Located in Rwanda, in its southwestern area, Nyungwe Forest National Park is a beautifully preserved rainforest covering around 970 km2. The park was opened in 2004, as a means to grow the rate of tourism in the country for reasons other than the mountain gorillas that can be seen in Volcanoes National Park. If there is one word to describe Nyungwe Forest and Rwanda, in general, it is definitely biodiversity. Grassland swamps, rainforest, bogs, bamboo, orchids, mahoganies, tree terns, and ebonies are home to butterflies, beautiful birds, and the now famous primates of Nyungwe. Visiting Nyungwe Forest National Park is a once in a lifetime experience that you will never forget, replicate, or regret.
- +Safari with a variety of game, including endangered and rare animals, like the Masai giraffe or the blue monkey
- +Tracking chimpanzees.
- +Looking for primates (13 different species).
- +Admiring the impressive waterfalls.
- +Enjoying the breathtaking canopy walk.
- +Going on multiple hiking trails.
- +Bird-watching (over 300 species of birds).
About Nyungwe Forest National Park
The Nyungwe Forest National Park is a fantastic site to visit, as it offers something incredible for everyone. The biodiversity is spectacular, to say the least, as this park is set in the beautiful Rwanda, known for the extensive range of vegetation it exhibits, as well as fauna.
By far, the biggest attraction, when it comes to the animal kingdom in Nyungwe Forest, is the array of primates it offers. 13 different species of primates – Common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), Adolf Friedrich’s Angola colobus (Colobus angolensis ruwenzori), L’Hoest’s monkey (Cercopithecus l’hoesti), Silver monkey (Cercopithecus doggetti), Golden monkey (Cercopithecus kandti), Hamlyn’s monkey (Cercopithecus hamlyni), Red-tailed monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius), Dent’s mona monkey (Cercopithecus denti), Vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus), Olive baboon (Papio anubis), Grey-cheeked mangabey (Lophocebus albigena) – can be seen here, and you can enjoy an experience with chimpanzee trekking. This is one of the most popular activities in the park; it starts very early, and chimps are tracked, but once you find them, you can only spend one hour with them, just like with mountain gorillas.
Gorillas are easier to spot since chimpanzees tend to hang around the dense forest, so it’s less clear to see, but they are so close to humans and so playful, that it’s impossible not to enjoy the experience. Other primates that can be trekked are the Rwenzori colobus monkeys and the grey-cheeked mangabey. The former, especially, is present in the park in the hundreds. The l’Hoest’s monkeys are even more common, as you get the chance to see them on the side of the road. One monkey that is not common, but that can be found in Nyungwe is an Albertine Rift endemic that is known as the owl-faced monkey.
Another major attraction for tourists is the excellent setting for bird watching. More than 300 species of birds inhabit Nyungwe National Park and Birdlife International has named it “the most important site for biodiversity conservation in Rwanda”. Bird watching can prove to be difficult, but the feathered population of the forest makes your experience a delight with their songs. To make things easier, you might consider hiring a guide, as they are able to distinguish between birds by their chirp and song, especially the grey-chested kakamega, the red-breasted sparrowhawks, the giant hornbills, and the rwenzori turaco.
The Canopy Walk is famous, and it was set up in 2010 as a way to engage tourists and attract them to Rwanda. Nyungwe is the only location in East Africa that offers this and the first one available in this forest. The platform is 90 meters long, and it sits at 50-60 meters in the air. This gives tourists a chance to admire the beautiful forest from a unique angle, for a once in a lifetime experience.
Another great activity available here is hiking, as Nyungwe offers several different hiking routes, amassing 130 total kilometers of trail. People can explore the habitat at their own pace, admire the breathtaking views and spend time enjoying the forest and all the beauty it provides. The Bigugu Trail, which is 6 hours long, takes you to a 2950 m mountain, the highest in the entire park.
The park can be accessed through its main entrance on the Cyangugu-Huye road, at Uwinka. This is situated at around 90 km from Huye and 55 km from Cyangugu. If you plan on coming by road, it is accessible, but you can also hitchhike or take the bus (there are regular buses on this route). However, please note that it is best to book the ticket ahead of time, as the bus is most likely full when they reached the destination. Something to pay attention to is that, if you are coming from the direction of Cyangugu, you will notice signs that indicate 20 km and 15 km, but those should be ignored, because they show other locations, not the actual park.
