- Mgahinga National Park.
Gazetted in 1991, the park covers an area of 33.7 Sq.km making it Uganda’s smallest national park. It is a second refigium of the endangered mountain gorillas after Bwindi. It is also known for its golden monkey. The park has a strong cultural attachment to the pygmy community that inhabits the area. It has three conical features of extinct volcanoes which is part of the spectacular Virunga area. It shares boundaries with Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mgahinga is located 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, Kisoro District the extreme south western corner of Uganda thus among the secluded destinations that a traveler can visit while on Uganda Safari.
How to get there.
This Uganda Safari destination is located at about 15kms by road south of Kisoro town and approximately 55kms by road west of Kabale, the largest town in the sub-region. From Kampala it takes 540km taking over 8 hours’ drive but if visited as part of the Ugandan tour can be accessed from Queen Elizabeth (3-4 hours) or Lake Mburo (5 – 7 hours). A 4WD is necessary.
The park can also be accessed by a chartered flight from Kajjansi airfield to Kisoro airstrip 14Kms to the park gate.
Mgahinga national park is a second refigium of the world’s most endangered mountain gorillas in Uganda after Bwindi national park. Being a mountainous terrain with dense vegetation cover, the park is able to support the lives of these species. One gorilla family is found in his park and is habituated for tracking while on Gorilla Safari.
Nyakagezi Gorilla Family has 10 individuals including 1 silverback. This is the only Gorilla family group in Mgahinga Gorilla Park. The group is led by Mark, the dominant Silverback, who adores travelling and keeps on crossing borders between Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Over the past few years however, the group has been unwavering and they are trying to settle on the Ugandan side since November 2012, and are likely to stay for a while. In May 2013 when a newborn baby gorilla arrived, increasing the group to 10 members. As a result of this volatile behavior, permits for this group can only be booked at the local Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Mgahinga Gorilla Park.
Kisoro district is heavily populated with two main ethnic groups. The most numerous are the Bafumbira who are primarily farmers and the Batwa who once practiced as subsistence hunter gatherer life in the forest. These are interesting groups especially the Batwa who spent much of their ancestral life in the caves of Garama and lived by gathering wild honey, roots and fruits before the park was gazetted. The heritage is rewarding and worth visiting while planning to undertake Uganda safari.
Mgahinga national park is gifted with three volcanic peaks that is Muhabura (4127m), Sabyinyo (3669m) and Mgahinga (3474m). The names of the three peaks come to life in translation. Muhabura means the guide and its towering cone is a prominent land mark. During the 19th century its crater still glowed to provide a natural light house for travelers. The rim of older Sabyinyo has weathered into a ring of stubby peaks, earning it the tittle “Old man’s teeth”. These imposing cones over shadow the stumpy Mt. Mgahinga which is named for the local practice of tidying the volcanic rocks that clutter farm land into small piles of stones or gahingas. All the three volcanoes provide an amazing scenic view tempting the travelers to undertake a hiking encounter while on their Safari in Uganda.
Mgahinga’s diverse vegetation support a variety of birds that can be of interest to a traveler on a Safari in Uganda. This smallest park in Uganda shelters over 115 species of birds including; Handsome Francolin, Dusky Turtle Dove, Rwenzori Turaco, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, White-starred Robin, Equatorial Akalat, Red-throated Alethe, Archer’s Robin-Chat, Kivu Ground Thrush, Banded Prinia, Grauer’s Warbler, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Collared Apalis, Mountain Masked Apalis, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Rwenzori Batis, Strip-breasted Tit, Blue-headed Sunbird, Regal Sunbird, Mackinnon’s Fiscal, Lagden’s Bush Shrike, Doherty’s Bush-shrike, Montane Oriole, Strange Weaver, Dusky Crimsonwing, Shelley’s Crimsonwing, among other bird species.
Mgahinga’s eco system is very varied with a number of elements co-existing alongside each other providing those on Uganda Safari with remarkable memories. Regardless of the popular mountain gorillas well known for gorilla tracking, the park also contains wildlife species like golden monkeys which is endemic to the Albertine rift, Others include; golden cats, side-striped jackals, giant forest hogs, bush pigs, buffaloes and elephants though rarely seen.
Mgahinga’s gradients are roofed with a sequence of different altitudinal bands of vegetation. The lowermost region is an area of grass and bush which is undergoing regeneration after encroachment and clearance by farmers. Uninterrupted vegetation starts with montane woodland, trailed by the bamboo zone, montane forest and the Ericaceous zone which comprises giant tree heathers. The arrangement climaxes with the remarkable alpine zone which occurs only on East African Mountains above 3000 and contains bizarre giant forms of lobelia and groundsel. This is of particular interest to eco-travelers on Uganda safari.
• Gorilla tracking. Encounter mountain gorillas on your Ugandan tour by tracking the Nyakagyezi gorilla family. The group tends to move to adjacent forests of Rwanda ad Congo thus can be tracked when available. Tracking starts at 8:00 am at Ntebeko and can take 2 – 4 hours.
What to take.
• Solid walking shoes or boots
• Rain gear and hat
• Insect repellent
• Drinks and snacks
• Porters are available at a modest cost
• To protect the gorillas and visitors, the following rules must be adhered to:
• No one with a communicable disease, such as flu or diarrhea, is allowed to visit the gorillas.
