Nyungwe Forest is one of Rwanda’s greatest natural assets. Established as a forest reserve in 1933, RDB has made great efforts in the last few years to expand it as a tourist attraction for conservationists, or those looking for something other than a beach holiday.
At 970 square kilometers, it is the largest single block of rainforest in East Africa. Located in southwest Rwanda just 50 kilometers from Cyangugu, the distance (a five hour drive) demands a few days’ stay.
Being one of the best conserved rainforests in Central and East Africa, Nyungwe is filled with diverse species, be it animal or plant. The park contains 13 different primate species, 275 bird species, 155 mammal, amphibian, and reptile species and 1068 plant species. If this exhausts you, you’ll be shocked and impressed with the guides at Nyungwe - these well trained naturalists can name anything you point out!
Anyone interested in visiting Nyungwe and taking part in the conservation activities should stop at Uwinka, a research site and information point led by the Rwandan parks department. Here, you can book guides for any of the treks offered, many of which can be strenuous, as the terrain is rugged and steep.
Of particular note are the Waterfall Trail, and the Canopy Walk. While costly ($45 and $90, respectively), the hikes are well worth the money, time, and effort. The Waterfall Trail is a four hour hike, and the more strenuous of the two. Passing through tight paths, slippery rocks, and steep climbs, this is not for the faint hearted.
Sweating with exertion while shivering in the chilly forest is a new experience for most, and while some people in this writer’s group were too tired to complete the hike, the splendor of the waterfall was a tremendous reward.
Its roar louder than imaginable and its spray shooting out far beyond the lagoon is quite a sight to behold. Lounge on the rocks, take a deep breath, and enjoy the purity of where you are … then begin your long hike back!
The Canopy Walk, though much less strenuous, can also be challenging but in a much different way. Those inclined to the fear of heights should stay away! A short trek leads you to the edge of a mountain. Built 90 feet above the tops of the trees swings a tiny, narrow, and somewhat rickety walking bridge.
Of course, Nyungwe has ensured that safety comes first, and no expense was spared in this magnificent structure. Walking single file across the top of the mountain, hands constantly gripping thick ropes on either side, it’s hard not to feel godlike.
Lodging is limited, as conservationists limit the amount of businesses able to set up shop within the forest. The Nyungwe Forest Lodge is the premier choice, with beautiful rooms, excellent food, and magnificent views of the forest.
Service is of the utmost quality, and there is even an infinity pool for those still craving that swim! A night here will set you back $350 for two. A second honeymoon, perhaps?
The newly built Top View Hotel is an excellent alternative. Set on the edge of a plateau raised high above the mountains, the views are phenomenal. 12 small stand alone houses were built, each containing a spacious bedroom, bathroom, living room, and beautiful fireplace.
The menu, which is mostly Indian food, is exceptional, and the service, well provided. Rates are between $90-120 per person per night.
Though some might find the lack of recreational activities a deterrent, the beauty of the area cannot be matched. One learns a great deal about conservation, rainforests, and Rwanda while in Nyungwe, and the serenity found in the forest is unrivaled.