When to Go & Weather
Nyungwe Forest National Park does not have restrictions related to the season (whether wet or dry), but if you are planning on visiting it, you should still check the weather and decide what season is more appropriate for the activities you wish to engage in while you are staying in Rwanda. Generally, game viewing is easier during the dry season, while bird watching is best during the wet season. However, if you are going to Nyungwe Forest for primates, the rainy season is the ideal time to do so.
The high altitude in Rwanda means that even though it’s very close to the equator, the temperatures are not extreme. Daytime sees temperature of about 22-27° C, while at nighttime, you can experience 16-21° C, with the higher peaks in the mountains exhibiting frost. The median is about 20-21° C consistently throughout the entire year, with higher temperatures from August to March.
- Dry Season: June – September and January – February
Interestingly enough, Nyungwe does not experience a single dry season, but two: from June until September and from January to February. Either of these times is best for seeing wildlife because this is when they visit watering holes, lakesides, and riverfronts. Trekking is also easier during this time, because roads, routes, etc. are dry.
- Wet Season: October-June
In the rainy season, it rains heavily every day, but the sun coming out is not unusual. The wettest month is April, but May and March also get a fair share of rain. The Nuyngwe Forest monkeys and apes are easier to spot during the wet season because their territories are more predictable. Birds can also be seen during this time, especially around waterfalls.
However, additional information regarding the weather climate of this area, as well as weather forecast, can be found here:
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The Nyungwe Forest has only been a national park since 2004, but the actual forest has been there for hundreds of thousands of years, and the presence of humans has been recorded as far back as 50,000 years ago. Today, this is a protected location due to its overwhelming importance and value of its natural resources, tremendous beauty and impressive biodiversity.
The story of the Nyungwe Forest National Park started in 1903, when Nyungwe was named a natural reserve by the Germans and the Belgians. However, it was not consistently protected. Over the course of 15 years (1973-1958), agriculture, woodcutting, fires and hunting reduced Nyungwe by as much as 150 km2, while Virunga forest and Gishwati forest were halved.
The last surviving buffalo was killed by hunters in 1974, while the last elephant made it to 1999. In the meantime, the Government allotted certain areas for timber harvesting and sustainable use and created a buffer zone. In 1984, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) conducted a biodiversity survey that discovered a unique phenomenon – colobus monkeys in groups of 400.
The war destroyed a major part of the country, as well as the tourist facilities and research sites at Uwinka. In 1995, the park started to be rebuilt. As of 2005, the Nyungwe Forest is a National Park and officially protected.
The flora in Nyungwe National Park is quite varied; in fact, Nyungwe enjoys the greatest biodiversity in Rwanda, with 140 species of orchids and over 200 types of trees. In addition, there are lots of medicinal plants to be found here, ones that have been used for remedial medicine for hundreds of years, like California Bayberry or East African satinwood.
The forest also boasts great diversity when it comes to animals, as its big geographical zones create ideal microhabitats for a lot of different animal species (85 of species of mammals, over 300 species of birds, 13 species of primates, 38 species of reptiles, and 32 species of amphibians).
A big part of them are only present in the Albertine Rift montane forests, so they’re restricted-range species. Mainly, the Nyungwe Forest National Park is of interest because of its extensive chimpanzee population, which tends to run in massive groups of up to 400 individuals.
The Rwanda government, as well as the Wildlife Conservation Society have been striving to protect and conserve the biodiversity at Nyungwe Forest National Park for decades. Buffer zones, awareness campaigns, tourism development, and policy development have all been utilized over the years in their efforts to offer the necessary protection to this beautiful, wild, and untouched area of Rwanda.
The Rwanda government is very involved in promoting sustainability and conservation of natural habitats, as well as attracting tourists. To this end, tourist activities include both the exploration and enjoyment of the actual forest, through hiking, tracking chimpanzees, or going on the Canopy walk, and experiencing the local culture.
There are walking tours organized in Banda Village as community-based tourism, a settlement that has been here for over 50,000 years. These tours allow visitors to engage with the locals, taste the food, and take part in local traditions and activities, such as a wedding or basket weaving.
The Kitabi Cultural Village project is only one example of a tourism initiative created to conserve the local culture. The Village provides day trips, activities, information about the history of Rwanda, as well as a restaurant and campsite.
- This National Park is the only place in all of Africa where one can encounter these giant groups of 300+ Colobus monkeys.
- Nyungwe Forest’s biodiversity has an interesting explanation: it is believed that it is one of the oldest forests in Africa and that it actually remained green all throughout the Ice Age.
- It is one of the few locations in the entire world where the L’Hoest’s monkey is still present.