1. GISHWATI MUKURA NATIONAL PARK
Rwanda’s fourth national park, Gishwati Mukura is made up of two separate forests – the larger Gishwati and small Mukura, forming a total of 34 square kilometers plus a buffer zone. The forests sit on the ridge which divides the Congo and Nile water catchment areas, along the incredibly biodiverse Albertine Rift in the west of the country. It is made up of 60 species of tree, including indigenous hardwoods and bamboo. Gishwati is home to a group of 20 chimpanzees which live alongside golden monkeys, L’Hoest’s and Blue monkeys. Birds are well represented too, 232 species have been seen at Gishwati and 163 at Mukura, among then Albertine Rift Endemic species and forest specialists. The park is currently part of an ambitious landscape restoration program. Activities in the park are due to begin in 2019 and include a guided nature hike, guided chimp and monkey tracking, bird watching and a visit to the waterfalls. The area was nearly depleted largely due to resettlement, illegal mining in the mineral – rich forest and livestock farming. The formation of its National Park status in 2015 aims to help redress the balance, to increase the number of trees to improve soil fertility, stabilize slopes and regulate stream flow. It will also contribute to improving the livelihoods of the population living in the surrounding areas, which in turn offers the forest a better chance of regeneration in tandem with the potential to raise living standards in the longer term. Community – based activities include a farm stay, a live cultural dance, making handicrafts, beekeeping, a tea plantation tour and the chance to learn from traditional modern medicine and synthesized drugs.
2. AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK (HOME TO THE BIG 5)
AKagera National Park (ANP), located in the north – eastern region of Rwanda is named after the AKagera River that flows along its eastern boundary and feeds into a labyrinths of lakes of which the largest is Lake Ihema. Founded in 1934, with an area of 1,122sq.km, it is the largest protected wetland in central Africa and the last remaining refuge for savannah – adapted animals and plants in Rwanda. AKagera National Park is home to lions, leopards, servals, hyenas, jackals and giraffes, large herds of buffaloes, zebras, rhinoceros and several antelope species. Elephants congregate around the lakes that are inhabited by more than 800 hippos as well as Africa’s largest freshwater predator, the Nile crocodile. Embark on an authentic day or night guided African savannah and rolling highlands safari, or experience forest fringed lakes on a boat ride in one of the most scenic reserves in Africa. If you are lucky you may even come across the secretive blue monkey, bush baby (Galago), or Sitatunga Swamp – dwelling antelope. AKagera is an important birding area with nearly 500 species, of which 99 are not found in any other Rwandan national parks. Of note are the rare and elusive Shoebill, the Red – faced Barbet and the exquisite Papyrus Gonolek.
3. NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK (PRIMATES & HIKING PARADISE)
Within the Great Rift Valley lies Africa’s largest protected mountain rainforest, Nyungwe Forest, acclaimed for its rich biodiversity, endemic species and showcasing the only canopy walk in East Africa (reaching 70m above the forest floor and spanning 200m in length). Located in the south western region of Rwanda, at an elevation of over 1600m, sounds and sights collaborate to create a magical experience as you journey through the majestic rainforest. Nyungwe National Park (NNP) holds the source of Africa’s great rivers, feeding the Nile River in the east and the Congo River in the west, and is known as the most endemic species – rich area in all of Africa. The park boasts ecosystems from rainforest, bamboo, grassland, swamps, and bog habitats. It is home to orchids among 1,000 other plant species, habituated chimpanzees and 12 other primates (including 400 strong troops of the Black and White Colobus Monkey), and 75 different species of mammals. It is a birder’s paradise with over 310 species of which 27 are Albertine Rift endemics including the Ruwenzori Turaco, Ruwenzori Double – Collared Sunbird and Grauer’s Swamp Warbler. A piece of paradise found its home inside the remarkable Nyungwe Forest – inviting you to come and explore the beautiful trails, trek chimpanzees, bike, bird watching, learn about the tea plantations and community cultural villages in the area, and be thrilled by the canopy walkway that gives a bird’s eye view of one of the world’s remarkable natural treasures.
4. VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK (GATEWAY TO GORILLAS)
In the heart of Central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat,” write the eminent primatologist Dian Fossey, “are great, old volcanoes towering almost 15,000 feet, nearly covered with rich, green rainforest – the Virungas”. Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park (VNP) protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range – home of the endangered mountain gorilla and a rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath. Within the boundaries of VNP are Buhanga Eco Park, an ancient forest holding Rwanda’s most intriguing folklore and Musanze caves, formed 62 million years ago after the last estimated volcanic eruption. VNP is named after the chain of dormant volcanoes making up the Virunga Massif: karisimbi (the highest at 4,507 m), Bisoke with its verdant crater Lake, Sabinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura. Trekking endangered mountain gorillas through the mysterious intimacy of the rainforest, alive with the calls of colorful birds and chattering of the rare golden monkey, is only one of the truly unique experiences in the area. Hiking, canoeing, mountain biking and village experiences offer something for everyone to enjoy.