THE FOUR NATIONAL PARKS IN RWANDA.
Facts about the four National parks in Rwanda
Rwanda found in the East Africa, is also known as the country of a Thousand hills, stable land locked country that is accessed through Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Its relatively easy to travel around Rwanda with its spread over four national parks, that include Nyungwe National park, Akagera National Park, Volcanoes National Park and Gishwati- Mukura National Park.
Nyungwe National Park one of the four National parks in Rwanda
In the southwest of Rwanda near Burundi, south of Lake Kivu and east of Democratic Republic of Rwanda is where one of the biggest 0f the four National parks in Rwanda, Nyungwe National Park is found. Established in 2004 with the major aim of preserving the endangered chimpanzees and currently speaking this aim has been achieved.
This park was already in existence during the colonial times since 1903. Due to deforestation, poaching and fires it was reduced to 150 sq km, the number of animals also reduced between 1958 and 1973 as buffalos and elephants were being killed and attacked by poachers. Tourist Research centers were set up in Uwinka near the park but were destroyed during the genocide era in 1994 but were later restored in 1995 and works were done till 2004 when the park was declared a national park. During this period, Nyungwe was listed among the top tourist destinations.
Popularly known for chimpanzee trekking as the main activity carried out in the park. Due to its forest cover, it is home to over 300 bird species, 13 primate species and 1068 plant species. The offers beautiful sceneries of tea plantations, Isumo waterfall and Lake Kivu, Rwanda’s largest lake.
Nyungwe National Park boasts various tourist attractions such as Primates that include chimpanzees, monkeys, baboons and bush babies, there are around 300 bird species such as the tailed blue fly-catcher, Ruwenzori turaco.
The canopy of the park is over 50 meters high, and due to this height; the Rwanda development Board was inspired to construct a metallic walkway which is the first of its kind in East Africa and the third in Africa. There are several mammals too such as leopards, golden cats and civet among others
Activities in Nyungwe Forest National Park
It has two habituated groups of chimpanzees with one found at Uwinka and the bigger group consisting of 30 members is at Cyamudongo area within the park. Treks take about 2 to 6 hours and longer depending on where the chimps are as they move from place to place looking for food. During the trek you’re able to come across monkeys too such as the white colobus.
With the various bird species available, this activity is suitable for bird lovers and mostly carried out in the morning alongside trained guides who explain and spot the different species.
Another thrilling activity though is not for the faint hearted, you get an opportunity to explore the top of the forest as you walk 50 meters high through the forest on a steel bridge. The canopy has three walking sections divided according to lengths with shorter walks available, while on the bridge you get to see scenic views of the forest cover below, primates and even closer to birds flying over.
AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK.
Situated along the Tanzanian border with Rwanda in the East, this park was started in 1934 and named after River Kagera that pours its waters to various lakes within this park including Lake Ihema, Shakani and many others.
The park faced challenges during genocide era as people started to settle within it and led to the decline of animal population as they were being hunted for food and most of the land was occupied for settlement. However, in 2010, the government worked with partners and donors to restore the park to what it is now by setting up programs to protect animals against poachers like fencing and hiring rangers to protect the animals. Presently, animal population has increased with over 500 bird species that thrive on the amazing savanna vegetation.
This is the only park in Rwanda where you can spot the big 5 animals which include elephants, buffalos, hippos, rhinos and lions. This park has a unique scenery which makes it special with its rolling hills and valleys. It is very close to Kigali the capital of Rwanda hence easily accessible by both locals and those visiting the country.
In order to promote gender equality, the park has more female guides than any other park in the country.
ATTRACTIONS IN AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK.
These can be done at any time of the day as you get to pass through the hills, plains and lakes as you take in the beautifully sculptured nature. A tour van is used and usually accompanied by guides who are more knowledgeable and get to take you to best places like where most animals be during sunset or sunrise.
With the various lakes available, a bat cruise is one of the activities you shouldn’t miss while here, you get to encounter animals like crocodiles, hippos or any other animals as they take water from the lakes like elephants, lions.
