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Nyungwe Forest National Park In Rwanda

Nyungwe Forest National Park In Rwanda, one of the oldest green expanses in Africa

Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda is the largest remaining tract of the montane rainforest in East Africa.

It is one of the oldest green expanses in the continent and includes a very wide variety of rare and endangered species including troops of chimpanzees and other primates.

Nyungwe is a remarkable rich center of biodiversity. More than 1,050 plant species, 250 Albertine Rift Endemics, and 200 orchids, along with at least 120 butterfly species. The vertebrate fauna includes 32 amphibians, 38 reptiles, 85 mammals, and 310 bird species of which about 15% are Albertine Rift Endemics.

Overview
Attractions
When To Visit
How To Get There
Where To Stay

Overview of  Nyungwe Forest National Park

Nyungwe Forest National Park is the largest remaining tract of montane rainforest in East Africa; Nyungwe extends for 1,015km2over the mountainous southwest of Rwanda, forming a contiguous forest block with Burundi’s 370km2 Kibira National Park. The park is the most important catchment area in Rwanda supplying water to 70% of the country, and its central ridge divides Africa’s two largest drainage systems, the Nile and the Congo, a spring on the slopes of the 2,950m Mount Bigugu is now regarded to be the most remote source of the world’s longest river

At Nyungwe primates are the main attraction, 13 species are present including chimpanzee with a population estimated at 500-1000 which is usually tracked at a short notice or even the sound they make in the jungle, several other monkeys are readily seen; including the L’Hoest’s monkey and acrobatic Ruwenzori colobus.

Nyungwe is also highly alluring to birders, botanist, and keen walkers, with its 130 networks of walking trails and the only sight for a suspended canopy walk, the park features few tourist itineraries because the forest trails require a lot of stamina than Volcanoes National Park.

The birdwatching is among the best in Africa with 322 bird species including Red-collared Babbler and 29 other Albertine Rift Endemic species. Butterflies are also a common sight, with at least 120 species.

There are 75 known mammals in Nyungwe, such as the cerval cat, mongoose, congo clawless otter, and leopard to name but a few. Many tend to be shy so sightings are luck of the draw.

Wildlife And Birding

Nyungwe Forest National Park resides as the country’s largest and most important area of spectacular biodiversity. Boasting over 1,000 plant varieties, hundreds of bird species, and 75 types of mammals, not to mention 13 varieties of primates, Nyungwe Forest is home to a rich and incredible array of natural wildlife, flora, and fauna.

Wildlife And Primates:

Nyungwe National park is a home to Ruwenzori colobus, grey-cheeked Mangabeys, L’Hoest’s monkey, Owl faced monkey, Mona monkeys, Dent’s monkey, silver monkey, and blue monkey. It is a mystical experience to come across a forest covered with colobus monkey with their black and white colors.

Birding:

Nyungwe forest has 310 bird species 27 Albertine rift endemics part of the species that are established in the forests of the Albertine Rift Endemics, of which three are (red-collared, Rockefeller’s sunbird, and Albertine owlet) are unregistered elsewhere on the eastern side of the Albertine Rift. Bird watching at Nyungwe is good since the vegetation is good for birds and many birds are usually seen at the canopy.

Flora:

Nyungwe forest contains large trees of different species. It is remarkably rich in biodiversity in the region, with more than 200 tree species including orchids, flowering plants, and giant lobelia. The park has a span of vegetation zones that are dispensed according to their different altitudes. At 2500m above sea level, you explore the Alpine vegetation which is characterized by bamboo and shrubs. At 2250m, there lies a range of tall trees and fern species such as Polycscias, Newtonia, and Symphonia. At 1900m, there lie taller tree species like Carapa, Cyathea Manniana, and Newtonia.

Waterfalls:

Because of the nature of the landscape, the forest has a lot of rivers and springs creating waterfalls about 17m high characterized by overlying cliffs, caves, and Kamiranzovu swamp. 

The Park can be visited year-round and the chimps are often easier to find during the wet season (mid-March to mid-May). It is equatorial rainforest and trails can get extremely wet and muddy, so it is best to have good shoes and a rain jacket.

The best time to travel to Rwanda is during the drier seasons, periods between December to early March and June to September. December to March is a long dry season for Rwanda, with temperatures going up to 29 degrees Celsius for some days while the months of March – Mid May, July to September, on the other hand, are regarded as the rainy season in the country.

Overall Rwanda has good weather throughout the year but the dry season is more preferable.

How To Get There:

Nyungwe forest national a park is located in the southwest of Rwanda close to the Burundi border in the south, the park is the main catchment area in Rwanda.

By air:

You can book a flight with Rwanda Air, the airline offers a private flight, and one of its favorite routes is Kigali-Kamembe. The airline is active the whole week from Kigali to Kamembe International airport. Kamembe is 49km 1 hour drive to Nyungwe forest lodge.

