Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe forest National Park covers an area of over 1,020km2 large tract of un tamed afro montane forests, grasslands, bamboo and boggy swamps found across the southwestern mountains of Rwanda is considered to be the outstanding unspoiled ever green equatorial rain forests of a sky-scraping thick canopy in central and east Africa. The park is well known for its varied topography with varied types of soils supporting a diversity of plant and animal life. Moist, fertile soils support tall trees, the step sided ridges are a habitat for short thickets while flooded forest, open flower filled marshes make it an ideal destination for adventurous tourists. When Rwanda sought to increase tourism development further than mountain gorilla tracking, Nyungwe forest National Park Rwanda became a national park in 2004 making it one of the biggest protected areas that at a high altitude ranging between 1,600 m and 2,950 m above sea level is of particular interest to the presence of chimpanzee s.
Strategically located between the watershed basin of the world’s longest rivers Nile and Congo that is associated with the Albertine rift and the Rwenzori Mountains to the southern shores of Lake Tanganyika forms large terrestrial biomes that provide great extent of microhabitats for various species of plants and animals in fact the number of endemic species found in the forest is superior than other forest in the Albertine region.
Nyungwe forest is a primatologist’s dream destination with 13 different species of primates recorded making 25% of Africa’s primates of which the forest’s prime attraction is the chimpanzee; a delightful ape whose evocative pant-hoot call defines the real sound of African rainforests. It’s a home to more than 500 Chimpanzee including those communities that have been habituated in the forest for tourism purposes and most visitors will go for a tracking experience. The other popular species of primate that are remarkably present in large numbers include more than 300 troops of Black and White Colobus monkeys have been see no where except in Nyungwe forest, handsome L’Hoest monkeys, Grey cheeked mangabey, Red- tailed monkeys, olive baboons and blue monkeys. For enthusiastic primate watchers, the forest offers an opportunity to observe more than six species by taking a short daylight walk.
The birds in Nyungwe forests are abundant, with 310 species recorded making the forest a birder’s paradise. Although in the rain forests it can be challenging to come across some species, all the same birders are still driven by the presence of about 27 Albertine rift endemics species making it an absolute bird watching spot. Expert birding tours all through the forest routinely notch up an incredible tally of more than 150 species within a day, while enthusiastic amateurs might reasonably hope to aim for less than 100 within the same time. Among the commonly sighted species include Giant black and white casqued hornbills, Great blue Turaco, sparkling sun birds, forest buzzards, night jars and the most exciting experience is to listen to the sweet calls of birds through the day.
Another main highlight of Nyungwe is the extensive canopy walkways that take you high up to 50 meters between giant tree flowers on top of tress will not only refresh your minds but also offers breathtaking views of the whole forest.
Chimpanzee Tracking in Nyungwe Forest
Tracking Chimpanzee in Nyungwe forest formally commenced in 2005 because of the fact that the bulk population of these primates are cramped to Nyungwe forests and a small perch of Cyamudongo forests which habits a small number of chimps. Chimpanzee trekking is the most well-liked activity in Nyungwe forest national park with about 500 chimps that live in the forest. Visitors will be able to track those groups of chimpanzee that have been habituated for tourism and tracking can be at any months of the year however it requires a reasonably level of strength and vigor to maneuver through the ragged terrain, thick forests and bogged areas. Two groups of chimps have been habituated; one group is in Nyungwe and the other in small patches of Cyamudongo forests. The group in Nyungwe bigger with over 60 chimpanzees and the easy to track, the Cyamudongo forests group is relatively hard to track with 30 chimps that are incredibly hasty jumping from tree to tree characterized by few and far between views.
As you might anticipate tracking may go for more than 7 hours of walking therefore visitors may not be guaranteed to see chimps but with the help of guides and trackers who closely follow the chimps and keep in close contact with guides, chances are higher to encounter these amazing apes that share 98.7 % of their genes with human is well worth the strenuous trek. .
Tracking starts early at 7:00 am in the morning at the visitor’s center where you will be welcomed by Nyungwe guides who will brief you about tracking procedures and feed you with all information concerning chimpanzee groups and other wildlife in the park. There are three reception centers in Nyungwe that is the Kitabi, Uwinka and Gisakura where all treks begin from, as you start to track, you will be required to keep voices low so as not to scare away other wildlife that you might encounter.
Chimpanzee tracking permit cost US $ 90 and the minimum age of tracking is 16 years and you permits can be purchased through the Rwanda Development Board or alternatively there are local travel agencies that sell permits.
