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Rwanda National Parks

Rwanda is a country which has seen an immense transformation since 1994. With some world class Rwanda National Parks today it’s considered to be one of the best tourist destinations to see the famed majestic mountain gorillas of Africa.

It’s received the title of ‘land of a thousand hills’ for its lush rolling mountains, volcanoes and valleys. Rwanda really is a magical world of wildlife; culture and adventure, here are 5 national parks to visit on your next African safari trip to Rwanda.

The Main Rwanda National Parks

Parc National Des Volcans

Volcanoes National Park (French: Parc National des Volcans) lies in northwestern Rwanda and borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. Volcanoes national park is known as a haven for the mountain gorilla. It is home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains (Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhavura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo), which are covered in rain forest and bamboo.

The park was the base for the zoologist Dian Fossey. A dramatic chain of seven volcanoes, this park is the definitive place to track the rare and captivating mountain gorillas. Forming a natural border with the DRC and Uganda, the area is one of the most beautiful in Africa. Dian Fossey’s account of her years with the gorillas and her battle with poachers and government officials is detailed in Gorillas in the Mist, a must-read before coming here.

There is no habitat more evocative of the gorillas than the densely forested slopes of the Virunga volcanoes. Coming upon the Susa family of 35 on the slopes of Karisimbi is one of life’s unforgettable moments – no bars, no windows, three silver backs eye the proceedings as infants and juveniles frolic on every side.

Nyungwe National Park

Nyungwe rain forest is placed in the southwestern Rwanda, at the border with Burundi, south, and Lake Kivu and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. Nyungwe rain forest is probably the best preserved rain forest in the mountains throughout Central Africa.

It is located in the watershed between the basin of the river Congo to the west and the basin of the river Nile to the east. From the east side of the Nyungwe forest comes also one of the branches of the Nile sources. Nyungwe Forest National Park was established in 2004 and covers an area of approximately 970 km² of rain forest, bamboo, grassland, swamps, and bogs. The nearest town is Cyangugu, 54 km to the west. Mount Bigugu is located within the park borders.

An extensive network of well-maintained walking trails leads through the forest to various waterfalls and viewing points. A comfortably rustic rest house and perfectly situated campsite lie alongside the main road, and the reserve can readily be visited as a day trip from the towns of Butare and Cyangugu. Nyungwe does, however, deserve more time: anybody who wants to track chimps and see several varieties of smaller primate will need two days there and dedicated birdwatchers might never want to leave.

Akagera National Park

The Akagera National Park (French: Parc National de l.Akagera) covers 1,200km in eastern Rwanda, against the Tanzanian border. It was founded in 1934 to protect animals and vegetation in three eco-regions: savannah, mountain and swamp. The park is named for the Kagera River which flows along its eastern boundary feeding into several lakes the largest of which is Lake Ihema. The complex system of lakes and linking papyrus swamps makes up over 1/3 of the park and is the largest protected wetland in central Africa.

Much of the Savannah area of the park was settled in the late 1990s by former refugees returning after the end of the Rwandan Civil War. Due to land shortages, in 1997 the western boundary was re-gazetted and much of the land allocated as farms to returning refugees. The park was reduced in size from over 2,500km² to its current size. Although much of the best Savannah grazing land is now outside the park boundaries, what remains of Akagera is some of the most diverse and scenic landscape in Africa.

In 2009 the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the African Parks Network entered into a 20 year renewable agreement for the joint management of Akagera. The Akagera Management Company was formed in 2010 as the joint management body for Akagera National Park.

Other Reserves in Rwanda

Mukura Forest Reserve

This recently established reserve in the iconic Mukura Forest is a quick one hour’s drive from the Rwandan city of Kibuye and also only three hours from Kigali. The forest is home to a wide variety of wildlife including endangered bird species. It is the dwelling area of 402 variety of mammals and over 1,061 kinds of birds and almost 300 species of amphibians and reptiles with close on 6000 species of plant life.

Gishwati Forest Reserve

This highly sparsely populated natural area is situated within four different districts with Volcano National Park Rwanda; these include Kigeyo, Ruhango, Nyabirasi and Mushonyi. The area is also a rainforest which spans all the way to the Congo. The forest also has an extensive array of fauna and flora and many tourist attractions including bird watching, hiking through the Congo Nile Trail, chimpanzee tracking and butterfly watching.