Mgahinga National Park is situated in the southwestern region of the country sharing borders with both Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. It is therefore contiguous with Rwanda’s northern region of Volcanoes National Park and the southern sector of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the country’s smallest National Park covering a total area of 33.9 square kilometers. Mgahinga National Park is located in the Virunga region an area that is made up of a chain of volcanoes in East Africa. This National Park encompasses three inactive volcanoes out of the eight volcanoes that make up the Virunga region. The Park’s inactive volcanoes include Mount Muhabura that stands at 4,127 meters, Mount Gahinga standing at 3,474 meters and Mount Sabyinyo that stands at 3674 meters therefore making its altitude range from 2,227 meters to 4,127 meters. Mgahinga gorilla National Park’s vegetation cover ranges from bamboo forests, Albertine Rift montane forests, Rwenzori-Virunga moorlands to an alpine zone that is found at higher altitudes. The Park’s rainfall amounts received ranges from 250mm usually received in October to 10mm that is often received in July and thus having two rainy seasons that is from February to May and September to December.

Mgahinga National Park was established mainly to protect the endangered mountain gorillas in 1991 in an area that used to be a game reserve between 1930 and 1950. This area was partly converted to crop fields in lower altitudes by local settlers who destroyed wire traps and hunted down several animals. These settlers were later relocated to areas outside the Park’s premises in the early 1990s to render the area a protected area that was meant to conserve the endangered mountain gorillas, several other primates and other wildlife.

Tourist attractions of Mgahinga gorilla National Park

Mountain gorillas

Mgahinga National Park is a habitat to mountain gorillas that are shared with the adjoining Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo all situated in the Virunga Massif. This Virunga region is believed to house over 604 mountain gorillas out of the 1063 mountain gorillas left in the world according to the gorilla population census conducted in 2018. Mgahinga National Park is therefore an alternative destination to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park that is believed to harbor over 400 mountain gorillas for tourists interested to trek gorillas in Uganda. Mountain gorillas live in groups or families of several individuals led by a silverback gorilla that is responsible for directing the family activities for example nesting, mediating and settling conflicts with in the family, feeding and migrations or movements between seasonal feeding areas. Therefore Mgahinga National Park has only one habituated gorilla family known as the Nyakagezi gorilla family though there are other several wild gorilla groups. This Nyakagezi gorilla family was named after a place in the Park that has a lot of sumptuous food attractive to the gorillas and thus a place where it was usually sighted. This gorilla family has in the past decade restricted its range to Mgahinga gorilla National Park rather than in the past where it used to cross over to the neighboring countries of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. The Nyakagezi gorilla family is led by a silverback known as Mark that took over power from Bugingo silverback that became weak due to old age. These two silverbacks still live together happily in this family which is a rare case in the gorilla life because once a silverback happens to be overthrown from the family, he resorts to living a solitary life and abandons the family. This gorilla family is composed of 11 members most of which are easily identified by their names such as 2 silverbacks namely Mark and Bugingo, 3 female adults namely Kaboko, Nyiramwiza and Munezero, 3 sub-adult males namely Majambere, Mafia and Ndugutse, 1 juvenile and 2 infants.

Golden monkeys

The golden monkeys are a very rare monkey species only restricted to the Virunga region and only found in the bamboo forests of the Virunga volcanoes. Golden monkeys are easily identified by their golden orange backsides, black bodies and brown faces. Female golden monkeys are lighter in color and are a bit smaller than the males. Golden monkeys live in groups of up to 60 individuals led by a dominant male fascinating to watch due to their playful nature. They are great and skilled climbers that swing from branch to another with ultimate ease. Golden monkeys are often seen in bamboo forests since they feed in bamboo shoots and leaves though they supplement their diet with insects. Golden monkeys are naturally threatened by natural predators such as African golden cats, serval cats and African crowned eagles that usually target the golden monkey young ones.

Bird species

Mgahinga gorilla National Park boasts over 180 bird species including 14 Albertine rift endemic birds and several species endemic to the East Congo Montane region making it a prominent birding gem. Bird species in this National Park include the Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori batis, Kivu ground thrush, Handsome francolin, blue-headed weavers, dusky crimson wing, red-throated Alethe, regal sunbird, black-collared Apalis, alpine swift, African olive pigeon, blue-headed coucal, moorland chat, olive woodpeckers, Rwenzori nightjar, scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird, Archer’s robin chat to mention but a few.

