In the southwest corner of Rwanda, Nyungwe Forest National Park is a vast untouched tropical rainforest with a high, dense canopy. Nyungwe became a National Park in 2004 as Rwanda sought to increase its tourism beyond the country’s mountain gorillas of Volcanoes National Park, and is certainly worthy of its status because of its spectacular biodiversity.
The heart of Nyungwe Forest is like a scene from a fairy tale. Tall old mahoganies, ebonies and giant tree ferns tower above you, whilst orchids and other epiphytes cling to every branch. Brightly coloured birds flit around, butterflies are everywhere, and walking quietly you may even encounter larger forest residents, including a variety of primates for which Nyungwe National Park is renowned.
To get a real sense of the scale of Nyungwe, try East Africa’s highest canopy walk with a metal bridge suspended 50 metres above the forest. It’s not for the vertiginous but the views of Nyungwe sprawled out below are unforgettable.
Wildlife in Nyungwe Forest
Spreading over 1,020km², Nyungwe Forest National Park includes the largest swathe of remaining montane forest in East or Central Africa. It harbours about 310 different bird species, hundreds of butterflies and orchids, and over 75 different species of mammals – including 13 primates (about a quarter of all Africa’s primates).
Holidays in Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe Forest National Park is a 4-5 hour drive from Kigali on good if sometimes 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.
Nyungwe Forest safari camps and lodges
Accommodation for Nyungwe National Park is quite limited but fortunately spans across a range of budgets. One of Rwanda’s best lodges, Nyungwe Forest Lodge has 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 Resthouse (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.
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.
Birdwatching 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 hornbills, great blue turacos and red-breasted sparrowhawks are amongst the specials, of which 27 are endemic to this section of the Albertine Rift Valley.