By road:
Nyungwe National Park is 217km from Kigali; you will need a good 4×4 vehicle to reach on time. A car is enjoyable and suitable. There several scenic observations along the way. When time allows you can make a few stops, you could stop at the National Museum to see locally made arts and crafts, and cultural entertainment. There is also the Nyamagabe (formerly called Gikongoro) the satellite town of Murambi was the site of one of the memorable fear of the 1994 genocide.

Where To Stay: 

Here are some of the places you can stay at in the Akagera area.

Luxury:

Nyungwe Forest Lodge

The lodge was set up in 2010 and the favorite for tourists at the park simply because it is situated in the middle of a Tea Plantation close to Nyungwe forest national park boundary, the lodge is designed to match with the surrounding ecosystem stretch matching the level of a five-star wilderness lodge.

Nyungwe forest lodge furnishes accommodation in 24 luxury rooms in spacious state of art wooden chalets with king-sized beds, air conditioner/ heater satellite TV, bathroom with a hot tub and shower, and a veranda. The lodge also features 2 presidential bedrooms each containing a Jacuzzi.

The lodge contains a large fresh dining sitting area that combines clean modern lines with attractive ethnic décor, swimming pool, jacuzzi pool, boutique stock, conference facilities, wifi, current restaurant, gym, and laundry.

Moderate (Mid-range):

Nyungwe Top View Hotel

Nyungwe Top View Hotel is set on an isolated hilltop with stunning panoramic views of the tea plantation and west to Lake Kivu.

This hotel facility equally provides the best accommodation experiences and lies very close to Nyungwe forest national park. It was opened in 2011 and you need only 5 minutes to drive up to this facility and 4 to 5 hours’ drive when you are in Kigali.

Due to its strategic location, visitors have the opportunity to enjoy the most breathtaking views of the magnificent Nyungwe forest and other surrounding areas. It features red brick cottages well furnished with the furniture and has also a dining area and lounge. This hotel lies within the electric power grid and this guarantees you power supply and no need to worry about the dark nights. There is also a medical care center 10 kilometers away from the hotel and security is at its best. While at this hotel, you can easily connect to the park and engage in a number of safari activities such as chimpanzee tracking, birding, colobus tracking, canopy walk, hiking a mention but a few.

Budget:

Gisakura Guesthouse

The lodge stands 2km outside the forest close to Gisakura Tea Plantation; it has a suitable location for the excellent Isumo Trail and the visit of the colobus group on the Gisakura Tea Plantation. Vervet monkeys sometimes pass through the guesthouse grounds. The guesthouse serves good meals, beers, sodas, and a selection of wine.

The guesthouse offers the opportunity to visit chimpanzees of Nyungwe forest, the top canopy walks, birding walks, and a chance to encounter with forest monkeys.

Wilderness campsites:

Besides lodges and hotel facilities, you can also camp within the wilderness campsites at this park and get a chance to interact with nature at a close range. Most of the campsites lie along the walking forest trails and you will need to come along with your personal camping gear mostly camping tents, food, firewood-this can be got at the site, sleeping bags, and others.

The key camps include;

  • Mount Bigugu peak camp and this allows you to experience this wilderness area. It accommodates about 4 visitors.
  • Congo Nile Divide trail campsite and for those of you who are planning to embark on cycling tours along this 227-kilometer trail, this is one of the camps for you to relax from.
Chimpanzee Tracking In Nyungwe Forest
Chimpanzee Tracking Rules
What To Carry For Chimp Tracking

There are two groups of habituated Chimpanzees in Nyungwe Forest, the larger one is about 60 plus chimpanzee while the smaller group of 30 is tracked in the Cyamudongo Forest area of the Park.

Nyungwe Forest, Africa’s largest Afro-montane Forest is home to about 500 Chimpanzees and close to 100 that are habituated and used to Humans near them.  The forest is the Perfect Addon to a Gorilla Safari in Volcanoes National Park.

Chimpanzee Tracking Rules

  • Keep a distance of 7 metres away
  • Don’t startle/ make noise around the primates it could provoke them
  • You must be in groups of 8 to track the chimpanzees
  • You must spend an hour with them when you meet them
  • Carry your tracking permits with you before you go to track
  • Wear the appropriate tracking gear like trekking boots, rain jackets, cap etc.
  • Don’t eat and litter rubbish in the park while tracking
  • If you are sick, cancel your trip for these primates are vulnerable to human diseases
  • If you sneeze, look on the side then do it bit don’t do it in front of the chimpanzees.

What To Carry For Chimpanzee Tracking

  • Trekking boots; should be fitting and above the ankles to protect you from any bush thickets that might pierce you. These will also enable you to navigate over the slippery surfaces with ease.
  • Long-sleeved shirts; these should be simple and smooth as well as covering to protect you from thorns that might pierce you when you touch the branches.
  • A rain Jacket; this will shield/ protect you from rainfall that usually falls almost anytime due to the location of the country near the equator.
  • Long pants/ trousers; these should not be jeans to enable you to trail through the various paths with ease. In case of any rainfall, these dry up more easily compared to jeans.
  • Gardening woolen gloves; these should be covering, soft, and warm to give you comfort while tracking the primates.
  • A sweater; to warm you up in the evenings.
  • A hat/ cap; to cover and hinder you from the rain.
  • A camera with no flash; this will enable you to take clear photos of the primates for flashes make them uncomfortable hence provoking them.
  • Water backpack bag; this will keep your water for drinking all the time.
  • Woolen socks to wear in the shoes to keep you warm.
Things To Do In Nyungwe Forest
Trip Ideas
Tourist Tips

Things To Do (Activities)

Chimpanzee Tracking:

Nyungwe is home to 13 species of primates the park is the only destination in Rwanda that offers chimpanzee trekking. 

