Gishwati-Mukura Forest National Park is one of the youngest national parks in Africa. On 1st of December 2020, Gishwati-Mukura Forest National Park officially opened its doors to the public. Gishwati Mukura is now a National Park which means that parts of the vast montane forest that once stretched across much of central Africa now has permanent protection.
The journey to save one of the last remaining central African montane rain forests of Gishwati Mukura has not come easy and there has been a long and hard journey leading up to the official opening of Gishwati-Mukura National Park. Finally, visitors can now come and experience the forest the way it has been for thousands of years.
The forests of Gishwati-Mukura National park is a fragmented montane rainforest located in Rwanda’s Kivu Belt region. It is part of the Congo-Nile divide forest which originally stretched over the entire mountain range which divides the Congo Water Basin from the Nile Water Basin all the way from Congo to Burundi. Today’s remainders of these forest complex include Gishwati Forest, Mukura Forest and Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda and Kibira National Park in Burundi.
Even though Gishwati and Mukura forests are part of the same national park, they are fragmented and divided by around 50 kms. The entire area between them have been set aside for conservation as a National Park and there is a plan to reforest the entire area into one complete forest which would then cover an area almost as large as Nyungwe Forest. Discussions are also being held over how to connect Gishwati and Mukura forests to Nyungwe Forest through a rainforest corridor.
The two forests of Gishwati-Mukura Forest National Park are similar but suitable for different activities. Mukura Forests is less “developed” than Gishwati forest. At the moment there are no hiking trails in Mukura forests, but the Rwandan government is currently developing a plan and securing funding to develop hiking trails and activities in the park.
Very little is known about the wildlife situation in Mukura Forest as it has been shut of to the public for many years with very few studies done. In Gishwati forest there are well developed hiking trails, waterfalls and the forest is home to a large group of the elusive eastern chimpanzee.
Gazetted in 2015, Gishwati-Mukura is Rwanda’s newest national park. It consists of the Gishwati and Mukura forests, which are about 25km apart in western Rwanda. The main attraction is a troop of habituated chimpanzees. Other primates include golden monkey, blue monkey and l’Hoest’s monkey. As of late 2018, there was no accommodation or other tourist development in the park, but it’s likely the development of a new luxury/upmarket lodge on the fringes of the Gishwati sector of the park will occur soon.
The forest is home to chimpanzees, l’Hoest’s monkeys and the charismatic golden monkeys, which are endemic to the Albertine Rift. Other small mammals include tree hyrax and black-fronted duiker. Although there hasn’t been any recent research, the new park looks like a promising bird-watching destination as well.
Specials include 14 Albertine Rift endemics, including Rwenzori turaco and red-throated alethe. Note that walking trails are limited, and no official activities were being offered as of early 2019. It is, however, possible to enter parts of the forest and see how the conservation efforts are progressing.
Best Time to Visit Gishwati-Mukura National Park
Gishwati-Mukura can be visited throughout the year, but the wet months from October to May are the best for chimp trekking and forest birding. General hiking might be easier in the drier months from June to September.
Rwanda is the most densely populated countries in Africa and Gishwati forest is located in one of the most densely populated areas of Rwanda. Needles to say that this has put tremendous pressure on the sensitive ecosystem of Gishwati forest.
Gishwati-Mukula Forest national park has a history of over five decades of deforestation which today has led to problems like landslides and soil erosion far beyond the borders of the Gishwati-Mukura Forest National Park. In the 70’s, Gishwati-Mukura Forest National Park was submitted to projects of large-scale cattle farming in an attempt to create and modernize farming in Rwanda.
During the cattle schemes lots of original Gishwati Forest was cut down to make way for cattle ranches. During the Rwandan genocide in the 90’s, large populations of people were displaced and in need for farmland. The result had a major impact on Gishwati Forest which during this time had to make way for small scale farming. In 1970, there were approximately 28,000 hectares remaining of Gishwati Forest. In 2002 only 600 hectares remained.
Since 2002, the area was struck by many problems associated with the deforestation of Gishwati Forest. Landslides killed several problems, soil erosion destroyed farmlands and water quality diminished. The destruction of the forest was now having a major negative impact on the human population of the entire area. This turned out to be a turning point and resulted in the first of many projects aimed at restoring the original Gishwati Forest.
