It doesn’t take you long to realise you’re somewhere special. As soon as you cross into Nyungwe National Park you’re transported into another world. A world where mountains merge with mist rising up from valleys, where families of monkeys swing from tree to tree and where the air is so clean you wish you could bottle it up and take it home. Nyungwe is without question one of the most unique places on the continent.
The park is the largest middle altitude rainforest in Africa at 1,019 square kilometres and with 13 primate species, 275 bird species and over 240 tree species including the famed Igishigishigi(tree fern), boasts one of the highest levels of biodiversity anywhere in the world. Only in Nyungwe can black and white Colobus monkeys can be observed in families of up to 400, ten times the number found elsewhere.
Exploring the beauty of the rainforest is easy with over 130 kilometres of walking trails that cater to all levels of fitness and give visitors the chance to get up close with the incredible animal life in the park. Walk with chimpanzees, spot white bearded mountain monkeys and search for bird life of unimaginable beauty. If you’re lucky, you may see the Great Blue Turaco jumping and flying from tree to tree high in the canopy or the elusive Owl-faced monkey.
One of the most popular trails is the Canopy Walk, taking hikers along the Igishigishigi track to a series of bridges suspended up to 70 metres above the rainforest floor. After a quick briefing from your guide at the Uwinka Visitor Centre, you set off into the forest. Be sure to have your camera ready for blue and mountain monkeys jumping about and squirrels darting from one branch to another. Three canopy bridges rise out of the forest, suspended from tall steel structures that could easily be mistaken for modern art. Your guide will reassure you that the 160 metre walk could be done by one hundred elephants, but the first few steps are always tentative. Ten metres in and your confidence will return. Take a deep breath, look around and marvel at the beauty of the rainforest canopy. You’ll hear a small creek below, see birds flying across the horizon and soon realise you have the best seat in the house to view the spectacle that is Nyungwe. This 2.1km round trip is rated as ‘Easy’ and is suitable for visitors of all ages.
Visitors wanting a slightly longer trek can set out from the Gisakura Tourist Information Centre and walk the Isumo trail to Nyungwe’s largest waterfall, Kamiranzovu. Meaning elephant swallower, the 17 meter fall takes its name from the nearby swamp where elephants would often get stuck. From a distance you can hear the faint roar, but when you get closer there’s no mistaking its power. You will be in awe of the beauty of the place, with spectacular wild flowers dotted along the path, frogs jumping across rocks and fine mist rising high into the valley past bat caves and hanging foliage. It’s a special place and you won’t find anywhere else like it. Just don’t be afraid to get a little wet from the waterfall’s powerful spray.
For an incredible primate viewing experience, a visit to Cyamudongo forest and its large family of chimpanzees is a must. Because the chimps wake up for breakfast at around 4am, willing adventurers will also need to be out of bed early. Don’t forget your binoculars as the chimps like to climb high in the canopy and the Mona monkeys living alongside them can be shy. Proper hiking boots and pants and long sleeves are recommended as you might find yourself off the beaten track to find the best viewing position. The forest is located about an hour from Gisakura.
All walks in Nyungwe National Park are accompanied by knowledgeable guides who will tell you about the numerous plants along the track and help spot animals and birdlife. Walks must be pre-booked at a Tourist Information Centre. The closest centre to Nyungwe is located in Gisakura about ten minutes from the park entrance.
After returning from a long day of exploring, there’s nothing quite like sitting by the fire and watching the sun set over the rainforest as monkeys swing past and colourful birds fly overhead. If you’re after just that, Nyungwe Forest Lodge is the perfect place for you. Connect with nature, quieten the soul and rejuvenate at this five-star eco-resort nestled at the edge of the Nyungwe National Park. The multi-award winning lodge is Green Leaf accredited and sustainability and conservation are clear priorities. Its architecture will astound and have you relaxed the moment you walk in the door.
Your host will provide first class care throughout your stay, beginning with an explanation of all the lodge has to offer, from relaxing swims in the infinity pool to mountain biking through the tea plantation. For those wanting to take things a little slower and treat themselves or a loved one, the lodge’s African Spa provides the chance to luxuriate with a full range of treatments including massage, facial, pedicure and manicure. A gift shop has exquisite local handicrafts as well as books detailing the country’s history and culture. For those wanting to sample the local brew, a traditional tea tasting ceremony can be arranged with your host.
When you take the path down to your villa, the smell of the fresh rainforest air and tea combine in a feast for the senses. Rooms are expertly appointed with a blend of modern and traditional styling, creating your own little paradise you won’t want to leave. Relax on the balcony and watch monkeys swing by or indulge in a forest view bath. All meals are included in your stay and they will not disappoint. Fresh local produce joins with flavours from across the continent to create mouth-watering dishes. For any special requests, simply speak to the chef who can create a personalised delicacy for you. Dine by the fireplace or on the balcony. Just be sure to watch out for Colobus monkeys who like to make lunchtime visits to the edge of the forest. Whether for one night or many, the lodge will leave any discerning traveller wanting to return, again and again.
The beauty of the lodge is only rivalled by the rainforest itself and the animals that call it home. A visit to Nyungwe National Park is a must for your next trip to the land of a thousand hills. The park is located in Rwanda’s south west and RwandAir flies daily from Kigali to the nearby Kamembe Airport. Transfers from the airport to Nyungwe Forest Lodge can be arranged through local tour operators. Alternatively, the trip by car from Kigali takes approximately five hours. This is a good option for those wanting to visit the historical towns of Nyanza and Butare which host the Ancient History Museum and National Museum of Rwanda.
For more information about the lodge, visit www.nyungweforestlodge.com.