Walking by the park fence and nature walks.
These two activities can be carried out together or separately, they are always accompanied by a guide, the fence is used to protect the park against encroachers. And the activities are free of charge.
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
Found within the Northern Province of Rwanda, the park occupies an area cover of 160 sq km and it’s a wild life conservation area that was established in the 1920s. It is called volcanoes because it comprises of 5 volcanic mountains which are Mt Karisimbi, Gahinga, Bisoke, Sabyinyo and Muhabura which stretches towards Uganda.
The major activity carried out here is gorilla trekking made popular by Dian Fossey who carried out her gorilla research and even established a research center there. The research made gorilla trekking possible as gorilla behavior was studied hence being able to be habituated.
The park is home to almost 30% of the remaining population of mountain gorillas alongside other animals like golden monkeys, hyenas, birds like Rwenzori Turaco, elephants and buffalos.
MAJOR ACTIVITIES CARRIED OUT IN VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK.
It is one of the three parks that provides gorilla trekking tours alongside Virunga and Bwindi Impenetrable in DRC and Uganda respectively. Permits are bought at $1500 and one needs to be physically prepared to carry out this activity as it involves hiking higher altitude areas depending on where the gorilla group assigned to you is found.
With 5 volcanic mountains available, hiking is one of the common activities done by tourists. While on the Ugandan side of the park, you can hike Gahinga, Sabyinyo and Muhabura and when in Rwanda, Mount Bisoke, Muhabura and Karisimbi are open. With Karisimbi being the highest of all, it can take 2 days to hike. During these hikes on different mountains, you get to view different scenes like the snowcapped Rwenzori Mountain.
Visiting Dian Fossey grave.
Paying tribute to the one person who made gorilla trekking possible would satisfy you adventure. Pay a visit to her grave while trekking gorillas and appreciate all the hard work she put in. This might take a full day as it is at high altitude with in the mountains. The walk costs about $75 only.
GISHWATI- MUKURA NATIONAL PARK.
One of the newest parks recently created is Gishwati-Mukura National Park. Created in 2015 and now being the fourth national park in Rwanda. Located in the west of Rwanda in Ngororero and Rutsiro District, it sits on an area of 13.2 square miles and was formed by merging Gishwati and Mukura forests which are found between Akagera and Volcanoes National Parks, hence the name Gishwati-Mukura.
Both forests had incredible animal species and plants, and with them being one, the park is fully endowed with various animal species such as Red River hogs, bush bucks, tree hyraxes and so much more. There are now 100 bird species available for bird watching such as White-headed wood hooper, yellow warbler and old-world warbler.
Conservation programmes have been set up to protect the eco system of the park like the LAFREC project that has ensured rehabilitation of the forest and also worked together with communities living near the forests by training them on the best practices on how to utilize land within the forest without degrading it such as modern farming techniques.
Since it has just been created, tourist turn up levels are still low but hopeful to rise as more conservation is done on the forest.
ACTIVITIES THAT CAN BE DONE AT GISHWATI-MUKURA NATIONAL PARK.
Hiking and nature walks.
The park has several trails that allow tourists to explore inside areas of the forest. During this activity, one gets an opportunity to appreciate nature as they come across beautiful animals and plant species like chameleons, butterflies and primates. The quiet surroundings allow you to listen to beautiful sounds made by animals like singing birds. One of the best hiking trails is one that leads to Kazeneza waterfall right in the heart of the park, it is an impressive attraction and beautifully created.
Aiming at promoting the site as an eco-tourism destination, the park authorities have worked together with communities and organized various cultural activities that benefit both the locals and tourists as they get to engage in the cultures of communities and appreciate their ways of living. Tourists get to interact in cultural dances, visit homesteads and also try on different foods that these people enjoy.
With over 83 bird species, there are lots of birds that can be watched by bird lovers such as Ruwenzori Batis, weaver birds and lots more. Birding can be done during the nature walks and accompanied by guides who provide all the necessary information such as identifying bird species.
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