​Expert Reviews – Nyungwe NP

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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.

2 people found this review helpful.

A Primate’s Paradise
Overall rating

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.

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.

A fairytale forest
Overall rating

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.

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.

Superb forest all-rounder
Overall rating

Nyungwe protects what is the largest and arguably most impressive montane forest in East Africa. One of the top birding sites in the region, the obvious highlight is the garish great blue turaco, which is often seen gliding between the trees like a psychedelic turkey. For more serious twitchers, its checklist of 310 bird species includes 27 Albertine Rift endemics, of which three (Albertine owlet, red-collared babbler and Rockefeller’s sunbird) are otherwise found only in inaccessible parts of the DR Congo. Mammal-wise, the main draw for most is the opportunity to track a habituated group of chimpanzees, humanity’s closest evolutionary relative. But a dozen other monkey species are present, notably the large and unusually terrestrial L’Hoest’s monkey, an Albertine Rift endemic with an unmistakable bold white ‘beard’. A habituated 350-strong troop of the black-and-white Ruwenzori colobus, resident in the forest around the main campsite, 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 network of trails that includes the region’s only suspended canopy walkway.

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

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.

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

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

  • 3.8/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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