Nyungwe National Park was firstly a rainforest and in 2004 established as a National park and by 2005 officially protected by the Rwanda Development Board. It is located in the southwestern corner of Rwanda; bordered in the south by the Rwanda-Burundi border, DR Congo and Lake Kivu in the west. This forest acts as Rwanda’s water catchment and most natural resources are found there. It is made up of bamboo, swamps, rainforest, bogs, and grassland hence covering an area of 1,020sqkm.
The park is second to the famous Parc National des Volcans (Volcanoes National Park); the home to the giant mountain gorillas. It is a natural habitat to 13 primate species like golden monkeys, colobus monkeys, L’Hoest monkeys and chimpanzees, also over 1067 species of plants, 300 bird species, 87 species of mammals and other animals like wildcats, squirrels, forest hogs, bush pigs, waterbucks and leopards among others. Generally on top of all the amazing wildlife species the park has amazing views that are spectacular, un-spoilt and pleasing to one’s eyes.
A visit to Nyungwe is relaxing since a number of activities can be enjoyed such as chimpanzee tracking, biking, birding, nature walks and hikes through the amazing rainforest with authentic tress such as the tall old mahoganies, whilst orchids, mammoth trees among others. One can opt for a canopy walk on top of the forest. Nyungwe forest.
The fact that it is a rainforest; the evaporation levels are too high hence unpredictable rainfall in most cases. Hence visitors are advised to have enough materials/equipment like water-proof cameras, drinking water, strong hiking shoes, hats, trousers, raincoats, and packed food among others; with all that make sure your bag is lighter still.
When to Visit
Like any other parts of Rwanda; Nyungwe can be visited anytime of the year. Visitor that want to track primates are recommended to visit during the wet season since there is a lot of food in near areas; therefore there is no reason as to why trackers move long distance to look of these primates.
On the other hand, it is recommendable for the birders, nature lovers; into canopy/forest walks to visit in the dry season since the rainfall is less and tourists can do all the hiking without any disturbances also the trails are not slippery.
Nyungwe can be accessed by road and it takes about 4-5 hours to drive from Kigali (Capital of Rwanda) to Nyungwe forest. Along the way amazing sceneries are spotted and different attractions such as Nyanza King’s palace, a visit to the palace can be an extra activity.
The park has a visitor’s center called “Uwinka” and when you get to the park you can choose to visit the Centre and get more information about the history of the park like about the local culture, plants and animals among others. Also feel free to ask the guides that you find there.
Things to do and see…..
Nyungwe Hikes and Trails
Hiking in Nyungwe is a breath taking activity hence the park is among the best areas to hike and it has around 130 kilometers of hiking and walking trails. There are around 13 different hiking trails, and hikers really have a good time hiking through the trails as they discover different wildlife species like primates, flowers, trees, bird species and habitats in the forest.
Igishigishigi trail is among the shortest hikes one can ever do yet it involves the highest canopy walk in East Africa supplemented with amazing views of the park. In most cases individual hikes range from 1 to 8 hours and can be well enjoyed and completed by hikers in good physical shape. But it is also okay for those that need shorter hikes; they can be arranged sand they are not strenuous like the longer hikes. There is also a 6hour hike at Bigugu trail that takes you to the highest mountain in Nyungwe found at 2950m.
While on a safari for Gorilla tracking in Volcanoes; Nyungwe is the best place to have an added experience of tracking Chimpanzee without going to further areas to look for them. Just like Gorilla tracking, tracking Chimps starts early morning as trackers gather at the starting point and organized in a group of 8. Chimpanzees in the park have been habituated hence are used to people.
Endeavor to pack enough water about 2 liters, snacks, also wear long sleeved shirts, trousers, rain jackets, hiking boots, hats, and above all have a water-proof camera with no flash. A permit for tracking chimpanzees costs US$90.
Nyungwe National Park has East Africa’s tallest and first canopy walk; it ranks the 3rd in Africa. While in Rwanda having a canopy walk is one of the activities not to miss out.
It is 50m above the ground which might be a dizzying height to some people and 90m long; it takes about 2 hours to walk from Uwinka Centre which is the starting point. While on the walk you are in line to see monkeys jumping from tree to tree, birds flying below and above you and great spectacular views of the great Nyungwe forest.
As earlier said there are over 300 bird species in Nyungwe forest; with 27 endemics also found in the Albertine rift. Bird species include; the Hornbills, Grauer’s Rush Warbler, Rwenzori Turaco, Blue Turaco, Sunbirds like Blue-headed and Purple-breasted sunbirds.
In a nut shell, Nyungwe forest park is a birder’s haven, as one is spotting birds there are chances of seeing orchids and primates.
The park has 13 primate species, and apart from tracking chimpanzees, monkeys too are tracked especially the Rwenzori Colobus monkey and Grey-Cheeked Mangabeys. The forest has mainly colobus monkeys which are over 300; other monkeys like the golden monkeys, L’Hoest’s, Mona, Blue, and Owl faced monkeys can also be spotted. The tracking permit for colobus monkeys goes for US$70 and you are advised to make prior bookings
Other activities that can be done include; cultural encounters from neighboring villages, tea plantation visits, nature walks and mountain climbing at Mt. Bigugu among others.
Where to Stay……
Are you on a safari to Rwanda and among your destinations is Nyungwe Forest. You shouldn’t worry with a question of where to stay because there are various accommodation options; guest houses, lodges, hotels and campsites. Some include;
Nyungwe Forest lodge
It is located near Nyungwe forest in a tea plantation and was established in 2010; it’s an amazing luxury lodge hence the first 5 star lodge in the area. The rooms are classy, food is world-class and truly amazing.
The staff is on point, security is good with security guards guarding day and night; there are few threats from wild animals. Visitors can access Tvs, telephones, and Wi-Fi to communicate with people back home. On top of this visitors staying at the lodge can also do activities like birding, canopy walks and chimpanzee tracking while there.
About transport services; they are provided including helicopter services to transfer clients to the Airport. Also remember that payments to the facility are made in Ponds, Dollars and Rwandan Francs.
Nyungwe Top View Hill Hotel
It was opened 201; located 4 to 5 hour drive from Kigali and just a 5 minute drive from Nyungwe forest. It might not be a 5-star hotel, but is well situated will great spectacular views of the park and surrounding areas. Meals served are tasty and on full board basis. Security is quiet good, the rooms are well furnished, and there is also a lounge and dining area.
Also all activities including chimp tracking can be enjoyed while the hotel. There is also a provision of a driver to take you through the park and any other place you would wish to visit. Payments can be made in Euros, Us dollars, and Pounds. Generally it is a great, safe and comfortable hotel.
There are also other guest houses like Gisakura guest house which is found near Gisakura tea estate. Also budget visitors can opt for camping since the park has a campsite at Uwinka, the visitor can carry his/her won tent. The staff is friendly and helpful just in case you need help.
Basically, Nyungwe National Park is an amazing tourist destination with a lot to offer including cultural, historical, man-made and natural features joined together with breathtaking activities to do while there!