Extending for nearly one thousand square kilometres over the mountains of southwest Rwanda, Nyungwe Forest National Park protects the largest remaining single tract of montane forest in Africa. It is a remarkably rich centre of biodiversity with 86 mammal species, 280 birds, 120 butterflies and about 100 varieties of orchid.
The main attractions in Nyungwe are the large troops of Ruwenzori colobus monkeys, the beautiful, endangered golden monkey and chimp tracking. Guides lead you through the forest in search of these elusive creatures; and you should encounter the striking l’Hoest’s monkey and grey-cheeked mangabey.
Nyungwe National Park has just been gazetted – and not a moment too soon to save this forest from the depredations of agriculture. Fields of maize, beans and bananas are intensively cultivated right up to the forest edge.
Nyungwe Forest is bisected by the winding tarmac road linking Butare to Cyangugu and the reserve’s terrain includes many steep slopes. Accommodation is provided by the simple Gisakura ORTPN Resthouse. If you have a strong interest in brids or primates you could happily spend three days here.
Nyungwe’s primates include wild Chimpanzees which are slowly being habituated – the chances of seeing them are approximately 40% - and 8 species of monkey. Resident monkeys include large troops of the Albertine Rift endemic Rwenzori Colobus (arboreal), the terrestrial L’Hoest’s monkey, the rare and elusive Albertine Rift endemic Owl-faced Monkey, Silver Monkey, Grey-cheeked Mangabey, Dent’s Mona Monkey, Vervet Monkey and Olive Baboon. Three species of Galago (bushbaby) and the peculiar Potto constitute Nyungwe’s nocturnal primates. Other resident mammals include Leopard, Bushbuck, three species of forest-dwelling Duiker, Bushpig, Giant Forest Hog, Congo clawless otter, various forest-dwelling squirrels and Tree Hyrax. Reptiles include 12 snakes and the lizard fauna includes at least 5 chameleon species.
Along the road, birders can seek many of the sought-after Albertine Rift Endemics, including the Handsome Francolin, the remarkable, 'painted' Rwenzori Turaco, Mountain Black Boubou, Rwenzori Batis, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Archer's Robin-chat, Rwenzori Hill Babbler, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, the rare Grauer's Rush Warbler, Neumann's Warbler, Mountain Masked Apalis, the near-endemic Kungwe Apalis and a cluster of colourful Sunbirds including Ruwenzori Double-collared, Purple-throated, Blue-headed and the stunning Regal Sunbird. It is the only site where the sought-after Red-collared Mountain Babbler can be sought in safety.
There is a system of forest trails around the Gisakura Resthouse, including the notable ‘Waterfall Trail’. Around the Uwinka Campsite, there are the seven ‘Coloured Trails’, each marked with a different colour and leading downhill from the campsite. Take note that the reserve’s trails are challenging and can be slippery.
The park holds at least 100 species of Butterfly of which over 40 are regionally endemic. The forest’s flora includes around 200 species of hardwood trees such as African Mahogany and Smooth-barked Albizia; stands of Bamboo; impressive Giant Tree ferns and about 200 species of Orchid.