Gishwati-Mukura National Park: The Complete Guide

Golden monkey in a bamboo forest, Rwanda

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Gishwati-Mukura National Park and Biosphere Reserve

Address
Road, Rwanda
Phone +250 788 632 326

Rwanda is famous for its national parks, but few people know that there is a fourth beyond Volcanoes, Akagera, and Nyungwe. Located in the Kivu Belt region of northwest Rwanda, Gishwati-Mukura National Park is comprised of two separate forests: Gishwati Forest and smaller Mukura Forest, both separated by a buffer zone of some 30 miles. This is not a national park in any conventional sense. Instead of preserving an area of great natural beauty, Gishwati-Mukura is an ongoing conservation project designed to counteract one of the most serious cases of environmental degradation in Central Africa. 

Long ago, a great swathe of Afro-montane rainforest stretched the entire length of the Congo-Nile Divide (the mountain range that separates these two distinct watersheds). Now, decades of illegal mining, livestock farming, deforestation, and resettlement—the latter occurring in the wake of the Rwandan Genocide—have reduced this mighty forest to a few fragile remnants. In 2007, a project was launched to try to save the forests of Gishwati and Mukura. This culminated in the creation of the national park in 2015, and in December 2020, areas of the park opened to the public for the first time—making this the youngest national park in Africa. 

Things to Do

As of now, access is only possible to Gishwati Forest. Mukura is still completely undeveloped, although trails and activities are planned for the future. Gishwati, on the other hand, has both. After years of replanting and rehabilitation, the forest is once again known for its incredible biodiversity, boating significant numbers of flora and fauna, including almost 60 different types of trees. Many of the species found in the national park are endemic to the Albertine Rift, making this a very special destination for those who prefer the path less traveled. 

In terms of wildlife, Gishwati is best known for its chimpanzee population. Other primate species can also be spotted, including the endangered golden monkey, the blue monkey, and the L’Hoest’s monkey, a vulnerable forest species restricted to the upper eastern Congo basin. Primates aside, possible wildlife sightings range from serval cats and side-striped jackal to red river hogs and black-fronted duiker. For the best chance of success, sign up for a guided nature hike or dedicated primate tracking experience. Birding hikes are also offered, with 232 species recorded in the Gishwati section of the national park alone. 

Above all, a visit to Gishwati offers the chance to witness a critical conservation project in action—and in some places, to appreciate the once-mighty Congo-Nile Divide forest as it has been for thousands of years. Forest of Hope, one of the key organizations behind the Gishwati-Mukura restoration, has also founded several community projects in order to ensure that the people living closest to the national park benefit from its existence. These include cooperatives for beekeepers, traditional healers, female crafters, local farmers, and a traditional dance group. All of these can be visited for an authentic insight into Rwandan culture. 

Guided Primate Tracking 

Primate tracking is not the same in Gishwati-Mukura as it is in Rwanda’s more established national parks. Troops have not yet been habituated, which means that they are harder to find and difficult to get close to—and yet, if you do so, the experience is arguably more rewarding precisely because it is more challenging. The main attraction of these guided tours is the park’s population of some 30-plus eastern chimpanzees. Classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List, this subspecies is flourishing in Gishwati, where they have been brought back from the brink of extinction. Golden monkey tracking tours are also offered, often with more success. Activities start from the park office in the early morning and must be pre-booked.

Best Hikes & Trails

To date, three marked trails have been created at Gishwati for nature hikes accompanied by experienced local guides. The Umushwati Trail is a 5-mile trek through the heart of the forest that can be approached as an out-and-back route or used to connect to either of the other park trails. The 4-mile Waterfall Trail takes you to Gishwati’s impressive waterfalls, while the Matyazo Hill Trail is a steep, almost 2-mile ascent to a hilltop with elevated forest views. Whichever trail you choose, keep an eye out for the park’s wildlife en route. 

Where to Stay

All visits to Gishwati-Mukura National Park are conducted as part of a stay at the hilltop Forest of Hope Guest House. It is the only accommodation option in the park, and it isn’t possible to pay for park fees separately. Instead, they are included in the guest house rates, along with three meals per day, selected soft drinks, and all guided activities and community visits. Located at Gishwati Research Station, the guest house consists of just two recently renovated en-suite rooms. Both have two twin beds, mosquito nets, hot water, electricity, WiFi, and a private terrace with sweeping forest views. 

Budget travelers also have the option of staying at the guest house’s attached campsite. This is a roofed platform with toilet and shower facilities, a small fire pit and barbecue stand, and water available for cooking and cleaning. This option is not catered, and campers must bring all their own supplies with them. Advance booking is mandatory, both for the guesthouse and the campsite.

How to Get There 

Gishwati-Mukura National Park is located on the main road between Rubavu and Karongi, and is therefore relatively easy to reach. The closest town is Rubavu, a 40-minute drive away. For most visitors, the main port of entry into Rwanda is Kigali International Airport (KGL). From the capital, the fastest route to the national park is to head north on the RN4 towards Musanze. Then, follow the road southwest to the Pfunda Tea Factory intersection, where a left turn takes you onto the Rubavu-Karongi road. The route takes roughly four hours without stops. All activities must be booked at the park office, which is located next to the main road at the edge of the forest closest to Rubavu. 

Accessibility 

Unfortunately, Gishwati-Mukura National Park is currently unsuitable for those with mobility issues, due to a lack of accessible roads, rooms, and other facilities.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The cost of visiting Gishwati-Mukura National Park is $250 per day for those staying at the Forest of Hope Guest House, while prices start at $70 per day for campers. This includes all activities, accommodation, and meals, with discounted rates available for Rwandan citizens and residents. 
  • Gishwati-Mukura has a tropical equatorial climate with temperatures that remain consistent all year round. Expect averages of around 77 degrees F during the day and around 64 degrees F at night. The Kivu Belt is one of the wettest regions in the country, with rainfall possible any time of year. If you can, try to time your visit with the long dry season (June to September), when precipitation is at a minimum. This is peak travel season, however, so be sure to book accommodation and activities well in advance. 
  • Malaria prophylactics are recommended for all visitors to Rwanda, regardless of the season. When choosing yours, remember that this region is chloroquine-resistant. 
  • Vaccinations recommended by the CDC include, in addition to routine vaccines, hepatitis A and B, rabies, and typhoid. Proof of yellow fever vaccination is an entry requirement for all those arriving from a country with a risk of yellow fever transmission. 
  • All visitors to Rwanda will need a visa, but you can get one on arrival at Kigali International Airport and all land borders. Single-entry tourist visas cost $50 and remain valid for 30 days, while the East African Tourist Visa allows entry into Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda; costs $100; and is valid for 90 days. 
Article Sources
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. IUCN Red List. "Eastern Chimpanzee." Accessed March 28, 2022.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Travelers' Health: Rwanda." Accessed March 28, 2022.

  3. Visit Rwanda. "Immigration & Visas." Accessed March 28, 2022.

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Gishwati-Mukura National Park: The Complete Guide