Nyungwe Forest National Park is remarkably accessible contains the largest remaining tract of the montane rainforest in East Africa. Montane rainforests are a rare and unique ecosystem, found only in mountainous areas above 1,000m/3,281ft within the tropical belt. The main attraction is primates including chimpanzees. Another highlight is the suspended canopy walk, offering a bird’s eye view into the dense forest.
Although not a classic safari destination, Nyungwe Forest National Park has a good variety of animals. Forest wildlife is often difficult to spot, but primates are the exception. Thirteen species are present, including chimpanzees and Rwenzori colobus monkeys which can both be tracked on separate activities. Another highlight is the terrestrial l’Hoest’s monkey which can often be found along the main road and at the campsite.
The scenery of Nyungwe Forest National Park is nothing less than spectacular. Even a drive on the main road will offer incredible views of the pristine rainforest canopy stretching over endless hills towards the Burundi border. A hike to a forest waterfall or to the vast open swamp area offers different glimpses into the stunning range of habitats.
Nyungwe is a true rainforest, located at high altitude, which results in a wet, cool climate. It can rain at any time, but June to September is considered the Dry season as rainfall is a bit lower during these months. Due to the proximity to the equator, temperatures don’t change much throughout the year, but nighttime temperatures are about 10°C/50°F less than daytime temperatures.
Nyungwe can be visited throughout the year but waterproof clothing is necessary. General hiking and monkey watching is usually most enjoyable during the drier months, from June to September. However, if your main interest is chimp trekking, the wet months, from October to May, are the most productive. Specialist birders might also have to brave the wettest months to get the best results.
A total of 86 mammal species have been recorded in Nyungwe Forest, though most are very secretive and rarely encountered. The primates, on the other hand, are Nyungwe’s main attraction, especially the charismatic chimpanzee. Another 12 primate species are present, including l’Hoest’s monkey, grey-cheeked mangabey, and red-tailed monkey.
Tracking Nyungwe’s habituated chimpanzees are the prime activity in the park. Another highlight is the unusually large troops of Rwenzori colobus, counting up to 350 individuals. This unique race of black-and-white colobus monkey is restricted to the Albertine Rift. Several antelope species in the park include the secretive bushbuck and the very rare endemic race of Weyns’s duiker.
The best time for chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe is during the Wet season – October to May – as the chimps are easier to locate at that time. March to May is very wet, so the ideal time would be from October to February. In the Dry season, they tend to venture deeper into the forest interior, making them harder to track. The Dry season from June to September is best for general hiking, as the trails are easier to navigate.
Nyungwe, recognized as an IBA (Important Bird Area) by Birdlife International, has over 300 species recorded. Forest birding is never easy, but the wide road running through the park offers a great vantage point into the canopy. Of specific interest are the many Albertine Rift endemics (birds restricted to the Albertine Rift). Three birds unrecorded elsewhere on the eastern side of the Albertine Rift are Albertine owlet, red-collared babbler, and Rockefeller’s sunbird.
There is good birding to be had in Nyungwe throughout the year, with a few caveats. Breeding activity peaks at the end of the rainy season. During May and June, and from July to September, many birds are feeding their fledglings and keep quiet – only becoming vocally active again in January or February. Since so much of forest birding depends on calls, the best time in this regard is from January to June. April is the wettest month and the logistics of birding might become a challenge, as trails get very slippery. Migratory birds are present from November to April.
Nyungwe Forest is open for Chimpanzee trekking and hiking throughout the year. The wet months, from October to May, are the best time for chimp trekking and forest birding, but general hiking and spotting other primates might be easier in the drier months, from June to September.
Weather & Climate
Nyungwe typically receives more than 2,000mm of precipitation per year. This, combined with the high altitudes, means that the climate is very wet and cool. Due to the forest’s close proximity to the equator, temperatures stay constant year-round. During the day, temperatures are around 20°C/68°F and it cools off at night to about 10°C/50°F.
Dry season –June to September
Throughout the year Nyungwe Forest receives rain, though there is a drier period from June to September. Bring waterproof clothing and shoes for hiking and warm clothing for the cold, damp evenings, regardless of when you visit.
June, July & August – These are the driest months of the year, but it can still rain anytime. This is an excellent time for hiking as the trails are drier. Daytime temperatures average 21°C/70°F, with an average of 10°C/50°F at night.
September – After drier weather, it will start raining more often at some point in September. Temperatures stay the same.
Wet season –October to May
Bring waterproof clothing and shoes for hiking during the day, as well as clothes to keep you toasty warm in the cold, damp evenings.
October, November, and December, January & February – It rains a lot and November is a peak month for rainfall. Temperatures will be around 20°C/68°F during the day but will vary depending on altitude. Nights are cold, with an average of 10°C/50°F.
March, April & May – The rain picks up in March and peaks in April. Hiking can be difficult in March and April as the trails get very slippery. Temperatures stay the same.
Getting There – Nyungwe Forest NP
Kigali International Airport (KGL) will be your entry point into Rwanda. It is about 10km/6mi from the capital, Kigali.
Nyungwe Forest NP is in the south of the country 200km/124mi from Kigali, 87km/54mi from Huye, and 55km/34mi from Rusizi. The drive takes about four to five hours from Kigali, two to three hours from Huye, and about one hour from Rusizi.
Usually, Nyungwe Forest is visited as part of a 4×4 tour around the country with a driver-guide.
Malaria & Safety
Like most game reserves and parks in Rwanda, Nyungwe Forest NP is very safe in our opinion. It is illegal to walk on your own in the park and all hikes and activities are guided by the well-trained rangers. Indeed, the biggest danger you’re likely to face at Nyungwe is a slippery hiking trail – appropriate footwear is a must.
Malaria & Vaccinations
The risk of contracting malaria in Nyungwe Forest is very low due to the altitude of the park, but if you are traveling in other parts of the country precautions against malaria as well as certain other vaccinations are advised. Protection against malaria includes taking antimalarial medication and using mosquito repellent containing at least 30% DEET. Consult your local travel doctor or healthcare professional for more advice.
Wildlife can be unpredictable, so there is always some risk when viewing animals in their habitat. However, the risks are easily avoided by following your guide’s directions and being aware of the wildlife viewing safety precautions below.