The first project, Projet d’Appui a la Reforestation au Rwanda, PAFOR ran from 2005 to 2008. This project aimed at establishing a system of sustainable management of the forest resources of Rwanda and made Gishwati Forest a zone for sustainable forest management. During this period the forest was allowed to regenerate and Gishwati-Mukura Forest national park grew to 886 hectares.
From 2008 to 2011 the Great Ape Trust / Gishwati Area Conservation Program sponsored by the Great Ape Fund ran. During this period reforestation focused on steep hillsides and Gishwati Forest was increased to 1,484 hectares. The chimpanzee population in Gishwati forest managed to grow from 13 to 16 individuals. It was during this period that plans for a forest corridor to connect Gishwati Forest, and Mukura Forest to Nyungwe Forest grew.
In 2014, the Rwandan Government and The World Bank signed a deal of more the $9.5 million for the conservation of Gishwati Forest and Mukura Forest. This resulted in the Rwandan Government signing a law in 2015, which effectually created a combined national park of Gishwati Forest and Mukura Forest, including much of the deforested area between them.
The law came into effect in 2019, making Gishwati-Mukura Forest National Park the most recent national park in Africa. On 1st of December 2020 Gishwati-Mukura National Park opened its doors to the public for the first time.
Gishwati-Mukura forest National Park opened for visitors on the 1st of December 2020. At the moment, only Gishwati Forest can be visited as Mukura Forest has no infrastructure or hiking trails guides to be able to receive visitors.
Gishwati Forest has several newly constructed hiking trails and all visits to the park need to follow these. Since Gishwati Forest is a national park, all activities need to be arranged and booked with the park office. The brand-new park office can be found next to the main road at the edge of the forest in the end closest to Rubavu. Wild instincts Africa is able to make all your desired bookings in case you need to visit this park.
Activities in Gishwati-Mukura Forest National park
The chimpanzees of Gishwati-Mukura forest national park are without a doubt the main draw of the national park, but there are many other interesting activities in the park. Gishwati and Mukura Forests are a very unique places and it’s wonderful to just go for a hike and experience the rainforest, catch your breath and regain energy from the nature.
There are great hikes in the park some of which pass by one of the many beautiful waterfalls in the park. There are also several other interesting animal species in the forests apart from the chimpanzees.
Chimpanzee Trekking in Gishwati-Mukura Forest national park : population of around 35 chimpanzees remain in Gishwati-Mukura Forest National Park. Since Gishwati Forest was only recently made into a national park and has been closed to visitors for many years, this group of chimpanzees have not been habituated. This means that they are not used to humans and will be scared if approached.
Chimpanzee trekking is still possible in Gishwati Forest, but not in the same way as to one of the habituated groups in Nyungwe Forest. There is no guarantee to see chimpanzees during a chimpanzee trek in Gishwati and if chimpanzees are spotted getting close is very difficult.
Hiking in Gishwati-Mukura Forest national park: Gishwati Forest have several hiking trails of varied difficulty and with the chance of seeing different animals, insects and plants. As of now, there are no hiking trails in Mukura Forest and it remains relatively inaccessible to visitors. As Gishwati-Mukura Forest national park is a national park, all park activities are done together with a qualified guide. The guide is included in the price of entrance fee to the park.
Bird watching in Gishwati-Mukura Forest national park : Gishwati Forest is a truly unique birding habitat with several endemic birds and more than 200 recorded species. For bird watching in Gishwati you need to go with a professional guide.
The park office can supply you with a birding list and a map with recommended trails through the park. If you want a bird walk with a professional bird guide this needs to be prearranged with the park office. Contact the park office to arrange this.
Golden Monkey Trekking in Gishwati-Mukura Forest National Park: There are several species of primates found in Gishwati Forest apart from the eastern chimpanzee. Golden monkey is the most famous of these species and can be found in large groups throughout the forest.
Trekking these primates can be an interesting experience and you are sure to see many interesting animals during your trek.
Golden monkey trekking starts early in the morning with a professional guide from the park. You will spend several hours trekking through the forest in search of one or several groups of primates. The park rangers will locate or know the approximate whereabouts of the primates prior to your arrival and needs to be pre-booked.
Read more about accommodations in Gishwati-Mukura Forest National Park Here