You have probably not heard about Gishwati-Mukura Forest National Park, but it is one of the Protected Areas within the Land of a thousand Hills. Gazetted on 1st February 2016 as a result of merging Gishwati and Mukura Forests, this National Park is the newest Protected Area in the country hence bringing the number of Parks to four (including Volcanoes the home to the critically endangered mountain gorillas, Nyungwe with several species of primates and the game-abundant Akagera National Park).

It is nestled in the far North-west of Rwanda at the forested area that extends from North of the country near the Volcanoes National Park, all the way down integrating the Mukura and Gishwati Forests to Nyungwe Forest.

Gishwati-Mukura is a newly created National Park that offers both areas of formal Protection Status and a Wildlife Corridor that was created to link the two forests until Nyungwe Forest. It covers an area of 34.2 square kilometers (3427 hectares/13.2 square miles) whereby Gishwati extends for 14.3 square kilometers while Mukura forest spans for 19.8 square kilometers.  The plan to transform the Reserve into a National Park was first proposed in 2007 but came to pass until the end of 2015.

Originally, Gishwati-Mukura Reserve was estimated to extend for 2500 square kilometers (250,000 hectares) before it was eventually decreased to only 280 square kilometers (28,000 hectares) in the 1980s due to the immense and uncontrollable human activities like animal rearing, harvesting of timber and illegal mining. Not only that, its size reduced and nearly diminished due to livestock farming and resettlement of residents after the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi where more than 800,000 lost their lives and more than 2,000,000 people were displaced. However, with the efforts of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) through Landscape Approach to Forest Restoration and Conservation (LAFREC) Project, this National Park is being restored to ensure Economic and Environment sustainability.

Attractions to expect within the Park

Even with its small size, it is important for promoting and improving biodiversity and nature conservation. It is therefore a home to several mammals including 5 sighted Primate Species such as the Eastern Chimpanzees, Black and white colobus monkeys, Golden monkeys, L’Hoest’s monkeys (also known as the Mountain monkeys) and the Blue monkeys. Other mammals that you will encounter include Southern tree hyrax, Red river hogs and the Black-fronted duikers. Besides wildlife, more than 100 species of birds including over 20 Albertine Rift endemic birds and 60 tree species including the native bamboo and hardwoods are found within this verdant area.

Tourist activities within Gishwati-Mukura National Park

The exhilarating activities to enjoy within Gishwati-Mukura National Park include;

Hiking/nature walks through the jungles to explore some of the primates, trees and butterfly species among others. With the numerous well maintained hiking trails, you will be able to explore almost all the natural wonders within Gishwati-Mukura National Park.

Also, bird watching is a significant activity because this Park is a haven  to more than 100 species of birds including 20 Albertine Rift endemic species such as the Lagden’s bush-shrike, Red-collared mountain babbler, Grauer’s Rush warbler, handsome francolin, the Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori Batis, Kivu ground Thrush and many others.

Cultural encounters are also enjoyed within this new National Park. Several Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the government have positioned the surrounding local communities to take advantage of tourism by encouraging and introducing different tourism products such as traditional healing, entertaining tourists in dances and drama at a small fee, and handcraft making (inform of weaving baskets, wood carvings and making mats). These cultural encounters are entertaining to the tourists yet encourage interaction between the hosts and guests, and most importantly the locals earn more income which improves their standard of living.

Gishwati Lodge is currently the only accommodation facility within this National Park and is expected to open in either 2017 or 2018.

How to Reach Gishwati-Mukura National Park

This new Park is categorically situated within Rubavu, Ngororero, Rutsiro and Nyabihu Districts of the western side of Rwanda. It is approximately 78 kilometers/48 miles and just 1-2 hours’ drive from Kigali City. Interestingly, it is only 27 kilometers from Volcanoes National Park making it easy for tourists to connect when going for or coming from gorilla trekking.

In conclusion, with the creation of Gishwati-Mukura National Park, tourists have more to see and do within Rwanda. The Park is a home to at least 5 primate species, more than 100 species of birds and at least 60 tree species making it a must-visit destination for a safari in Rwanda.