With over 280 bird and 13 primate species and spreading over 1000 square kilometres, Nyungwe National Park is one of the most acclaimed biodiversity rainforests in Africa.
The park also boasts a diverse ecosystem from rainforest, bamboo, grassland, swamps, rivers, butterflies, moths and insects.
Last week, I travelled to Nyungwe with a group of about 30 local journalists and, together, we embarked on a thrilling adventure, walking down the hills and crossing valleys trekking for monkeys and chimpanzees and visiting other wildlife attractions.
A variety of hiking and walking trails crisscross the Park, leading to its varied attractions.
“Nyungwe is a hotspot for biodiversity,” Louis Rugerinyange, the Chief Park Warden at Nyungwe who led our party along the forest’s trails, says.
On day one, we undertook a long tracking adventure as we looked for the white and black colobus monkeys-one of the many primate species in Nyungwe Park.
Walking on a sloppy ground for about one hour was realistically a very difficult exercise to some of us, who fell down several times, as one of our guides led us through the jungle.
A monkey tracker, only identified as Simon, told me he has now spent over 15 years in the forest following monkeys and other primates.
After a tedious journey, of over one hour, we started hearing voices from deep within the forest, as trees were shaking.
Finally, we have arrived, Simon ushers to the excitement of many within our group.
Simon says there are about 600 white and black colobus monkeys in Nyungwe park, which he says live together in groups.
“They usually move together from one place to another,” Simon explains.
“We have to follow their movement on a daily basis to know the exact place where they are”.
The tracker, 60, says his job ends late in the evening and starts early in the morning-at about 5am-so as to make sure he does not lose track of the monkeys.
“Every morning, they make loud noises, making it easy for me to track them,” Simon says.
“As they move from one place to another, I follow them,” Simon told me as we observed the acrobatic antics of the primates jumping from one tree to another, from one place to another.
These colobus monkeys are one of the many species of primates found in Nyungwe.
Watching their gymnastic and flexible movements within the jungle, one feels relaxed from the pain of the long walk to reach this place.
According to Rugerinyange, visitors always have a chance to witness their movement thanks to knowledgeable and devoted trackers.
But Nyungwe’s magnet does not end on chimpanzees and monkeys as the Park offers a wide variety of other attractions.
One of them, the Kamiranzovu waterfalls is located deep in the forest, in the middle of two elevated hills and is reached after approximately one and half hours foot walk. And the park’s various trails give an opportunity to explore the different spectacular aspects of the jungle, observing birds, mammals, trees, orchids and other wildlife plant species, among other exciting attractions.
The forest walks are excellent and last from one to eight hours and a one to three days overnight hike, according to officials.
Notwithstanding the various attractions in the park, the Canopy Walkway remains one of the best places to experience as it offers a magnificent view of the canopy and it gives a great site for bird-watching.
The walkway is constructed on the Igishigishigi trail and is reached after about a one hour stride from the Uwinka visitor centre.
The Canopy walk is suspended at a height of about 60m above the ground and goes over giant trees.
Ildephonse Kambogo, the director of Tourism in Nyungwe Park, says the 150 meters walkway is the first in East Africa and the third in Africa.
“While on the walkway, tourists have a good view of the park,” Kambogo summarises.
The silver Canopy Walkway is narrow and shaky as a result of its altitude and as tourists move on it, one hears things cracking.
Its shaky nature makes many tourists fear for their safety, though officials here affirm it is very safe.
The canopy can carry a total of four tonnes at a time, according to Rugerinyange.
“It is safe, no one can fall,” assures Juarez, a Brazilian who is part of the team who set up the pathway.
But as we kept our walk on the above-the-ground way, many did not believe the assurances given and thought they would collapse.
In the middle of the walk one lady in our group stopped and asked to return back. She was so terrified that the guide found it difficult to make her overcome her fears and continue her journey till the end.
At some point, the tour guides stopped the group to listen to the forest but on the faces of some, prayers were flowing-they were seemingly thinking only of getting to the end as fast as possible.
“I won’t come back,” one woman told me as we reached the end of our walk.
But the majority enjoyed the experience and the view of the park while crossing the path. For them, as it was for me, the walk was a scary but thrilling and worthy exercise.
A Canadian tourist I met at the canopy walkway, who identified himself as Normand, told me he was “so excited” and “did enjoy” the walk.
“We are alive and so happy,” Normand, who was accompanied by his wife, told me as they ended the walk.
“Rwanda is really, really nice,” he added.
While the beauty of Nyungwe National Park remains unknown to many, efforts are being made to attract many tourists.
For Dr James Seyler, the Chief of Party of Nyungwe Nziza Project, which seeks to strengthen ecotourism in Nyungwe Park, there is a reason to visit the Park.
“The place (Nyungwe) is beautiful and there are a lot of things to see and a lot of things to do,” he says.
What you need is just to be in Nyungwe and witness the beauty of Rwanda, he concludes.