A biodiversity spectacle; this is the best way to describe 1,015sq kilometers of land filled with over 85 mammal, 310 bird, 1,050 plant, 120 butterfly and 38 reptile species. Nyungwe Forest National Park is the place where this entire fauna and flora thrives and blooms. It takes a drive on roads winding through tea estates and a roadside parade of Rwenzori Colobus monkeys to get to the Southwestern end of Rwanda where the park is located. With all these sights and sounds to choose from, it may be difficult to know where to start, so here are the top 5 activities to do while at Nyungwe Forest National Park.
The Canopy Walk
Nyungwe Forest sits on 1,015sq km and is today, the largest remaining area of Tropical Afro Montane rainforest in East Africa. The canopy walk is in essence, a 2 hour stroll on a 200meters long trail 50 meters above the forest cover and one of the most exhilarating activities to do at Nyungwe Forest National Park. The view at the top gives you the eagle’s eye experience; panoramic views that a hike on ground would not offer. For safety reasons, children below the age of 6 years are not allowed to participate in the canopy walk.
Nyungwe Forest National Park is home to 25% of Africa’s total primate species. The chimpanzee population here is only second to that of Uganda’s Kibale National Park. It should be noted that while there are so many trails you can hike along to see the chimpanzees, you may have to veer off the beaten paths into the forest albeit with the guide’s help. The rewarding sight after the hike is often comprised of acrobatic chimpanzees swinging on tree branches, mother chimps cuddling baby chimps and more sights that will not only surprise you but warm your heart.
This thrilling chimpanzee trekking experience starts at 5am which implies that you should be up earlier. Each trekking group can only have a maximum of 8 members. Nyungwe Forest is a rainforest with a slippery terrain that will require sturdy hiking shoes, a rain poncho in the likely event of a downpour, long sleeved thick shirts for the cold weather, long trousers to protect you from the long creeping undergrowth if you happen to go off the beaten path and binoculars for a better view of the chimps should you find them high up in the trees.
The Nyungwe Forest Bird walk
Nyungwe Forest is among the Top birding destinations in Rwanda with over 310 bird species. From the Albertine Rift endemics to the Forest endemics there are numerous species to set your eyes upon. The best yet rarest ones to see are the Great Blue Turaco, the Re-Throated Alethe, the Paradise Flycatcher and the Gigantic Forest Hornbill. The bonus views include the purple breasted and the blue headed sunbird, the Rockefeller’s Sunbird, Green Pigeons, Ross’s Turaco, Red-Breasted Sparrow Hawk, White Headed Wood Hoopoe, Francolin, Rwenzori Turaco, Red-Faced Woodland Warbler, Collared Apalis, Mountain Masked Apalis, Ruwenzori Batis, Stripe-Breasted Tit and the Regal Sunbird.
There are several trails in the park upon which you can hike to see the birds. The more trails you hike, the more birds you are likely to see. Due to the forested terrain of the park, it may be hard to easily find certain species. Because of this, it is better to go with a guide who by experience can point you to a bird that he or she will have identified merely by its call.
Hiking at the forest
If you thrive on walks and take pleasure in a good hike, Nyungwe Forest National Park is the place for you. The park has a total of 13 different hiking trails along which you can walk for 1 to 8 hours viewing a multitude of plant, tree, bird, primate and butterfly species of all sorts. Igishigishigi Trail is the shortest trail along which you also find the canopy walk; another adrenaline-charged experience. The longest trail at Nyungwe Forest National Park on the other hand is the Bigugu Trail upon which a hike can take up to 8 hours. Each trail offers its own diverse wildlife experience showing you species that are predominantly found in this particular trail. Visiting Nyungwe Forest National Park specifically for a Hiking Safari is an idea worth considering because it takes days to finish all the 13 trails.
Colobus Monkey Trekking
There are 13 primate species at Nyungwe Forest of which more than half of these are monkey species. Some of the monkeys are endemic to this region and among these is the Rwenzori Colubus Monkey. A hike along one of the 13 hiking trails in Nyungwe will usher you into the world of the Grey-Cheeked Mangabeys, L’Hoest Monkeys, Owl Faced Monkeys, Blue-Monkeys and Mona Monkeys. Further into to the forest and off the beaten track of the trails and accompanied by a guide you can chance upon a group of up to 200 Rwenzori Colubus Monkeys all at once which is a sight like no other.