• Do not surround the gorillas but remain in a tight group.
• Leave a distance of at least 5m between you and the gorillas.
• If they approach you. Move back slowly
• Flash photography is strictly forbidden.
While on Uganda Safari, take the gorge trail between mountains Gahinga and Sabinyo to be exposed to a variety of bird species including; Dusky turtle dove, Olive Thrush, Bronze sunbird, Regal sunbird, Cape Robin-chat, Kivu ground Thrush for 3-4 hours and the Rwenzori Turaco along the Bambo belt. A dry stone wall along the northern edge of the park guard buffalo from encroaching on residents’ farmland and crops but the trail along the wall is ideal for birding. A guided walk from 17.00 – 18.00 is ideal to spot a variety of birds at relaxed and easy pace however the guide should be booked in advance. While an inclination towards the Democratic Republic of Congo takes you through a wetland area where Ibis, speckled mouse bird and fire finch are found.
• Cultural encounters.
Traditionally, Mgahinga belonged to the indigenous Batwa who were hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors that hinged on the forest for shelter, food and medicine. After the park establishment, these people were evicted and somehow abandoned their ancient life style but their values still live up to today and are always reinvigorated when undertaking the famous Batwa trail as masters of the land. They depict highest degree of hunting techniques, honey gathering, medicinal plants identification and Bamboo cups usage demonstration. Taking a tour to the sacred Garama Cave, the ancient Batwa refugee and listening to the sorrowful songs performance of the community women echoing eerily around the depths of the dark cave leaves travelers with a remarkable wonder of the fullness of this fading culture. This is one of those rewarding cultural encounters that travelers would ever undertake on their Uganda safari.
• Mountain Hiking.
The interesting bit about hiking in Mgahinga while on Uganda safari is that all the three volcanoes can be summited. Mt. Sabinyo, at 3,669m, takes about eight hours to cover the 14km round trip, following a steep ridge up to the peak while it takes around six hours to ascend and descend Mt. Gahinga (3,474m), capped by a swamp-filled crater and giant lobelia. Mt. Muhavura is the highest peak at 4,127m, and this 12km round trip takes around eight hours. The views of Virunga volcanoes, Lake Edward, Bwindi Impenetrable forest – the home of gorilla tracking and the Ruwenzori mist peaks are among the rewarding sights while on top of Mgahinga volcanoes.
• Nature walks. Hiking through deep Sabinyo Gorge a massive tear in the edge of Mount Sabinyo presents opportunity for birding including the sights of Rwenzori Turaco. It takes four hours, and traverses the Rugezi Swamp another bird watchers haven. The Congo border walk not only provides an encounter through different vegetation zones, it presents the unique sights of calderas on top of the Gisozi hill, an Ariel view of Kisoro and Bunagana towns and the rewarding physique of Lake Mutanda adding travelers memories of this Uganda safari. The golden monkey track is another encounter on a gentle steep taking over two-hours passing via former farmland to the bamboo forest.
- Ntebeko Area.
Amajambere Iwacu Camp.
This camp is located by the entrance to Mgahinga National Park and is only 12 km from the southwestern town of Kisoro near the Rwandan border. A variety of choice between the campsite, dormitories or bandas. The camp has a wide area for camping as well as five bandas, of which two serve as dormitories all which combine to settle the worries of overnight visitors on Uganda Safari.
Volcanoes Mount Gahinga Safari Lodge.
This lodge is located at the boarder of Mgahinga national park providing an easy reach to the park while undertaking a Safari in Uganda. It has a warming open fireplace, massage room, delicious three course meals and blissful views of the mighty volcanic peaks, qualifying it worth of stay while on Uganda safari. Mount Gahinga Lodge has eight attractive bandas that sit at the foot of the Virunga Volcanoes. All bandas have their own patio seating area, as well as private bathrooms with composting toilets and bush showers, which are filled with hot water upon request. Lighting is solar powered thus environmentally conscious.
Kisoro Tourist Hotel.
Kisoro Tourist Hotel is the most pleasant and comfortable hotel at a budget tariff price. It offers first class accommodations with self-contained rooms. Enjoy the warm atmosphere of the lounge and the authentic fireplace. After your activities in the surrounding area, relax with a massage, sauna or steam bath. All rooms have fireplace, TV – Cable/Satellite, Local Stations, Fans, Hot water, Private Bathroom thus suitable for your stay while on Safari to Uganda.
Kisoro Travelers’ Rest Hotel.
Located in Kisoro town 14 kilometers from Mgahinga national park. It is a colonial-style hotel which was more less a second home to famous American ‘gorilla-woman’ Dian Fossey in 1960s while undertaking her research about mountain gorillas in the Virunga area that later provided a basis for gorilla tracking. Available rooms include single, twin, double, triple and a suite.
Countryside Guesthouse Kisoro.
This is located along Kisoro to Bunagana Road a few minutes’ walk from the town center and 500m from the Taxi and bus park. It has 14 clean, comfortable and affordable rooms for budget travelers. The rooms include; double and single rooms while there is a provision for self-campers with their camping gardens accommodating 6-10 people in their own tents. Shower and toilet facilities are available for Uganda Safari undertakers however the camping rates exclude breakfast.
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