Nyungwe National Park named among Top 10 Trips for 2014 by National Geographic Traveler
Redemption in the Rain Forest
How does a nation overcome the gut-wrenching stigma of a genocide, now two decades past, and proclaim to the world that it is a safe and surprising place to visit? For Rwanda, one strategy is to highlight a tract of unspoiled mountain rain forest rife with chimpanzees and a dozen other primates plus hundreds of species of birds—namely, Nyungwe National Park, in the southwestern corner of the country.
Nyungwe, which became a national park in 2005, exemplifies the farsightedness of a government that is channeling aid money toward preserving the best of Rwanda’s natural beauty, while bringing in tourist dollars that benefit surrounding communities. An example is the USAID-funded Nyungwe Nziza (Beautiful Nyungwe) project, which recently built a canopy walkway above a forested canyon—a thrilling perspective on the park and its residents.
Chimps are the star attraction in Nyungwe, though they’re not as readily watchable as the famed “in the mist” mountain gorillas farther north in Virunga National Park. Far easier to view are colobus monkeys. The world’s largest community of them lives in Nyungwe. The park hasn’t yet gained renown among birders, but it will. Almost 300 species abide here, including showboats like the oversize, clown-headed Ruwenzori turaco.
“Nyungwe stands out among Africa’s intact montane rain forests for its size and diversity,” says conservationist Bill Weber, who with his wife, Amy, pioneered the gorilla tourism project in Virunga. “It’s a place where people can spend several days and really get to know a rain forest, having different experiences each day.” Visitors can hike trails to peaks and waterfalls, and meet locals in Banda Village near the park entrance. Should one ask residents whether they are Tutsi or Hutu, the answer will almost certainly be “We are Rwandan.” —Robert Earle Howells
When to Go: The drier months (July-October) are best for gorilla trekking, hiking, and tea plantation tours. For birding, visit December-March.
How to Get Around: International flights arrive at Kigali International Airport, about 140 miles northeast of Nyungwe National Park. Rental cars are available but not recommended. The most convenient option is to book a custom or small group tour (including airport transfers, lodging, meals, activities, and park entrance fees) with a responsible tourism operator, such as Rwanda Eco-Tours, founded and operated by native Rwandans.
Where to Stay: Serene and luxurious Nyungwe Forest Lodge is the ideal home base for exploring the park. It’s surrounded on three sides by tea plantation, and on the fourth by rain forest. Opened in 2011, 12-room Nyungwe Top View Hill Hotel lives up to its name. Step out onto your private balcony or sit on the restaurant’s outdoor terrace for mist-shrouded views of the national park and Lake Kivu.
Where to Eat or Drink: Kitabi Cultural Village, located at the Kitabi entrance to the national park, offers guided tours (with samples) where guests can learn about banana beer brewing, traditional milk preservation, millet grinding, and picking and processing tea leaves.
What to Buy: Shop for original indigenous crafts, such as baskets, place mats, bracelets, and wood carvings, at the Kitabi Women’s Handicraft Cooperative. Crafts are handmade using locally sourced materials, and purchases support the cooperative’s efforts to create a path out of poverty for local women.
Cultural Tip: Environmental protection is a top priority throughout Rwanda. Plastic bags are banned and will be confiscated at border crossings. Litter laws are strictly enforced in Kigali, where footpaths protect green areas. Don’t walk on the grass.
What to Read or Watch Before You Go: The 1988 movie Gorillas in the Mist, the biopic of slain primatologist Dian Fossey, was filmed on location in Rwanda and promoted global awareness of the endangered Rwandan gorillas.
Fun Fact: Nyungwe National Park’s black-and-white colobus monkeys live high in the trees, rarely touching the ground. Their name is derived from the Greek word for “mutilated” since the monkeys typically have no thumbs. This adaptation makes it easy to scramble across branches on all fours.
Insider Tip From Robert Earle Howells: At Nyungwe Forest Lodge listen closely and you can hear a distant waterfall.
Nyungwe Nziza Project Wins Phoenix Award from Society of American Travel Writers
The United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Nyungwe Nziza (“Beautiful Nyungwe”) project was named one of the winners of the Society of American Travel Writers’ (SATW) Phoenix Awards at SATW’s annual convention in Biloxi, Mississippi in October 2013. USAID’s involvement in Nyungwe dates back over 20 years, and since the forest’s designation as a national park in 2007 USAID has had active projects in conservation and ecotourism, engaging collaboratively with the Government of Rwanda to support their efforts to independently and responsibly manage the park and its resources.
At the SATW awards ceremony, the Nyungwe Nzizaproject was recognized for its contributions to eco-tourism, biodiversity and local communities. SATW Co-Chair Cheryl Hargrove said that “the SATW Phoenix Committee and Board of Directors selected the Nyungwe Nziza Project after studying many projects in many countries. They voted for the Nyungwe Nziza Project because it is a great example of the type of project that should be replicated around the world.”
