Nyungwe Forest National Park
Located in southwestern Rwanda Nyungwe Forest National park is one of Rwanda’s most popular national parks and is well known for its high level of bio-diversity. The park offers visitors incredible wildlife sightings and is what one would refer to as the primate hub of Rwanda. Nyungwe Forest is the oldest rain forest in Africa and in the dense moist evergreen forest you find the chimpanzees making it the best place to do the chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda adventure. The park is bordered by Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo and is easily accessed by road from Kigali city.
Nyungwe Forest national park is a magnificent park with so much to offer from primate trekking to forest hiking trails to the famous Nyungwe canopy walk and stunning views of the undulating hills within the forest. The national park which covers an area of 1,019 square kilometers was established in 2005 and has been under protection since 1993 when it was first gazetted as a reserve. Currently Nyungwe national park is being managed by African Parks and this management started in October 2020 after the Rwanda Development Board signed an agreement for 20 years with African Parks.
The Primates of Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe forest national park is home to 13 primate species and Nyungwe primates are the major attraction for visitors to the park. Primates in Nyungwe are spread out across the rain forest which is their main habitat and they move occasionally within the forest in search of food and their next nesting areas. Of course the chimpanzees are the most popular primate specie of Nyungwe and a chimpanzee trek in Nyungwe forest brings one closer to the chimpanzees also known as our closest relatives as they share 97% of man’s DNA. The population of the chimpanzees in the park are about 500 individuals.
The other primate species in the park include L’Hoest’s monkey, Golden monkeys, Red-tailed monkey, Vervet monkey, Silver monkey, Ruwenzori colobus, Hamlyn’s monkey, Grey-cheeked mangabey, Olive baboon, Bush babies,Potto and Dent’s mona monkey.
Birds of Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe national park is one of the best birding hot spots in East Africa and is home to Albertine Rift endemics, East African forest specials and mid elevation species. For the specialist birder Nyungwe is definitely a must visit while on your Rwanda Birding safari as it offers incredible sightings, Nyungwe forest national park is home to about 300 species of birds and this includes 27 Albertine Rift endemics. The endemic species is what drives birders from across the world to Nyungwe national park.
Birds in Nyungwe Forest national park include Abyssinian Thrush, Great Blue Turaco, Rwenzori Turaco, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Black-faced Apalis, Yellow-whispered Greenbul, Equatorial Akalat, Mountain Oriole, Red-throated Alethe, Doherty’s Bushshrike, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Banded Prinia, Rwenzori Double-collared Sunbird, White-headed wood hoopoe, Red-faced woodland Warbler, Rwenzori Batis, Regal Sunbird, Shelley’s Crimson wing, Grey-cheeked Hornbill, Dusky Crimsonwing, Rockfeller’s Sunbird, Ruwenzori Nightjar, Mountain Masked Apalis, Albertine Owlet, Handsome Francolin, Neumann’s Warbler, Stripe-breasted Tit, Kungwe Apalis and Strange weaver among others. Nyungwe Forest is a birdwatcher’s paradise with so much species to see or come across.
Other Wildlife in Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe national park also hosts other wildlife species aside from the primates. The park is home to 85 species of mammals, 32 amphibian and 38 reptile species and these include 15% of Albertine rift endemics. On a lucky day you might come across the wildlife while on a trek in Nyungwe Park or while birding along the different forest trails. Wildlife in Nyungwe forest include Yellow-backed duiker, Weyns’s duiker, Bushbucks, Bush pigs, Golden cats, Side-strapped jackal, Carnival genet, Serval cat, Wild cat, Black-fronted duiker, Congo clawless Otter, Mongoose, Giant forest hog, Palm civet Squirrels and Western tree hyrax. It’s important to note that some of these animals are rarely seen as some of the wildlife is nocturnal and Nyungwe forest being a large rain forest, wildlife here moves around quite a lot in search of food. The park is also home to 120 species of butterflies.
Vegetation of Nyungwe Forest
Nyngwe forest has several vegetation types that make up the greater eco-system of Nyungwe national park. The vegetation types especially the thick rain forest vegetation is what makes Nyungwe a famous and popular tourism destination. Vegetation of Nyungwe Forest national park includes montane forest, 200 species of trees, 1,050 species of plants including bamboo plants , herbaceous climbers, 200 orchids some of which you might come across while on the Nyungwe Forest Canopy walk, giant lobelias and moorland.
Top Things to do while in Nyungwe National Park
Chimpanzee Trekking Nyungwe is a must do activity while at the park as it brings one closer to these primates in Nyungwe Forest. Nyungwe national park is also an ideal destination while on your Rwanda Safari as it is the best place to do the chimp trek. The park has two habituated chimpanzee communities that are available for visitors to see, only 8 visitors are allowed to track each group per day. The chimpanzee trekking activity happens daily at the park and only 16 chimp permits are issued per day so booking the permit in advance is recommended.
Canopy walk in Nyungwe Forest
The Nyungwe canopy walk takes you along the Igishigishigi Trail and it involves walking to the starting point of the canopy walk, birding along the way and spotting small animals like squirrels in the forest. The canopy walk in Nyungwe is a 200 km walkway atop a suspended bridge with stunning views of the thick dense rain forest from the top, flowering plants below the walkway and incredible views of the undulating hills covered by thick forest, a picturesque moment! The canopy walk begins at Uwinka Visitor’s centre where you are assigned a site guide and receive briefing from said guide before starting the walk. We highly recommend the Canopy walk activity while in Nyungwe national park.