Other wildlife/ mammals

Mgahinga gorilla National Park is a habitat to over 76 mammal species other than mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. These mammal species are however rarely seen in the Park’s forest and these include the golden cats, side stripped jackals, black-fronted duikers, forest elephants, bushbucks, south African porcupines, bush pigs, giant forest hogs, forest buffaloes to mention but a few.

The three conical extinct volcanoes

These three conical dormant volcanoes are part of the eight Virunga volcanoes that make up the Virunga region shared across borders of three East African countries namely Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. The Virunga Mountains are habitats to the endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys that are listed as endangered species due to habitat loss, diseases and poaching. The three extinct volcanoes include;

Mount Muhabura

This is the highest amongst the three volcanoes in the Park that stands at 4,127 meters above sea level. It was named after a local phrase “Muhabura” which means guide since the Batwa often used its peak to help orient themselves in the forest that helped them trace the right directions they would head to. This mountain is also the third highest of all the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Massif. This Volcano is also popularly known for its crater situated on the summit that is about 36 meters wide.


Mount Sabyinyo

Mount Sabyinyo stands at 3,669 meters above sea level making it the second highest amongst the three dormant volcanoes in the Park. Its name “Sabyinyo” is a local word that means old man’s teeth which is a reference to Mount Sabyinyo’s ragged summit that is dissected by deep gorges and ravines. The three countries namely Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo share a border at its summit where they all meet implying that when one steps feet on its summit is standing in all the three countries. It takes to about 7 to 10 hours to summit Mount Sabyinyo due to its rugged nature though there are several wooden ladders that have been developed along the hiking trails.

Mount Gahinga

Mount Gahinga stands at an elevation of 3,474 meters above sea level making it the lowest amongst the three volcanoes in the Park. Its name “Gahinga” is a Rufumbira word that means a small pile of stones. Mount Gahinga’s summit is made up of a 180 meters wide swampy caldera which brings a cool breeze to hikers that make it to its summit. Hiking Mount Gahinga to its summit lasts for about 5 to 7 hours through lush vegetation and bamboo forests which makes it favorite for beginner hikers due to its low altitude.

The Batwa pygmies

The Batwa pygmies are the former inhabitants of the current Mgahinga gorilla National Park. They entirely depended on the forests to sustain a living for example they constructed grass thatched tree houses in between tree branches, hunted down small animals for food, dressed in animals’ skins and hides, depended on plant species for medicinal herbs, started fire by rubbing sticks, collected wild honey and wild fruits to mention but a few. These were later evicted from their ancient homes where they lived for thousand years to be forced to live on the edges of the Park after it had been gazetted and declared a game sanctuary in 1930 and a National Park in 1991. This Batwa tribe is an attraction within the Park in a form of Batwa cultural trail that is always led by a Batwa guide who explains how they used to live in the forests before they were forcibly evicted from these forests. With this Batwa trail, tourists have the opportunity to practically get involved in their ancient life style for example the use of bow and arrow, use of spears, starting fire by rubbing sticks, dressing in animal skins and hides and many more.

The Garama caves

The Garama cave is a 342 meter long cave that lies beneath a plateau at the northern edge of the Park. This is one of the key tourist attractions with in the Park that has a typical historical attachment to this National Park. In the earlier times, this cave was set in the forest though currently it lies in the former farmland zone. This cave was used by the Batwa as a council chamber, a retreat after they raided their neighbors, a home to their king and a hiding place whenever they were attacked by their rivals or enemies. Currently these caves provide atmospheric performances of the Batwa music by the Batwa women and young boys and girls that is done at the end of the Batwa trail.

 Tourist activities in Mgahinga National Park

Mountain gorilla trekking

This is the Park’s major tourist activity that involves visitors trekking through the Park’s lush vegetation and bamboo forests in search for these gentle giants and upon locating the gorilla family an hour is allowed with them in their natural habitat as you closely watch them go by their routine lifestyle. Mountain gorilla trekking starts with a briefing held at the Park headquarters after which you are led into the forests by ranger guides to locate the only habituated gorilla family with in Mgahinga gorilla National Park known as Nyakagezi gorilla family. Gorilla trekking here lasts for about 1 to 6 hours depending on how far they could have moved while you spot other primates like L’Hoest’s monkey, black and white colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, red tailed monkeys and several bird species. You have the opportunity to learn about their behaviors and life style for an hour once the gorilla family is located which is a breathtaking memory and once in a life time experience to take away.

