Mount Gahinga is a dormant/extinct volcano in the Virunga Mountains on the border between Rwanda and Uganda. Gahinga lies between Muhabura and Sabyinyo, but is the smallest of these three. Mount Gahinga, also known in the local Kinyarwanda/Rufumbira dialect as “a small pile of stones”, has a swampy caldera on its peak. The caldera is believed to be about 180 meters wide. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park also got its name from this volcano. Mount Gahinga, whose elevation is 3,474 meters, is part of a chain of 8 volcanic mountains of the Mufumbiro ranges. The volcano chain spans across Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The vegetation across the mountain can be described as afro – montane with bamboo composing the main vegetation. Like Muhabura and Sabyinyo, the bamboo forests on Mount Gahinga are a habitat of the endangered mountain gorillas. There are several other species of animals and birds that form part of the Mount Gahinga ecosystem. The golden monkeys are notable to these.
Climbing Mount Gahinga
The climb takes you first through bamboo forest on the base before you climb the slopes of the volcano. The crater of Mt Gahinga is quite shallow and its floor is covered in swamps and moors where plants like Alchemillia, Senecio and Lobelia thrive. The environment on Mt Gahinga is quite different from the other volcanoes in the national park.
The hike up Mt Gahinga will typically take a half to a full day depending on the strength of the climbers and the time spent at the summit.
The Park fees for the climb are currently USD$ 75 per person which includes the park guide. The trek starts at 07:00am from the park headquarters in Kinigi, from where visitors will have to drive or be driven to the base of the volcano. Permits can be purchased on the day of the climb, no advance booking is necessary and porters can also be hired for the trek.
Things to do
There are several things to do within the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Climbing the Gahinga
Guests can spend the day climbing the Gahinga Volcano. (Elevation 3473 m) Its name means “small pile of rocks.” A hike, which takes you about 6 hours round trip, goes through a good example of a pure bamboo forest. Gahinga once had a crater lake on top but time has changed it into a lush swamp. (Distance to the swamp is 8 km.)
Mgahinga most exciting and memorable activity is tracking the mountain gorilla in thick jungle forest. The park has one habituated gorilla group called (Nyakagezi) which is visited by tourists. This consists of 11 members; 2 silver backs, 3 adult females, 4 juveniles and 2 infants.
Within the park, there is a viewing platform that has been developed in the park. This platform is about 800 metres from the Park gate. Once on top, you will have a good view of the Park and the surrounding areas. A guide is not necessary and the activity is free. Displaying panels at the hill point will give some information about what you can see.
Border Trail Hike – Visa Not Required
This hike takes you first toward Sabyinyo. The trail climbs up the base of Sabyinyo for a while through fine montane forest before turning toward the Congo. Along the way you will get a great view of Sabyinyo’s gorge and peaks. Upon reaching the Congo you cut back along the international border. The return leg to the Park Head Quarters is a great section for birding. The two rest huts along the way are good places for a break. Look closely for the golden monkeys and signs of elephants. Hiking time is 5 hours and distance 10 km.
Buffalo Wall and Bird Watching
Farmland along the northern edge of the park is a dry stone wall that keeps buffalo in the park and the trail along the wall is ideal for birding. Guide you between 17.00-18.00 if you book by 10.00 the A stroll towards the Democratic Republic of Congo through a wetland area where ibis, speckled mouse, fire finch are found
Batwa Trail and Garama Cave
The Batwa Trail leads from the base of Muhavura Cave. This walk is conducted by Batwa guides who provide insights into their traditional forest life and culture.
The 342m long Garama Cave lies beneath a plateau northern edge of the park, 3km from Ntebeko. It is set in the former farmland zone but in earlier times, the cave forest when it was occupied periodically by Batwa who used it as a council chamber and a retreat after raiding their neighbors. Today the cave provides an atmospheric a performance of Batwa music at the end of the Batwa.
Guests can go on a nature walk along the Congo/Uganda border (visa not required). This hike takes you first toward Sabyinyo. The trail climbs up the base of Sabyinyo for a while through fine montane forest before turning toward the Congo. Along the way you will get a great view of Sabyinyo’s gorge and peaks. Upon reaching the Congo you cut back along the international border. The return leg to the park headquarters is a great section for birding. The two rest huts along the way are good places for a break. Look closely for the golden monkeys and signs of elephants. (Hiking time is 5 hours and distance is 10 km.)