Destination Kivu Belt

Nyungwe Forest National Park, Africa’s Oldest Montane Rainforest

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 Forest, 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.

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.

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.

Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe Canopy Walk

History of Nyungwe Forest

The history pf protection of Nyungwe Forest National Park started as early as 1903. Even though formally protected for more than 100 years, the biodiversity and size of Nyungwe Forest has steadily been decreasing and Nyungwe Forest was not declared a national park until 2005. The original forest of Nyungwe included both forest elephants and buffalo, which became extinct in the later part of the 20th century.

Up until the 80’s, Nyungwe Forest was still divided into different zones of different use some of which were used for logging. The park suffered a lot during the war in the 90’s, but many devoted rangers stayed to in the park to protect the forest when many where forced to flee.

It was not until rather recently that hiking trails and the canopy walkway were constructed. This was done to find a sustainable future for the park which involves the right balance between ecotourism and conservation in Nyungwe Forest. It also opened the park up to activities such as hiking in Nyungwe Forest

Nyungwe Forest National Park
The tea plantations at the edge of Nyungwe Forest National Park

Animal Life of Nyungwe Forest National Park

Nyungwe Forest National Park is located on the Congo Nile Divide. Nyungwe is a montane rainforest at an elevation of between 2000- and 3000-meters altitude. Even though Nyungwe Forest is in the tropics right next to the equator, the elevation keeps the temperature at a pleasant level all year. The rainfall is abundant, and the forest receives more than 2000 mm per year. The temperature is rather constant throughout the year of around 25°C and rarely drops below 15°C at night. The combination of abundant rainfall, lots of sunlight and pleasant temperatures makes Nyungwe Forest one of the most diverse animal and plant habitats in Africa with around 300 species of birds, 26 of which are endemic and around 100 other animal species. There are also thousands of plant species as well as a number of endemic orchids.

Eastern Chimpanzee

The most known animal in Nyungwe Forest National Park is the chimpanzee. The type of chimpanzee found in Nyungwe Forest is the eastern chimpanzee. The eastern chimpanzee is a subspecies of chimpanzee found in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Uganda. There is also a small population left in Burundi. In Rwanda it can be found in Nyungwe Forest and Gishwati Forest. The eastern chimpanzee is smaller than other recognized subspecies of chimpanzees, male and female are also much more similar in size.

Chimpanzees are very strong and robust primates and a close look at them easily give away that they are our closest relatives. Chimpanzees live in large family groups in dense tropical forests where they spend most of their times foraging for edible fruits and shoots. Unlike monkeys, chimpanzees are too heavy to swing themselves entirely through the tree canopy and spend a considerable amount of time on the ground. They are good climbers and will easily climb trees in search of fruits, or to evade danger. Chimpanzees also sleep in beds or nests that they prepare from leaves and branches high up in a suitable tree.

Chimpanzee tracking in Nyungwe Forest is one of the most popular activites in the park. This activity needs to be pre-booked as the departure is early in the morning. It can be organized through the Visitor’s Center in Uwinka, the Gisakura Office or through a private tour operator.

The chimpanzees population in Nyungwe Forest numbers more than 500 individuals, but can still be quite elusive and hard to find. Some of the chimpanzee groups in Nyungwe Forest National Park are habituated to humans. These groups are used to seeing humans in the forest and are approachable when visiting. They are still wild animals, but tolerate that visitors approach them without taking fright. Before chimpanzee tracking, rangers from the park will locate a group of chimpanzees to visit to know the approximate location.

Chimpanzee tracking in Nyungwe Forest National Park can be done from Uwinka where there is a habituated community of about 60 individuals. The tracking starts at 5:30 am. Chimpanzee tracking can also be done at Cyamudongo Forest, which is a small pocket of Forest Located south west of the main forest. There are about about 30 individuals in this group and it is aout 1h 30mins , drive with a 4wd car from Gisakura Guest House. The tracking starts at 5am from the Gisakura office. All registration and payment for chimp trekking must be done the day before the activity at latest. There is an age restriction at 15 years for all chimpanzee tracking. Children under the age of 15 are not allowed to join the chimpanzee tracking. 

For more information, read the comprehensive guide on Chimpanzee Tracking in Nyungwe Forest

Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe Forest National Park

Other primates of Nyungwe Forest

Apart from the chimpanzee there are 11 more species of primates in Nyungwe Forest. With a bit of luck, these primates can be seen during any hike in the park. In case you want to find a specific species, then this can be organized by the park. Some primates such as the galago and potto are nocturnal and can only be seen at night.

There are also almost 100 other mammal species in Nyungwe Forest ranging from small dykers to leopards. For an extensive list and description  of other species in Nyungwe Forest, go to the page Animals of Nyungwe Forest or Birding in Nyungwe Forest. There is also a comprehensive guide on Primate Tracking in Nyungwe Forest. 

Hiking in Nyungwe Forest National Park

Nyungwe Forest has a steep landscape, numerous waterfalls and a wonderful animal life makes hiking in Nyungwe Forest a popular activity. Hiking in Nyungwe Forest offers an extensive network of scenic trails for hikers of any level. Apart from being one of the oldest forests in Africa, Hiking in Nyungwe Forest takes you past many waterfalls, viewpoints, and not to mention the debated source of the Nile. For the more comfortable hikers, Hiking in Nyungwe Forest offers shorter options such as the canopy walkway and hikes around Kamiranzovu Swamp. For those who like to get their feet dirty, Hiking in Nyungwe Forest can be done as a series of multiday package options available from the park headquarters.

For more information about hiking including description of trails, read more on the page hiking in Nyungwe Forest  

Nyungwe Forest National Park

Contact Information and Booking

Nyungwe National Park is managed by African Parks in cooperation with the Rwandan Government and Rwanda Development Board.

Good to know:

  • Raincoats, boots and walking sticks are available from the reception
  • All Nyungwe hikes are classified as hiking in protected area/National Park.
  • Animals live in their natural habitat
  • Guide and permit are needed

Most of the websites and contacts about Nyungwe Forest online are not official park websites and the information is sometimes wrong and not reliable.  

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