers, the park is a home to man’s closest primates, the mountain gorillas which roam about the whole forest in search of food. This park is one of the few places in the world where the rare mountain gorillas live and it attracts people from different continents for Uganda Gorilla tours.
One may wonder why Gorilla safaris must be done in Mgahinga and not other places but the secret behind it is that this park has a thick rain forest with a wide diversity of tree types, bird species, and a variety of wildlife, hence rendering a gorilla tracking encounter in Uganda an unforgettable adventure.
Mgahinga gorilla national park currently has only one habituated gorilla group / family, known as Nyakagezi family that comprises of up to nine members – i.e. 2 silverbacks, three females, two juveniles and two infants. The group is living under the leadership of silverback Bugingo who is over 50 years of age and father to most of the members in the group; Bugingo takes care of the young ones and their mothers, especially in providing security against external threats. However, this gorilla group is mobile and sometimes crosses into Rwanda and DRC (though it stabilized recently), so trekkers undertaking Uganda gorilla safaris are advised to always check for updates from Uganda Wildlife Authority or a tour operator about the location of the group before booking their gorilla permits.
Other popular attractions and activities in Mgahinga Gorilla national park;
Birding tours; The most excellent birding tours in Uganda’s Mgahinga gorilla national park takes place in some of the most scenic places in the mountains – especially the gorge between Gahinga and Sabinyo mountains, in the course of the bamboo forest, and in the Montane forest, where the beautiful Rwenzori Turaco can be seen.
Despite of its small size, Mgahinga gorilla national park is also home to many other primate species other than the elusive mountain gorillas;
The Golden monkeys; these are a special type of primates that are endemic to the Albertine Rift. Golden monkeys are identified by bright orange-gold body, cheeks and tail, contrasting with its black limbs, crown and tail end. Ideally, the golden monkey is arguably the dominant primate within this restricted forested park – with an estimated population of 3,000 – 4,000 individuals which tend to live in groups known as troops only in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Hiking Mt. Gahinga
This is an adventurous hike that begins from the Mgahinga National Park visitor’s Centre, located about 10 minute drive from Kisoro town.
This mountain is part of the Virunga massif which covers the 3 east African countries, including Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda and it’s only here that one can be lucky to stand in these three countries at the same time, especially when hiking through the Sabyinyo trail, so spectacular!
The Garama cave; The 342m long Garama Cave lies beneath a plateau at the northern edge of the park, 3km from Ntebeko gate. It is set in the former farmland zone but in earlier times, the cave lied in the forest when it was occupied periodically by Batwa who used it as a council chamber and a retreat after raiding their neighbors. Today the cave provides an atmospheric performance of Batwa music at the end of the Batwa Trail.
This is one of the caves where once the Batwa warriors stayed and often raided their neighbors, the Bantu. The distance to the cave entrance from the park headquarters is 3 km long and it takes about 4 hours.