Nyungwe National Park Travel Guide
Nyungwe National Park may be most famous for chimpanzee trekking, but this stretch of 394 square miles (1,020 square km) in southwestern Rwanda teams with more than a dozen primate species, a dazzling array of flora and fauna, and an impressive spread of hiking trails. Meander through, and you’ll feel as though you’ve wandered onto the set of Jurassic Park. You’ll spot 100-year-old trees, fern-fringed waterfalls, and oversize driver ants to the accompaniment of a cacophony of bird calls.
Nestled in East Africa’s Albertine Rift biodiversity-rich area, Nyungwe National Park protects some 1,000 plant types, nearly 300 bird species, more than 75 different mammals, the charismatic chimpanzee, and a dozen other primates species. It is Africa’s largest protected mountain rainforest.
Trails cut through the park’s closed-canopy forests, bamboo thickets, and orchid-filled swamps. Be warned that the weather can be wet—it is a rainforest, after all. The park receives more than 2,000 mm (79 inches) of precipitation annually and provides water to approximately 70% of the county. In 2006, an exploring team claimed to find the furthest source of the Nile River in Nyungwe.
Chimpanzee trekking adventurers hike through its stellar jungles to spend one precious hour with a human-habituated chimpanzee troop. Nyungwe protects over 500 chimpanzees and over 350 black-and-white colobus monkeys endemic to the Albertine Rift, whose clever antics and aerial acrobatics keep visitors gazing into the canopies.
The park has one of the highest primate diversity concentrations globally, including chimpanzee, golden monkey, l’Hoest’s monkey, grey-cheeked mangabey, red-tailed monkey, owl-faced monkey, crowned monkey, Dent’s mona monkey, velvet monkey, olive baboon, and Angolan Colobus monkeys. On a lazy Rwanda safari in Nyungwe, you’ll come across L’Hoest’s monkeys and the reclusive owl-faced monkey frolicking around the roads if you’re fortunate.
If watching primates is not your choice for visiting Nyungwe, the park has a network of 13 trails ranging from the 1.2-mile (2 km) Karamba Trail — an excellent choice for birders — to the rigorous Mount Bigugu Trail that leads to the park’s highest point. Hardy trekkers can also take in an impressive waterfall on the four-hour Isumo Trail or spend three days camping along the Congo Nile Trail.
Chimp Tracking Permits
Guided chimpanzee trekking permit in Nyungwe National Park costs USD 90 per person per trek (for foreigners). You can purchase your chimp permit from the RDB or through your trusted local safari operator. Although permits for tracking chimpanzees in Nyungwe are not as limited as gorilla permits, we strongly advise you to secure yours ahead of your Rwanda safari trip. Alternatively, visitors can also opt for a reasonably priced guided hike in the park for USD 40.
When To Go
Late June through early September is dry season and high season at Nyungwe for a good reason: the rain forest receives a reprieve from daily downpours, meaning you can explore all day. But even during the wet season, from March to May, showers generally arrive in the afternoon, leaving plenty of time for morning hiking and an outdoor lunch. Plus, you’ll enjoy less competition for tours and discounted rates at some hotels.
Getting There and Around
Nyungwe National Park is approximately 225 km (140 miles), or four to five hours driving, from Kigali. Many visitors choose to hire a car and driver. Budget travelers can take a bus from Kigali’s central bus station. Alternately, you can fly into Kamembe Airport, a half-hour drive from the park’s western edge, and arrange for pickup with your lodge. You’ll need a four-by-four car to track chimps from the Uwinka Reception Center.
Tailored Chimpanzee Trekking in Nyungwe
Guided chimpanzee trekking excursions in Nyungwe start early morning from Uwinka Reception Center and head down into the jungle in small groups of tourists. You’ll be guided by a local expert guide and escorted by armed rangers for your security, trekking through uneven terrain with invariably dump forest floors to find one of the two human-habituated chimpanzees. There’s no telling how long it will take to find the chimps, but the whole chimpanzee experience in Nyungwe may take close to half the day.
Once you find the chimpanzee troop, your guide and rangers will help find a good spot to watch the chimps while educating you on their behavior and social lifestyle. They’ll advise you to observe a minimum distance of 32 ft and avoid contact at all times while wearing your facemask to protect the animals from respiratory diseases. Sometimes the chimps may not stay in the same position, and you may have to keep up with their movements.
