The Virunga Mountain (Volcano) chain looms large in your view as you wind your way down into the valley toward Kisoro. These three scenic volcanoes can be seen as far as Kabale. Though most visitors are drawn to the region by the endangered mountain gorillas that live in the Bwindi ‘Impenetrable’ forest or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, the three Virunga Volcanoes that sits high in the clouds are a great potential that is yet to explore. When it comes to gorilla trekking, Bwindi tends to be favoured as the Nyakagezi Family in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park likes to split their time in neighbouring Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However, Mgahinga National Park offers more than just gorilla trekking. There’s more than just gorillas on offer in Mgahinga given that the park should be tried for some of the best views of the renowned beauty of southwest Uganda.
The Mgahinga National Park visitor’s centre is 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!
Information about the park can be found on the website here: http://www.mgahinganationalpark.com 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. You can easily plan your trip using the Mgahinga National Park website, a resource loaded with all the information you need to know to get started with your travel plans.