Gishwati Forest National Park
Gishwati Mukura National Park is one of the youngest national parks in Africa. On 1st of December 2020, Gishwati-Mukura National Park officially opened its doors to the public. Gishwati Mukura is now a National Park which means that parts of the vast montane forest that once stretched across much of central Africa now has permanent protection. The journey to save one of the last remaining central African montane rain forests of Gishwati Mukura has not come easy and there has been a long and hard journey leading up to the official opening of Gishwati Mukura National Park. Finally, visitors can now come and experience the forest the way it has been for thousands of years.
The forests of Gishwati Mukura National park is a fragmented montane rainforest located in Rwanda’s Kivu Belt region. It 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 Gishwati Forest, Mukura Forest and Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda and Kibira National Park in Burundi.
Even though Gishwati and Mukura forests are part of the same national park, they are fragmented and divided by around 50 kms. The entire area between them have been set aside for conservation as a National Park and there is a plan to reforest the entire area into one complete forest which would then cover an area almost as large as Nyungwe Forest. Discussions are also being held over how to connect Gishwati and Mukura forests to Nyungwe Forest through a rainforest corridor.
The two forests of Gishwati-Mukura National Park are similar but suitable for different activities. Mukura Forests is less “developed” than Gishwati forest. At the moment there are no hiking trails in Mukura forests, but the Rwandan government is currently developing a plan and securing funding to develop hiking trails and activities in the park. Very little is known about the wildlife situation in Mukura Forest as it has been shut of to the public for many years with very few studies done. In Gishwati forest there are well developed hiking trails, waterfalls and the forest is home to a large group of the elusive eastern chimpanzee.
History of deforestation and reforestation
Rwanda is the most densely populated countries in Africa and Gishwati forest is located in one of the most densely populated areas of Rwanda. Needles to say that this has put tremendous pressure on the sensitive ecosystem of Gishwati forest.
Gishwati Forest has a history of over five decades of deforestation which today has led to problems like landslides and soil erosion far beyond the borders of the Gishwati Forest National Park. In the 70’s, Gishwati Forest National Park was submitted to projects of large-scale cattle farming in an attempt to create and modernize farming in Rwanda. During the cattle schemes lots of original Gishwati Forest was cut down to make way for cattle ranches. During the Rwandan genocide in the 90’s, large populations of people were displaced and in need for farmland. The result had a major impact on Gishwati Forest which during this time had to make way for small scale farming. In 1970, there were approximately 28,000 hectares remaining of Gishwati Forest. In 2002 only 600 hectares remained.
Since 2002, the area was struck by many problems associated with the deforestation of Gishwati Forest. Landslides killed several problems, soil erosion destroyed farmlands and water quality diminished. The destruction of the forest was now having a major negative impact on the human population of the entire area. This turned out to be a turning point and resulted in the first of many projects aimed at restoring the original Gishwati Forest.
The first project, Projet d’Appui a la Reforestation au Rwanda, PAFOR ran from 2005 to 2008. This project aimed at establishing a system of sustainable management of the forest resources of Rwanda and made Gishwati Forest a zone for sustainable forest management. During this period the forest was allowed to regenerate and Gishwati Forest grew to 886 hectares. From 2008 to 2011 the Great Ape Trust / Gishwati Area Conservation Program sponsored by the Great Ape Fund ran. During this period reforestation focused on steep hillsides and Gishwati Forest was increased to 1,484 hectares. The chimpanzee population in Gishwati forest managed to grow from 13 to 16 individuals. It was during this period that plans for a forest corridor to connect Gishwati Forest, and Mukura Forest to Nyungwe Forest grew.
In 2014, the Rwandan Government and The World Bank signed a deal of more the $9.5 million for the conservation of Gishwati Forest and Mukura Forest. This resulted in the Rwandan Government signing a law in 2015, which effectually created a combined national park of Gishwati Forest and Mukura Forest, including much of the deforested area between them. The law came into effect in 2019, making Gishwati-Mukura Forest National Park the most recent national park in Africa. On 1st of December Gishwati-Mukura National Park opened its doors to the public for the first time.
Visiting Gishwati Forest National Park
Gishwati Mukura National Park opened for visitors on the 1st of December 2020. At the moment, only Gishwati Forest can be visited as Mukura Forest has no infrastructure or hiking trails guides to be able to receive visitors.