Forest Canopy Walkways
A wide-ranging network of hiking trails has been developed in Nyungwe forest National park stretching for over 2.1 km wide canopy walkway is part of the organized guided tours in the forest. From Uwinka a visitor’s reception center, take a walk for about 30 minutes via the Igishigishi ridge of steep slopes to the starting point of the walkway. The actual canopy walkway has a 160 meter stretch divided into 3 sections. The first branch of the canopy is about 45 m long followed by the longest 90 meter stretch and the shortest is 25 meters long above the ground. Before you hike you are advised to carry hiking gear including rain coats, hiking shoes as it might rain and drench everything in the sight, binoculars and cameras are also good to carry along the walkway for excellent viewing and photography. Once you get to the canopy, prepare yourself to get on one of the unbelievable adventures almost not corresponding to any other canopy in East and Central Africa for those unafraid of the heartbreaking heights high above the ground.
Canopy walkways not only present a thrilling opportunity to view many primate species, lush beautiful flowers, butterflies, purple orchids and birds that inhabit the upper parts of the forest as you walk between huge mahogany trees but also feel of freshness; mid-air wonderful outlooks of the forest. From the top of the canopy you can also view the far reaching sight of Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo on clear days as you wonder Nyungwe’s remarkable diversity and impressive scenery.
As a favorite activity for the park’s visitors it can be conducted all year round despite the ever changing weather conditions sometimes characterized by heavy rains of up to 2,000mm per annum. The canopy walkways start at 8:00 am to 10:00 in the morning or from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm in the afternoon. The cost of the walk is US $ 60 paid at the reception center per person and averagely the hike may take two hours to complete it.
Black and White Colobus Monkeys
Monkeys are excellently fine in large numbers in Rwanda’s Nyungwe forest National park with 13 species of primates amongst the most amazing to see are the Black and white Colobus monkeys. As you walk through the forest be on the lookout for something white in the trees. Colobus monkeys are beautiful and quiet primates with long black and white coats and have become every wildlife photographer’s dream. Sometimes referred to as the Rwenzori colobus monkeys that move in large troops of more than 300 individuals are very captivating primates that any primatologist out there should visit and the most exciting experience is to watch baby colobus monkeys as their mothers cradle them into their chest.
Visits to see these amazing colobus monkeys are possible with experienced park guides, at a cost of US $ 70 per person for only one hour.
Besides the colobus monkeys, there are other primates that live in the forest including those endemic to the Albertine rift region such as the owl -faced monkeys, L’Hoest monkeys, blue monkeys, grey cheeked Mangabey, Red tailed monkeys that you might often see ambling along the roadside trees.
Community Based Tourism and Cultural Experiences
Kitabi Cultural Village
Exploring a variety of flora and fauna in Nyungwe forest National Park is as good as discovering the rich authenticity of Rwandan culture. There are organized Nyungwe cultural exploring tours that will take visitors of to a number of community based eco-tourism products to witness the effort of local people geared towards conservation of biodiversity. Several community based initiatives have been mushroomed particularly cultural villages of Kitabi and Banda cultural villages. These were mainly developed to conserve morals of the Rwandan culture. Kitabi cultural village is located at the eastern edge of Nyungwe forests and it has a variety of cultural encounters that include traditional camp sites, restaurants and a round trip to the king’s palace. At the village you will discover centuries of music, dance traditional cuisine, history and a great deal of hospitable people waiting for. Visitors can get a chance to learn and take part in different activities such as attending a traditional wedding ceremony, local food tasting, traditional milk preservation and basket weaving.
Visitors to the cultural village can stay foe an overnight in a traditional grass thatched hut at a cost US $ 40 per foreign visitor; local visitors pay U $ 20.
Banda Cultural Village
Banda cultural village is located 15 km way from the Uwinka visitor’s center and can be reached through the plain sailing hike towards the edge of the canopy walkway. This village represents ideal locale where people have lived for more than 50,000 years, in addition you will learn about Rwanda’s music, dance and local cuisines. The community gives tourists a break to realize the enriching cultural experiences at the heart of contemporary Rwanda where you will be welcomed by comforting and thrilling blowing up of interlock beats and entertaining traditional songs is surely mind blowing cultural encounter. Authentic cultural traditional handcraft products are such as a mixture of musical instruments can be purchased at the site. Taking a locally made handicraft with you to your home country will always bring sweet memories of a true Rwandan cultural experience besides the precious emotional gorilla photographs you took during the trek.
