Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in the southwestern corner of Uganda. The Park covers the northern slopes of the three Virunga Volcanoes: Mt. Muhavura (4,127 m), Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m), and Mt. Sabinyo (3,669 m). The Park is about 10 km south of Kisoro and is bordered to the south by the Republic of Rwanda and to the west by the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each of these countries protects its own portion of the Virungas, in the Parc National des Volcans and Parc National des Virunga respectively. The three parks together form the 434-sq. km. ‘Virunga Conservation Area’ or VCA. Mgahinga is 33.7 sq. km, just 8% of the VCA. The entire Park is in Bufumbira County of Kisoro District.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is 33.7 sq. km and consists of the partly forested slopes of three extinct volcanoes. From far away, the huge cones of the Virunga volcanoes dominate the landscape and beckon you as you approach. When you reach the park you can get a great overview of the area by walking up the viewpoint, just 15 minutes from Ntebeko Gate. Mgahinga Park has great biological importance because throughout the climatic changes of the Pleistocene ice ages, mountains such as these provided a refuge for mountain plants and animals, which moved up or down the slopes as climate became warmer or cooler. The Virungas are home to a large variety of wildlife, including about half the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas.
Gorilla tracking used to be the main activity carried out in the park but the gorilla family moved into Congo and now can rarely be seen. However there are other exciting activities that can be carried out.
Mgahinga offers three incredibly scenic extinct volcanoes for physically fit hikers, although they do not require special mountaineering gear. This is an opportunity to enjoy the amazing flora and fauna of the park.
Mt. Sabyinyo (3669m)
‘Old man’s teeth’
Like an old man, time has eroded Mt. Sabyinyo’s crown. This volcano offers 3 challenging peaks to climb. A climb up the mountain takes one up a ridge along the eastern side of the climb to peak. If you are to continue, the climb to the peak 11 involves walking a ridge with breath-taking drops into gorges of Rwanda and Uganda, a dual experience you will achieve here.
Finally, the hike up to the peak 111 is steep with several ladders and mush scrambling. You are guaranteed to get your hands dirty en-route to peak111! Once on top, you will be in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, what a triple experience this is!!! The journey takes about eight hours round trip to cover the 14km stretch.
Mt. Gahinga (3474m)
On your way to the park, look out for small piles of stones in the garden fields. The local people call such a pile a ‘Gahinga’.
Mount Gahinga is quite bigger than the average ‘gahinga’ but sitting next to Mount Muhavura does make it look small. A hike, which takes you about, six hours round trip, goes through a good example of a pure Bamboo forest. Gahinga once had a Crater Lake on top but time has changed it into a Lush swamp. Distance to the swamp is 8km.
Mt. Muhavura (4127m)
Seen from all over Kisoro, this volcano acts as a guide. The typical cone-shaped Mountain provides some of the best views in the country. Much of the climb passes a rocky surface covered by grasses and small shrubs. Once at the top, hikers are rewarded with the view of the Virunga volcanoes, Lake Edward in queen Elizabeth National Park, Bwindi and the peaks of Rwenzori Mountain. The hike takes approximately 8 hours round trip covering 12km.
Visitors also have a chance to explore the Garama cave. This is one of the caves where once the crafty pygmy people known as the Batwa (who were warriors) lived and fought their neighbors, the Bantu. The distance to the cave entrance from the park headquarters is 3 km long and it takes about 4 hours. You will learn how the Batwa lived and fought out of the cave. The cave is 342m in length and 14m deep, and is now inhabited only by bats.
The border trail is another exciting hike to pursue. This hike takes you first toward Sabinyo. The trail climbs up the base of Sabinyo for a while through fine montane forest before turning toward the Congo. Along the way you will get a great view of Sabinyo’s gorge and peaks. Upon reaching the Congo you cut back along the international border. The return leg to the Park Head Quarters is a great section for birding. The two rest huts along the way are good places for a break. Look closely for the golden monkeys and signs of elephants.
Hiking time is 5 hours and distance 10 km.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is blessed with a unique bird fauna; 79 bird species have thus far been recorded within the park, including several species endemic to the East Congo Montane region.For the Virunga Conservation Area as a whole, over 295 species in the Virungas are endemic to the Albertine Rift Afromontane region representing 59% of the total of known endemic species. The Gorge trail has dense shrub vegetation which attracts a wide variety of birdlife. Species like the Dusky Turtle-dove, Cape Robin-Chat, White-browed (heuglin’s) Robin-chat, Olive thrush, Chubb’s Cisticola, famous Great Blue Rwenzori Turaco, and many more.
A stroll a long the buffalo wall toward the Congo takes you through a wetland area where Ibis, Whydah, Speckled Mousebird, and Fire Finch are found. Stonechat, Grey Capped Warbler, Waxbills, and Yellow-Vented Bulbul are often seen around the campground. Feel free to take your time and go at your own pace, there is no hurry when birding.