Nyungwe National Park is located in southwestern Rwanda. The park is forested and protects Nyungwe forest, one of the oldest rainforests in East and Central Africa. It lies in the Albertine Rift Valley region and is among the outstanding wild places and primate safari destinations in Rwanda. The forested park is located about 6 to 7 hours’ drive from Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city. Nyungwe National Park covers a land area of 1,019 square kilometers and comprises different ecosystems from bamboo, swamps, rainforests, bogs, and grassland and all of these are homes to the different wildlife species.
The park is a leading primate safari destination in Rwanda after Volcanoes National Park with chimpanzees trekking the major primate trekking adventure. Nyungwe together with Akagera National Parks are managed by Africa Parks.
Wildlife in Nyungwe National Park
Nyungwe Forest National Park is very iconic as it is home to over 13 primate species. These include chimpanzees, L’hoest monkeys, golden monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, blue monkeys, olive baboons, grey-cheeked mangabeys, silver monkeys, Vervet monkeys, Colobus monkeys, Hamlyn’s monkeys and Dent’s Mona Monkeys among others.
There are over 270 bird species in Nyungwe forest making it among the best birding safari destinations. The park has a number of birds that are endemic to the Albertine Rift Valley and Central African forests. Notable birds here include the Rwenzori Turaco, Regal sunbird, great blue turaco, black saw-wing, Albertine owlet, Rwenzori Apalis, and strange weavers among others.
Nyungwe forest also has about 1068 plant species, 38 reptiles, and 32 amphibian species. For those interested in botany and small wildlife species especially reptiles and amphibians the park is a great place to see. There are also other mammals including forest elephants though these are rarely seen.
Chimpanzee trekking is the main activity done in the Nyungwe forest. There are two major habituated chimpanzee groups that are tracked. One lives in the Uwinka area near the park headquarters and the other at Cyamudongo towards Lake Kivu. Chimpanzees being man’s closest primates with over 98% DNA similar to humans, they are incredible to watch especially in their most preferred habitats. Chimpanzees, unlike mountain gorillas, are very mobile and oftentimes jump from one tree to another. Seeing them in a jungle-like Nyungwe enables you to enjoy real jungle life and see a number of other wildlife species present.
Chimpanzee trekking has an age limit. Only individuals above the age of 15 are allowed to track chimpanzees in groups of eight people. Given that they are two habituated groups, only 16 people are allowed to track a day. The trek takes 2 to 4 hours depending on the movement of the chimpanzees. You are allowed at least an hour to get to know more about the chimpanzees and their routine in the wild.
There are a number of well-developed trails in the park where guided nature walks are done. Nyungwe forest is a water catchment area with many rivers and waterfalls. Some of the guided nature walks feature waterfalls and other iconic features including a canopy walk. The canopy walkway in Nyungwe hangs several meters above and offers great scenic views of the forest. It also enables you to see wildlife that prefers to stay in the higher canopy layers of the forest.
Birding expeditions are also done in the Nyungwe forest. The forested park has over 280 bird species including Albertine endemics. Notable birds here include the African Hill Babbler, Bar-tailed Trogon, blue-headed sunbird, great blue turaco, and Rwenzori Turaco among others.
All the above-mentioned activities can be done at any time of the year. For birding, from November to May migratory birds from as far as Europe set in and that time is therefore the best birding time. For overall primate trekking adventures, it is best to visit from June to September and December to March when rainfall is minimal.
One and Only Nyungwe House is the most luxurious, perfectly located near Uwinka Park headquarters. The lodge is surrounded by tea plantations and overlooks Nyungwe forest giving one of the most refreshing views. The lodge is high-end but truly worth the price and overnight here is really memorable. Nyungwe Top View Hotel is another lodging option near Uwinka Park headquarters. The lodge is mid-range and also directly overlooks the forest. One and Only Nyungwe House and Nyungwe Top View Hotel are the best options if you are tracking chimpanzees from the main headquarters. They are also ideal for other pack activities like nature walks and other primate treks. The only budget option around the Uwinka area is the Gisakura guesthouse.
Nyungwe forest is near Lake Kivu and other accommodation options are on the shores of Lake Kivu. They include Mantis Marina Bay and Emeraude Kivu Resort. They have interrupted views of Lake Kivu and are ideal to stay at when tracking chimpanzees in cyamudongo. They are about an hour’s drive from the Uwinka Park headquarters. This means when you have activities like the nature walks and colobus monkey trekking you drive that 1 hour to the main park headquarters for a briefing and then proceed for the activities.
It is very advisable to book accommodation and permits in advance, especially for the peak tourist season. Note that you can get a discount on the gorilla permit if you have Nyungwe or Akagera National Park plus Volcanoes National Park. The discount is valid from November to May and can only be approved if you provide paid accommodation vouchers.
Getting to Nyungwe National Park
The park can be accessed by road transport from Kigali. The road trip to Nyungwe involves en route stopovers at the Nyanza Royal Palace and Butare museums. Here you get to know more about Rwanda’s rich culture and heritage. The 6 to 7 hours drive even though with stopovers does seem like a lot for some people. You can therefore opt to fly to Kamembe Airport near the park and then drive to your accommodation facility.
Nyungwe National Park was recently inscribed as a World Heritage Site and has gained more value with this development.