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.
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.
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).
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.
***STOP PRESS*** Nyungwe Forest Lodge is due to close from February 2017 onwards while it is refurbished. There is currently no time line of when they plan to reopen. Nyungwe Forest Lodge lies on the edge of Rwanda’s Nyungwe Rainforest National Park in the South-West of the country. It boasts an impressive view overlooking the forest canopy from a ridge on one side and a tea-plantation on the other. Although the country and its wildlife are still recovering from the civil war and genocide which ravaged them both in the mid 1990’s, today there still exists an impressive array of 13 different species of primate living in Nyungwe Rainforest National Park including chimpanzees.The facilities at Nyungwe Forest Lodge are without doubt some of the best in Rwanda. The rooms are well designed and fitted out with all the mod-cons you may find in a hotel in a large city and despite its size Nyungwe manages to maintain a ‘lodge feel’. The guided activities offered are varied and the mix of unique flora and fauna the National Park has to offer makes for some fantastic experiences. The contrast between the rainforest on one side and a tea plantation on the other also gives this lodge a little added something.
In the southwest of Rwanda, Nyungwe Forest National Park is an enormous tropical forest with a high canopy. Covering about 970km2, Nyungwe is the largest swathe of montane forest left in East or Central Africa, shown in the Map of Rwanda.
The accommodation at the ORTPH Resthouse is incredibly simple, and although accommodation rates are low, because you still need a private driver-guide with you for transport, the daily costs still end up being relatively high – and so we’d only recommend this with extreme caution for people who were looking for a very basic experience.
Nyungwe Top View Hill Hotel opened in February 2011 and easily has the most beautiful views in the Nyungwe Forest area. Located five minutes’ drive off a main road, up a very rough and steep dirt track, it is set on top of a hill with views across numerous tea plantations, and close to the headquarters of Nyungwe National Park.
At first glance, Nyungwe Top View Hill Hotel looks quite smart, but on closer inspection it is a little scruffy. The furniture may be modern but it’s a mish-mash of design, and is quite cheaply made. Yet regardless of the hotel’s imperfections we thought the location was great and it is certainly comfortable enough, offering good value. Indeed, the slight scruffiness and the odd mix of styles is rather endearing. In addition, the staff try really hard and we’d expect the friendly atmosphere and welcoming service.
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.
- Gisenyi Beach (6-minute walk)
- Parc National des Virunga (5.5 mi / 8.8 km)
- Rwanda Tourism University College (9-minute walk)
- Kigali Independent University (20-minute walk)