Gishwati Forest has several newly constructed hiking trails and all visits to the park need to follow these. Since Gishwati Forest is a national park, all activities need to be arranged and booked with the park office. The brand-new park office can be found next to the main road at the edge of the forest in the end closest to Rubavu. Since the current management of Gishwati Forest is a collaboration between Rwanda Development Board, Forest of Hope Association and Wilderness Safaris, no visits to the park are allowed without a stay at the Forest of Hope Guest House. Contact Wilderness Safaris, the Park office or the Forest of Hope Guest House for more information.
More information about activities in Gishwati Forest
Accommodation in or near Gishwati Forest National Park
At the moment the is the only accommodation available in Gishwati Forest. Gishwati forest is located around 40 mins drive from Rubavu which offers a range of other forms of hotels near the Lake Kivu.
The Forest of Hope Guest House offers 2 newly renovated en-suite rooms with 2 twin beds including mosquito nets. Each room has its own private terrace with views over the forest. There is hot water, electricity and WIFI available. The Guest House will cater for 3 meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the latter two from a set menu prepared by the Gishwati chef. Included in the rate are certain drinks like tea, coffee, water and juice. A small selection of other drinks are available at additional charge.
The Forest of Hope Camp Site is newly renovated and offers a roofed platform where you can pitch your tent. The campsite is unserved and only suitable for self-catering guests. Toilet and shower facilities, a small fireplace, a barbeque stand and water for cleaning and cooking are available.
Laundry is available on request at an additional fee.
Health and Safety at Gishwati Forest
During the visit, the guide carries a first aid kit to provide basic first aid in the event of any medical emergencies. The guide also carries both radio and cell phone contacts with support staff based at the reception center. You shouldn’t hesitate to tell the guide ahead of time if you have any medical conditions that he/she should know about. Helicopter evacuation by Akagera aviation is available for any emergency.
How to get to Gishwati Forest National Park
Gishwati forest is easily accessible as the main road between Rubavu and Karongi passes by the park. Sometimes primates can even be seen on the main road as drive through. You can access the park with bus to Rubavu and then taxi, moto or a minibus to the park office, but this is not recommended. The park office is located at the edge of Gishwati Forest on the main road at the part of Gishwati Forest closer to Rubavu. It can be a bit hard to find as there is no sign, but the park office is a gated complex with blue roofs at the edge of the forest overlooking the tea plantations of Pfunda and is easily seen when driving on the main road from Rubavu.
The fastest way to Gishwati Forest from Kigali is to drive the RN4 over Musanze towards Rubavu. Turn left towards Karongi at the intersection by Pfunda Tea Factory, about 15 minutes before Rubavu town. Follow the road towards Karongi for about 20-30 mins. Just before entering Gishwati forest you will see the blue park office complex with a blue roof on your right side. Expect the entire drive to take 3.5-4 hours without a stop.
Take the main road towards Rubavu. The main road passes by Gishwati Forest. After driving through the forest you will see the blue park office complex with a blue roof on your left side as you are coming out to the Pfunda Tea Plantations. Expect the entire drive to take 1.5-2 hours without a stop.
When to Visit Gishwati Forest
Rwanda is located almost directly on the equator and has a tropical climate. Gishwati Mukura is located in the Kivu Belt in western of the Rwanda and receives more rainfall than the central and the eastern parts of the country. Therefore, the country’s rainforests can be found here. Even though Gishwati Mukura is in the tropics, the elevation keeps the temperature at a constant pleasant with temperatures around 25°C during the day and 15-20°C during the night.
There are two distinct raining seasons in the Kivu Belt, one longer and one shorter, though rain falls throughout the year. The long raining season occurs between March and May. Expect daily heavy showers and thunderstorms during this time of year and some full days of rain, but also some sunshine during the day is not uncommon. The shorter raining season from October to December has less rainfall, but heavy thunderstorms are common almost every day. It is common for days to start of sunny in the morning, even during the raining season and then get progressively more cloudy until rain falls in the afternoon and night.
Short Dry Season
The period between the raining seasons in January and February has some rainfall, often quick thunderstorms in the afternoon which pass quickly but several days without rain is also common. This is a good time to visit as there is less rain and also less visitors during this meaning lower prices at hotels and lodges.
Long Dry Season
June, July, August and September are the driest months in the Kivu Belt. Some rainfall still fall during this time of year and a few afternoon thunderstorms are to be expected. This is the best time to visit, but also when most visitors come. Rwanda’s mayor holiday season is during this time of year meaning many locals come to the Kivu Belt. Hotels and parks are generally more booked during this time of the year.