Things to do in Nyungwe Forest National Park
When it comes to the key Safari Activities recommended to be enjoyed by self drive clients that visit Rwanda with Rented Safari land cruisers from Self drive Africa , they include the primate watching since the country is known to be a home to the mountain gorillas and chimpanzees along side Golden Monkey.
Chimpanzees are man’s closest relatives. They share many of our traits and are arguably the most intelligent Apes after we humans. They are known to live up to 60 years in captivity. In Rwanda, chimps can be found in three main places – Nyungwe National Park (Nyungwe and Cyamudongo forests) and Gishwati Mukura national park.
Nyungwe National Park has the highest population of chimps (over 400 individuals) and other primates – 13 species in total. Two chimpanzee communities have been partially habituated in Nyungwe National Park. Most of them live in Nyungwe forest (60 individuals) while the rest are found in Cyamudongo Forest (30 individuals). Other species include blue monkeys, Mona monkeys, silver monkeys, owl-faced monkeys, the Dent’s monkey, black faced Vervet monkeys, L’Hoests monkeys, baboons, grey-cheeked Mangabeys, Rwenzori colobus, black and white colobus monkeys.
Chimpanzee trekking is a complete ball game from gorilla trekking, Chimps are stubborn, noisy and very mobile. Because they are lighter, they spend a lot of their time on top of the trees unlike mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas are very gentle and peaceful. They will eat quietly and interact with less provocation and drama in the group. Tracking chimpanzees requires one to be fit enough in order to follow the primates for long periods as they make quick movements both on the ground and on top of trees before settling down.
Activities in Nyungwe other than chimpanzee trekking
Although chimpanzee tracking is the most popular activity in Nyungwe forest, visitors can also take part in tracking smaller primates, canopy walks, nature walks, bird watching, visiting the tea plantations and visiting one of the waterfalls. It may now be possible to do the chimpanzee habituation experience in Rwanda too.
Spotting other primates: Nyungwe National Park is one of the best places to spot primates in Africa. With 13 species, this can be compared to Kibale National Park in Uganda. The most sought out species after the chimpanzees is the Rwenzori and Angola Colobus. The Angola Colobus Monkey is now extinct in Angola itself. About 400 Angola Colobus are semi-habituated in the park. Golden Monkeys are also present in the through not habituated.
Canopy Walks: The best way to explore this thick and ancient forest is to by using the Canopy Walkway. It is the only one in East Africa as I write this article the 60-meter-high strong steel bridge is built on the tree tops to give tourists an aerial view of the birds, primates and endless forest. There are viewing points/decks along the walk way which offers one opportunity to rest as they marvel at the amazing scenery and wildlife. The activity starts from the visitor center in Uwinka and takes about 2 hours. A tour through the Canopy walkway costs 60 US Dollars per person.
Bird watching: Nyungwe National Park is one of the best places for bird watching in Rwanda. Nyungwe Forest is home to over 300 species of birds of which about 26 are endemic to the Albertine rift. Apart from the species already mentioned earlier, one can also spot the Apalis argentea, Archer’s Robin-chat, Dusky Crimson Wing, Grauer’s Warbler, Handsome Francolin, Kungwe Apalis, Large blue Turaco, Ruwenzori Apalis, Ruwenzori Batis, Ruwenzori Nightjar, Shelley’s Crimsonwing, Neumann’s Warbler and Sunbirds. Bird watching begins right from the window of your hotel room and while tracking the primates or going for the canopy walk.
Nature walks and Hikes: There are different trails for forest hikes in Nyungwe national park. If one is to complete all the trails, they would have walked for about 130 kilometers. To complete all the trails, one would need about a week. The main trails are the Bigugu Trial, Ngabwe Trail, Canopy trail, Kamiranzovu Marsh Trail, Congo Nile Trail, Bigugu Trail, Igishigishigi Trail, Karamba Birding Trail, Irebero Trail, Isumo waterfall Trail, Imbaraga Trail, Umugote Trail, Muzimu Trail, Rukuzi Trail and Umuyove Trail. The most popular trails are Bigugu and Igishigishigi. You need to be fit enough to enjoy your nature walk because the terrain is unpredictable. One thing for sure it that by the time you complete these trails, you would have seen most of the primates, birds, butterflies, rivers, insects and much more.