USAID’s Nyungwe Nziza project is working with the Rwanda Development Board to transform Nyungwe National Park into a viable ecotourism destination. The ultimate goal is a thriving economy in and around the park with engaged communities and a private sector with a business model based on protecting and leveraging the unique environment in which they live and work. Currently, the project’s market-driven product development and marketing strategies are working to:
As stated by Peter Malnak, Mission Director of USAID/Rwanda, “Nyungwe National Park is one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in the world. USAID is proud to have been working alongside our Rwandan partners in this montane rainforest since the 1980s. Nyungwe is now transforming into an ecotourism destination that attracts visitors from all around the world. Most importantly, the Rwandan government, the private sector, and local communities understand the value in Nyungwe, and are working together to protect the forest not only for its remarkable beauty, but also for the economic benefits and ecological services it provides.”
Nyungwe Nziza is a U.S. Agency for International Development project. It is implemented by Development Alternatives, Inc., in collaboration with SW Associates, a Washington, DC-based international consulting firm, and the U.S. National Park Service.
For further information, contact: Boaz Tumwesigye, Boaz_Tumwesigye@dai.com, +250-788309833
Rough Guides Names Rwanda Top 10 Country to Visit – Highlights Nyungwe!
For 2014, Rough Guides, one of the world’s top travel guide publishers, named Rwanda among the Top 10 countries to visit and included Nyungwe National Park as a highlight. Visit the Rough Guides site at http://www.roughguides.com/best-places/2014/top-10-countries/. Achieving this ranking among many destinations around the world follows a similar top ranking in December 2013 by National Geographic Traveler magazine.
In Memoriam: Dr. James R. Seyler, Chief of Party, DAI-SSENNP “Nyungwe Nziza” Project
Message from the staff of the Nyungwe Nziza Project in memory of Dr. Jim R. Seyler, Chief of Party, DAI-SSENNP “Nyungwe Nziza” Project
On November 23rd, 2013, Dr. Jim Seyler, who was Chief of Party of the DAI-SSENNP “Nyungwe Nziza” Project suddenly and unexpectedly passed. It’s still hard to believe that he is no longer with us. He always stayed in contact with us on line even when he was out of the country, so every time we turn on our computers, we still keep hoping to receive a nice email from him. Jim was so friendly to us, that we could seek his guidance anytime since he was always there for us. Yes, he was our boss, hence tough sometimes on strict deadlines, as he expected and demanded the best from each one of us. We now wish we could tell him how he has made us more efficient and professional. He made us better! We still hear his voice echoing in our office corridors and his happy whistle after he proclaims “DONE” for all to hear, when he ticks off something on his to-do list, and his hearty laughter after receiving an exciting email! Jim will remain alive forever in our hearts.
Jim loved and believed in his work. We will miss his strong technical and leadership skills in tourism planning and development. His contributions to tourism development in Rwanda, particularly in Nyungwe National Park will not be forgotten. We send our heartfelt thoughts to his family, friends, partners and all staff at DAI and sincere appreciation for having known and worked with him. He was an amazing person! We will carry on the work that he started and do our best as he has always demonstrated to us. We will make him proud.
May his soul rest in eternal peace!
Nyungwe Park Brochure
Download the park brochure HERE
Strengthening Sustainable Ecotourism in and around Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda (SSENNP) or “Nyungwe Nziza” (Beautiful Nyungwe) Project
Topic of the Project: Ecotourism and Conservation
Implementing Organization: Development Alternatives Inc. DAI
As Rwanda is an emerging tourist destination, Nyungwe Nziza seeks to help the country reach its tourism potential. To do so, this project targets the spectacular and protected Nyungwe National Park (NNP), focusing on inclusive ecotourism development for the benefit of local communities surrounding the park, and leveraging private sector investment in the management, construction, and maintenance of new and existing park infrastructure.
Nyungwe Nziza project is working to transform NNP into a viable ecotourism destination, capable of generating employment and sustainable and equitable income for local communities and other stakeholders, thus providing economic incentives to conserve the rich biodiversity of the Park. Our ultimate goal is a thriving economy in NNP with engaged communities and a private sector that realize they can benefit economically by protecting and leveraging the unique environment in which they live and work.
In addition to establishing Nyungwe as one of Africa’s premier bird watching destinations, Nyungwe Nziza seeks to decrease threats to biodiversity, such as fire, poaching, and mining, by working with communities to develop alternative sources of income; increase NNP visits and revenue; develop NNP as a brand that goes beyond tourism products; and increase local household incomes.
What we are doing:
Our team is designing and implementing market-driven product development and marketing strategies to result in more private sector investment in infrastructure and services. The project is working on developing partnerships and joint ventures between local communities and the private sector to increase the availability of accommodation around the park, as well as new attractions. At the same time, local communities will be trained to integrate into existing and new value chains around niche products such as bird-watching, chimpanzee tracking, and cultural activities. Additionally, the project is targeted to improve policy and enabling environment for ecotourism development as well as building the capacity of the public and private sector towards sustainable ecotourism planning and management.
In the end, the investment to increase the attractiveness of Nyungwe National Park as a unique tourist destination will:
- Diversify the local economy, create jobs, and increase family income, resulting in reduced poverty and reduced threats.
- Forge scalable and creative public-private partnerships to increase investment in and around the Park, resulting in a sustainable, market-driven ecotourism business plan for NNP.
- Improve the ecotourism enabling environment, resulting in sustainable ecotourism development at Nyungwe and beyond.