Maghinga Park - Golden monkey & Mountain gorilla Tracking.
Planning for golden monkey tracking & Gorilla trekking while on a Uganda safari with congo gorilla safaris? Just know that the safari will be leading you to maghinga national park located in south-west of Uganda near the town of Kisoro located in the Virunga Mountains and is contiguous with the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mgahinga is situated about 15 kilometers, by road, south of the town of Kisoro and approximately 55 kilometers, by road, west of Kabale, the largest city in the sub-region. The entire park is located in Bufumbira County, in Kisoro District.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the smallest national park in Uganda (about 33.7 km). It is very important, as it is one of the only two parks in Uganda that offer habitat for the endangered mountain gorilla.
Mgahinga National Park was gazetted in 1991 and is a part of the Virunga Conservation Area, which is 434 km. It adjoins Rwanda's Volcano and the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Parks. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park experiences two wet rainy seasons; February - May and September- December of each year. The maximum amount of rainfall in a year is 250mm (October) and Minimum is 10mm (July)
Overview of the park
Mgahinga is one of two locations in Uganda in which mountain gorillas can be found; the other being Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The park has one habituated gorilla group, although this group sometimes crosses the border into Rwanda, which means Mgahinga is not a reliable spot for viewing gorillas.
The park is contiguous with Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west and with Volcanoes National Park in the Republic of Rwanda to the south. The national park also covers three of the eight Virunga volcanoes: Mount Muhabura, Mount Gahinga and Mount Sabyinyo, all of which lie on the Uganda/Rwanda border. Any of these can be climbed in one day from the park headquarters.
When to visit
The best time to visit the place for tracking is during the two dry seasons when the park is easily accessed. It is during this time that the thick forests can be penetrated easily and when the paths are not as muddy as it is in the rainy season. The two dry Seasons best for Gorilla Safari are; mid-December to end of February and June to October. However, gorilla tracking tourism is possible throughout the year.
Things to do there
Gorilla tracking stands out to be the leading activity at Mgahinga Gorilla national park and 75% of Mgahinga's visitors come to view the primates. It is the best point to trek the Nyakagezi gorilla group which frequently moves adjacent in the forests of Conga and Rwanda. The moment you visit the park, the welcoming atmosphere is an evidence of adventure filled of natural beauty. A days’ trek through the forests of Mgahinga with a well-trained guide who explains the gorillas' behaviors along the way is a lifetime experience. The trekking starts from Ntebeko Entrance gate at around 8:00am in the morning daily taking 2-4 hours. A visitor is expected to budget for his/her time well while with a gorilla family since the maximum time allowed to spend with them is one hour.
Cultural Encounters Trails in Mgahinga
The Batwa Trail
When the national park was established the Batwa were evicted from the forest and abandoned their low-impact, nomadic lifestyle and the only time they are permitted to re-enter their cherished forest is as tour guides on the Batwa Trail, on which visitors will discover the magic of the Batwa’s ancient home while enjoying nature walks and learning about the cultural heritage.
The Batwa demonstrate hunting techniques, gather honey, point out medicinal plants and demonstrate how to make bamboo cups. Guests are invited to the sacred Garama Cave, once a refuge for the Batwa, where the women of the community perform a sorrowful song which echoes eerily around the depths of the dark cave, and leaves guests with a moving sense of the richness of this fading culture.
Part of the tour fee goes directly to the guides and musicians and the rest goes to the Batwa community fund to cover school fees and books, and improve their livelihoods.
Hiking and Nature Walks
A hike through the forest to the deep Sabyinyo Gorge a massive gash in the flank of Mount Sabyinyo provides good birding opportunities and the chance to find the Rwenzori Turaco. This walk takes four hours, and passes through the Rugezi Swamp which is fantastic for bird watchers.
The walk to the Congo border transcends different vegetation zones. Hikers can sight the calderas on top of the Gisozi hill, look out for Kisoro and Bunagana towns and be captivated by Lake Mutanda.
The golden monkey track is a gentle steep but an interesting two-hour trek through former farmland to the bamboo forest. On a clear day, you may view the Virunga Volcano range and come across buffalo and duiker.
Mt. Sabyinyo (366m) – ‘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 peak. Once on top, you will be in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, The journey takes about eight hours round trip to cover the 14km stretch.
Mt. Mgahinga (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.You are advised to camp at the Muhavura base camp the night before the site has no facilities so you need a tent, water, food and sleeping gear.