Nyungwe Forest National Park is situated in the southwestern Rwanda, at the border with Burundi to the south and Congo to the west. It is arguably the largest montane forest in east and central Africa and one of the highly rated conservation forests in Africa covering a total area of 970sq.km.
The park is found in the district of Rusizi in south western Rwanda only 225kms from Kigali taking 4-5 hours’ drive. The forest receives 2000 mm of rainfall every year, and is Rwanda’s largest water catchment area.
It was first declared as a forest reserve by German colonial government in 1903 but the forest suffered wild fires, poaching of animals and extensive woodland cutting. It was not until in 1980s, following the restoration of colobus monkeys that was living in groups led to restoration of the conservation work. It was later declared in 2005 as a national park.
The park is known for its 13 primates including chimpanzees, L’Hoest monkeys, and acrobatic Ruwenzori colobus among others. It also contains more than 1,050 plant species, 250 albertine rift valley endemics and 200 orchids. The park is home to over 120 butterfly species, 32 amphibians, 38 reptiles, 85 mammals and 310 bird species.
Nyungwe harbors 13 primate species and it’s the only park that offers chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda. This activity starts in the morning and you need to be having at least the following; a hat, long sleeved shirt, long trouser, rain jacket, a liter of water and hiking boots. Therefore, to trek chimps in this forest, one has to keep time to be able to watch them rise from their nests to hunt and feed; they groom each other and watch the juveniles play. Sessions are limited to not more than 8 people and for not longer than 1 hour.
Nyungwe is a place where you can trek black and white colobus monkeys. This is because they live in large groups including the semi-habituated group of about 400 individuals that is common around forest and campsite. Other types of monkeys are red tailed monkeys, L’Hoest monkeys, Albertine rift endemic owl-faced monkey, are all sighted here.
Hanged between higher slopes and giant trees about 1km from Uwinka ranger station, the metallic walking trail is almost 200m long, with maximum height of about 40metres. It is a superb viewing point for resident birds, primates, butterflies and ancient trees. The walk is another unique activity not to be missed in Rwanda.
Nyungwe forest is a home to over 320 bird species that presents endless chances for avid birders to carry out bird watching without any difficulty. Among other birds here include, albertine owlet, red collared, and Rockefeller’s sunbird. These birds are only found in this forest on the eastern side of the albertine rift valley. Of the 27 Albertine endemics that can be spotted in Nyungwe are, Ruwenzori turaco, red faced woodland warbler, and Ruwenzori batis among others.
Nyungwe national park is the best for hiking expeditions with a network of countless well maintained trails, including Igishigishi trail, Ngabwe trail, Kamiranzovu trail, Karambi trail and Isumo waterfall trail. Each of these trails takes one to the interior of the forest as well as to the neighboring communities, offering chances to view a number of attractions such as waterfalls, extensive tea plantations, unique plants like red-hot pokers & orchids, gold mines, markets among others.
Accommodations in Nyungwe Forest national park are quite limited but fortunately spans in the range of budgets. Luxury lodge is One&Only Nyungwe House, mid budget is Nyungwe Top view Hill Lodge while the lower-budget is Gisakura Guest House.
The main road – Cyangugu-Butare highway gets you to Uwinka main park entrance. The road is well tarmacked from Kigali, via the southern city, Butare. You can use private means or take regular buses along the route that operate on a daily basis. You can book a flight with Rwanda Air or other domestic airlines. These offer private flights, landing at Kamembe airport. Kamembe is roughly 49km from Nyungwe Park, taking 45 minutes – 1 hour drive
Nyungwe forest grants travelers multiple experiences whereby they enjoy the different primates, a canopy walk and ultimate birding experience – a combination you can’t find elsewhere in Rwanda.