​Expert Reviews – Nyungwe NP

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Expert
Ariadne van Zandbergen   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple visits

Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.

5 people found this review helpful.

A Primate’s Paradise
Overall rating
4/5

Every time I visit Nyungwe, I’m overwhelmed by its scenic beauty. The main road bisects the park and even before you get to your destination, you’ll get some incredible views across the never-ending rainforest extending over rolling hills into the distance. With 15 trails available, you can hike around this fairy-tale forest for a week. Nyungwe is home to 13 different primate species and some of them are remarkably easy to see. The beautiful l’Hoest’s monkeys are most common and you’ll see plenty of them along the main road.

I went in search of Rwenzori colobus monkeys and my guide took me to a troop numbering about 600 individuals. Standing in the middle of the forest with these fluffballs all around me, I didn’t know where to look first. The main attraction in Nyungwe is chimp trekking. In the past, chimps were only semi-habituated, and the quality of sightings was variable. However, my last visit in 2022 was different as I felt these charismatic primates were totally comfortable with our presence. I enjoyed watching a mother shielding her baby from heavy rain pelting down on us.

The 160m-/525ft-long and 70m-/230ft-high Canopy Walkway is a must when visiting Nyungwe. Although I don’t have a fear of heights, I did enjoy the adrenaline rush when crossing this swaying bridge. However, once I got to the other side, I felt I needed more time to take it all in. I backtracked to fully appreciate the views and do some bird watching from this fantastic vantage point.

Expert
Sue Watt   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: May

Sue is an award-winning writer who specializes in African travel and conservation. She writes for national newspapers, magazines, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet.

2 people found this review helpful.

A fairytale forest
Overall rating
4/5

Nyungwe only became a national park in 2004, established to protect its lush rainforest that is home to a staggering 13 species of primates. These include huge troops of colobus monkeys that look like aging hippies with long white beards, plus grey-cheeked mangabey and chimpanzees. Chimps are also the main attraction in nearby Cyamudongo Forest and we were lucky enough to see several swinging in the trees and a young mum giving her baby a piggyback.

It really is like walking through a fairy tale here, with towering mahoganies and ebony trees, and it’s home to east Africa’s highest canopy walk where you teeter on a gently swaying bridge some 70m above the forest. Luckily, I don’t suffer from vertigo, but people who struggle with heights might find this unnerving! This is just one part of 130km of walking trails – you’ll have to take a guide, but they serve to enhance the whole experience and help to bring the secret life of the forest alive.

Expert
Harriet Nimmo   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: August

Harriet is a zoologist with more than 20 years’ experience. She has the privilege of working with the world’s top wildlife photographers and photo-guides.

1 person found this review helpful.

Magnificent Rainforest
Overall rating
3/5

Nyungwe Forest is a very special place indeed. It is easily accessed from a good tar road, with a range of accommodation options and a well-organised park headquarters.
Most tourists come to track chimpanzees and you need to book your permit in advance. The habituated chimpanzees are in a patch of forest away from the main area so you need transport. Do hire a porter. They carry your bag, and more importantly, help you navigate (or rather haul you up and down) the steep slopes as you try to follow the rapidly moving chimps. Nyungwe is also home to eight species of monkey, some of which are quite easy to see on the road and from the trails (we had our best sightings in the park headquarters car park). You can also arrange to visit the delightful habituated black-and-white colobus troop.
Nyungwe is a mecca for bird-watchers with 27 Albertine Rift endemics. There are specialist bird guides at the park headquarters, but forest bird watching can be difficult and frustrating. In addition the park has wonderful trails and waterfalls, not to mention an aerial boardwalk, so it is well worth spending at least two or three nights here.

Expert
Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

1 person found this review helpful.

Superb Forest All-rounder
Overall rating
4/5

Nyungwe protects what is the largest and arguably the most impressive montane forest in East Africa. I’d rate it as one of the top birding sites anywhere in the region, the obvious highlight being the garish great blue turaco often seen gliding between the trees like psychedelic turkeys. For more serious twitchers, its checklist of almost 350 bird species includes 30 Albertine Rift endemics, of which three (Albertine owlet, red-collared babbler and Rockefeller’s sunbird) are only otherwise known from inaccessible parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo).

