Gishwati and Mukura were once two different forests found within the Albertine Rift Valley along the border between Congo and the Nile water catchment area. They were joined together to form the current Gishwati Mukura National Park.
Gishwati and Mukura were once two different forests found within the Albertine Rift Valley along the border between Congo and the Nile water catchment area. Gishwati was larger than Mukura before they were merged to form the current Gishwati- Mukura Forest National Park measuring about 34 square kilometers, its addition in 2015 made it the fourth National Park in Rwanda. You can locate Rwanda’s newest National Park in Rutsiro and Ngorero districts in Western Rwanda, the forests are also located between Volcanoes National Park and Akagera National Park.
Before the merging of the two forests, they were facing depletion caused by human activities such as mining, animal grazing, human settlement and growing of crops that led to cutting down of some trees and vegetation hence tampering with the natural vegetation. In order to protect the forests from being destroyed by people, the governments of Rwanda setup the LAFREC project to enforce conservation efforts. The LAFREC project has led activities like afforestation where trees were planted to replace the destructed ones, and new farming practices were introduced to increase on soil fertility. The other activities that posed a danger to the forests were stopped and over time the forest was rehabilitated. However the major aim was to protect the chimpanzees since they are dependent on the vegetation of the forest and if it had lessened then the chimps would have to look for better living conditions.
The rainforest is now home to several tree species like bamboo and hardwood trees, primates chimpanzees, blue monkeys and L’Hoest monkeys, mammalia such as bush bucks, red river hogs and tree hyraxes and more than 395 species of birds inclusive of birds endemic to the Albertine region like the white headed wood Hooper and yellow warbler that fly over the tall canopies.
The number of tourists visiting the park is still low compared to other parks in the country however it has significantly increased ever since the park was opened in 2015. Since it is still young and new, few people know about it but the numbers are promising.
Attractions and Activities in Gishwati-Mukura National Park
The park currently has only 20 chimpanzees and the numbers are this low because their natural habitat was encroached before the park was formed hence causing most of them to leave the park. One of the major aims of restoring and conserving the forests was to protect the chimpanzees. The remaining chimpanzees can be tracked with the guidance of the game rangers.
Besides chimpanzees, the park is home to several monkey species, due to the parks nature and vegetation, it has attracted a variety of primates like monkeys. You will be able to notice various monkey species such as blue monkeys, golden monkeys, Vervet monkeys, L’hoest’s monkeys and the white and black monkeys. Other primates are the olive baboons.
With over 395 bird species sighted in the park, it is the best place to enjoy your bird watching expedition. Bird lovers will love it here due to the variety of birds and those only found in the Albertine Rift Valley area like the Ruwenzori Turaco, Grey crowned crane, Red throated Alethe, Purple breasted sunbird, yellow warbler, Ruwenzori Batis among many others.
Take a simple walk and get immersed in the forest’s natural beauty filled with rare vegetation and animals such as reptiles like chameleons, birds and primates. The park has already made trails that lead you to unique features the park has to offer such as Kazeneza waterfall.
The people who had encroached the forests now reside in the neighboring communities, the government has supported the communities in creating engaging activities tourists can participate in such as dance and music, buy hand crafts made by the communities as souvenirs and taste local foods prepared in the communities.
Hiking the Congo-Nile Trail
The park is located at the rim of the Congo-Nile trail, tourists can either walk or ride bicycles along the trail. It is a beautiful area consisting of beautiful landscapes, it is a great way of escaping the city and relaxing in the fresh air of the countryside. Along the trail are coffee plantations, active villages and towns and campsites. Those interested in biking can rent bicycles from parks offices and even online.
How to get there
You get there by either using road or air transport, the drive from Kigali takes about 2 hours to Rubavu which is 40 minutes away from the park, if you are to board public means, you can board a bus from Kigali to Rubavu and it takes about 3 hours. By air you can use charter flights from Kigali to the park, this is a fast, more comfortable but expensive option.