Nyungwe Forest National Park

Nyungwe Forest National Park is one of the only three existing national parks in Rwanda and is the largest rainforest in East Africa and has existed for over 1000 years. It is best known for its habitat for wild chimpanzees and other primate species.  Nyungwe forest national park is located in the South Western region of Rwanda bordering Burundi in the South with Lake Kivu and the Democratic Republic of Congo situated in the western part of the park. Nyungwe Forest National Park covers an area of about 1016 square kilometers with an altitude of about 1,600 – 2,950 meters above sea level and it extends across the border of Parc National de la Kibira in Burundi. It’s one of the largest water catchment areas, also distributing water into River Congo and River Nile with many springs that are said to feed the headwaters of the Albertine Nile. The forest receives a record amount of 2000mm of rainfall every year. The forest is also Rwanda’s largest water catchment area holding 2/3rds of all the country’s water. This large tropical forest also contributes to the water distribution in River Congo and the Nile River as well.

Canopy Walkway in Nyungwe Forest National Park
Canopy Walkway in Nyungwe Forest National Park

In history, the Nyungwe forest was declared a forest reserve in 1933 by the Germany colonial Government. However, between the years of 1960 and 1970, fire outbreaks and human activities like poaching of animals like the buffaloes which initially were habitats of the forest and deforestation destroyed the forest cover hence Nyungwe lost about 15% of her size. Later in 2004, Nyungwe Forest was recognized as a national park and is of great support for the world Conservation society. Nyungwe forest has now become one of East Africa’s Ecotourism destination and following Rwanda’s ranking, it is one of the top 10 tourist destinations.

Attractions in Nyungwe Forest National Park

Nyungwe Forest National Park is the second most visited destination in Rwanda after Virunga national park. It is one of the best places to visit as it’s a perfect place for holidays and nature lovers. Some of the attractions in Nuyngwe forest national park include;

  • Primates and Wildlife: Nyungwe Forest National Park is prominent for its habituated Chimpanzees. The national park is home to 13 primate species with a concentration of up to 400 black and white colobus monkeys hence it is one of the parks in Africa with the largest concentration of black and white colobus monkeys. Other primates species include; L’Hoest monkey, Angola colobus monkey, Grey-cheeked Mangabey, the Silver monkey, Hamlyn’s monkey, Vervet monkey, Olive Baboon and the Red tailed monkey to mention but a few. Nyungwe is said to have about 72 animal species basically bush animals that reside in the park such as Duikers, golden cats to mention but a few.
  • Birds: Nyungwe Forest National Park is estimated to have about 300 bird species and 26 of those birds can only be spotted in the Albertine Rift, making Nyungwe forest one of the best birding destinations in Africa. Such birds include; Melaenornis ardesiacus, Regal Sunbird, Ruwenzori Batis, Black and White casqued Hornbill, Batis diops, Crytospiza Jackson bird and the Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher among so many more species.
  • Flora: Nyungwe forest contains large trees of different tree species given its existence for so many years. Some of the tree species that can be found in Nyungwe include; prinaria exelsium, Cyathea manniana, carapa, newtonia, orchids, mosses, ferns, podocarpus to mention a few. For researchers, this is the best place to go. 
  • Waterfalls: Given the nature of the landscape in the Nyungwe forest, the forest has a lot of rivers and springs creating waterfalls about 17m high characterized by overlying cliffs, caves, and Kamiranzovu Swamp. While hiking to these waterfalls, tourists can spot primates, birds, beautiful wildflowers and even a couple of reptiles. 