The main drawcard for most visitors to Nyungwe is the opportunity to track a habituated community of chimpanzees, the closest evolutionary relative to humans. Chimp trekking here used to be quite hit-and-miss, but the chimps are now very habituated and you are almost certain to see them. That said, the main trekking site is quite remote from any accommodation, which enforces a 5.30am start, and conditions underfoot are very steep and muddy compared to most comparable destinations in Uganda and Tanzania.

A dozen other monkey species are present in Nyungwe. The most conspicuous in my experience is l’Hoest’s monkey, a large and unusually terrestrial Albertine Rift endemic rendered unmistakable by its bold white ‘beard’. Also easy to locate is a very habituated troop of 500 to 600 Ruwenzori colobus that’s resident in the forest around the main campsite – this is thought to be the largest single troop of arboreal primates in Africa. Other praiseworthy features of this park are the magnificent setting, high standards of guiding, and an excellent 130km/80mi network of trails that includes the region’s only suspended canopy walkway.

Expert
Stuart Butler   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: October

Stuart is a travel writer and author of numerous Lonely Planet guidebooks, including Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Live like Tarzan
Overall rating
4/5

The first time I visited Nyungwe National Park, within the space of 24 hours I watched a habituated troop of colobus monkeys frolic in the branches of great rainforest trees, stared in wonder at a beautiful lime-green snake, was wowed by the iridescent colours of sunbirds hovering above tropical flowers, cooled off in the spray of a jungle waterfall, and watched our closest cousin, the chimpanzee, scour the forest for breakfast. Yes, Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest is a place you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry.

Despite being considered one of the most biodiverse forest parks in Africa, Nyungwe often plays second fiddle to Volcanoes National Park and its gorillas. Yet I prefer Nyungwe. There is a large variety of activities available – from forest canopy walkways to bird watching – and diverse forest wildlife that is often surprisingly easy to see. One of the best things about the park is the lack of other tourists. Don’t be surprised if there’s no more than a handful of you sharing these rolling rainforest hills. I also really enjoyed the forest hikes to waterfalls and look-out points. Wildlife wasn’t the focus of these walks, but with the help of the expert guides there was always something interesting to see. The one – very minor disappointment – was the chimpanzee tracking. You’ll almost certainly get to see the chimps but they aren’t yet fully habituated to visitors and you can’t always get that close. If you really want to have an in-your-face chimp encounter (and yes, you do!) then Uganda’s Kibale Forest or Tanzania’s Mahale Mountains are better bets. All up though, Nyungwe is possibly the most rewarding park in Rwanda.

Expert
Stephen Cunliffe   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: November

Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.

Fantastic forest and challenging chimpanzees
Overall rating
3/5

Proclaimed in 2004, Nyungwe Forest is a relatively new national park. The 1020km² protected area comprises dense – and largely untouched – tropical montane rainforest, prolific mountain streams, cascading waterfalls, over 130km of forest hiking trails, spectacular bird watching and exciting primate-spotting excursions. The biodiverse forest is also home to 13 primate species, including chimpanzee and Rwenzori colobus – both of which can be tracked on foot as part of a guided safari trek. On occasion, colobus monkey aggregations have been known to number several hundred animals in a single troop: quite a sight to behold.

But, for most visitors, it is Nyungwe’s chimpanzees that are the star attraction and most sought-after safari experience. Setting out early in the morning, chimps are tracked in groups of no more than eight tourists and, when located, you will have just one hour in their company. Sightings typically aren’t as consistent or as clear as the gorillas, since the chimps tend to reside in dense forest, but – provided you manage to locate them – their entertaining playfulness makes the long forest trek all the more worthwhile.

While Rwanda’s chimps are not as habituated or readily seen as those in more popular chimp trekking destinations (such as Kibale in Uganda), the Nyungwe experience is much more enjoyable. You have to work for your chimp sightings, but you get a real sense of privilege and true wilderness adventure. It is hard not to feel a connection with the towering forest of ebonies and mahoganies, as you search for our closest relatives with only a handful of like-minded intrepid safari aficionados for company.

Even if you aren’t lucky enough to enjoy a quality chimpanzee sighting, the forest’s 310 brightly coloured bird species (including 27 Albertine Rift endemics) are constantly flitting around, butterflies are everywhere, and orchids abound. But to get a real sense of the scale of Nyungwe Forest, try out East Africa’s highest canopy walkway with its gravity-defying bridge suspended 70m above the forest canopy. It’s not for the faint of heart (especially not for anyone with a fear of heights), but – for those brave souls that scale it – the views of Nyungwe sprawling out below you are unforgettable.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.7/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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