Chimpanzees at the park are being habituated which means they are used to human beings. Chimp tracking here is although more hit-and-miss than gorilla tracking in Virungas, partly because these smaller and less sedentary apes are usually found either feeding high in the trees or moving swiftly along the ground.

Nyungwe Forest Canopy Walk:

Suspended between higher slopes and giant trees about 1km from Uwinka, the metallic walkway is almost 200m long, with a maximum height of around 40 meters, and lasts about 1½ hours and it offers a superb for birders and over a steep stream bed lined with tall trees and fern. It can feel quite unstable to those with a poor head for heights.

It takes you through some beautiful foliage and animal species. You have a chance to spot blue monkeys and unique birds that dwell in the upper levels of the forest.

Bird Washing:

Of the 27 Albertine Rift Endemics for bird washing that are found in Nyungwe Forest National Park are the Ruwenzori Turaco, handsome francolin, red-faced woodland warbler, collared Apalis, yellow-eyed black flycatcher, mountain masked Apalis, Ruwenzori batis, and regal sunbird.

Monkey Tracking:

Nyungwe National park is a home to also trek Ruwenzori colobus, grey-cheeked Mangabeys, L’Hoest’s monkey, Owl faced monkey, Mona monkeys, Dent’s monkey, silver monkey, and blue monkey. It is a mystical experience to come across a forest covered with colobus monkey with their black and white colors.

Hiking:

Nyungwe Forest National Park is the perfect park for hiking, with a varied selection of walking prospects and other expeditions.

Various trails that can be done:

  • Bigugu Trail:

The trail takes you to through astonishing views of Lake Kivu and the hills of DRC. Birders come here to see the localized red-collared mountain babbler, but the area also boasts some wonderful wildflowers, ranging from red-hot pokers and orchids to giant lobelias.

  • Ngabwe Trail:

Set on the slopes of Nyabwe near the park’s eastern boundary, this new circular trail is the only straightforward option open to people staying at the KCCEM Guesthouse without their own transport, since the trailhead lies about 200m down a side road on the left of the main road only 3km past Kitabi Entrance Gate. The trail is ideal for camping.

  • Kamiranzovu Trail:

This trail leads from the forested main road downhill to the relatively low-lying Kamiranzovu, this trail is the parks’ largest swamp, set within a caldera like depression.

  • Karamba Trail:

This is one of the easiest trails in Nyungwe and the best for bird watching. The absence of big trees is large because of man disturbance, first as gold mine and market.

  • Isumo Trail:

This superb trail starts at the Gisakura Tea Plantations and to the largest waterfall in Nyungwe Forest National Park.

Suggestions and trip ideas for your safari

After your Chimpanzee experience in Nyungwe Forest National Park, you can go for gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park or the wildlife life experience in Akagera National Park.

Other activities outside the park:

There are a couple of activities that visitors can take part in near the park and in Kigali the capital. visiting the following places;

  • Genocide war memorial centers
  • Rusumo Falls
  • Presidential palace
  • Museums
  • Kigali city markets.

Those interested in buying souvenirs can stop by one of the local art and craft shops along the way to the park.

Outside Rwanda:
  • You can also visit Uganda for another breathtaking safari in Murchison falls national park and a Gorilla trekking experience in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga National Park.
  • Tanzania’s safari experience is something rewarding.
  • Kenya’s Masai Mara and Amboseli National Park and other national parks.

Plastic bags:

Plastic bags are banned in Rwanda, and visitors will be asked to dispose of them on arrival at the airport, including those carrying duty-free purchases. In supermarkets, brown paper bags are provided. Furthermore, the Ministry of Environment is pushing for measures that reduce single-use plastics including straws, water bottles, and cups.

Umuganda:

The morning of the last Saturday of every month is Umuganda or community service. This initiative was introduced by the Rwandan Government to get the entire population to devote time to their local community by cleaning the streets, cutting grass verges, repairing dirt roads, etc.. International visitors are not required to participate, but some tour operators are able to organize opportunities for tourists to participate in Umuganda. Please note that during these community service days, shops and public transport are closed during morning hours.  

Car Free Day:

Kigali has bimonthly car-free days. On the first and third Sundays of each month, long stretches of main roads are closed to allow cycling, jogging, and other sporting activities between 7 am – 11 am. Everyone is encouraged to participate, and a large open-air exercise class, which anyone can join, is also held. Although road closures may affect travelers coming in and out of Kigali, disruptions are minimal since local drivers usually know alternative routes. 

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