Nyungwe Forest National Park is situated in the south western part of Rwanda in Cyangungu town bordering Lake Kivu, Burundi and DRC. It is one of the most visited areas within Rwanda and popularly known to be home to chimpanzees.
The park was initially a forest reserve since 1903 but that came to an end when it was given a national park just of recent in 2004. Nyungwe covers an area of 950 square kilometres which is made of montane forest, swamps, grassland and bamboo which has greatly contributed to Rwanda’s climate. Nyungwe also doubles as the largest afro-montane forest in Africa. Nyungwe does have well maintained tracks and trails that traveller can use to access different parts of the park including one to the viewing points, water falls and more.
Theres a lot to explore while in Nyungwe national park. These include; Over 75 species of mammals, 13 species of primates that include chimpanzees, golden monkeys, black and white Columbus monkeys, over 300 bird species and more than 1068 plant and tree species plus much more can be found here.
While in the park, you will also get to enjoy the beautiful scenic views of lake Kivu, the Virunga ranges on a clear day, tea plantations that can be found outside the park boundaries, Isumo waterfalls and much more.
Things to do while in Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe is mainly known to be the only place in Rwanda where you can spot chimpanzees in their natural habitat. However, the park does have a lot to offer that you can take part in and they include:
Chimpanzee tracking: this is your highlight of your safari while in Nyungwe Forest National Park. This is the only place in Rwanda you will be able to find these species in their natural habitat. Close to 400 individuals of chimpanzees have been documented in the park and only two communities have been habituated and made available for tourisms to explore. Chimpanzee tracking in the park does start as early as 5am in the morning with briefing at the park’s headquarters in Uwika, Gisakura and Kitabi. You will meet ranger and guide who’ll lead you into the thick jungles in search of mans closest relative. To be part of this rewarding activity, you need to be physically fit as it involves going through different terrains and sometimes these species move far into the jungle in search of food.
Once you spot the chimpanzees, you will be allowed to spend time of upto 1hr observing and taking pictures. Unlike gorillas, chimps are entertaining and fun to be around. You will be able to see them as they hang on tree branches feeding, playing and resting. Whether you spot the chimpanzees or not, chimpanzee tracking offers a rewarding experience to tourists as you get to watch other species in the wild like primates silver monkey, golden monkey, blue monkey, red – tailed monkey and more. Others like butterflies, a number of bird species among others. In order to have the best safari experience in Nyungwe Forest National Park, you’re advisable to get pack a hat, long sleeved shirts, trousers, insect repellants, waterproof hiking shoes, and as well as getting a porter to carry your luggage while doing the tracking. A chimpanzee tracking permit in Rwanda does cost $100 and is issued by the Rwandan Development Board.
Birding: Nyungwe is one of the best places to go for birding in Rwanda with over 300 bird species that have been documented here. 16 of the species are endemic to the park and 27 of them are only found in the Albertine rift region. Species you can look forward to while here include Chestnut Owlet, Olive and Elliot’s Woodpeckers, Great Blue and Ruwenzori Turacos, White-headed Wood-hoopoe, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, , Stripe-breasted Tit, the remarkable Red-collared Babbler, Archer’s Robin Chat, Lagden’s Bush Shrikes, Mountain Sooty Boubou, Pockefellers’s sun bird, White-bellied Robin Chat, Doherty’s Bush-Shrike, Handsome Francolin Mountain Masked, Black-faced, Chapin’s Flycatcher, Purple-breasted and Regal Sun-birds, Chestnut-throated, Collared Apalis, Rwenzori Batis, Neumann’s Short-tailed Warbler, White-tailed Blue-flycatcher, Purple Throated Sunbird, Barred long Tailed Cuckoo, Yellow Eyed Black Flycatcher and more.
To see these species, one will have to take a guided walk through the park. Like any other activity, going for this activity does require you to have a permit and these are given out by the Rwanda development board. A birding permit will cost you $50. Going with a guide in the jungle will help you easily identify some species as these people are well versed with the areas you can find specific species within Nyungwe Forest National Park. The best time to go birding in Nyungwe is during the dry season as many migratory flocks the park escaping the harsh winter conditions in Europe.
