Many visitors to Rwanda visitors go to the Volcano National Park (PNV), and then spend the majority of their time there, going on one, two and sometimes even three subsequent gorilla treks. While seeing the gorillas is indeed amazing (and recommended!), don't miss the chance to visit Nyungwe Park in the southwest part of Rwanda. The Nyoungwe Forest National Park is one of Rwanda’s Natural scenic wonders. It is the largest remaining Montane Forest remaining in Africa. Simply an incredible place for those who love primates such as chimpanzee, colobus and mangabey monkeys, rare birds, like to hike, see orchids in the wild – walk on East-Africa’s only Forest Canopy Walk- Nyungwe Forest National Park – not to be missed.
The Nyungwe rainforest is located in southwestern Rwanda, at the border with Burundi, to the south, and Lake Kivu and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. It is located in the watershed between the basin of the river Congo to the west and the basin of the river Nile to the east. From the east side of the Nyungwe forest comes also one of the branches of the Nile sources.The Nyungwe Forest National Park was established in 2004 and covers an area of approximately 970 km² of rainforest, bamboo, grassland, swamps, and bogs. The nearest town is Cyangugu, 54 km to the west. Mount Bigugu is located within the park borders.
The Nyungwe forest has a wide diversity of animal species, making it a priority for conservation in Africa. The forest is situated in a region in which several large-scale biogeographical zones meet and the variety of terrestrial biomes provides a great span of microhabitats for many different species of plants and animals.
The park contains 13 different primate species (25% of Africa's total), 275 bird species, 1068 plant species, 85 mammal species, 32 amphibian and 38 reptile species. Many of these animals are restricted-range species that are only found in the Albertine Rift montane forests ecoregion in Africa. In fact, the number of endemic species found here is greater than in any other forest in the Albertine Rift Mountains that has been surveyed. The forest, which reaches its maximum altitude of 3000 meters above sea level, is of particular interest for the presence of colonies of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes - Blumenbach, 1775) and Angola colobus (Colobus angolensis - Sclater 1860), the latter now extinct in Angola for the intense hunt to which they were subjected.
Other primate species include; L'Hoest's Monkey, Silver Monkey, Hamlyn's Monkey, Red-tailed Monkey, Dent's Mona Monkey, Vervet Monkey, Olive Baboon, Grey-cheeked Mangabey (Lophocebus albigena)
The Nyungwe Park hikes offer unforgettable experiences depending on which animals you see. There is over 130 kilometres of hiking routes created in the Nyungwe Forest, allowing visitors to explore the 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.
Visitors can spend up to several days here hiking the various trails, exploring the ancient rainforest and discover the various habitats found in the forest. Hiking in Nyungwe Forest is a time of discovery in a primal rainforest that will simply amaze most visitors with its fairly tale like appearance wildlife, primates, birds, butterflies, flowers, and trees.
For avid birders and those keen to see some of the 300 birds that are supposed to live in the Nuyngwe Rainforest, a trip here gives you greater opportunities.The birds in Nyungwe Forest National Park are spectacular. And although as in most tropical forests, you'll have to look hard for them. The Giant hornbills, the greater blue, Ruwenzori and greater black Turaco may not be the most rare birds, but spectacularly beautiful! And red-breasted sparrowhawks are among the specials, of which 27 are endemic to this section of the Albertine Rift Valley.
A permit and a guide is of course needed to enter into the forest. The guide can easily identify a lot of birds by call as the jungle is really thick and it is very difficult to spot without them. I would not suggest going without a guide, even if it was allowed. If you are keen on birds, you might consider trying more than just one trail to see a reasonable number of birds.
Tip: Birding here is obviously best during the long dry season when the migrants are around but not the best activity for the rain season.
The Nyungwe Canopy Tour is simply amazing! A bit scary, but very worth the effort! Amazing views! The canopy walk starts with a 30-minute hike from the Uwinka Visitors Centre inside the park. The visitor's centre offers decent bathroom facilities and a cafe. The canopy walk is 50 meters above the ground and offers spectacular views of the valley below. You get an opportunity to see the rainforest from above. Really enjoyable - unless of course you're afraid of heights but fortunately, there is a bypass so that if a sudden fear of heights come over you, you can still rejoin your group.
Chimp Tracking In Nyungwe Forest National Park
Visited Nyungwe to observe chimpanzees along with other primates in their natural habitat. The rain forest was so dense! You need to wear sturdy walking shoes and long trousers and a long sleeved top/shirt as you actually pass through the rainforest foliage off the beaten track following the guides as they lead you to the best locations to view the chimps, guided by their hard-working trackers. Bring your day-pack where you have a couple of water. It takes time to locate the chimps during a trek in this forest, but patience will of course pay you off.
You seeing chimps sitting in the trees, enjoying a meal, with entertaining and acrobatic youngsters is amazing. You stand speechless, transfixed by these close relatives of humans going about their daily business in the sanctuary of their natural habitat. The cost for this priceless experience was 90 US dollars each, but so worth it! An unforgettable experience.
Be forewarned: the chimps trek here meets at 5 AM, so you will be waking by 3 AM to be all ready and have traveled to the site by then.
Tips: Bring raingear and a sweater (can be chilly) especially if you plan to do this during the rainy months. The hike still continues despite pouring rain and thunder. Binoculars can be helpful, as the chimps here live high in the trees and you can't see them very well from the ground. Be aware that chimps don't always stick to the main trail so you will have to trek off-path through untouched rainforest, which can be physically demanding. Also, if you are keen on chimps and other primates which are less strenuous to find and if you still have the time to look at options, you might consider a visit Kibale Chimps Parks in Uganda.
I definitely encourage you to spend the mere 10 USD for the services of a porter, who is likely a former poacher now serving the parks and whose family is needy. The porter may not only carry your belongings, but also help you if you have difficulty on parts of the walk.
Nyungwe Forest is simply a park not to be missed if visiting Rwanda. It is the perfect location where you can add Chimpanzee tracking to your Gorilla trek in the Volcanoes National Park without driving long distances. If you have the time and all that it takes, do everything the park has to offer. The guides are all friendly and extremely well educated.