Bird watching in Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe national park offers excellent bird watching with over 300 species of birds to look out for while on your Rwanda Birding safari. Nyungwe was designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and therefore offers the keen birdwatcher a great birding in Rwanda experience. Birding in Nyungwe is done by expert birding guides from Rwanda knowledgeable about birding Nyungwe and site birding guides who are equally experienced. Birding starts right from your lodge and continues along the way to forest birding trails in the park.
Colobus Monkey Trekking
Nyungwe offers an opportunity to trek the colobus monkeys, another great way to spend visiting the primates in Nyungwe Forest. The park is home to about 400 individuals and the trek usually starts with briefing from your ranger guide after which you begin the journey into the forest in search of these wonderful primates. The trek is much easier than the chimpanzee trek and the colobus monkeys are easily sighted since the habituated group is situated just at the edge of the park.
Guided Nature Walks
Nyungwe forest has the best forest trails and guided nature walks in the rain forest are very rewarding for the visitor and a great way to explore the forest aside from the primate trekking. Nyungwe Forest has a number of nature trails offering the visitor a number of options depending on their interests. The forest nature trails include Umuyove trail, Buhoro trail, Irebero trail, Imbaraga trail, Igishigishigi Trail and Umugote Trail. This is a great activity to do in the afternoon after your morning activities in the park.
Visit the Gisakura Tea Plantation
On the edge of Nyungwe national park you find tea plantations and these plantations can be visited in the afternoon. The visit to the Gisakura tea plantations is a great way to interact with the locals and spend time after doing other activities in the park. The visit take about 1-2 hours and you can take a walk to the plantations from the lodge with your guide. There are opportunities available for one to participate in the tea plantation activities like picking tea and placing it in the basket. After the activity you return to the lodge for overnight.
Hiking is one of the activities in Nyungwe forest for visitors who are looking for adventure while in the park and Nyungwe offers some of the best hiking experiences in Rwanda. The hiking trails include;
Kamiranzovu Hike – This is a beautiful hiking trail that takes one through the orchid loop in Nyungwe forest. The 5.9km trail takes you to the Kamiranzovu Waterfall which is the main highlight of the hike, the waterfalls are dramatic and give a stunning backdrop for photos. The trail is also known for often times offering great opportunities to see the endemics which include the Albertine owlet and the Grauer’s Rush warbler. This is a short hike that takes about 3 hours and with average fitness you can navigate the hike. The hike ends with beautiful views of the tea plantations that are found on the edge of Nyungwe Forest.
The Cyinzobe Trail – The Cyinzobe Trail is a new hiking trail that was recently introduced by Nyungwe Park and is ideal for hiking enthusiasts who want to spend more time hiking through the forest. The 3 day hiking trail offers visitors an opportunity to experience the diversity of Nyungwe Forest on foot. The trail begins at Uwinka Visitor centre which is the main headquarters of the park and ends at the Gisakura visitor centre. Ending the hike at Gisakura visitor’s centre which is located along the park’s western boundary offers visitors the opportunity to explore the magnificent Kamiranzovu swamp and its beautiful waterfalls.
Cultural and Community Visit
For a glimpse into the culture of the Rwandan people, one can go on a community visit that involves visiting and interacting with the locals. You can visit the Kitabi cultural village, Banda community village and then for cultural dance performances you visit the Cyamudongo cultural group. Dance is an integral part of the Rwandan culture and its always beautiful getting a glimpse into the beauty and diversity of their cultural dances.
How to get to Nyungwe National Park
There are two ways to get to the park and that is by road or by air. Nyungwe National Park is a 225km distance from Kigali city and can be accessed by road from Kigali by private car. The road is a smooth paved road and the driving time is 4-5 hours. The highway route is Kigali – Nyanza- Huye- Cyangugu- Nyungwe at Unwinka’s Visitor center. It’s a scenic drive from Kigali that one through the small busy towns of Rwanda, the highlands and farms of the Rwandan locals that are situated along the highway. The alternative way to get to Nyungwe is by air where one can take a scheduled flight by a local airline from Kigali International Airport to Kamembe Airport in Cyangugu. The drive from Kamembe Airport to Nyungwe national park is about 30 minutes.
Accommodation in Nyungwe National Park
Visitors to Nyungwe national park have a range of accommodation options that they can choose from while visiting Nyungwe Park. The lodges range from luxury to mid-range to budget and are all located close to the park hence making transfer to starting points for activities easy and stress free. The lodges to consider include;
One and only Nyungwe House – This is a luxury lodge located just outside Nyungwe forest with stunning views of the Gisakura tea plantations. The lodge us built within a tea plantation and offers the ultimate 5-star safari experience while on safari in Rwanda. One and Only Nyungwe House features en-suite cozy luxury rooms with clean linen and comfortable beds. The lodge also has other amnesties and facilities like a state of the art swimming pool, a gym, a dining area offering delicious meals and a comfortable lounge area.
Nyungwe Top View Hotel – The Nyungwe top view hotel is a mid-range facility located on a hill and offering extensive views of Nyungwe from the top. The hotel which was recently renovated features a self-contained rooms with colourful African decoration, a reception area with an upstairs restaurant that is good for breakfast with a view and a comfortable lounge area for guests to relax after a long day of activities. The hotel is also well situated close to the ranger stations which are starting points for most of the activities in Nyngwe national park.
EAR Gisakura Guest House – This is a budget accommodation facility that offers the right comfort for the budget traveller. The guest house has both en-suite and non en-suite rooms so one can choose what option works best for them. The rooms feature comfortable and warm linen with wooden beds made by locally sourced furniture. The guest house is located a few minutes away from Gisakura ranger station.
Tours to Nyungwe National Park