What to do in Nyungwe Forest National Park

Chimpanzee Trekking; Nyungwe Forest National Park is home to about 25% of primate species in Africa with the majority of them being chimpanzees. Chimpanzees trekking is the main highlight of the Nyungwe forest with 500 chimpanzees. Chimpanzees in Nyungwe forest are not habituated like gorillas so it is not guaranteed to spot them in particular places. But more often you will see them because they are quite common in the forest. The park rangers know where and how to find the chimpanzees even when they are not habituated, so be assured of spotting the chimpanzees in the Nyungwe forest. Chimpanzee trekking takes place every day with an early morning start since the chimpanzees are easily seen in the morning hours, trekking starts as early as 8 am at Uwinka, Kitabi, and Gisakura after briefing about the primates. Chimpanzee trekking takes about 2-5 hours depending on the location of the chimpanzees. However, to be able to trek chimpanzees in the Nyungwe forest, you are required to have a chimpanzee permit which is booked months before your trekking date. A permit in Nyungwe National Park costs USD 90 dollars per person and it is valid for a simple day. 

Colobus Monkey Trekking: Nyungwe Forest National Park is home to about 400 black and white colobus monkeys. There are trials best known for colobus monkey trekking including the waterfalls trail which runs from Gisakura guesthouse to the tea estate, Bigugu trail which runs up to the highest peak of the mountain at 2,950m high, and the Unwika campsite trails. A Colobus monkeys permit  costs USD 60 dollars per person and it has the same booking procedure as Chimpanzee trekking 

Canopy Walk: The forest canopy walk in Nyungwe Forest National Park is one of a kind in Africa. It was introduced in October 2010 as a new tourism product for the park. The Canopy walkway was built at 160 meters stretch between trees and it extends to up to 90 feet above the forest floor. The Nyungwe Forest canopy walk begins. The canopy walkway starts at Uwinka Visitors center and it’s a 2km walk with untouched natural rainforest below the forest filled with exciting biodiversity of the forest with beautiful views of the forest. A canopy walk costs US 60 dollars per person. 

Forest hiking and biking: Nyungwe Forest National Park is one of the best places to enjoy hiking through a forest. The park has several hiking trails for more than 130km hiking through nature with beautiful scenery, rivers, springs, and waterfalls. The Nyungwe forest hiking experience takes about 1- 8 hours and costs USD 40 dollars. The Igishigishigi trail and Bigugu trail are the most popular trails that lead to the canopy walkway and the other leads to Mount Bigugu which is the highest peak of the forest mountain. 

Nyungwe Birding: Nyungwe forest boasts of over 300 bird species, 27 of which are Albertine rift valley species. There are lots of interesting and colorful birds to see some of which include; blue turaco, Ruwenziro Apalis, Archer’s Robin-Chat, the Strange weaver, Stripe-breasted Tit Parus Wind Cryptospiza Jackson, Handsome Francolin Francolinus Nobilis, Chapin’s Flycatcher and Rockefeller’s sunbird to mention a few. Visitors interested in birding while in Nyungwe forest national park pay 50 USD per person per day.

Waterfalls hike: Visiting Isumo waterfalls is one of the common activities visitors do in Nyungwe Forest National Park. These are the best waterfalls to visit as they flow at 17 meters high and give tourists great views of some caves and even Kamiranzovu swamp. Some hiking trails will offer a tourist chance to see reptile species like snakes, birds, butterflies wildflowers and unique tree and plant species. Enjoy a guided hike to the renowned Isumo waterfalls through some of the hiking trails that begin at either car park 1 or 2, hence shorter hiking routes as compared to other head trails in the national park. 

Community tours and culture: Just like other African communities, Banyarwanda people have rich and interesting cultures that will make your stay in Nyungwe valuable. The people have good food and entertainment where they perform nice songs and dances for their visitors. There are interesting stories about Rwanda as a country and its history that will amaze you as you interact with the communities.  Some of these communities include; Kitabi cultural village, Banda community Village, Cyamundongo cultural troupe, all these bring out the cultural aspect of Rwanda.

