Uganda’s smallest national park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is spectacularly scenic, playing host to volcanic peaks, woodlands, forests and caves. The park is one of only two locations in Uganda where endangered mountain gorillas - including imposing silverbacks - can be viewed, and is also home to the rare golden monkey, giving rise to the brochure name: ‘Where gold meets silver’.
In addition to being an important conservation area, the park offers a Batwa trail which gives visitors an inside look at the ancient secrets of the Batwa Pygmies who thrived in the forest for centuries. Hiking trails lead to the peaks of three extinct volcanoes, the highest of which is Muhavura at 4 127m, and the views from the top spread breathtakingly across the lush landscape. Along the way, hikers will see crater lakes, volcanic ash fields, caves carved out by lava tubes, and swamps and streams.
Part of the Virunga mountain chain, the volcanic peaks have great spiritual significance to the Batwa Pygmies and the Ugandan people. Gahinga is named after the local practice of tidying volcanic debris from the farmlands, while Sabinyo means ‘old man’s teeth’ in reference to its jagged summit. Swamplands rest between the volcanoes, creating an important habitat for waterbirds and amphibians, while acting as a water source for animals such as elephant, buffalo and antelope. The lava tube caves are sacred places for the Batwa, particularly the Garama Cave close to the park’s headquarters at Ntebeko. During the Batwa Trail, visitors can learn about how this beautiful cave was used as a shelter during battles and as a hideout for looted treasures.
Because Mgahinga is contiguous with national parks in Rwanda and the DRC, gorilla viewing is less reliable than in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The one habituated group of gorillas sometimes sneaks over the border into the neighbouring countries, but tourists still have a very good chance of encountering them. Gorilla trekking safaris depart from the Ntebeko Entrance gate in the morning and take between two and four hours.
The quickest way to reach the park is via a one hour flight from the town of Entebbe to the Kisoro Airstrip, but a four wheel drive vehicle can also be used to take the journey from the capital of Kampala, through Kabale and to Kisoro.
As with most of the gorilla viewing destinations in Africa, the best times to visit the park are during the dry seasons from December to February and June to October. Being on the equator, Mgahinga’s weather conditions don’t have much variation, meaning that gorilla tracking is possible throughout the year.