Nature walks: Nyungwe Forest National Park has a number of exciting trails you can take part in if you want to discover so much that the park holds within its boundaries. Nature walks will be rewarding once you go on one with the help of a guide too. Some of the hiking trails are long and you have to talk to your guide on what you’re looking forward to seeing. Some of the trails within the park include:
Biking through the congo – Nile divide trail: this trail is 227 km long and goes through Nyungwe Forest National Park. Biking on this trail will give you an opportunity to see a number of species that reside in the park. These include primate species, birds, butterflies and other forest animals. You will also look forward to seeing a number of plant and tree species on top of the beautiful scenic views. Camping is a must when you choose to be part of this trail and you will be required to carry all the necessities including camping equipment, proper clothing, snacks and enough water.
Bigugu trail: this is considered to be the hardest trail as it involves hiking through different terrains to up the highest point/peak of Nyungwe forest. Its 7km long and to be part, you require some level of physical fitness. During the 6hr hike, you will be introduced to a number of species in the park from different plant species, birds, butterflies among others. You will also be able to the incredible views of lake Kivu, a number of islands and the DRC.
Karamba trail: this 4kilometer long trail is the easiest and anyone can be part of this. It’ll take you through the open and flat areas in Nyungwe National Park. You will also be able to go through the former goldmine and now turned to a quarry where road materials are got from. This place today also serves as an army camp to the security forces of Rwanda. Also Karamba doubles as the best option for anyone interested in birding. There a number of bird species that you will enjoy seeing while here.
Isumo waterfall trail: this is yet another rewarding trail you can do while on a safari to Nyungwe Forest National Park. The trail will take you through the park, tea plantations, tree ferns among others. This 10km long trail will take you 6hrs to accomplish it. Like any other trail, you will be able to enjoy the spotting a number of species found here. You will also see the biggest waterfall found in the park.
Other trails that you have to check out while in Nyungwe include; uwinka, imbaraga,muzimu, rukuzi trails among others.
Canopy walk in Nyungwe Forest National Park
For visitors who don’t prefer doing ground forest walk, this is a perfect option. The canopy walk stands tall above 60 meters above the forest ground. the canopy walk is divided into three walking sections with the longest 90 metres, another 45 meters and while the shortest at 25 meters. The canopy walk in Nyungwe is the best in the whole of East Africa and starts at Uwinka visitor centre and it’ll take you 2hrs while on this trail. The walk will give you incredible views of the park, the forests, birds, primates and others. The canopy walk is an adventurous activity that everyone has to check out while on a safari to Nyungwe Forest National Park and Rwanda as a whole. For those that are afraid of heights, the forest ground walk is rewarding as well.
Cultural safaris in Nyungwe Forest National Park
Your safari would be incomplete if you don’t include visiting the local community to check out different cultural traits. The local community surrounding the forest have co existed with it without hindering in any activity that would threaten its existance ie after being sensitized on the importance of conservation. You will also get to see how the civilians live their day to day lives, their overall culture, crafts, traditional medicine making and more.
Best time to visit Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe Forest National Park can be visited at any time of the year however there specific times when its best to visit the park ie to enjoy it to fullest and this time is during the months of June to September and December to February which is also referred to as the peak season. During this time, the park is receiving less amount of rainfall or no rainfll at all which doesn’t hinder your plans while there. Also, during this time, the trails within the park are dry and less slippery making your visit to either track chimpanzees, nature walks, primate walks and more enjoyable.
Nyungwe can also be visited during the wet season of the year and that’s during the months of March to May and October to November. However, during this time the park is receiving heavy amounts of rainfall since its a rainforest which makes trails within the park slippery and hard to go through. Regardless of whether its raining or not, you can visit Nyungwe any time of the year. The rainy season is also ideal for one to go for birding.
How to get to Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe can be accessed by either road or air. By road you will drive from Kigali to Nyanza. Then to Huye and later to Nyungwe. It’ll take you about 5hrs to get to the park. You can as well opt to use Akagera aviation to fly you direct to the park.
Accommodation in Nyungwe National Park
While in Nyungwe, you can choose to spend a night or more in either a luxury, midrange, budget or camping facility both found in the park. The lodges include: Nyungwe forest lodge, Gisakura guest house, Nyungwe top view hill hotel, one and only Nyungwe house, Kitabi Eco-centre, Nyungwe Nziza Ecolodge, camping sites among others.