RWANDA’S NATIONAL PARKS
Rwanda has got four national parks. These national parks are protected wildlife reserves and eco systems.
AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
Akagera national park lies in eastern Rwanda, bordering Tanzania. It is one of the oldest national parks in Rwanda with a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. It was named after Lake Kagera which feeds different water bodies including Lake Ihema which is home to a number of crocodiles and hippos. There are also many water birds that can be seen on a boating safari on Lake Ihema such as the shoe bill stork on a lucky day. This park is characterized by woodland, swamps, low mountains, and savannah.
The park has so many wildlife animals including elephants, lions, buffalos, hyenas, zebras, giraffes, and several antelopes like the bushbucks, roan antelope, Topis, klipspringer, Oribis, Cape eland, water-buck, duikers and impalas. Akagera national park is also a good birding spot with different bird species like the papyrus gonolex which is found in the papyrus swamps.
There are also the localized red-faced barbets, the swamp flycatcher as well as the elusive shoebill stork all found in Akagera National Park. Other species include fish eagles, Grey-backed Fiscals, Cattle Egret, Black-headed & Viellot’s Black Weavers, Hamerkop, Pied Crow, Sacred & Hadada Ibis, Long-crested Eagle and the Augur Buzzard.
ACTIVITIES TO DO IN AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
There are a number of activities that can be done in Akagera national park. These include;
Early morning, afternoon, and evening game drives under the supervision of a professional guide who is knowledgeable about the flora and fauna in this park.
Birding in Akagera national park. The harbor has over 500 bird species making it one of the best spots for birding. Various water birds can be viewed while on a boat cruise on Lake Ihema like the papyrus gonolex, shoebill stork, fish eagles, Grey-backed Fiscals, Cattle Egret, Black-headed & Viellot’s Black Weavers, Hamerkop, Pied Crow, Sacred & Hadada Ibis and the Long-crested Eagle.
Boat safaris on Lake Ihema
Lake Ihema is the second largest lake in Rwanda after Lake Kivu. It has a rich diversity, with a number of hippos and crocodiles plus a variety of bird species. This park is also a paradise for ornithologists. Activities here include; walking, photography, sightseeing, sunset watching, and swimming.
Spot fishing on Lake Shakan. This is the only lake in Rwanda where spot fishing can be done. There are many water birds on this lake not forgetting hippos too.
Boat cruises on Lake Ihema are the best boat safari that you will be able to explore Lake Ihema in Akagera National Park. This is the largest lake in the park and it is found in the southern part of Akagera NP and has got one of the largest concentrations of hippos in East Africa. In addition, it is a sight to behold and there are also many crocodiles that you will find along the shores of the lake.
WHEN TO VISIT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
Akagera national park can be visited all year around though the best time to visit is the dry season (June to September) when the vegetation is thin for easy view and sightings of wild animals.
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
Situated on a 160 square kilometer area in the Northern part of Rwanda, Volcanoes national park is part of the great Virunga national park in Congo and Mgahinga national park in Uganda.
It was initially a small area around Karisimbi, Mikeno, and Visoke volcanoes which was gazetted to protect the Mountain gorillas which were facing the threat of extinction as a result of poaching.
In addition to gorillas, Volcanoes national park is also home to playful golden monkeys, spotted hyenas, buffaloes, elephants, black-fronted duiker, and bushbuck.
The park also harbors about 800 bird species including at least 29 endemics to Rwenzori and the Virungas. The park is very accessible by public transport from Gisenyi or Kigali or from the airport.
ACTIVITIES IN VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
There are ten gorilla families namely the Sabinyo gorilla family, Titus gorilla family, Kwitonda gorilla family, Karisimbi gorilla family, Agashya gorilla family, Amahoro gorilla family, Susa A, Umbano family, Susa B gorilla family, and Hirwa gorilla family.
Once the group is found, the tourist is allowed to see them for an hour. Gorilla trekking permits in Rwanda cost 1500$ and are booked through local travel agents. Each gorilla family is trekked by strictly 8 tourists. The trekking starts in the morning at around 8:00 AM and ranges from 1 to 8 hours of hiking depending on the movement of gorillas and the luck of the tourists.
There are always guidelines or instructions to follow while in the presence of the gorillas. The guides navigate the national park every day and are aware of and understand the forest.
Golden monkey Trekking
The golden monkeys also known as the “world old monkeys” are endangered creatures found in Volcanoes national park. In Rwanda, these golden monkeys are divided into two troops, The largest group is found in Sabinyo. This is the most visited troop in Rwanda. The other group is in the volcanoes with a smaller number. They live in groups with one male monkey with dominance. These playful primates should not be missed on your next safari to Rwanda. They are easily found since they swing in bamboo trees. The trekking permit costs 100$
Volcanoes national park has dense vegetation with bamboo trees and grasslands that harbor different bird species. This park has over 189 bird species and some of these include the Rwenzori batis, dusty crimson wing, red-faced woodland warbler, archer,s ground robin, francolin strange weaver, and the collared apalis.
Volcano mount hiking
There are five mountains located in the volcanoes national park namely Mount Karisimbi, mount Bisoke, Mount Gahinga, Mount Sabinyo, and Mountain Muhavura. The tallest is Mount Karisimbi with an elevation of 4507 meters above sea level.
