Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is part of the Virunga Conservation Area which is 434 sq km and is located in the far south West of Uganda near Kisoro Town (15 Kms or 9.3 m). It is contiguous with the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is the smallest National Park in Uganda with only 33.7 sq km which covers only a small part of Muhavura and Gahinga Volcanoes. Being so small, it cannot host the habitat for mountain gorillas. It derives its name from “Gahinga” – the local word for the piles of volcanic stones cleared from farmland at the foot of the volcanoes.
Mgahinga was declared as a game sanctuary area by the British administration in 1930 and was gazetted in 1991. Mgahinga has only one habituated mountain gorilla family called Nyakagezi; however this family is mostly not in Uganda but in Rwanda. When the gorilla trekking is possible, permits are only sold for this group at the park headquarters in Kisoro on either the day of tracking or a day before tracking. This is based on after ensuring that the gorillas have moved back to Uganda. Besides gorilla tracking, the park is also a habitat for the rare species of golden monkeys.
Mgahinga covers 3 of the 8 Virunga Volcanoes: Mount Muhabura, Mount Gahinga and Mount Sabyinyo which all lie on the Uganda/Rwanda border. Any of the above mentioned volcanoes can be climbed in only one day from the Mgahinga Gorilla Park Headquarters. If you have a chance to trek the Muhavura Volcanoes when the sky is clear, you can have a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains and valleys up to Bwindi forest highlands which in the past was a unique block of forests.
Although it is important for wildlife, the park also has a huge cultural significance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmies. This is a tribe of hunter-gatherers was the forest’s “first people”, and their ancient knowledge of its secrets remains unrivalled. Visitors can see how during a fascinating tour with a Batwa guide to learn the secrets of the forest.
The Batwa trail was officially launched by the Uganda Wildlife Authority in 2011 as a cultural activity which is at the moment the major tourism activity of the Park.