Nyungwe National Park
Nyungwe is the source of Africa’s great rivers. Rain that falls on the east side feeds the Nile, and on the west runs to the Congo. The Congo-Nile Divide is a mountain range that runs north to south through Rwanda.
Recently, Nyungwe opened a canopy walk, the only one of its kind in East Africa. This is a wonderful vantage point to view the incredible biodiversity of this rare forest.
The canopy walk opens at a time when Rwanda is being recognized as a top 10 global travel destination (Lonely Planet, 2009.) Nyungwe, the largest mountain rainforest in all of Africa, hosts 13 species of primates including the Angola colobus found in groups of 300–400 animals, which is an attribute unique to Nyungwe. It also hosts a large population of chimpanzees and two other threatened species of monkeys; the owl-faced monkey and reported but unverified sightings of the golden monkey.
Nyungwe is stated as “the most important site for biodiversity conservation in Rwanda” by Birdlife International for its approximately 280 bird species, 25 of which are endemic. Nyungwe’s forests extend to altitudes occupied by few other forests in Africa; 1600–2950 meters above sea level. It is also home to myriad orchids, butterflies, moths, and other fascinating insects – all of which constitute the potential for a major, low volume, tourist destination in the making. (Source: Draft Investor’s Guide to Nyungwe National Park Area, South Western Rwanda, Preliminary version 1 – 2008)
Nyungwe is also Rwanda’s primary water catchment, sheltering more than two-thirds of all of its waters.
The people of the area are as diverse, with many examples of song, dance, music, cuisine, handicrafts, and other artisan skills that make for a fascinating complement to the nature side of a trip to this part of Africa.
The forest has a network of walking and hiking trails. It has a number of camping sites and the development of cultural tourism near the edge of the Park is underway. New trails and camping sites are planned and being constructed as part of the development project, as are new ways of both observing and enjoying the Park.
Golden monkeys in Nyungwe forest
The thirteen primate species which are found in Nyungwe represent 20-25% of the total number in Africa, an extraordinary figure that in East Africa is comparable only to Uganda’s Kibale forest. Furthermore, several of these primates are listed as vulnerable or endangered on the IUCN red list, and Nyungwe is almost certainly the main stronghold for at least two of them. The most celebrated of Nyungwe’s primates are the Rwenzori Colobus, a race of the more widespread Angola colobus which is restricted to the Albertina Rift. The Rwenzori Colobus is a highly arboreal and acrobatic leaf-eater, easily distinguished from any other primate found in Nyungwe by its contrasting black overall colour and snow-white whiskers, shoulders and tail tip. Although all colobus monkeys are very friendly, the ones in Nyungwe are unique in a way, they typically move in troops of several hundred animals. A semi-habituated troop of 400 species, resident in the forest around the campsite, is known to be the largest troop of arboreal primates anywhere in Africa, and elsewhere in the world. Only the Chinese golden monkey moves in groups of a comparable number. Nyungwe harbours four types of small nocturnal primates, more closely related to the lemurs of Madagascar than to any other primates on the African mainland. These are three species which include bush baby or galago (a group of tiny, hyperactive wide-eyed insectivores) and the sloth-like Potto. All are very unlikely to be seen by tourists.
What to do
Birding Nyungwe Forest
Nyungwe Forest National Park is one of the most important bird watching Important areas in Rwanda with over 280 bird species recorded, the majority are forest specialists and 26 are regional endemics. Whose range is restricted to a few forests along the Albertina Rift? Bird watching in Nyungwe can be rather tiring since the vegetation is thick and many birds tend to stick to the canopy. You don’t have to be an ardent birdwatcher to appreciate some of Nyungwe’s birds. Most people double when they first spot a great blue turaco, a chicken-sized bird with garish blue, green and yellow feathers, often seen gliding between the trees along the main road. Another real gem is the paradise flycatcher, along with tailed blue, orange and sometimes white birds often seen around the rest house. Other birds impress with their bizarre appearance, the gigantic forest hornbills, for instance, whose wailing vocalizations are almost as comical as their ungainly bills and heavy winged flight. And when tracking through the forest undergrowth, you should watch out for the red-throated alethe, a much-localized bird with a distinctive blue-white eyebrow.
Chimpanzee trekking Nyungwe
The population of chimpanzees in Rwanda is about 500 individuals and is thought to be confined to Nyungwe national park, including a small community in the Cyamudongo Forest. During the rainy season, a troop of chimpanzees typically moves into Uwinka and the coloured trail as well, and it is up to the tourist to decide whether to pay extra to track them.
You may be able to hear chimpanzees before you see them; from somewhere deep in the forest, an excited hooting, just one voice at first, then several, rising in volume before stopping abruptly or fading away. Unlike most other primates, chimpanzees don’t live in troops, but instead, form extended communities of up to a hundred individuals. Which move around the forest in small mobile subgroups that often revolve around a few close family members like brothers, mothers and daughters. Male chimps normally spend their entire life within the community in which they were born, whereas females are likely to migrate into a neighbouring community at some point after reaching adolescence.
There are guest houses on either side of the park on the main road. In Kitabi (on the Butare side) the guest house is situated in the school of wildlife management. Coming from Butare take the left turn marked ‘tea factory’ about 200 m before the park entrance. There is then a right turn about 500 m further on, this is the guest house. The reception is l’Hoests monkey house. Rooms are 6’000 – 14’000Francs (there is a student discount available if you have a student ID)
Accessing Nyungwe Park
The main entrance is at Uwinka on the main Cyangugu – Butare road. It’s about 55 km from Cyangugu and 90 km from Butare. The road is mostly in good condition. There are regular buses along the route and hitching is also an option. Buses are often full when they reach here, so if you’re getting a bus out, it may be best to try to book your ticket in advance.
If travelling from Cyangugu ignore the sign in town that says it’s 20 km and further ignore the sign 15 km from Cyangugu directing you right up a dirt track. These refer to a small offshoot of the park, not the park proper.
Best time to visit
Any time of the years