NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK, RWANDA ”Land of a Thousand Hills.”
Nyungwe national park, reaching a maximum altitude of 3000meters above sea level, located in Southwestern Rwanda, is one of Africa’s oldest rainforests and the best-preserved rainforest in Central Africa. A part of the Albertine Rift Mountains, it is rich in biodiversity and breathtakingly gorgeous. It was made a national park in 2005 by the Rwandan government. The park is a priority for conservation in Africa due to its wide variety of animal species.
The national park is home to 13 primate species (about 25% of Africa’s total, including the L’Hoest monkeys unique to the Albertine Rift, chimpanzees, baboons etc.), 322 bird species, 1068 plant species, 85 mammals, 32 amphibians and 38 reptile species also.
Even with 15 trails and several activities to indulge in, visitors can choose to savour the fun of the forest and enjoy one of the most enchanting forests in Africa for a week or more.
At the top of the list for most tourists visiting the park is primate tracking. For those with more time, however, it is more fun to stay awhile, relax and enjoy the new atmosphere of the park.
A bird paradise with 322 species of birds, including the red-necked Babbler and 29 other species endemic to the Albertine Rift, bird watching here is one of the best in Africa. In addition another common sight is the presence of butterflies, with about 120 species available in the park. Although Ngungwe is home to 75 known mammal species, including the cervical cats, Congolese clawless otters, mongoose and leopards, they are still hard to see as most animals are shy.
Also to hike the Izumo waterfalls, walk along the Canopy Walk suspended Bridge, and explore the tea plantation bordering the park’s edge are a few ways to have a truly memorable time in the national park. Moreover the park is open all year round. Nyungwe national park is truly one of a kind in Africa National Forest guide.
There are three reception centres in the national park. Firstly one is in Kitabi near the entrance, secondly the uwinka reception centre in the centre of the park and lastly Gisakura reception centre.
Activities in the park come with a price. Tourists visiting will purchase a permit for any actions via the online platform and present the payment proof at the park’s reception centre.
The price for residents, citizens of Rwanda and East African countries is slightly lower than that of non-residents foreigners. The activities and prices for non-resident foreigners are:
- Chimpanzee trekking: $90.
- Other primate trekking: $60.
- Nyungwe guided nature: $40/person.
- Bird watching: $50/person.
- Nyungwe canopy walk: $60/person.
- Tropical waterfall guided hike: $50/person.
- Congo-Nile divide guided hike: $100/person.
- Camping with tent: $30/night; without tent: $40/tent/night.
- Commercial filming: $1000/group/day for chimpanzees and $600/group/day for other park sights.
Tourists to the park can bring along with them
«Suitable hiking shoes
« Rain gear
« Water and snacks
«However the park usually provides a walking stick to give you a grip of the ground as you hike.
WHAT TO DO
Chimpanzee trekking is considered the main attraction to the park. Consequently visitors to the park can trek and see the gentle primates that have become used to welcoming humans. The park’s fig trees make the park an excellent place for chimpanzee trekking. There are two groups of chimpanzees: first a small group of 30 chimpanzees in Uwinka and second a large group of 60 chimpanzees in Cyamudongo.
However only two groups of tourists can trek a specific group every day, and they can only spend an hour also. The walking distance is about 4.2 kilometres, and it takes an hour to walk. Thus the best time for chimpanzee trekking is between 4–4:30 am in June, July and August. Hence chimpanzees eat very late in the morning, so overnight visitors in the park will have a good chance of seeing them.
Other Primates Trekking
Park visitors also enjoy seeing 12 other primates living in the park, including the Angolan black and white colobus monkey. Colobus monkeys, recognizable by their black, white colouring and long hair, have formed a unique supergroup in Nyungwe. The sight of this group is of course a wildlife photographer’s dream. Owl-faced monkeys with beak-like noses, Dent’s monkeys, blue monkeys and vervets. have also been found in Nyungwe, and visitors can spot these animals while trekking with the aid of an expert guide.
Guided Nature Walk
Nature walks in the national park is one of the most exciting activities. Visitors can walk in the forest and study the different species that inhabit the forest, such as primates, birds, insects, plants, etc.
The Nyungwe Forest National Park has 15 hiking trails that visitors can explore during a hike and guided nature walks in the national park. Some of the frequently travelled trails in national parks include the Igishigishigi trail, Karamba trail; Umugote trail; Buhoro trail; Bigugu trail; Muzimu trail, Irebero trail etc. Do you know Why your trip to Bhutan is Worth it, open the link to find out.
Nile Divide Guided Hike/Bike
Thus this trail is popular with experienced hikers. With a total length of 227 kilometres, it is indeed the longest hiking route in the park and takes about ten days. This multi-day hiking trail in the park will bring tourists and hikers to the dividing point between the Nile and Congo rivers, the world’s largest river basins. A visit to the source of the Nile is also an itinerary.
This trail is perfect for tourists who want to communicate and interact with the locals. Hikers can visit historic churches along the routes, swim and paddle In Lake Kivu, and see a few coffee farms along the way as well.
With over 300 species in the Nyungwe Forest National Park, this is truly another exciting activity that tourists are encouraged to participate.
