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Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park is the area covering the Ugandan side of the Virunga Mountains close to the border with Rwanda and the DRC. Three main peaks Muhavura, Gahinga and Sabinyo form the backdrop to the park.
The park was well known for its roughly 45 gorillas which spend part of the year in Mgahinga. In 2004 a belligerent lone male chased the habituated family group out of the park that have since spent the last 18 months in Rwanda constantly frustrated by the lone male when trying to return to the park. They are presently being monitored to see whether tracking can be resumed.
In our opinion Mgahinga National Park park has been wrongly ignored since the gorillas’ took flight as it’s certainly one of the country’s most scenic and is a delightful stopover en route to the gorillas. It should be included in any itinerary to this area.
Either one hour’s flight from Entebbe or a four hours’ drive from Kigali, this is the country’s smallest park. The park is part of a cross-border system with neighbouring reserves which makes for a much larger area than may be obvious. Of course gorillas and other animals have no care for border crossings and passports and travel freely between the 3 countries!
76 mammal species are found in the park including golden monkeys, black and white colobus, leopard, elephant, giant forest hog, bushpig, buffalo (who are commonly seen around the information centre), bushbuck and black-fronted duiker amongst others and of course gorillas. 12 endemic birds are endemic to the Albert Rift region and the area attracts birders on a regular basis.
Activities are more varied than other gorilla parks and include day hikes to the peaks of the three volcanoes where duikers and bushbuck live in the marshy crater bowls unseen by all below. The lowest of these peaks Mt Gahinga is a 6 to 7 hr hike from Ntebeko up Mount Gahinga and offers a good chance of golden monkeys and endemic forest birds. The highest is Muhabura which takes around 9hrs and allows fabulous views in all directions. Altitude related sickness can be experienced near the peak due to the rapidity of the ascent. A small crater lake is surrounded by giant lobelia at the top creating a magical landscape; there is a possibility of seeing the stunning scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird.
Caving in Garama Cave is around a 3hr excursion; occupied by humans from the late Iron age and rumoured to be so deep it goes right through to Rwanda! Take a strong torch and spare batteries but the going overall is easy.
Lovely nature walks are possible in the lower regions of the park with a local guide. The Mgahinga Information Centre is very well managed with good information and an excellent lookout point across to the borders with Rwanda and DRC and northwards to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Gorilla treks can also be arranged to Nkuringo in South Bwindi although this is known to be the toughest trekking area of all three of the country’s available spots and you do need to get up at 4am to make it to the start point in time as it’s a 4 hour drive. Anyone who loves good hiking, peace and quiet, scenery and has an interest in natural history could spend a number of days in this area quite happily.