The Canopy Walkway
In 2010, Nyungwe National Park opened East Africa’s only Canopy Walkway, a 200-meter (656-foot) wood bridge suspended 60 meters (196 feet) above the ground. The “hanging trail” affords magnificent views of the treetop canopy and up-close bird encounters. Nyungwe is a little-known birders’ paradise, though spotting them requires the help of a trained guide, which you can secure at one of the park’s three reception centers. Note that rain is a frequent occurrence in Nyungwe, so a raincoat is essential.
WHERE TO STAY
From USD 900 Per person per night, sharing
You’ll forget you’re next to a rain forest in this lavish retreat—until you slide back the glass balcony doors to let in forest breezes and birdsong. The lodge’s features include rooms that are practically suites with private balconies. It’s close to the park and has a wide-ranging and good gourmet menu. Wine lovers will find the wine menu selection pleasing.
Nyungwe Top View Hill Hotel
From USD 220 per person per night
This hilltop hotel is a best-value option with stunning views of mist-veiled mountains, excellent service, and convenient access to Nyungwe National Park. The hotel features spacious cottages, helpful staff, breathtaking balcony views from every room. However, the entrance road is steep and rocky.
Visit Rwanda Q&A
Safety is a priority for most travelers, and Rwanda is one of the safest countries not just in Africa, but in the world: Rwanda handled the Covid-19 pandemic impressively with a 0.6% death rate and great standards of tour Rwanda operation that see the country growing back its visitors after the pandemic.
In 2015, the country ranked fifth globally and first on the continent in Gallup’s Law and Order Index, which measures how safe people feel walking home at night. Violent crime is near nonexistent, and the terrorist threats that have plagued other East African destinations in the past have not affected Rwanda since the genocide. Rwanda is safe to visit.
Must Read: Is it safe to travel to Rwanda
The following Rwanda entry requirements are mandatory for all inbound travellers:
- All travelers arriving in Rwanda must have a negative COVID-19 certificate. The only accepted test is a SARS-CoV 2 Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) performed within 120 hours of departure (meaning travelers must be tested and get results within 5 days of their first flight). Other tests, such as Rapid Diagnostics Test (RDTs), are not accepted.
- All travelers arriving in Rwanda must complete the passenger locator form and upload the COVID-19 test certificate prior to arrival. Please see passenger locator form and list of designated transit hotels on www.rbc.gov.rw.
- All travelers arriving or transiting through Rwanda will be screened upon entry and take a second RT-PCR test to confirm the negative results of the test done prior to arrival.
- All travelers are required to wait 24 hours for the results of their COVID-19 test in a designated transit hotel. All COVID-19 prevention measures announced by the Ministry of Health must be respected during waiting period.
- The Government of Rwanda has negotiated special rates at designated transit hotels for the 24 hour waiting period. Should a guest wish to remain in the hotel after.
Once at the hotel, the process is as following:
- Travelers will be tested for COVID-19 and there will be a medical team to assist for a total cost of 60 USD (includes 50 USD for the test and a medical service fee of 10 USD). For further information on payment method for COVID-19 test please visit www.rbc.gov.rw
- Test results will be received by SMS or email, and the turnaround time for results is 24hrs from the time a sample is collected.
- Upon receiving a negative test result, travelers will be invited to check out or may extend their stay in the same hotel at applicable hotel rates.
- If a traveler’s test result is positive for COVID-19 (even if asymptomatic) while in Rwanda, they will be treated as indicated in the National Covid-19 Management Guidelines until they have fully recovered, at their own cost. We encourage all travelers to have international travel insurance.
- All travelers departing from Rwanda must test negative for COVID-19. The only accepted test is a SARS-CoV 2 Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) performed within 120 hours before departure. Other tests, such as Rapid Diagnostics Test (RDTs), are not accepted. We encourage travelers to book and pay for their tests at least 2 days prior to departure through the online platform available on www.rbc.gov.rw
- Travelers from neighboring countries planning to start their international travel from Rwanda will be screened at points of entry and taken to transit hotels where samples will be taken for a COVID-19 test. They are requested to arrive at designated transit hotels at least 48 hours before departure where they will await their test results. There will be a medical team to assist for a total cost of 60 USD (includes 50 USD for the test and a medical service fee of 10 USD).