Golden monkey trekking

Golden monkey trekking is another interesting activity in Mgahinga gorilla National Park that starts with a briefing about golden monkey trekking dos and don’ts at the Park headquarters just like gorilla trekking. Having had a briefing, trekking for these active monkey species commences through the Park’s bamboo forests where they are usually found feeding and playing form one bamboo tree to another. Trekking of a habituated group of golden monkeys lasts for about 30 minutes to 4 hours after which an hour is allowed close to the golden monkey family as you clearly watch them feed, play and learn more about their behaviors. This is the best moment for you to capture whatever photos and videos you wish to have of the golden monkeys in their natural habitat. Therefor Mgahinga is referred to as the place where silver meets gold due to the presence of silverback gorillas and golden monkeys.

Volcano hiking

Mgahinga gorilla National Park is encompassed by three dormant volcanoes that are part of the eight Virunga Mountains that make up the Virunga massif. These include Mount Gahinga, Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Muhabura. Mount Muhabura is the highest standing at 4,127 meters above sea level and hiking to its summit requires some physical fitness and experience lasting about 8 to 10 hours for a roundtrip. Hiking Mount Muhabura is challenging since the hiking trails are uneven, steep and less developed. Summiting Mount Muhabura, one is able to view a Crater Lake that is about 36 meters wide. Mount Sabyinyo is another Mountain that is often hiked standing at 3,669 meters above sea level. Summiting this Mountain takes to about 7 to 10 hours for a roundtrip and the most interesting thing about this Mountain is that once one is at its summit, he is having his feet in three countries namely Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.  Mount Gahinga is the third volcano that is available for hikers and summiting this volcano takes about 5 to 7 hours depending on one’s hiking experience since it’s the lowest standing at 3,574 meters above sea level. During hiking, one has the opportunity to encounter several wildlife species for example gorillas, golden monkeys, olive baboons, L’Hoest’s monkeys with a variety of bird species and plant species.

Bird watching

Mgahinga gorilla National Park is a habitat to over 184 bird species including the 14 Albertine rift endemics, forest bird types and migratory bird species. Bird watching is conducted in a gorge between Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Gahinga with the guidance of experienced birder guides who are available to assist one spot and identify different bird species. Bird species to look out for in Mgahinga gorilla National Park include Dusky crimson wing, Rwenzori turaco, blue-headed coucal, cape robin chat, African paradise flycatcher, Kivu ground thrush, black kite, brown-crowned tchagra, red-faced woodland warbler, Rwenzori batis, black-headed waxbill, dusky turtle dove, bronze sunbird to mention but a few.

Nature walks

This is another thrilling activity in Mgahinga gorilla National Park that will expose you to the Park’s hidden treasures and natural wonders that the Park has to offer. Exploring the Park on foot is the best way to see the Park’s remarkable attractions such as primates, several bird species, plant species, waterfalls deep in the forests, butterfly types and many more. The Park has several thrilling trails that are taken on by tourists on a guided nature walking safari for example the border trail done at the lower base of Mount Sabyinyo, the birding trail, the Sabyinyo gorge hike that lasts for about 5 to 6 hours taking you to the summit of Mount Sabyinyo and many other trails.

Batwa trail experience

The Batwa trail experience is an exciting cultural trail that will expose you to the Batwa pygmies and their communities. The Batwa are the former occupants of the current Mgahinga gorilla National Park before it was gazetted into a National Park. This Batwa cultural trail will take you through the forests where they lived to live being led by a Batwa guide who will demonstrate how they constructed grass thatched tree houses, stated fire, hunted down animals for meat and hides, how they collected wild fruits and honey, showcase medicinal plant types that they used as herbs to cure certain diseases and many more. The Batwa trail will take you further to the Garama caves which were once a royal residence to their king and a council chamber. At these caves you will also enjoy the Batwa cultural performances as you listen to their traditional songs and enjoy their energetic dances.

Best time to visit Mgahinga gorilla National Park

Mgahinga gorilla National Park is open for visits and can be accessed all year round though the best time to visit this gorilla National Park is during the dry season in the months of June to early September and December to February. During these months, the hiking and trekking trails are dry and passable since there are no or less rainfall amounts received. However for bird lovers, the best time to visit this National Park is during the wet season in the months of May and November because this is the period when migratory bird species flock Uganda in search for their preferred food.

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