Mgahinga National Park is Uganda’s smallest national park, with an area of 33.7 km2. It is located in the south western part of Uganda, in the Kisoro district (approx. 540 km from Kampala and 15 km from Kisoro town). Despite its smaller size, this park still contains an impressive range of terrain and biodiversity. Around 40 or more mammal species reside among the mountainous slopes of this park. Two endangered varieties, the mountain gorillas & the golden monkeys being the most well-known. However, other big animals, such as elephants, leopards, bu alo, bush pig & spotted hyena are also roaming around, but it should be noted they are not often spotted due to the abundant plant life. Keen birders will be happy to scour the treetops for close to 80 species of birds; many endemic. The Rwenzori turaco, crowned hornbill, black kite and crowned crane being some of the most notable ones. Beautiful butterflies can also be found sheltering amongst the multitude of flowering plants and shrubs growing at high altitude.
Mgahinga’s mountainsides can be split into distinct altitudinal bands of vegetation. The lowest level was previously being encroached upon by farmers clearing the grass and bush, but thankfully this area is now recovering. The next sections of montane woodland and bamboo forests remain untouched. As are the areas found even higher up, including a Hagenia-Hy- pericum zone (containing giant tree heathers) and the striking afro-alpine zone, populat- ed with rare plants such as giant lobelias and groundsels; only found on East African mountains above 3000m. There are 3 volcanoes that you can access within this park, choosing the right one for you will depend on your personal fitness and the amount of time you have. All 3 volcanoes are thought to have arisen in the early to mid-Pleistocene era, formed after successive lava flows deposited multiple layers of ash and cinders. Numerous caves can be found within the slopes of these mountains, caused by lava tubes.
SABYINYO GORGE HIKE
This 4 hour hike takes you deep through the forest to the vast Sabyinyo Gorge, a massive ravine in the flank of Mount Sabyinyo. This walk passes through the Rugezi Swamp which is a highlight for bird watchers who have a change to find the famed Rwenzori turaco.
Starting from Ntebeko gate, the 14km round trip should take you about 8 hours. Despite being considered to be the oldest of the three peaks in the park it is not the highest but stands at a towering 3,669m. Its summit is very unique as it is dissected not only by 3 countries (Uganda, Rwanda & D.R.C.) but also by 3 National Parks (Mgahinga NP, Volcanoes NP & Virunga NP respectively).
The word ‘Iryinyo’ in the local dialect of Kinyarwanda means ‘tooth’ and gives rise to the translation of ‘Sabyinyo’ into ‘Old Man’s Teeth’. Such a name was attributed to this extinct volcano, as its three peaks resemble serrated teeth. Unlike the perfect conical summits of its neighbouring mountains. This trek is steep (45-60 degrees) and pathways are likely to be very slippery particularly on your descent, so we can recom- mend making use of a walking stick. If you are scared of heights we would not recommend this hike as parts of it will have you looking over deep drops into gorges. The 2 false summit points make for good rest stops before you scrabble up some ladders to help you reach the final summit.