The traditional home made hospitality of the Rwandan people, the cultural diverse populace makes Rwanda one of the friendliest countries in East Africa next to her counter part Uganda Africa’s number one friendly country.
Bird Watching in Nyungwe Forest
Nyungwe forest national park has one of the largest populations of forest endemic species of birds in Africa with 280 species of birds including 26 species restricted only to the Albertine rift regions, therefore the forest is precious for protection of montane forest species of birds. This makes Nyungwe an exclusive birders heaven where bird watching activity is carried throughout the year along the main designated trails full of Albertine rift endemics. The forest has one of the safest birding trails where you can walk in the forest with less risk of attack from wild animals nevertheless you will be accompanied by the park rangers who are always armed with AK 47 machine gun.
Remember that forest birds may be difficult to encounter because of the thick underneath but for dedicated birders its well worth undertaking. You can imagine the delight of seeing Grauer’s Rush warbler that thrives in an unapproachable bogs, the avian highlight of Nyungwe the Rwenzori Turaco recognized by their loud rhythmic calls that resonate in the forest, uncommon sun birds such as Blue Headed Sun bird, Archers Robin chat, purple breasted sun bird, Rwenzori night jars, and Handsome Francolin, Red throated Alethe, equatorial akalat, crowned hornbills just a quick look of species while relaxing at a picnic spot, take a breathe and listen to the bird calls of which an expert ornithologist may identify birds by hearing.
To get pleasure out of watching birds, birders should carry field guide books that contain a lot of information on birds, binoculars, cameras. Birds are ever flying at a terrific speed hence it may be by luck to photography one. In addition night birding can also be carried out particularly between the park boundaries and tea plantations near Gisakura hotel where one might come across the seldom Rwenzori night jars.
A birding permit costs US $ 50 not inclusive of the guide’s tip who will help you out to take you to the most hidden spots full of birds.
Nyungwe Forest Hiking Trails
Nyungwe forest is emerging as a classic ideal destination for hikers with over 200 km of hiking routes created in the forest allowing visitors to explore the astounding views of the ancient afro montane forest habitats from a great height of about 90 meters on top of the tress is a breathtaking adventure you will never forget. A complex system of far-reaching hiking trails were developed in 2010 in order to cater for enthusiast- adventure loving hikers, walking in Nyungwe is exceptional with trails lasting from 1 to 8 hours therefore you are advised to carry hiking gears such as walking sticks, rain jackets, packed food or snacks and solid hiking shoes. Some of the hiking gear can be got from the launching point. Additionally fanatical hikers may decide to enjoy camping in the forest. There are three sections of different trails with varying height above the ground that take you through the upper parts of the forest teemed with beautiful flowers, orchids hanging on tree branches, butterflies and primates that inhabit the forest.
Tourists should expect to pay 40 or 60 US dollars per person, those intending to camp and hike at the same time can pay 35 US dollars whereas camping only costs 50 US dollars.
Three multi- day trails shall motivate frightened hikers scared of the dark forest shadow but still persist and test their physical strength, you will be fascinated by the most scenic waterfalls as you stand on the highest peaks at an altitude of about 2470 m above sea level, the refreshing expansive views of the whole forest and the distant Virunga Mountains. Here is a description of the trails:-
This trail is about 9.8 km long and may take up to 6 hours of walking therefore best suit for serious hikers. It starts from Uwinka reception center at an attitude of 1,950 m to the highest altitude point at 2,470 m above sea level; visitors will be fascinated to see the beautiful sceneries of four different thundering waterfalls with revitalizing views. This 6 hour round hike takes you to the underneath of the Bururi Valley transient from beginning to end of the valley you will enjoy a diversity habitats such as under- story thickets, luxuriant Riverine forests lower than 500 meters.
Walking besides the waterfalls, while soothing, pay attention to an array of bird calls resounding from the forest which can distinguished by zealous birders, tree frogs and lots of plant species can be seen as you enter into a critical pit of extremely large tree ferns.
Kamiranzovu Marsh Trail
The trail is 6 km long which may take about 3 hours of round trip walking, found in the middle of a swampy- like valley of about 1,300 hectares of montane vegetation zone in the southern sector of the forest and it is believed to the biggest wetland and watershed spot within Nyungwe National park. The trail is frequently visited by those who love boggy conditions, hiking all the way through low altitude dripping swamps with a range of plants species of natural significance such as medicinal herbs. Birders can also take a pleasure in searching for the swamp restricted Grauer’s warbler.