Visiting one of the waterfalls: The most popular waterfall is the Isumo waterfall located close to the luxury Nyungwe House. To reach this waterfall, you will go through the Isumo Waterfall Trail. This trail is not very long but involves passing through slippery and steep areas of the park after which you descend to a very dense part of the forest before seeing the waterfall. The Isumo waterfall squeezes through a narrow section of rock before plunging down and continuing deep into the forest as a stream. The reward for such a difficult hike is the amazing sounds, cool breezes and views of the dense forest. As you retreat back to your hotel you will have many more opportunities to see insects, birds, frogs and some of the primates of the forest.
Visiting the Gisakura Tea Plantation: This activity can be done in the evening or after completing your other activities in the park. It is suitable for tea enthusiasts and those who appreciate the beauty of nature. One can visit the processing plants or go directly to the plantation and learn how tea is grown, harvested and processed. You may even be offered an opportunity to join in picking tea and putting it into a basket. The area around the estates has amazing scenery of the forest and mount Bigugu in the horizon.
Climbing Mount Bigugu: Mount Bigugu is found within Nyungwe forest. It is 2950 meters above sea level. The peak offers stunning views of the vast forest and distant Virunga mountains/volcanoes such as Karisimbi, Bisoke and Muhabura.
Cultural and Community Visit: The people of Rwanda have a unique culture and there are countless opportunities to experience it while on a tour of the Nyungwe forest. The best place to start is to visit places like the Kitabi cultural village or Banda Community Village. You can also attend performances by the Cyamudongo cultural troupe or friends of Nyungwe. All these groups showcase the rich culture of the people if Rwanda through dance, drama and storytelling. There are always opportunities to buy souvenir (local crafts and art pieces).
Accommodation during chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe Forest
Travelers to Nyungwe National Park have several accommodation facilities to choose from. The facilities come in form of budget, mid-range, luxury and super-luxury hotels. The Luxury hotels offer very high-quality services that are comparable to any in East Africa. Some of the hotels include Gisakura guest house, Inzozi beach hotel, Nyungwe forest lodge, Nyungwe top hill hotel the super luxury Nyungwe House. Let’s look at some of them briefly: –
Nyungwe House: This luxury lodge was established in 2010 as the first 5-star hotel. It was built on a tea plantation just outside Nyungwe forest. It has quickly become a favorite with visitors who have come for activities in the forest because of its high-quality services and location. The lodge provides self-contained luxury rooms, a swimming pools and gym. You can choose this hotel for its quality services and amazing views of the forest and surrounding tea plantations.
Gisakura Guest House: This Guest House is built 2 kilometers away from the park and close to the Gisakura tea estate just off the road leading to Rusizi. The facility is suitable for those who are traveling on budget. The Guest house is perfect for those who have come to see the chimp, canopy walks or nature walks in Nyungwe National Park.
Nyungwe Top View Hotel: This hotel was opened in 2011. It is close to Nyungwe forest and offers mid-range accommodation facilities with self-contained rooms. The rooms are built facing the national park and hence offering amazing views of the countryside. The building are all made of red bricks while locally made furniture. Though it is not a luxury hotel, all the rooms have a lounge where guest can mingle and get information about their activities from staff. Food is served at the dining or in the rooms
Best Time for Chimpanzee Trekking in Nyungwe National Park Rwanda
Nyungwe National Park is open for chimpanzee trekking all year round, However, just like any other Rwanda tour activity, there is always a preferable time mostly known as the best time. The best time for chimpanzee trekking is during the rainy or wet season in the months from October to May. The months of October to February are excellent for chimpanzee trekking as there are no heavy rains. June to September are also good months for chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe, however, these are the busier months of the year as it’s also the favorable time for Rwanda gorilla tours in the Volcanoes National Park.
Unlike other activities that are best done in the dry season, chimpanzee trekking is during the rainy season when there is plenty of food in the forest for the chimps which limits their movements. In the dry season, chimps go deep into the forest which makes trekking more difficult to track.
For other primate tracking experiences within the Nyungwe forest, trekking is easier in the drier months from June to September.
The peak months for the rainy season are during the months of March, April, May, October, and November. During these times the rains are heavy and therefore less recommended for many activities. The worst of them with high rains are March and April. During these months, the trails are slippery which makes tracking difficult.
