Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe Forest National Park is Rwanda’s most important area of biodiversity and has been rated the highest priority for forest conservation in Africa. It lies in southwest Rwanda, partly abutting the Burundi border.
It’s a vast area of mountain rainforest, home to many chimpanzee species, plus owl-faced and colobus monkeys. The Canopy Walkway, part of the Igishigishigi Trail, is a high suspension bridge with views over the valley and surrounding forests. A trail runs to the Kamiranzovu Marsh, with its birdlife, orchids and waterfall.
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.
Intact mid-elevation forests (1600-2000M) like Nyungwe are rare in Africa, but they are important habitat for many species. Nyungwe is one of the last places in Africa to maintain this type of crucial forest.
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.
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 another epiphytes cling to every branch.
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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.
Wildlife in Nyungwe Forest
Nyungwe forest National Park has a wide diversity of animal species, making it a priority for conservation in Africa.
The forest is situated in a region in which several large-scale bio geographical zones meet and the variety of terrestrial biomes provides a great span of micro habitats for many different species of plants and animals.
The park contains 13 primate species (25% of Africa’s total), 275 bird species, 1068 plant species, 85 mammal species, 32 amphibian and 38 reptile species. Many of these animals are restricted-range species that are only found in the Albertine Rift montane forests eco region in Africa. In fact, the number of endemic species found here is greater than in any other forest in the Albertine Rift Mountains that has been surveyed. The forest, which reaches its maximum altitude of 3000 meters above sea level, is of particular interest for the presence of colonies of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and Angola colobus (Colobus angiogenesis), the latter now extinct in Angola for the intense hunt to which they were subjected.
Activities to do in Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe forest National Park 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 tracking.
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.
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 sparrow hawks are amongst the specials, of which 27 are endemic to this section of the Albertine rift valley.
It is a thrilling adventure that nature lovers and adrenaline junkies should not miss out on if they visit Rwanda and Nyungwe forest for any tour. The walk offers breathtaking views across East Africa’s largest and oldest Afro-montane forest, and also offers a chance to see at eye-level wildlife that live in the forest canopies but is not easily seen from the ground such as monkeys and birds.
The canopy walkway is accessed from the Igishigishigi trail, one of the many hiking trails in Nyungwe Forest National Park.
The canopy walk tour therefore involves hiking along the Igishigishigi trail 2.1km long, with the canopy walkway creating a sort of bridge or shortcut along this looping trail.
The canopy walkway measures a total of 160 meters in length and is suspended 74 meters from the ground across a deep valley filled with thick forest.
The canopy walk tour starts at Uwinka which is also the park’s headquarters and the round trip takes from 1.5 to 2 hours long.
After registering at the Visitor’s Centre, visitors take on a forest trail that connects to the Igishigishigi trail.
The forest walk offers a beautiful nature experience and one gets to observe wildlife found at the ground level and enjoy beautiful views of forest clad rolling hills.
The minimum age for the canopy walk is 6 years and children must be accompanied by an adult.