While hiking, tourists are able to see a variety of birds, primates, and plants at the summit. They are able to view Mount Nyiragongo, Nyamulagira, and Muhabura volcanoes as well as a big forest. While hiking Mount Muhavura in Volcanoes national park and Mgahinga national park in Uganda you will be able to see the twin lakes. Lake Burera and Lake Ruhondo.
Dian Fossey grave visit
In Volcanoes national park, you can take a hike to the research center where Dian Fossey’s grave is located, a primatologist who was killed in 1985 while conducting a study on mountain gorillas.
You’ll be able to see primates, animals, birds, and a variety of vegetation during the three-hour trip.
You will also witness the burial of digit Dian Fossey’s beloved companion and other graveyards of roughly 20 gorillas that were either killed by poachers or experienced death due to other circumstances.
It’s a great way to learn more about Dian Fossey’s life and work by making the trek to her research center.
In Volcanoes national park tourists are able to get into contact with the locals to see how they live their day-to-day life. A visit to Iby’iwacu cultural village is rewarding. A traditional healer’s home, and the king’s house where tourists also learn about traditional dances such as Entore.
WHEN TO VISIT VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
Visiting Rwanda for gorilla trekking or for any other activity can be done all year around although the best time to visit can be during the dry season since it is preferable. The accommodation in Rwanda ranges from super luxury, luxury, midrange, and budget. Many of the accommodation facilities are very near the Volcanoes national park. A guest can even stay in Kigali and then drive to the park for trekking.
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK
Nyungwe national park is one of the oldest rain forests with a rich biodiversity and a home to a number of chimpanzees plus the owl-faced and colobus monkeys found in the southwest of Rwanda bordering Burundi, Lake Kivu, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It stretches from Lake Albert to Lake Tanganyika. It is known for its endemic species of flora and fauna. The national park has only 2 habituated chimpanzees. It accommodates over 300 bird species and 29 species that are endemic to the Albertine Rift.
ACTIVITIES DONE IN NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK
The Canopy Walkway offers tourists an opportunity to explore the Nyungwe forest. Nyungwe’s canopy walkway is a 50-meter-high steel bridge built on tree tops. It has trails where each trail is named after the tree species found there. Part of the Igishigishigi trail is a high suspension bridge with views over the valley and surrounding forests. Another trail runs to the Kamiranzovu March with its birdlife, orchids, and waterfall.
Gisakura tea plantation visits
Gisakura tea plantation is found at the edge of Nyungwe national park. Here, tourists are able to see how tea is grown, harvested, and processed up to the last stage. Getting involved in tea picking is a great experience one should not miss.
Chimpanzee trekking is the most popular activity done in Nyungwe national park. It is home to 60 habituated chimpanzees. The trekking takes 2 to 6 hours. 8 people are allowed to trek each habituated chimpanzee group. Being in the presence of these chimps is the best experience ever. While on the trek, tourists are able to see other primates such as the I’hoest monkeys, Renzori colobus monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, vervet monkeys, baboons, and red-tailed monkeys to mention but a few.
Nyungwe national park is also known as a birder’s paradise since it harbors 300 bird species with about 29 endemics to the Albertine rift valley. Species to spot out include the I’usky crimson, Handsome francolin, Grauer’s warbler, Ruwenzori Apalis, Ruwenzori batis, Black flycatcher, red-throated lathe, Chapin’s flycatcher, great blue turaco, Ruwenzori night jar, mountain sooty bou bou, and others.
Nyungwe national park has different trails for hiking. There’s the Bigugu trail which has the highest trail 2950 meters high. The hiking takes 5 to 6 hours and needs when one is physically fit.
Isimo waterfall trail passes through the tea plantation and takes about 3 to 4 hours. A tourist will be able to view different bird species, primates, and different plant species.
The Karamba trail is one of the easiest in Nyungwe national park. It is a birder’s spot with different bird species.
Best time to visit the park
Nyungwe national park can be visited any time all year round.
The Accommodation in Nyungwe national park ranges from luxury, midrange, and budget accommodation where visitors can stay when on a safari.
GISHWATI – MUKURA NATIONAL PARK
Gishwati Mukura national park is found in the Northwestern part of Rwanda. It occupies an area of 32.02 kilometers and is Rwanda’s newest park. It has 2 forests Gishwati and Mukuru forests hence making Gishwati – mukura national park. It protects remarkable biodiversity since it is less explored by tourists. It is easily accessible from the nearby cities.
ACTIVITIES DONE IN GISHWATI – MUKURA NATIONAL PARK
Gishwati – Mukura national park has a number of primates including chimps, golden monkeys, blue L’Hoest’s monkeys, and baboons. Habituation of chimps is ongoing in this park so that they get used to human presence.
This park is also a birding paradise in Rwanda. Over 85 bird species have been recorded with 15 species that are found in the Albertine rift valley which include the grey crowned crane, martial eagle, mountain yellow warblers, purple breasted sunbird, red-throated lathe, Regal sunbird, Ruwenzori batis, Ruwenzori turaco, weaver birds, wood hoopoes, strange weavers and the stripe breasted tit.
Cultural visits are done in Gashati-Mukura national park and involve visiting different communities. Activities may include cultural dances, farming, and visiting traditional healers to mention but a few.
Congo Nile Trail
This trail passes along the shores of Lake Kivu through the Nyungwe forest. For visitors who love biking, this trail provides the best biking experience.
The park can be accessed by road or a chattered flight from Kigali. It can also be accessed from Uganda’s Mgahinga national park and Bwindi impenetrable forest via road transport.