Chimpanzee Trekking Experience in Nyungwe National Park
Rwanda has positioned itself as a great primate tracking destination in Africa. Tucked within a thousand hills, Rwanda is an ultimate tourist destination for chimpanzee trekking and gorilla tours. Chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda at Nyungwe National Park (Nyungwe and Cyamudongo forests) is arguably one of the most attractive Rwanda safari activities. Nyungwe forest stretch of the montane rain forest is the largest in Africa which makes it home to several flora and fauna species. These include over 400 chimpanzees and 13 primate species.
Chimpanzees are very intelligent apes with attractive characters to watch. They are man’s closest relatives after Bonobos and share a lot of traits with about 98.7% DNA with humans. Chimpanzee lifespan is estimated to be up to 60 years in captivity.
For the purposes of chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe, two chimpanzee communities (groups) have been habituated (made familiar to human presence). These two groups live in both Nyungwe and Cyamudongo forests, about 60 individuals and 30 chimpanzees respectively each.
Nyungwe Chimpanzee trekking starts very early in the morning and you will be informed by your guide of what time you are required to wake up, this could be as early as 5:00 am. The experience starts with a briefing at one of the starting points which are Uwinka, Gisakura, or Kitabi. Chimps move so much through the forest and therefore to reach them, trekkers have to go out early before they leave their sleeping nests and head out for the day. It is always easy for the tourists to find the chimps because a group of trackers go earlier to the forest and identify where the chimps are then communicated to the guides.
Chimpanzee trekking is a completely amazing experience unique from gorilla trekking in that chimpanzees are much more playful, stubborn, noisy, and very mobile. This is basically because they are lighter than the gorillas and that’s why spend most of their time leaping on trees. After following or trekking the chimpanzees for some time, they may settle down and allow you to observe them more closely and take photos. Take this time to observe and learn more about chimpanzee behavior, how they groom each other, mate, play, socialize, start fights and breastfeed.
Individuals may require to be physically fit trek chimpanzees since they move very fast both on the ground and on the trees. Chimpanzee trekking in the Nyungwe forest may take between 2 to 6 hours or longer.
Note: Nyungwe forest is larger and chimpanzees tend to move deep into the forest which makes trekking harder, unlike Cyamudongo forest that is smaller and easy to cover in a short time on foot.
Within the Nyungwe forest are also over 310 bird species including the spot flycatchers, Chapin’s flycatcher, purple-breasted sunbirds, red-collared mountain babblers, Ruwenzori turacos, and many more. Other activities that can be done in Nyungwe forest include the canopy walk and primate tracking especially monkeys.
Tips and packing list for Chimpanzee tracking in Nyungwe forest
Chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe forest is organized throughout the year. However, the best time for chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe National Park is during the rainy/wet season. During this time, there is plenty of food in the forest which limits the movement of the chimps. During the dry season, the chimps go deep in the vast forest in search of fruits hence making it more difficult to track them. The dry season is ideal for those who are interested in the canopy and nature walks.
- There is no guarantee that you will be able to see them especially in Nyungwe forest.
- Tracking the chimpanzees in Cyamudongo offers a greater chance of finding them because the forest is smaller and isolated.
- Chimpanzee permits cost $100 per person. Bookings are made directly through the Rwanda Development Board or your Tour Operator.
- The chimpanzee permit fee includes a ranger and guide assigned to move with you and your group. You will be required to show your chimpanzee tracking permit at the park entrance just before proceeding to the beginning point.
- Visitors can spend more time observing the chimpanzees unlike with mountain gorillas where the viewing time is strictly one hour.
- Children under the age of 16 years will not be allowed to track chimpanzees.
It takes four hours of driving by road to reach Nyungwe forest from the capital Kigali. One can also take a domestic flight from Kigali to an airstrip close to the park office.
Unlike mountain gorillas, the chimpanzees in Nyungwe forest are not fully habituated. They are not as organized as mountain gorillas. Chimpanzees don’t settle in one place and this makes for a demanding but also thrilling task of following them wherever they go. It is for this reason that sighting them is not guaranteed. However, most people who track the chimps see them eventually because of the advanced methods of tracking and the ability of the experienced Rangers to know their previous place of rest.
While planning for chimpanzee tracking in Nyungwe National Park think about packing enough drinks, snacks, rain jacket, good hiking shoes, a long-sleeved shirt, sun glasses and insect repellent. Do not forget to move with a good camera and binoculars.