Mgahinga National Park located in the Virunga Ranges that extend to Uganda is one of the only national parks that harbor Mountain Gorillas.

Mgahinga National Park

The distance traveled to mgahinga national park is paid off when you meet with the nature that dwells in the national park. Mgahinga National Park is located in the south western region of Uganda. The national park was established in 1991. The park is not a vast national park as Murchison falls or Queen Elizabeth national park, but you can’t under estimate the thrill you can get from the safaris done here. Mgahinga sits on a small area of about 33.9sq.km in Kisoro district, however, it is quite an elevation in the national park, as the national park sits on an elevation of 2227 meters to 4127 meters above sea level.

Mgahinga is a connection to the magnificent Virunga mountain ranges that are shared by Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, where mgahinga is located. There are other national parks that join in with mgahinga national park to form the vast Virunga conservation area, these national parks include Volcanoes national park found in the republic of Rwanda and the southern sector which is Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The name of mgahinga gets its name from the local world called Gahinga which means a huge pile of volcanic stones or volcanic debris which was cleared from the local peoples’ farmlands on the foothills of the volcanoes on Virunga mountain ranges. As if the tale behind the derivative to the name for mgahinga is true. This national park is a rocky terrain with three conical volcanoes.

History of mgahinga national park

Mgahinga national park was established in 1991, but before it was a game reserve which had been gazetted by the British in the 1930s to 1950. However, with time the game reserve was turned into a crop garden especially in the low lands, foothills of the volcanoes in the area. However, in 1989, a survey to curb poaching and other malpractices inside the game was started where a lot of wire traps were discovered and destroyed, and the rangers where retrained and a lot of trees planted in the areas of deforestation.

In the same year, the campaign to bring back the mgahinga national park to its glory continued and a lot of people who had settled on the park’s land were relocated to other places outside mgahinga premises this was done until the 1990s. And later in 1991, mgahinga received a new honor of a national park from just being a game reserve. 

Mgahinga National Park started hosting visitors who came for mountain gorilla trekking and it also got a position among the major national parks in Uganda. However, the dawn of the m23 Congolese rebels caused a lot of unrest in the national park. By the end of 2013, he m23 rebels from the Democratic Republic Congo were defeated in November and the park has been stable from then to present.

Biodiversity of mgahinga national park

Mgahinga goes around and covers closely a bamboo forest, the Albertine rift montane forests, Rwenzori – Virunga montane moorlands together with tree heath and Alpine zones of vegetation at the higher altitudes in the national park. The different vegetation zones are home to a variety of wildlife including the endangered mountain gorilla also known as gorilla beringei beringei, plus the rare golden monkeys scientifically called Cercopithecus kandti. The golden monkeys are only found in the Virunga conservation area.

Mgahinga has one habituated group of mountain gorillas and it is always visited by tourists who visit Africa for primate safaris. The gorilla family in mgahinga is quite mobile that makes trekking it a challenging activity. However, in the wet season, the mountain gorillas in Mgahinga come down to the lowlands and easy to locate during trekking.

Mgahinga is also home to a number of special Albertine birds, this makes birding such an interesting activity when done in this park. Mgahinga Park has a lot bird species from the congo region and others are endemic to the Albertine region, for example francolins, dusky crimson-wing, red-throated alethe, kivu ground thrush, Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori batis, Rwenzori double collared sunbird, collared apalis, mountain masked apalis, archer’s ground robin, stripe-breasted tit, blue heads sunbird and grauer’s swamp warbler are recorded for mgahinga national park among others.

Activities in mgahinga national park

The activities in mgahinga start at the Ntebeko visitors center. The activities start at 7 am in the morning. Visiting the Ntebeko visitor center can also be such a rewarding errand. At the ntebeko visitor center, you have a good view of the national park over the verdant tree canopy and the undulating hills.

The hike to the three volcanoes is another thrilling experience in mgahinga national park.  There are three extinct volcanoes in mgahinga national park, and they are such striking features for the visitors who come to the mgahinga park, they include Sabinyo, Gahinga, and Muhavura. These are three conical extinct volcanoes they are part and partial of the Virunga ranges. The active volcanoes can be found in the neighboring republic of the Congo. 

The Muhavura hiking trail is the shortest and it takes 5- 6 hours to reach the top of Muhavura volcano. The hiking to the top of the volcanoes will give you a spectacular view of the national park. The Sabinyo summit is the right place for you to see all the three countries which share the Virungas at a glance. The Muhavura peak offers a good view of the Great Rift Valley, mountain Ruwenzori, Lake Edward is also visible in the clear weather and a glimpse of the other five volcanoes of the Virunga.

Bird watching is another activity: mgahinga has over 100 bird species which can interest the bird watchers. You can also visit the garanga caves and the Batwa trail. The Garanga cave lies beneath the plateau just near the edge of the park on the northern side of mgahinga. The garanga cave used to be the council of the Batwa culture, but now it is used as an arena for cultural performances.

Best time to visit mgahinga national park

The area of mgahinga experiences two wet rainy seasons one from February to May and the other is experienced from September to December. Mgahinga national park during the wet season receives an average monthly rainfall which varies from 250mm to 10mm in October and July respectively. Therefore, the best time to visit Mgahinga National Park in the dry season which is experienced from December to February. However, July is also a good time to visit Mgahinga national park for birding safaris, but you can get an opportunity to see the migratory birds when you visit mgahinga in November.

Accommodation

There are a number of accommodation facilities in this national park including volcanoes camping sites, few cottages on the camping ground and a number of other lodges and hotels which the tourists can book to enjoy their visit to mgahinga. There is also better midrange accommodation such as Mgahinga safari lodge, Virunga hotel, Mbano hotel, Rugigana campsite, Travelers rest camp among others.

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