Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Tucked away in the south western part of Uganda in Kisoro district, Mgahinga gorilla national park is Uganda’s smallest national park lying on approximately 33.7 square kilometers of land. The park was declared a game sanctuary by the British administration in 1930 and later gazetted as a national park in 1991 majorly created to protect mountain gorillas. The park includes three of the eight virunga mountains which include Muhavura, Gahinga and Sabinyo mountains. The other part of the Virunga range is covered by volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These parks form the virunga conservation area with Mgahinga contributing about 8% of the conservation area due to its small size. The park is bordered by Rwanda to the south and in the west by the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is accessible by road from Kampala and this takes about 5 to 7 hours. Note that a 4×4 wheel drive is a must during the wet season. A flight is another possible way to reach this park which can be got from Entebbe international airport or from Kajjansi airstrip to Kisoro, 14km from the main entrance get of the park.
Created to protect mountain gorillas, the park is a habitat for the endangered gorilla species. This therefore makes Mgahinga national park and Bwindi impenetrable national park the only parks in which gorilla trekking is carried out in Uganda. This activity is carried out from Ntebeko entrance and the only group tracked here is the Nyakagezi group which is composed of silver-backs, adult females and infants which are known for their playful and interesting traits. Sometimes these gorillas move to Rwanda or Congo but information concerning presence or absence of these forest giants in the park is readily available. This explains why gorilla trekking is mostly carried out in Bwindi. The park also features other primates such as the golden monkeys and a variety of bird species such as the black kite, double-collared sunbird, paradise flycatcher and the pin-tailed whydah hence being a birders’ paradise.
The Batwa pygmies are the first settlers and the closest people to this park who are known to be hunters and gatherers. They perform traditional songs and dances, prepare food and teach visitors their hunting and gathering ways. This is an activity known as the community walk which benefits the Batwa in a way that they earn meaningful income to sustain their leaving.
Mountain hiking is another interesting activity carried out in this park. It is carried out on the three Virunga Mountains found in Mgahinga. The hike takes about 6 – 8 hours and during this process, hikers sometimes come across golden monkeys in the bamboo forest, swamp craters and on a clear day, they are rewarded with views of the Virunga mountains once they reach on top of the of these mountains.
The park is open all year round although the best time for gorilla trekking is the dry season during the months of June to August and December to January. The wet months are March to May and September to November which make forest trails challenging.
Plenty of accommodation is found around the park. It can be luxury, mid range or budget. These places are ready to serve their visitors with the best services including restaurants and bars, comfortable rooms, dining areas, parking space. Some places even have other services like Wi-Fi and swimming pools. Some of these places include Gahinga rest camp, Virunga hotel, Mgahinga safari lodge, Mucha hotel plus a variety of camps and cottages.