The Congo Nile – Divide trail
This trail is the popular for its strategic route overlooking the world’s longest iconic Rivers Nile and Congo, the trailhead curves along the steep banks and ridges that separate the two rivers making it the longest trail and most challenging but worth hiking, therefore best suit for serious hikers. The foothill covers 227 km which can take 3 to 4 days of hiking, navigating through the rain forest, wet – slippery ridges and bamboo forests while listening to the thunderous sound of the river waters is a memorable experience. Most of the hikers are likely to spend more than two days enjoying the typical forest camping experience. You will relax and feel fresh for the next day’s walk in the campsites that have been set up along the trail as well as shops where you may buy food or snacks. Hikers are required to carry their own camping equipments
This trail starts at Uwinka reception center covering about 2.1 km of which can be hiked for one and a half hours. Taking visitors through upper parts of the forest giving you stunning canopy views, lots of birds, primates can be encountered.
The trail is about 7 km long and may take up to 6 hours of serious walking; the trailhead starts with a steep climb from one of the highest elevation Point of Bigugu Mountain at 2,950 m above sea level hence it requires an average level of fitness for hiker. Open vegetation in the valleys to the side of the trail is good to spot Doherty’s Bushshrikes . The trail is encircled by rare plant species like the giant lobelias and heathers, glittering sun birds swinging over huge beautiful flowers and most rewarding are the views of the forest at glance stretching up to Lake Kivu as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
. The word Irebero means “viewpoint” hence visitors will enjoy hiking up to the top most part of the forest. The 3.6 km will make you feel like you are walking around wield jungles, visitors will see animals, birds and other habitats of the forest. The trail is pleasant to hike as it gives you refreshing endless views of the whole park and some parts Burundi.
Karamba Birding Trail
The 3 km trail from Gisakura at a slightly lower elevation of 1,930 m above sea level of secondary and open forest areas. It is the easiest to hike because of its low altitude, expect to walk through muddy grassland like forests. Visitors can enjoy excellent bird watching along the trail where most Albertine rift endemics can be encountered and other species of forest birds such as the African broadbill, white bellied and the many collared Bush shrikes. At the start of the grassland like forests there is a chance to spot the rarely seen Rwenzori night jars. Other several primates along the trail include the Dent’s monkey. The trail passes through the former Rwandan gold mines.
The trail head is at Uwinka visitor reception center; this is the pink trail in the Uwinka trail system. Mostly though the forest and sparse understory thickets where lots of mixed flocks of birds are seen such as the dusky crimson wing, hornbills and purple breasted sun bird are commonly encountered along the trail.
The trail head is about 1 km long found of the Uwinka reception near a bus stop station, the trail can be accessed from the eastern end close of Nyungwe forest close to the Pindura road turn with secondary habits dominating where troops of 300 plus Black and White Colobus monkeys can be seen. Commonly used for organized chimpanzee tracking but also good to spot rare species of birds inhabiting the secondary habits such as the Lagdens’s Bushshrikes, Dwarf honey guide. The trial passes through a valley are chances are very high that hikers will get dripped because of the moist conditions.
The 4.7 km trail which can take about three hours of round trip but it can be slightly longer to include the highlight visit to the Kitabi tea plantation field extending to 8 hours. There are camps and picnic sites along this particular trail allowing visitors to spend extra time enjoying the forest’s native black and white colobus monkeys and lots of birds.
The trail is slightly longer but easy to hike the distance of about 10.6 km between 4 to 5 hours. Sparkling waterfalls often mesmerize visitors who often stop at the forest close up to see variety of flora and fauna along the forest edge. Visitors will pass through the tea plantations giving you a chance to realize the key economic activities taking place in the area besides the tourist attractions.
This trail is 3.6 km long and may take 3 hours to complete but most importantly hikers will enjoy great views of several forest ridges, untouched parts of the rain forest with good-looking flowers as you pass from side to side of the valley you will benefit from the forest’s rich biodiversity and on clear days you can see as far as the Burundi mountains in kibira National park.
The trail is found in the North East side of the forest and present a chance to some scenic views cross the forest to Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo on clear days, the trail is best suit for bird watchers covering 5.2 km and can be hiked for 4 hours. There are campsites near the Gisovu ranger station for visitors wishing to stay for an overnight.