Mgahinga Gorilla National Park sits high in the clouds, at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m. As its name suggests, it was created to protect the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests, and it is also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkey.
As well as being important for wildlife, the park also has a huge cultural significance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmies. This tribe of hunter-gatherers was the forest’s “first people”, and their ancient knowledge of its secrets remains unrivalled.Mgahinga’s most striking features are its three conical, extinct volcanoes, part of the spectacular Virunga Range that lies along the border region of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. Mgahinga forms part of the much larger Virunga Conservation Area which includes adjacent parks in these countries. The volcanoes’ slopes contain various ecosystems and are biologically diverse, and their peaks provide a striking backdrop to this gorgeous scenery.
Geography and climate
Because of its protective vegetation cover, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is an important water catchment area. Apart from the numerous streams flowing northwards from the mountains, there is a crater lake on Mt Muhabura and a swamp crater on Mt Gahinga summit. There are also swamps in the saddles between the three volcanoes that retain water all year round, while the plains at the foot of the volcanoes are characterised by deep volcanic ash, and run-off from the mountains rapidly disappears underground.
The park provides haven to about 79 bird species, including several endemic to the East Congo Montane region. A total of 185 bird species have been recorded in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and most are likely to occur in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is an afromontane forest, covering the smallest area as a vegetation type on the continent. The vegetation in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park consists of woodland, and only a small area of pure montane forest still remains at the base of Mt Muhabura following encroachment in the 1950s. Above the montane forest belt is the bamboo zone that stretches from the western boundary on Sabyinyo to the lower slopes of Muhabura. The Hagenia-Hypericum zone appears above the bamboo zone on Mt. Sabyinyo and below it on Gahinga. The Afro-Alpine Belt, characterised by giant Senecio and Lobelia species, occurs above the Ericacious Belt and reaches its maximum development on Mt. Muhabura.
Tourists can visit the park any time throughout the year, although conditions in the park are more difficult during the rainy season. Available tourist accommodation includes lodges notably Lake Mutanda Chameleon Hill Lodge, Gahinga Safari Lodge, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Gorilla Safari Lodge, all these are located close to Bwindi and with easy access to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Alternative accommodation can be sought in Kisoro town. The park is in a remote location, and reaching the park involves a long journey accessing it from Kampala the capital of Uganda.
Gorilla Tracking Safari is the park's main tourist attraction although it is less popular than the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park due to the one habituated gorilla family having a tendency of moving across to DRC or Rwanda. Tourists wishing to track gorillas must first obtain a permit to do so. Seek advice from your local Uganda Safari operator on selection of the gorilla permits based on the time of visiting. Otherwise gorilla permits are purchased at Uganda Wildlife Authority. Gorilla Tracking Safaris generate much revenue for Uganda Wildlife Authority and neighboring communities which is crucial for gorilla conservation. The gorillas seldom react to tourists. There are strict rules for tourists to minimize the risk of diseases passing from them to the gorillas. At Mgahinga, there is much more on offer on top of the Gorilla Tracking Safari which include; golden monkey tracking; volcano trekking in the stunning Virungas; Batwa Trail Experience and cave explorations. All activities are booked through Uganda Wildlife Authority in Kisoro.