However, there are other activities that tourists can explore in while visiting Nyungwe Forest National Park include; Congo Nile guided hike which takes about 3 day hiking with camping experience 

Where to stay in Nyungwe Forest National Park

There are a variety of accommodation facilities available while on safari to Nyugwe Forest National Park. The accommodation options comprise hotels, lodges, guesthouses, motels, and campsites. Some of these places that you can choose to stay in include;

One and Only Nyungwe Hotel: One and Only Nyungwe hotel is one of the most luxurious hotels in Nyungwe forest established in 2010 with about 20 luxury rooms and 2 Presidential rooms. Each room contains a luxury setting with a Jacuzzi and private balcony with views overlooking Nyungwe Forest and tea plantation. Nyungwe Forest Lodge offers its guests luxury services like; luxury bed facilities like comfortable bedding, swimming pool, health gym, and spa treatments, and good food.

One and Only Nyungwe hotel offers a comfortable stay while visiting Nyungwe forest national park attractions and these include; chimpanzee tracking, bird watching, canopy walk and a guided forest walk in Nyungwe Forest National Park.

Nyungwe Top View Hotel: The Nyungwe Top View Hotel is a mid-range/luxury lodge situated close to the Nyungwe forest taking about 5 minutes to reach the park head office. It was constructed in 2011 with very good amenities provided include; a restaurant and well-stocked bar, electricity, security and medical services are given that the hotel. While staying at Nyungwe Top View Hotel, guests can participate in park activities.

Gisakura Guest House: Gisakura Guesthouse is a budget accommodation facility that accommodates visitors traveling on a budget basis. It is located 2 km from Nyungwe Forest National Park along the Rusizi road and very close to the Gisakura Tea Estate. Gisakura guesthouse offers low budget accommodation with rooms ranging from USD 43 to USD 85. They also have good food and facilities and customer service. All activities of the park can be accessed while staying at Gisakura Guesthouse. 

What would be the best Time to Visit Nyungwe Forest National Park.

Nyungwe Forest National Park can be visited any time of the year however, there are peak and low seasons in which the peak seasons include the months of January, February, March, June, July, August, and December. During this time of the year, the country is not experiencing a lot of rains giving visitors chances of seeing and doing the activities in the park. The Low seasons include the months of April, May, September, October, and November in which the country experiences a lot of rain. However, given the nature of Nyungwe forest national park, a rainforest, the weather changes at any time of the day whether or not the season. Therefore, visitors are advised to carry both their warm and light clothes, hiking boots, rain jackets to mention a few. 

Chimpanzee in Nyungwe Forest National Park
Chimpanzee in Nyungwe Forest National Park

How to access Nyungwe Forest National Park

Nyungwe forest national park is located in the South western part of Rwanda in Butare district near Cyangugu town. It is close very close to Lake Kivu taking about 2-3 hours’ drive and also close to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nyungwe is also bordered by Burundi in the South. It is about 225km long and about 4- 5 hour drive from Kigali city. 

By road, Nyungwe forest national park can be accessed by either public or private means. Using public means, take a bus from in Kigali from Nyabugog Bus Park heading to Ruzizi and from Ruzizi get off from Uwinka Center which is actually where the park head offices located. It’s quite long to travel by bus to take about 8 hours given the speed limit and the nature of the road. You can also hire a vehicle. Hiking is better as you travel with comfort and less time is spent on the road with stops. Achieve Global Safaris offers comfortable transfers so visitors can look out for our services. Hiring a car from Kigali can cost between USD 32 – 43 dollars.

Nyungwe forest national park can also be accessed by air transport. Rwanda Air has daily domestic flights from Kigali airport to Kamembe airport. It is about 32 km from Kamembe airport to Nyungwe forest National Park. So it means one needs a pick up from the airport to reach the forest. 

For visitors who are adventurous, a drive to Nyungwe forest national park is more interesting most especially if you are on a self-drive or private drive (Achieve Global Safaris). From Kigali, drive south west to Muhanga, then south to Nyanza, then Huye town. Precede westwards to Nyamagabe which is actually closer to Nyungwe part entry. During this drive, there are a lot of attractions to see including the Nyanza King’s palace, Gikongoro’s genocide memorial, and the National Museum.