The star attraction of bird watchers to this park is the existence of the Red-collared Babbler only in Rwanda. Other specialities include Rwenzori Turaco, Handsome Francolin, Rwenzori Nightjar, Grauer’s Warbler, Regal, Blue-headed and Purple-breasted Sunbirds, Grauer’s Swamp Warbler and Neumann’s Warbler. Although with the help of the park’s professional bird guide, you can easily view all of this and more from the well-maintained trail network.
Although there are accommodations around the Nyungwe Forest National Park, there is none inside the park. Hence, the only option for visitors who wish to stay inside the park is camping. Camping is an activity carried out inside and outside the park. Overnight visitors can still sleep in tented lodges and campgrounds. Some of the camps include:
- The campsite at Uwinka reception centre: This is where most of the park activities begin, so visitors who lodge here are lucky. Although a privately owned camp, covered at the top to prevent rain and has modern restrooms. Food is available from the restaurants around. However sleeping bags are offered but come with yours if you can.
- The campsite on Mount Bigugu. They are at the highest peak in the national park. Visitors are to carry their water and camping materials as well. Camping here will allow you to see the plant and bird species known to live at the peak.
- The Congo Nile divide Trail campsites. Campers are required to bring along their camping materials.
- The Kitabi eco-center campsite. This place gives visitors a panoramic view that isn’t found anywhere else in the park, truly with a picture of the tea plantation, amazing morning fog and sunset— however renting a gear and tent costs between $5 and $20. You have to book before coming.
The Canopy Walk is the longest in East Africa. It ranks third in Africa as a whole, second only to Lekki Conservation Canopy Walk in Lagos, Nigeria and Canopy Walk in Kenya. Thus the 1,000-meter canopy trail allows visitors to have a breathtaking panoramic view of the Canopy of the dense forest. The 2-hour walk on the 160km long suspended canopy walkway is a memorable experience.
The walk truly offers excellent views of Lake Kivu, different sections of the Nyungwe Forest and other animals. Time for the walk is 8 am, 10 am, 1 pm and 3 pm. The walk starts from the Uwinka reception centre. Hence visitors will have to wear hiking boots, rain jackets, snacks and water. The Canopy is safe for everyone who wants to participate in it, but don’t go on it if you’re unwell or have a sickness that the walk might worsen. You can equally get a similar experience in Obudu Mountain Resort.
Tropical Water Fall Guided Walks
The waterfall hike starts in Gisakura and lasts approximately 3-4 hours. It is desirable to visitors because of the majestic scenery of the falls. The Izumo Waterfalls Trail is a favourite trail for hikers and tourists in the National Park. It takes about 4 hours to complete the 10.6 km track. In fact this trail passes through tea plantations and the Nyungwe forest and leads to the Izumo waterfall. Visitors walking this trail can even see primates and birds on a beautiful day as well.
Tea Plantation Tour
The tea plantation tour takes place in various locations in Rwanda, with the main ones, Gisovu and Gisakura, being around the Nyungwe National Park.
However hidden at the northern end of Nyungwe National Park, the glittering fields and winding trails of Gisovu Tea Estate face the pristine Nyungwe Forest, where neat rows of tea trees contrast sharply with the wild forest greenery behind. There the estate offers day trips and accommodation, so after visiting the place and engaging in the tea tasting ceremony, certainly those who have free time can relax here, ride a mountain bike around the area or simply enjoy cups of the best tea in the world in silence also.
Gisakura Tea Estate is surrounded by rolling hills on the western edge of Nyungwe Forest National Park. Truly it is one of Rwanda’s most famous tea plantations and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful tea plantations. Excursions and tea tasting are easy to arrange. Although there is currently no accommodation on the plantation but there are hotels within walking or driving distance. Also, keep an eye out for the colobus monkeys that live in a forest on the farm.
Also tourists who come to the forest to sell African topics to the world in the form of films or research are allowed to do their filming, at a price, though.
Indeed Nyungwe has incredible accommodation facilities around, ranging from luxury to budget and mid-range facilities. Some facilities include One and Only Nyungwe House, Nyungwe Forest Lodge, Nyungwe Top View Hill Hotel, Gisakura Family Hotel, etc. Although the prices for these accommodations range from US$12 to US$236 per night. It is preferable to choose a hotel that suits your budget However the national park also has cheap camp services, and there is a tented camping ground at Uwinka also.
HOW TO GET THERE
Although Rwandair services are available for both international and domestic flights. Visitors from outside Rwanda can fly into Kigali, the capital, using Rwandair. From Kigali, they can take a connecting flight to Kamembe national airport and take a taxi to Nyungwe. Visitors who hurry to the national park can fly into the Only Nyungwe house in Ngungwe from Kigali using the Akagera aviation (helicopter). Other ways of getting to the national park from various parts of the country including by water, public transport and private car.
For visitors who can’t afford to fly from Kigali to Kamembe, the cheapest way to get from Kigali to Nyungwe Forest National Park is by bus, which costs about US$40-55 and takes 4 hours 17 minutes. The fastest way to get from Kigali to Nyungwe Forest National Park is to take a taxi, which takes three h 25m and costs about $100-$130. Finally the roads leading to the national park are well maintained and in good condition.