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Guide to Nyungwe National Park, Africa’s Oldest Montane Rainforest

Extending for 970 square kilometers across the majestic hills of southeast Rwanda, Nyungwe National Park is the largest block of montane forest in East or Central Africa, and one of the most ancient, dating back to before the last Ice Age.

A uniquely rich center of floral diversity, Nyungwe forest has more than 200 different types of tree, and a myriad of flowering plants including the otherworldly giant lobelia and a host of colorful orchids.
An extensive network of well-maintained walking trails leads through Nyungwe forest to various waterfalls and viewing points. A comfortably rustic rest house and perfectly situated campsite lies alongside the main road, and the reserve can readily be visited as a day trip from the towns of Butare and Cyangugu.

Nyungwe National Park does, however, deserve more time: anybody who wants to track chimps and see several varieties of smaller primate will need two days there – and dedicated bird watchers might never want to leave!

Nyungwe forest is most alluring for its primates:
13 species in all, including humankinds closest living relative the chimpanzee, as well as the handsome LHoests monkey and hundred strong troops of the delightfully acrobatic Angola Colobus. The most important ornithological site in Rwanda, Nyungwe forest harbors almost 300 bird species of which two dozen are restricted to a handful of montane forests on the Albertine Rift.

The avian highlight of Nyungwe National Park is the great blue turaco – an outlandish blue, red and green bird which streams from tree to tree like a procession of streamlined psychedelic turkeys.

About Nyungwe National Park

An Ancient Forest Nyungwe forest has existed for hundreds of thousands of years, and is one of Africa’s oldest. Thus, there is a possibility that climate change will not affect Nyungwe as much as other forests, as long as it is protected from threats like fires and tree cutting.

Immerse yourself in the largest and oldest montane forests of Africa. Nyungwe Forests National Park is a montane rainforest located in Rwanda’s Kivu Belt region. Nyungwe Forest is part of the Congo-Nile divide forest which originally stretched over the entire mountain range which divides the Congo Water Basin from the Nile Water Basin all the way from Congo to Burundi. Today’s remainders of these forest complex include Nyungwe Forest, Gishwati Mukura Forest in Rwanda and Kibira National Park in Burundi.

Nyungwe Forest National Park is the largest of the remaining rainforests of the Congo-Nile divide. The other remaining rainforests of the Congo-Nile divide are small and fragmented. Nyungwe Forest is a huge, vast area with a unique biodiversity including more than 500 eastern chimpanzees. There are plans to create more forests corridors to connect all the remaining forests to Nyungwe Forest National Park, but so far these are only plans and have not been realized.

Why is Nyungwe So Diverse?
Scientists think that Nyungwe was one of the few places in Africa to remain green during the last Ice Age. Species took shelter in Nyungwe and never left!

What’s Special about a Mountain Rainforest? 
It is home to a variety of plants, animals, and habitats found almost nowhere else.

Nyungwe: Part of Africa’s Great Rift Valley This forest is in the Albertine Rift, a mountainous section of East Africa that, as a whole, harbors more endemic birds, mammals, and amphibians than any other region in Africa. For example: over 1000 species of birds, about 52% of all of Africa’s birds, have been recorded in the Albertine Rift. Nyungwe is the largest protected area within the Albertine Rift, and contains 25 of these endemics, more than any other site in east Africa.

Things to See in Nyungwe Forest

With about 280 bird species, 25 of which are endemic, Nyungwe is one of the most important — and still undiscovered — birdwatching destinations in Africa. Reaching to almost 3000 meters above sea level with Mount Bigugu the highest point in the Park, Nyungwe’s forests extend to altitudes occupied by few other forests in Africa.

Nyungwe is also home to one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of chimpanzees and a sometimes noisy, acrobatic combination of other primates such as Ruwenzori colobus and L’Hoest’s monkeys.

Even though the main attraction of Nyungwe Forest are the chimpanzees, this is not the only thing which makes Nyungwe worth a visit. There are a total of 13 primate species in the Nyungwe Forest National Park as well as other monkeys and mammals including serval, golden cat and duikers. Nyungwe Forest is situated in the Albertine Rift Valley and home to several endemic bird species which can only be found here. Nyungwe Forest National Park has several hiking trails, many of which lead to one of the many beautiful water falls which can be found in the forest.

A variety of hiking and walking trails criss-cross the Park leading to a canopy walk, primate tracking adventures, the southernmost source of the Nile and ecotourism attractions. The park includes a colorful array of orchids, butterflies, moths and other insects.

The forest has a growing network of walking and hiking trails and a number of camping sites near the Uwinka Visitor Center. Cultural tourism activities are being developed near the edge of the Park. New trails and camping sites are planned and being constructed as part of the USAID-sponsored Nyungwe Nziza Project, as are new ways of both observing and enjoying the Park.

Things t Do

Primate Tracking

Thirteen species of primates are known to inhabit Nyungwe Forest, including chimpanzees, owl-faced guenons and Angolan black and white colobus monkeys. In a 2002 report by the Wildlife Conservation Society, they found the latter living in groups of more than 300 individuals.

World Class Bird Watching

Nyungwe is home to at least 278 bird species, 26 of which are endemic to the Albertine Rift Valley. It is one of the best bird watching destinations in Africa.  Some of the birds that can be seen here include the Great Blu Turaco, the Crowned Hornbill and the Blue-Headed Sunbird.

Hiking Trails

Nyungwe offers 13 hiking trails, some with tongue-twisting names. Try pronouncing “Igishigishigi” quickly, which is the name of an easy 1.7 km trail that begins near the Uwinka Reception Centre.  By the way, Igishigishigi means tree fern. The trails range from easy to difficult and from 1.7 kms to 10.6 kms in length.

Canopy Walk

One of the main attractions of Nyungwe Forest National Park is the Canopy Walk. The Canopy Walk is a series of hanging bridges across the canopy of Nyungwe Forest which allows for visitors to experience the canopy of the forest first hand and is unique of its kind in East Africa. The Nyungwe Canopy Walk was recently named the best canopy walk in the world by Lonely Planet.

Community based Ecotourism

Nyungwe currently has 4 Cultural villages that provide tourists experiences beyond wildlife viewing, where people, culture and nature come together with the aim of protecting nature in and around Nyungwe forest; and enhance the community’s ecotourism activities in so doing seeking to improve the lives of the people.