Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park is also widely known as Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in the Kisoro district within the south western part of Uganda. Mgahinga National Park is among the three parks which make up the Virunga conservation area, and it is also one of the smallest national parks in Uganda. There are other two protected areas that supplement Mgahinga to make up the Virunga conservation area; they include Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Volcanoes national park in Rwanda.
Mgahinga National Park covers an area of 13.1 square miles which consists of three extinct volcanoes that is Mt. Gahinga, Mt. Muhavura, and Mt. Sabinyo, and it is operated under the Uganda Wildlife Authority which is the major conservation body for all the other protected areas in uganda. Mgahinga was originally a game reserve in the 1930s and part of it was used for crop farming by the residents that occupied the area. In the 1990s, settlers were relocated to areas away from Mgahinga’s borders. More trees were planted and rangers were also trained by 1991. And thereafter, the game reserve was upgraded to the status of Mgahinga National Park to this present day.
Attractions and activities in Mgahinga National Park
- Gorilla trekking: Gorilla trekking is one of the best, memorable and thrilling moments in Mgahinga National Park. The fact that Mgahinga National Park has bamboo and alpine forests, it has largely influenced the existence of the mountain gorillas that now reside in the park. Although Mgahinga National Park has a great number of other wildlife such as the blue, rare red colobus plus black and white colobus monkeys, forest elephants, giant forest hogs various species of birds, mountain gorillas are the main attraction at Mgahinga National Park. The best time to visit mountain gorillas is during the dry season and trekking can take around 2 to 5 hours or sometimes the whole day.
- Golden monkey trekking: The biggest population of the golden monkeys resides within mgahinga national park and the others in volcanoes national park. The endangered golden monkeys residing in Mgahinga dwell within the highland bamboo forests. The golden monkeys are very swift when swinging in the trees, so it would require you to move faster in order to keep up on the trail. However, some of the golden monkeys are habituated and familiar to the presence of tourist, this makes golden monkey trekking one of the remarkable experiences you can have on a visit to Mgahinga. This is another of the Uganda Safaris Highlights.
- Bird watching: Mgahinga has over 115 species of birds making it a great experience for bird watching inside Mgahinga Park. Mgahinga is good for bird watching all throughout the year, especially in the dry season when the forest is clear. There are unique birds species some of which are even endangered to the Virunga conservation area, the species of birds which are mainly present are such as Black-Kite, Pin-tailed whydah, Double-collared sunbird, waxbills, Grey-capped warbler, Archer’s robin-chat, Blue-headed coucal, and Paradise flycatcher among others. The best time for bird watching is April to May and October to November; these are periods when there is little or no rain in the national park, plus, November hosts a lot of migratory birds from outside Africa.
- Mountain climbing: Mountain climbing or volcano climbing is done on the three dormant volcanoes that is Mt. Gahinga which can take around 6 hours depending on speed. As you move to the top, you are able to view the piles of stones in the gardens and a swamp at the top. Secondly, there is Mt. Sabinyo which is the hardest and most challenging and adventurous during climbing. The distance covered is about 8 km long. Additionally, there is Mt. Muhavura which covers about 12km and as you move to the top, you pass through small shrubs, grasses, and the rocky ground.
- Garama caves: Found near the edge of Mgahinga National Park, the Garama caves lie beneath a plateau in the northern side. Garama caves originally used to be the council chambers of the Batwa and before you reach it, along the way visitors get a chance to experience the traditional lifestyle of the Batwa and their historical culture. The Garama caves are now used for cultural performances.
Accommodation in Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga has a number of accommodation facilities ranging from budget, mid-range to luxurious lodges. In addition, if a tourist prefers camping, there is enough space at Mgahinga National Park gate and also the rest camp at Mt. Gahinga.
Mount Gahinga Lodge: Mount Gahinga is located outside of Mgahinga National Park. This luxury lodge features private cottages with bath place; it offers well-served breakfast and meals by a welcoming staff. The lodge has a natural setting making its guests experience the wilderness. They is also a fireplace for relaxing during your stay at the lodge.
Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge: Located in Kisoro, this lodge provides luxurious services such as a fireplace for relaxation and consists of 8 cottages with great interiors and the meals are well served at the lodge. Visitors are able to access Mgahinga anytime to and from the lodge.
Nkuringo Safari lodge: Nkuringo safari lodge offers luxury services such as room services, the rooms and tents are well furnished and self-contained. The guests have a great chance to view the volcanoes. Nkuringo safari lodge is near Mgahinga making it easy for the guests to visit the park.
Virunga Campsite and Backpackers: The hostel offers a restaurant, a bar, wireless internet access, and a roundtrip airport shuttle is complimentary to guests. Virunga Campsite and Backpackers offers tour/ticket assistance and barbecue grills. The place also offers laundry services and a 24-hour front desk are on site. Other amenities include picnic area for the guests to relax, terrace, and luggage storage.
Muhabura Motel: Located in Kisoro on Kisoro-Cyanika road, Muhabura motel features a 24-hour front desk and this place a barbecue grills and free self-parking, wireless internet access is provided. The rooms’ amenities include TVs with cable channels, microwaves, separate bathtubs, and showers. The place has four rooms.
Golden Monkey Guesthouse: Golden Monkey Guesthouse is located in Kisoro and it is about 22 minutes’ drive to Mgahinga National Park. This natural beauty features a restaurant that serves continental breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. All 16 rooms have free wireless internet access, a bar, and free parking. There is a front desk and daily housekeeping.
How to get to Mgahinga
Mgahinga is about 540km from Kampala and 14km form Kisoro town. By road it takes about 10 hours to Mgahinga National Park nonstop, passing via Kabale and Kisoro and takes about 8 hours to reach Kabale. Additionally, if you prefer by air, charter flights can be arranged form Entebbe or Kampala to Kisoro airstrip. Using air transport is quick and less tiresome and booking has to be done in advance.