With Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains, which are home to the famous mountain gorillas, the Nyungwe Forest is one of Rwanda’s most important natural areas and protects one of Africa’s oldest rainforests. The forest was upgraded from a reserve to a national park in 2005 and is home to dense African montane rainforest filled with wildlife, including the star players of this protected area, the chimpanzees.
Covering almost 1000 square kilometres, Nyungwe Forest is located in Rwanda’s south west and is about 225 km from Kigali, the Rwandan capital. You can reach the protected area after a 4 to 5 hour journey overland from Kigali on well paved roads.
Nyungwe Forest contains a canopy walkway and some fantastic waterfalls. Dotted with tall ancient hardwood trees of ebony and mahogany, which pierce the forest’s dense canopy, the leaves shelter a very high amount of African tropical forest life. Evidence has shown that the forest stayed green throughout the last ice age, which makes this one of the world’s oldest. It is also one of Africa’s most pristine.
The park was recognised by BirdLife International as one of the most important sites in Rwanda for conservation. Nyungwe protects around 300 bird species, such as hornbills, emerald cuckoos, and turacos, and other animals like mongoose, Congo clawless otters, duiker, horned chameleons and others. The plant life is also incredible with the favorites being the diversity of orchids and there are over 100 to be found. The highest diversity of plants and animals has been found in the western section of the Nyungwe Forest.
The Nyungwe Forest is most famous for monkeys and great apes. This is one of the most primate-rich areas in Africa and is home to around 13 different primates. These include the famous chimpanzees, mangabeys, diademed monkeys, colobus monkeys, vervet monkeys, baboons, and l’Hoest’s monkeys. Chimpanzees are not always seen on forest expeditions, and only about 35% of tourists manage to find them, but seeing some of the other monkeys is practically guaranteed. This forest contains the great majority of Rwandan chimpanzees and if you are willing to search and wait, seeing our closest cousins free in the wild is definitely worth the experience.
There are many hiking and walking options in the Nyungwe Forest with over 100 kilometres of trails. There are trails suited for short walks of around one hour through to 6 or 8 hour day hikes.
Best Time to Visit
The daytime temperature range of the area is from about 45 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (10 – 25 Centigrade). Night times can get quite chilly, especially because we are at a high altitude, and so bring layers of clothing.
As this is a rainforest, you should carry your rain gear with you even in the dry season as you never know when to expect a sudden downpour. Nyungwe Forest has a rainy season between September to May and drier season between July and August. As with other tropical forests, the forest produces its fruit and flowers in the rainy season with the most fruit between March and May and most flowers to find between December and January. Chimpanzees can be found in the park throughout the year.
There are two groups of chimpanzees being habituated in Nyungwe Forest: the Uwinka and Cyamudongo group. You’re permitted to stay watching the chimpanzees for an hour and when heading out to find them, tourists have their best luck early in the morning. On the other hand, it’s easier to find the chimpanzees in June, July and August as this is when fig trees are fruiting, which are a favored food. They then feed until late morning, so during these months even tourists waking up at usual hours have a chance of finding the groups.
Where to stay?
We recommend a stay at the luxurious Nyungwe Forest Lodge, which is nestled right at the doorstep of the Nyungwe Forest National Park. From here you can enjoy trekking the protected area to find fantastic wildlife with activities customized to each guest.
The most popular Nyungwe Forest Lodge activity is trekking to find the chimpanzees, black and white colobus monkeys, grey cheeked mangabeys and the Kamiranzovu Swamps and Waterfall walks. It is also a great place for birdwatchers. The favorite species seen on lodge tours are the giant hornbills, great blue turacos and red-breasted sparrow hawks. You can also enjoy the local culture and visit the local tea plantation.
The lodge features luxury comforts, an infinite swimming pool with rainforest views, relaxation retreat, a boutique store, fitness centre, business and conference facilities, a tea lounge, an all-day dining restaurant, and laundry service.