Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park
Ever dreamt of being in three countries at the same time? Mghahinga National Park is a pristine highland where such dreams come true!! The forest Park boasts of three mountains whose summits soar at an altitude ranging from 2,227m to 4,127m above sea level. One of these is fully in Uganda (Sabinyo), the other is shared by Rwanda and Uganda (Muhavura) and the third is shared by Congo, Rwanda and Uganda (Mghahinga). Here, you can rest your right foot in Rwanda, your left in Uganda and swing your arms around in Congo. But that is just one of the many ‘wow’ factors about the park. Mghahinga is home to the rare mountain gorillas and the endemic golden monkeys, among many species.
It comes across as Uganda’s smallest national park in Uganda, measuring 33 square kilometres. But that does not mean the number of its flora and fauna is also small. The park has three main vegetation zones, each with unique flora and fauna. The higher you go, the shorter the vegetation you encounter, starting with montane forest, then bamboo, and then heather zones. Thus, a walk through each of these zones treats one to the sight of different animals. For instance, while you'll mainly come Wild animals in Uganda like elephants and buffaloes in the first zone, in the second zone you will be welcomed by majestic primates like gorillas. They spend much of their day feasting on the bamboo shoots. The third is a territory for mostly birds that are daring enough to soar to the same heights as planes. These include the Rwenzori turraco, the ayres hawk eagle and the black sparrow hawk. Altogether, the park provides refuge to about 79 bird species.
If luck shines on you during your visit to the park, you could also come across; forest leopards, serval cats, spotted hyenas, side-striped jackals, bushbucks, and black-fronted duikers.
The Batwa trail
Prior to its being gazetted in 1991, the park was home to the Batwa, a forest tribe of pygmies who used to live harmoniously with its mountain gorillas. Day in, day out, this tribe, which is renowned for their strong attachment to African traditions, would depend on the park for food, shelter, medicine and security against the mischief of the outside world. Inspired to share their culture with visitors, this tribe offers a day tour in which tourists get to immerse themselves in the Batwa lifestyle and cultures. It is a historical trail. The biggest highlight here is a visit to kigarama caves; a spacious underground hideout with about six compartments that used to accommodate their kingdom. It has a strong scent of ancient human presence. Though served by only one door, it is airy and well ventilated.
If you love mountaineering, Mghahinga’s mountains will WOW you off your feet. Each of its three Mountains offer different experiences. There can never be a better way to find out more than by hiking them all. If you need an adventurous way to shed off some weight, Muhavura is a perfect ‘gym’. Due to its steep gradient, it offers a tough hiking trail that will help you break into a sweat quickly and melt excess fat off your body. At its top is a crater lake with the most scenic beauty. Sabinyo on the other hand, offers an encounter that effortlessly relaxes the mind and stretches the muscles. It takes the average hiker five hours to climb it and two to three hours to descend it. But if you want to get a mix of what both of these mountain peaks offer, you can’t go wrong with Mgahinga. It offers an experience that won’t push you to limits but also is not a walkover. Its top is windy, which makes walking around extra fun as the breeze flirts with your nose and gently caresses your skin.
Gorilla tracking costs $600 for non-East Africans and 250,000 UGX for East Africans. The activity can be done any time of the year. Punctuality matters as the excursions start at exactly 8am. Permits are pre-booked and purchased directly at UWAH head offices.
As is the case with most of the other parks around the country, the community living around Mgahinga thrives off agriculture, for both food and source of livelihood. As a fundamental solution, the locals in partnership with UWA and different organizations working in the greater Virunga region have established a permanent wall fence around the park using volcanic ash/rocks. This has solved wildlife invasion of crops belonging to the community, thereby resolving inter human wildlife conflicts.