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.