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Nyungwe Forest National Park

Nyungwe Forest National Park, If you are looking to track the chimpanzees or any other primates, undertake invigorating nature walks/hikes or rather participate in life-changing canopy walks in an authentic forest environment, then Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest National Park is where your next trip should be.

Nyungwe Forest National Park is situated in the south-western side of Uganda, bordering Burundi where it is adjacent to Kibira National Park, Lake Kivu as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was gazetted in 2004 and at 1000 square kilometers, this National Park is the largest Protected Area in Rwanda with rainforest, grassland, Bamboo forest, bogs and swamps being the main vegetation types. It is found within the watershed between the basin of the Congo River to the west as well as the Nile River basin to the East.

Nyungwe Forest is one of the most authentic and well preserved montane Rainforests in East and Central Africa, in addition to being a biodiversity hotspot in the country.

Attractions 

Flora

Nyungwe Forest National Park is known for its rich diversity of flora, making it one of the priorities for conservation within the African Continent. There are currently over 1000 plant species in this Park of which 250 are endemic to the Albertine Rift Valley while 200 are orchids.

Fauna

There are also 85 species of mammals in Nyungwe Forest National Park including 13 primate species like the chimpanzees that are undeniably the prime attraction in the National Park. Other primates in the Park are the Angola Colobus monkeys, L’Hoest monkeys, Silver monkeys, Rwenzori colobus monkeys, owl-faced monkeys, Olive baboons, red-tailed monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys, blue monkeys, vervet monkeys and Dent’s Mona monkeys among others. In addition to the primates, golden cats, elephants, leopards, bush pigs, duikers, buffaloes and giant forest hogs are also found in Nyungwe Forest National Park.

There are also 38 species of reptiles, 32 Amphibian species and 120 species of butterflies in Nyungwe Forest National Park.

Nyungwe Forest National Park is an excellent birding area with over 300 species of birds including 25 species that are endemic to the Albertine rift valley, 11 of the total 23 species of the Guinea-Congo forest Biomes and 71 of the 74 species of the Afro-tropical highland Biomes. Some of these species include the Rwenzori nightjar, red-faced woodland warblers, Grauer’s swamp warblers, Regal sunbirds, Rwenzori batis, Congo bay owlet, Rwenzori Turaco, Kivu ground thrush, Red-collared mountain babbler and many others.

Tourist activities

Chimpanzee trekking

Chimpanzee trekking is the main tourist activity in Nyungwe Forest National Park and also the reason for its popularity. The activity starts in the morning with 8 tourists, a guide, armed ranger and porters entering the jungle to have at least one hour with the chimpanzee community that calls the Park home. Trekking the chimpanzees usually takes half an hour to 3 hours after which tourists will spend only one hour with them but the experience of meeting face to face with mankind’s closest relatives, even for a second is worthwhile.

Bird watching

Bird watching is another exciting tourist activity in Nyungwe Forest National Park with over 300 species of birds to look forward to. Birders have to carry binoculars so as to identify the handsome francolin, yellow-eyed black flycatcher, Rwenzori batis, Shelley’s Crimsonwing, Rwenzori nightjar, Red-collared babbler, Red-throated Alethe, Kivu ground thrush, Black and white casqued hornbills, Kungwe Apalis, Stripe-breasted tit and Rwenzori Turaco among others.

The Canopy walk

The Canopy walk in Nyungwe Forest National Park was established in 2010, extends for over 90 meters long and stands at over 200 feet above the ground level. This walk allows you to walk above the forest canopy where different tree species, primates (especially the Angolan colobus monkeys, vervet monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys as well as the grey-cheeked mangabeys), bird species, butterflies and other attractions of the Park can be easily seen. Just like most tourist activities in Nyungwe Forest National Park, the Canopy walk begins from Uwinka Visitor Center and lasts between 2 and 3 hours.

Colobus monkey tracking

On top of tracking the Chimpanzees, the Nyungwe Forest Angolan Colobus monkeys can also be tracked. The Angolan colobus monkeys live in troops of up to 300 individuals but besides tracking them, you will be able to encounter other primate species that include the grey-cheeked mangabeys, Owl-faced monkeys, blue monkeys, L’Hoests monkeys, Mona monkeys and red-tailed monkeys in addition to the birds and butterflies that call the Park home.

Hiking

Has over 13 hiking trails that together extend for 130 kilometers through the jungles. Tourists to this Park can spend days walking through these trails that reward them with views of the waterfalls, Rivers, wetlands, bird species, mammals, reptiles, Amphibians, butterflies and other attractions that call the Park home. These hiking trails are Umoyove, Isumo waterfall trail, the popular Igishigishigi, Irebero, Karamba, Rukuzi, Congo Nile Divide Trail, Buhoro, Ngabwe, Muzimu, Bigugu, Umugote, Imbaraga, Kamiranzovu marsh trail and Uwinka Trails.

Accommodation facilities 

Nyungwe Forest National Park has few but beautiful and comfortable accommodation facilities to make tourists’ visit to the Park unforgettable. These are the Wilderness Campsites, Gisakura Guesthouse and Kitabi Eco-Center for budget travellers, Nyungwe Forest Lodge, Nyungwe Top View Hotel and Nyungwe Nziza Ecolodge.

Best time to visit

Can be visited at any time you desire but the ultimate nature experiences are achieved during the dry season (January, February, June, July, August, September and December) when Park roads and forest floor is drier making it less challenging for most activities.

Surprisingly, chimpanzee trekking (the main tourist activity in the Park) is best conducted during the wet season (March, April, May, October and November) when the apes have more food and don’t move far thus faster and easier to find them. Also, birding is perfect during this season because migratory bird species are plenty. However, be ready to endure the muddy and slippery forest floors, hiking trails and Park roads if you choose to visit during this season.

How to get to there

Nyungwe Forest National Park in south-western Rwanda is approximately 225 kilometers/5 hours’ drive from the City of Kigali.

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