Nyungwe National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

On September 19, 2023 Rwanda has received wonderful news, it has been confirmed Nyungwe National Park has been inscribed on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Nyungwe National Park also becomes the first site in Rwanda to be listed in the UNESCO World Heritage sites which are places of global importance. That is to mean, sites that should be recognized and protected because they possess a biodiversity (in the case of the Nyungwe) or something and that is not found in many places in the world and should therefore be protected for the future generations to find. UNESCO World Heritage sites are therefore of benefit to the whole world not just to the places where they are found.

In 2021 Nyungwe National Park was put on the list of places that were under consideration to be qualified as UNESCO World Heritage Site and it has been long overdue for the site to be recognized and included.

Why Nyungwe National Park’s inscription was long overdue?

Nyungwe National Park protects an ancient forest that has been around since the last ice age thousands of years ago. This longevity has enabled it accumulate and protect an incredible biodiversity. The forest has a lot of species that are not found anywhere else on the planet and researchers are continually discovering new wildlife most of which is not found outside Nyungwe and the Albertine Rift valley. Moreover, there are very few forests of this kind left in Africa and therefore elevating Nyungwe to a UNESCO heritage site is vital in preserving important global ecosystems that have been threatened by human settlement and exploitation. Many such forests in Africa have been depleted.

Nyungwe is also an important water catchment for the region and the continent of Africa as it contributes water to two major rivers in Africa, that is, the world’s longest river the Nile River (the farthest known source of the Nile is found in Nyungwe) and the Congo River. Nyungwe also provides 70% of the fresh water in Rwanda.

What does this new status mean for Nyungwe National Park and Rwanda?

This status is very vital for Nyungwe National Park as it brings it at the forefront of conservation efforts. Nyungwe will now attract more funding for conservation as a world heritage site. This therefore helps the survival of this vital ecosystem.

Rwanda getting her first UNESCO World Heritage site is an achievement worth celebrating and is a testament to the massive effort the government of Rwanda has put in protecting and preserving her natural resources. Rwanda is dedicated to protecting the natural resources and the ecosystems amidst the immense challenges and pressures these places due to an increasing and demanding population. Seeing what Rwanda has done with the recovery of Akagera National Park which is was nearly no more but now has all the big five, the turn around seen at the Volcanoes National Park whose gorilla population is growing every year that many baby gorilla are named during every during the Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony,  this shows Rwanda needs to be commended as one of the biggest conservation successes in the world.

What do in Nyungwe National Park

If you are visiting Rwanda then a UNESCO Heritage World Heritage site should on the list of places to visit. Nyungwe provides an array of experiences for the nature lover. The most popular activity is the chimpanzee trekking, an activity that gives you a chance to track down a community of chimps and spend an hour around them and it is one of the best wildlife encounters you can have. If you are visit Rwanda for the gorilla trekking, the best way to compliment meeting the gentle giants is going to Nyungwe for the chimpanzee trekking.

There is a canopy walk adventure in Nyungwe National Park that is highlight you should not miss. The walkway provides breathtaking views across the forest and a chance to see monkeys and birds at eye level.

Nyungwe National Park is a birdwatching heaven that provides the best opportunity to tick off the Albertine Rift endemic species including the Rwenzori Turaco

Other activities to do in Nyungwe National Park include nature walks on several trails leading to beautiful parts of the park such to a waterfal, tracking the colobus monkeys, visit a tea estate on the edge of the forest. Night walks are also available in Nyungwe to enable discover the nocturnal life of the forest you won’t see during the day.

Places to see giraffes in Uganda

The tallest land mammal, the Giraffe, is one of the most fascinating creatures to see in the bush. This longest-naked animal with its beautiful skin patterns of brown is amazing to look at as it saunters gracefully across the plains, towering over all animals, and even plants. Such an iconic animal! It is little wonder the Giraffe is a favorite animal for a lot of people.

Uganda is a proud home to Giraffes that can be seen in some national parks and wildlife reserves and at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC).

How many giraffes are in Uganda?

According to the last census carried out in 2020 the population of giraffes in Uganda was 2072 giraffes which was an increase of giraffes from 880 counted in 2017. These figures are by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the government organization that manages the parks and reserves in Uganda.

What species of giraffes are found in Uganda?

Of the four known species of giraffes in Africa, Uganda has the Northern Giraffe species. The Northern Giraffe has three subspecies and of these the one subspecies found in Uganda is the Nubian Giraffes formerly (or sometimes) called the Rothschild Giraffes.

The Nubian or Rothschild is easily identified or distinguished from other giraffes by the plain white legs from knee to the hooves. The simple description is that Rothschild Giraffes “put on stockings”.

Places to see giraffes on safari in Uganda

If you are planning a safari vacation to Uganda and the Giraffe is among the animals your must see list the following are places to visit

Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park is simply giraffe territory! Uganda’s biggest park has the biggest population of giraffes in Uganda that were numbering 1968 by 2019. This is also the biggest population of the Nubian or Rothschild Giraffe in the world.

