At over 1000 km2, Nyungwe is Africa’s largest protected mountain rainforest. Nyungwe is the source of Africa’s great rivers. Rain that falls on the east side feeds the Nile and on the west runs to the Congo. The Congo-Nile Divide is a mountain range that runs north to south through Rwanda. Nyungwe receives more than 2000mm a year of rain.
Recently, Nyungwe opened a canopy walk, the only one of its kind in East Africa. This is a wonderful vantage point to view the incredible biodiversity of this rare forest. The canopy walk opens at a time when Rwanda is being recognized as a top 10 global travel destination (Lonely Planet, 2009.)
In 2005, the Government of Rwanda declared Nyungwe a national park, affording it the highest level of protection in Rwanda. This forest, the largest mountain rain forest in all of Africa, hosts 13 species of primates including the Angola colobus found in groups of 300-400 animals that is an attribute unique to Nyungwe. It also hosts a large population of chimpanzees and two other threatened species of monkeys; the owl faced monkey and reported but unverified sightings of the golden monkey.
Nyungwe is stated as “the most important site for biodiversity conservation in Rwanda” by Birdlife International for its approximately 310 bird species, 25 of which are endemic. Nyungwe’s forests extend to altitudes occupied by few other forests in Africa; 1600-2950 meters above sea level. It is also home to myriad orchids, butterflies, moths and other fascinating insects – all of which constitute the potential for a major, low volume, tourist destination in the making. (Source: Draft Investors Guide to Nyungwe National Park Area, South Western Rwanda, Preliminary version 1 – 2008). Nyungwe is also Rwanda’s primary water catchment, sheltering more than two-thirds of all of its waters.
The people of the area are as diverse, with many examples of song, dance, music, cuisine, handicrafts and other artisan skills that make for a fascinating complement to the nature side of trip to this part of Africa.
The combination of both potential and conservation has been noted by the Government of Rwanda and a major integrated development thrust is underway, supported not only by the Government itself, but also the USAID, UNDP, Wildlife Conservation Society and other donors and NGOs.
The forest has a network of walking and hiking trails. It has a number of camping sites and the development of cultural tourism near the edge of the Park is underway. New trails and camping sites are planned and being constructed as part of the development project, as are new ways of both observing and enjoying the Park.
Nyungwe is Rwanda’s primary water catchment, sheltering more than two-thirds of all of its waters. Nyungwe receives more than 2000 mm a year of rain and thus is also the source of Africa’s great rivers. Rain that falls on the east side feeds the Nile and on the west runs to the Congo. The Congo-Nile Divide is a mountain range that runs north to south through Rwanda.
Nyungwe National Park offers a rare and important habitat for many species, especially primates and birds. And at over 1000 km2, Nyungwe is Africa’s largest protected mountain rain forest.
Holidays in Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe Forest National Park is a 4-5 hour drive from Kigali on good though winding roads. There are some attractions en-route that include Nyanza King’s Palace and the National Museum should you wish to break the journey.
The Uwinka Visitor Centre, inside the Park, is well worth a visit, with information on the history of Nyungwe, its fauna and flora and local culture. This is also the place to hire guides, which are compulsory for any hikes within Nyungwe National Park.
Where to Stay in Nyungwe Forest
Accommodation for Nyungwe National Park is quite limited but fortunately spans across a range of properties where you can spend a night. One of Rwanda’s best lodges, One and Only Lodge, a high-end property offering luxury facilities including an infinity pool and gym, with good views overlooking the forest canopy from a ridge to one side and a tea-plantation on the other.
At the other end of the scale, the low-budget ORTPN Rest house (also known as Gisakura Guesthouse), is also situated on the edge of the forest, with simple rooms but a friendly and helpful team.
Activities in Nyungwe Forest National Park
Primate safaris in Nyungwe Forest
Nyungwe is an ideal destination for lovers of primates, with 13 different species living here, and most visitors will go for at least one tracking experience, the most popular of which is chimpanzee trekking. Starting very early in the morning, chimps are tracked in groups of eight and as with the mountain gorillas, you will have just one hour in their company once they’ve been located. Sightings aren’t as reliable or as clear as gorillas however, since they often remain in dense forest, but their engaging playfulness and human-like characteristics make the long day worthwhile. Therefore on your Rwanda Safari don’t miss going chimpanzee tracking in this tropical rain forest.
Trekking in search of grey-cheeked mangabey and Rwenzori colobus monkeys is also on offer in Nyungwe Forest, the latter of which can be found here in troops of several hundred. And there’s no need to trek far to see l’Hoest’s monkeys – you will often see them ambling along the roadside as you drive past.
Forest hiking trails in Nyungwe
Over 130 kilometres of hiking routes have been created in Nyungwe Forest National Park, allowing visitors to explore its interior and its fascinating habitats. Walking in Nyungwe is excellent, with trails lasting from one to eight hours. The beautifully named Igishigishigi Trail is one of the shortest hikes yet includes East Africa’s highest canopy walk with spectacular views across Nyungwe Forest, while the 6 hour Bigugu Trail leads you to the highest mountain in the Park at 2950m.
Bird Watching in Nyungwe Forest
The birds in Nyungwe Forest National Park are spectacular. Around 310 species reside here, although as in most tropical forests, you’ll have to look hard for them. Giant horn bills, great blue turacos and red-breasted sparrowhawks are amongst the specials, of which 27 are endemic to this section of the Albertine Rift Valley.