Uganda’s smallest park (33.7km²) protects mountain gorillas and other fauna on the Ugandan slopes of the Virunga volcanoes. Though small in size, Mgahinga contains a dramatic, panoramic backdrop formed by three volcanoes Mgahinga has one habituated gorilla group. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park covers the slopes of Muhuvura, Gahinga and Sabinyo at an altitude of between 2,227m near Ntebeko Park HQ and 4,127m on the summit of Mt. Muhuvura. Though small in size, just 33.7km², it adjoins Volcanoes NP in Rwanda and Virunga NP in Congo. Collectively, these three parks form the transboundary Virunga Conservation Area (VCA). The most famous inhabitant of Mgahinga and the VCA is the endangered mountain gorilla. Gorilla conservation on the Virungas dates back to 1925 when the Belgians gazetted the portion of the range in present day Congo and Rwanda as a national park to protect mountain gorillas. The British administration declared the
Ugandan section as a game sanctuary in 1930. This was upgraded to national park status in 1991. Mgahinga’s three volcanoes provide a dramatic and distinctive backdrop to regional scenery and each has been named descriptively in the local language. Gahinga is the smallest of the Virunga peaks and its name means ‘small pile of stones;’ a comparison with the cairns piled by local farmers when clearing boulderstrewn land. The lofty Muhuvura is an important landmark and its name means ‘the guide,’ while that of the distinctive Mt. Sabinyo, with its rough, jagged crown, translates as ‘old man’s teeth.’
Mgahinga Gorilla NP is home to 76 mammal species, of which the best known is the mountain gorilla. Roughly half of the total population (780) of this endangered ape lives on the Virungas and half in nearby Bwindi Impenetrable NP. The bamboo zone in Mgahinga is also home to another endangered primate, the golden monkey which occurs only in the bamboo forests of the Virungas. Other large mammals include elephant, buffalo, leopard and giant forest hog though these are rarely encountered in the dense forest. Though the park’s birdlist currently stands at just 115 species, this includes many localized forest birds and Albertine Rift endemics, including the striking Rwenzori turaco.
Historically, the forests of Mgahinga were home to Batwa Pygmies whose hunter-gatherer lifestyle predates all other human activities in the region. In recent centuries, the area has been cleared and settled by Bafumbira farmers who cultivate up to the edge of the remnant forest protected within the national park.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is 524km from Kampala. A surfaced highway runs via Mbarara and Kabale to Kisoro. The 80km road between Kabale and Kisoro is a winding drive through mountainous terrain with steep ascents and descents. Beyond Kisoro, a rough, 14km road with steep, rocky sections ascends to the park headquarters at Ntebeko.
Mgahinga can also be reached by daily flights from Entebbe International Airport to Kisoro airfield.
Daytime temperatures average around 150C, with nights dropping to a cool 100C. There are two dry seasons, December-February and May-August, with June and July being the driest months. The wettest months are March-April and September-November. During the rains, the park is often covered in mist and the air is always damp.
When to Visit
All year round.
OUTSIDE THE PARK
When volcanic craters blocked the Ruhuma Valley west of Kabale town, the result was Lake Bunyonyi, Africa’s second deepest lake. Crammed with at least 20 small islands and encircled by steep terraced hills, it is unforgettably pretty and is a perfect spot to break the journey on the way to Mgahinga.
Another consequence of a volcanic dam, Lake Mutanda lies 15km north of Mgahinga. A cluster of resorts on the northern shore, 16km from Kisoro enjoy a fabulous view across the island-dotted waters towards the Virunga volcanoes.