- If the traveler’s test results are positive for COVID-19 (even if asymptomatic) while in Rwanda, they will be treated as indicated in the National Covid-19 Management Guidelines until they have fully recovered, at their own cost. We encourage all travelers to have international travel insurance.
A direct flight to Kigali from London with Rwandair (a national carrier) takes about 9 hours 54 minutes and there are flights every day of the week. Other direct flights include Johannesburge, Amstadam, Istambul, Doha, Dubai and others. This was one of the reasons Rwanda is a destination of choice. The fact that you can take a direct flight to a travel destination is always very encouraging!
Foreigners who intend to visit Rwanda do not have to go through the hassle of applying for visas. With US$50 and a couple of questions, you get a visa once you arrive at Kigali International Airport. However, if you intend to do an East Africa tour, there is the option of purchasing a single tourist visa for Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya at US$100. More reason to tour Rwanda’s great attractions.
In the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, you may want to avoid contact with the visa process at entry point and make sure you have your visa before you jet in. Thanks to technology, this can be done online with little or no hustle as long you have the requirements to getting the visa like passport copy, yellow fever card copy, and other Covid standard requirements by the government. Here are links to help you get started: https://www.migration.gov.rw/anounce/online-visa/
Must read: Rwanda Safety Information
It’s no exaggeration, Kigali is the cleanest and greenest African city. The government encourages citizens to plant trees/grass in their homes and need a permit to cut down any tree. It is also a crime to walk on lawns in Kigali and you get fined $2 if you are caught walking on one.
Rwanda’s capital is on the move. From its psychedelic Easter egg of a convention center to car-free zones and yes, Wi-Fi cafes that dole out freshly spun smoothies, locally roasted coffee, and homemade scones (Café Neo, Bourbon Coffee), Kigali is making a mad dash toward modernity. Absorb the bright lights of Rwanda’s future at the Inema Arts Center, where promising young painters debut their best work amid weekly yoga classes and cocktail hours.
The tagline “Remarkable Rwanda” is apt as the Rwandans are truly impressive. The country and its people have come a long way from the genocide in 1994 and now live in peace and harmony. They are very welcoming to tourists and are always willing to help.
The land of 1,000 hills lives up to the greenery expectations with exceptionally gorgeous landscapes. The entire country is spread across various hills with abundant green confortably earning its name “Land of a thousand hills”. Potatoes, carrots, kale, chard, tea, cassava, sugarcane, coffee and passion fruit are key crops grown in Rwanda.
These horrific killings, aimed at wiping out an entire tribe, is easily one of the worst massacres to happen on the African continent in modern times. With genocide museums dotted across the country, the Rwandan people have documented this ugly past to the very last detail so the world can learn from it. Kigali Genocide Memorial is a must visit for everyone on a tour Rwanda vacation.
If you are an animal and nature lover, you’ll know that Rwanda is home to one third of the world’s population of mountain gorillas (the others are in Congo and Uganda). There are only about 1064 mountain gorillas remaining in the world and they can only survive in the wild. This means that to enjoy this one of a kind experience, you’ll have to “visit” them in their home.
To see gorillas in Rwanda, book a gorilla permit with Nkuringo Safaris for inside Volcanoes National Park, one of Africa’s oldest national parks, and our local experts will lead you on a daily guided gorilla trek that tops out at eight visitors per gorilla family. The only other two countries that we offer the same experience—in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest—require more vigorous hikes for seasoned hikers.
A gorilla permit in Rwanda currently (2020/21) costs US$1,500 per person per trek.
After acquiring lions and with the introduction black rhinos in Akagera National Park, Rwanda is once again a prime Africa safari BIG FIVE destination. With elephants, buffalo, and a wide variety of antelope, you’ll get the full savanna experience and the added bonus of the park’s river boat cruises, which include rare encounters with crocodiles and hippos. Akagera provides campgrounds and tents for a small fee, but honestly, “glamping” on the edge of Lake Ihema at the Ruzizi Tented Lodge is the way to go. Even better? All proceeds benefit the park.