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 neighboring 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.
There are several places in Uganda where hiking can be done. If you planning to take on a hiking safari in Uganda, Mgahinga is one of the places you should not miss! There are 3 volcanoes in Mgahinga that you can access from this park therefore the choice is always yours depending to the fitness and the amount of time you have. Hiking the Virunga Volcanies in Mgahinga can be fun and really rewarding because there are lots of attractions you will meet during your hike.
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. 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!
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.
Mount Gahinga Hike
Most hikers usually go for Mt. Gahinga which is as high as 3,474m. This hike takes about six hours to both ascend and descend, once at the top you will find the crater filled with swamp and giant lobelia. Those who are lucky will be able to see the golden monkeys as they walk through that thick bamboo forest.
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.
Mount Sabinyo Hike
The other option is hiking Mt. Sabinyo which is 3,669m and to get to the top of this mountain requires eight hours since the distance from the base to the top is about 14km long round trip. As you hike, you will have to follow the route along the steep ridge up until you get to the peak.
Hiking to the sabinyo is 6 kilometer long and it goes along an amazing mountain stream which meanders through that very dense forest covered by mainly the African-Montane kind of vegetation all the way to the gorge. This is a very rewarding nature walk, the hike may be tiring to a number of hikers but at the end of the trail, you will be amazed. On a very clear day, you will have a clear view of those ragged peaks of Sabinyo.
This hike usually takes about 8 hours because the truth is it is relatively hard to hike but what is more attractive about this hike is the fact that on many occasions hikers get to meet primates like the Golden Monkeys, small antelopes like Duikers and many other mammals. The bird watchers will really enjoy this nature walk as they will be able to see a number bird species and the commonest is the Rwenzori Turaco specie which is one of the commonest species therefore one of the many that you can never miss seeing.
The Sabyinyo gorge hike will take you through this really thick forest until you get to this really deep Sabinyo Gorge, it helps reveal the real height of Mt. Sabyinyo and it’s a really great destination for birding therefore chances of finding the Rwenzori Turaco are really high. You will go through Rugezi Swamp- also a great destination for those interested in bird watching.
Mt. Muhavura is the third option available for the hikers. This is the highest peak of all and it lies at 4,127m high and the hike is planned for the same amount of time as Sabyinyo which is eight hours. This means, you need to be fit enough to catch up with the fast hiking exercise. When you reach the top, you will have a beautiful view of the Virunga Volcanoes, there is a clear view of Lake Edward, the great Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and also the Rwenzori peaks.
Nature walks in Mgahinga goes together with hiking because of the fact that this is a very hilly area and hiking is something that you can hardly avoid. There are several amazing places that you can always visit during your trip to Mgahinga national park. These are always guide nature walks, armed escorts are provided to walk along with you during your nature walk and so will the help of your guide, you will visit and see the scenery as well as the different tourism attractions in the area.