The Virunga Mountain (Volcano) chain looms large in your view as you wind your way down into the valley toward Kisoro. Most visitors are drawn to the region to visit the gorillas in the Bwindi ‘Impenetrable’ or Mgahinga National Parks. However, Bwindi tends to be favoured as the family of gorillas in Mgahinga likes to split their time in neighbouring Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However, there’s more than just gorillas on offer in Mgahinga and the park should be tried for some of the best views of the renowned beauty of southwest Uganda.
The hike starts from the Mgahinga National Park visitor’s centre, located about a 10 minute drive from Kisoro. Recently renovated, the centre features rock paths that meaner through the vegetation to the building. Beautiful rain chains conserve rainwater for gardening around the centre and under a high beamed log ceiling interactive displays and maps line the walls. Staffed by exceptionally knowledgeable Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) guides you’ll first enter the main room and pay your fees and decide your trail. There are a number of different types of hikes that can be done based on your ability, desire and speed.
If you are just doing a day hike and are a moderately fit hiker you should try the Gahinga trail which will take you about six hours and climbs the base of Mount Gahinga. The border trail can also be done in a day and climbs the base of Mount Sabinyo and runs you right along the DRC border. There is also the cave trail where you learn a bit more about the Batwa peoples who lived there and you get to investigate some caves.
Two trails – Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Muhavura – require more than a day covering 14km and 12 km respectively. They are also much steeper than the day hikes as you climb to the tops of each of these volcanoes. The views, though, cannot be beat! On the Sabinyo hike you get to stand in Uganda, DRC and Rwanda at the same time.
After you’ve decided, you’ll enter a large amphitheatre for briefing on the Park and the hike you’ve selected. You’ll want to have sturdy hiking boots and tuck your trousers into your socks to avoid safari ants. A raincoat is advisable if travelling during the rainy seasons and a bottle of water is necessary. Bring a packed lunch no matter the day hike you choose – and remember to bring a snack or fruit for your guide. The guides will also get an idea of what interests you, or your group (birds, wildlife, insects and plant life abound!) so they can tailor the hike. A guide always accompanies the visitors and sometimes it would be impossible to find the trail without them!
The Gahinga trail starts in recently reclaimed farm land and winds up to the edge of virgin forest. The hike was steep in places but not uncomfortably so and while it didn’t rain it get damp as fog rolled in and out over the mountain. The scenery was both breathtaking and intriguing. Giant bamboo looms large over the trail, jungle elephant footprints cross the trail sunk deep in squiggy mud, earthworms as long as your forearm living above ground in the dark, wet environment and more birds that you could possibly catalogue.
If you like hiking in some of the most pristine forests Africa has to offer Mgahinga shouldn’t be missed! There are lots of tours available to park.
Park fees are $35 for adults foreign non-residents, $25 for foreign residents and 10,000 UGX for East African Citizens. Children are $20 / $10 / 5,000 UGX for the same categories above.