Things to do in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park : Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is part of the wider Virunga conservation region that also includes the volcanoes national park in Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park is located on the south-western corner of Uganda in the town of Kisoro. Mgahinga was upgraded from a game reserve into a full national park in 1991 mainly to protect the mountain gorillas that were in frequent conflicts with humans living within and outside the park.
One of the advantages of visiting Mgahinga national park is that there are fewer crowds. The whole park can be discovered in peace and quiet. Some of the activities don’t need to be booked in advance. There are several activities that travelers can engage in while at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Activities to do in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga starts at 8 am with briefing. After the briefing, visitors are led by the park rangers to find the group. Gorilla Tracking in Mgahinga National Park While tracking the gorillas expects to encounter pristine forest, primates, birds and other forest creatures. The time taken tracking the gorillas will depend on the location of the group that day and can take anywhere between 2 to 3 hours. Go prepared with a good camera to capture one of the most amazing wildlife experiences.
It is possible to hike to the top of all the three volcanoes in a period of three days. Climbing to the top of the three volcanoes will reward hikers with amazing views of all the three countries, the Virunga ranges of mountains, crater lakes, swamps, rare alpine vegetation, the Rwenzori Mountains, Bwindi impenetrable forest and Lake Edward. One needs to be mentally prepared and in good shape to complete hiking any or all of the volcanoes. Seasoned hikers may find hiking to the summit of these mountains easy but inexperienced hikers need to be well prepared. It is important to travel with packed food, water, a sleeping bag and a tent in case you end up spending a night at the top. The cost of climbing each of the volcanoes is $80.
Mgahinga National Park is one of Uganda’s best birding spots. Over 110 species of birds can be found in the caves, forests, lakes and mountains of Mgahinga National Park. The best time for birding in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is during the months between April and May and October to November. Among the species to look out for are the Yellow-Vented Bulbul, yellow-throated long claw, White-starred Robin, White-necked raven, White-naped Raven, White-naped Raven, White Starred Robin, Western Green Tinker bird, Wax Bills, Thrush and Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Striped breasted Tit, Streaky Seedeater, Stray seedeater, Stone Chat, Speckled Mousebird, Southern Red Bishop, Shelly’s Dusky Crimsonwing, Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori Nightjar, Rwenzori double-collared sunbird, Rwenzori Batis, Rufous chested swallow, Regal Sunbird, red-throated alethe, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Red necked spur fowl, Pin-tailed whydah, Paradise Fly-catcher, Olive woodpecker, Olive Thrush, Olive Pigeon, Mountain Birding in Mgahinga National Parkmasked apalis, Montane nightjar, Malachite Sunbird, Scarlet-tufted Sunbirds, Kivu-ground Thrush, Ibis, Handsome Francolin, Grey Capped Warbler, Greater Double collard Sunbird, Grauer’s swamp warbler, Fly eagle, Firefinch, Fire Finch Stonechat, Dusky Turtle Dove, Dusky crimson wing, Double-collared sunbird, Doherty’s Bush-shrike, Crowned Hornbill, Crowned Crane, Collared apalis, Chubb’s Cisticola, Cape Robin-chat, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Brown Woodland Warbler, Bronze Sunbird, Blue-headed Sunbird, Blue-headed Coucal, Black-headed Waxbill, Black Kite, Banded Prinia, Archer’s ground robin, Archer’s Robin Chat and Alpine chat.
The pristine forests, lakes, rivers, swamps and mountain slopes of Mgahinga National Park offer perfect spots for nature walks. One of the walking trails lead up to the beautiful village plantations for a close encounter with some of the local folks like the Batwa. The border trail on the slopes of Mt. Sabyinyo leads to a point where the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo meet. The trail takes about five hours to complete going through different vegetation types providing opportunities to see primates like the golden monkeys and the caldera on the Gisozi hill. The top of Gisozi hill also offers great views of the park, Bwindi impenetrable forest and the greater Virunga ranges of mountains. Some of the trails like the 5 hour Sabyinyo gorge walk are strenuous. This trail leads to steep areas of the park and will require good fitness levels to complete. The Sabinyo gorge involves completing a meandering walk on the slopes of Mount Sabyinyo to marvel at the different vegetation zones, birds and the volcanoes. While going for nature walks or using any of the trails, always be alert and listen to the sweet melodies coming from the resident birds and loud calls of monkeys as they jump from tree to tree. You might even encounter one of elusive large mammals like antelope and elephants.
The Batwa Trail and Cultural Visit
There are a number of tribes living in the areas surrounding Mgahinga gorilla national park but the most interesting are the Batwa people. Because their history is closely linked to the park. The Batwa lived in Mghinga forest for thousands of years as hunters and gathers before their eviction in 1991 and resettlement on the outskirts of the forest. While still in the forest, everything was easy and in plenty. All they needed to do each morning was wake up and go harvest honey, pick fruits, hunt animals or pick forests leaves for medicine. They could move about freely in the large forest without any restrictions. The Batwa rarely had conflicts with other tribes because few of them would dare invade them the forest.
After exploring the forest, you are led to their community for cultural entertainment including listening to sorrowful songs about their lost life, fading culture and an unfamiliar new world. Being with the Batwa can be very touching and may make you question whether their resettlement was well managed. The Batwa trail costs $80. Part of the money goes directly to the Batwa entertainers and guides while the rest goes to the community fund helping acquire books and paying fees for Batwa children.
Accommodation in Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park is a neighbor to Bwindi Forest and thus there are several hotel and lodge options. Lodges are available near the park, in Kisoro and in Kabale town. Many of the hotels are located strategically so that visitors can use them as bases to do activities in both national parks. These lodges offer services that cater for budget, mid-range and luxury travelers. Thee lodges are built in form of basic campsites, bandas or standard cottages. Considering that some of the park activities like gorilla tracking starts very early in the morning, it is wise to book with a hotel that is not too far from park offices.
How to get to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga National Park can be reached by road or air from Kampala or Entebbe. The distance from Kampala is about 509 kilometers through well paved tarmac roads.
Driving to the park from Kampala through the Mbarara-Masaka-Kampala highway takes about 9 hours. Those on a tight schedule can choose to take a chartered flight from Entebbe international airport or Kajjansi airstrip (in Kampala) to Kisoro airstrip near the park.
Flights from Eagle Air between Entebbe and Kisoro are arranged every Monday and Friday of the week. Tickets for the local flight need to be booked in advance. Tour companies can help you book the local flight and arrange ground transportation from the Kisoro airstrip to the park.