The giraffe population in Murchison Falls National Park has been steadily growing, having been 919 in 2016.

The growing giraffe population in Murchison Falls National Park has enable giraffes to be translocated to other park and reserves that did not have giraffes.

During the safari in Murchison Falls National Park plenty of giraffes are spotted in the savanna on the northern bank of the Nile River.

Lake Mburo National Park

Lake Mburo National Park is a recipient of giraffes translocated from Murchison Falls National Park.

16 giraffes were translocated to the park in April 2019, and according to the census in 2021 the giraffes had increased to 37 individuals.

Lake Mburo National Park being a small park makes finding the giraffes easy and thus a nice place to see giraffes in Uganda.

Kidepo Valley National Park

Kidepo Valley National Park had a few giraffes which were boosted with a 15 new individuals translocated from Murchison Falls National Park. The number is growing steadily and the park should have more than 30 individuals, improving the chances of spotting the giraffes in Uganda’s remotest safari destination.

Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve

15 Giraffes were introduced into the Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve in 2018 and the numbers have been growing. On your search for cheetahs for which the reserve is known for you can therefore expect sighting giraffes

Uganda Wildlife Education Center (Zoo)

If you wish to get closer to the giraffes and interact with them through the epic mouth-to-mouth feeding visit the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (Zoo) in Entebbe that is home to 3 giraffes.

What is the best time to visit Uganda?

Uganda, popularly referred to as the Pearl of Africa, is a destination that is increasingly being featured yearly in international travel guides as one of the best destinations to visit. For insistence Uganda was in CNN Travel’s list of destinations to visit in 2023. This is because more people are discovering Uganda’s amazingly beautiful landscapes and diverse environments, arguably the best weather in the world, friendliest of people who practice diverse cultures and traditions, and a variety of exciting experiences in 10 national parks that include the famous gorilla trekking and chimpanzee trekking adventures, birdwatching and big game safaris.

A lot of people are deciding to visit Uganda but many wonder what could be the best time to visit the Pearl of Africa?

Well, I can say that since weather is the number one reason people travel then any time is a good time to go to Uganda because Uganda’s weather does not have extremes that would stop you from enjoying your experience or activity. However, you may want to consider the most ideal weather conditions depending on what you want to do in Uganda, best time to see certain wildlife and enjoy experiences, and the local situation that may affect safety.

Best Weather season (Dry season vs wet season)

The best weather season to visit Uganda is during the dry season, or call it the summer and this is from June to September and December to February. The dry season (especially from June to August) with less rains and more sunshine allows for uninterrupted activities and travel in rural areas that can get slippery when it rains. Wildlife adventures like gorilla trekking, chimpanzee tracking and mountain hiking are best done during the dry season, more so for those that are not ready to have a challenging trek or climbing.

The wet season from March to May and October to mid-December is often not the best time to visit Uganda because the constant rains can be disrupting or inconveniencing during treks, plus can also hinder travel to some places when the dirt roads get too slippery or even flood. However wet season has advantages too, for example there are less crowds, the scenery is surreal, the waterfalls are massive, the lakes so pristine. If you are a nature lover and can brave the slippery trails and road and rains falling on you, you will enjoy the wet season better.

Is there a bad time to visit Uganda?

Uganda is safe and beautiful all year round, there is no definite time when you should not go to Uganda. However during the political season when the president is elected may not be a good time to visit Uganda due to a heightened political atmosphere that may easily break into riots across several cities especially the capital Kampala.

Also be vigilant when there is an outbreak of a deadly disease such as Ebola and cholera. With Uganda’s poor health care system, it may be a bit risky to visit Uganda.

What is the best time to visit Rwanda?

Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills is a bucket list destination mostly for the famous gorilla trek, which can be supplemented with other exciting experiences and adventures such as chimpanzee trekking, volcano hiking, big five safaris in Akagera National Park, and art and culture tours among others.

After deciding to visit Rwanda the next question on the minds of travelers is what could be the best time to make the trip to Rwanda?

Well, first of all and very important to know, Rwanda is one of the easiest, if not thee easiest country to visit in Africa because no matter where you are from you do not need to apply for a visa in advance. No! You simply fly to Rwanda and have your visa given to you on arrival with no hustle. This is an “open door policy” Rwanda operates.

You can visit Rwanda at any time of the year, it is beautiful and safe all the time. However some factors may influence on the best time for you to decide to visit which I discuss below:

Best Weather season (dry season vs wet season)

There are two weather seasons in Rwanda (dry season and wet season) and the best time to visit Rwanda is during the warm/dry season which is from June to mid-September and from December to February. The dry or warm season receives little to no rains which makes travel and outdoor activities much more convenient. Thankfully the long dry season from June to September coincides with the summer time when a lot of people take vacations.

However, it is not entirely bad visiting Rwanda during the wet/rainy season from March to April and October to part of December when there are more frequent rains, because the scenery is at its best and there are no crowds so you will have near exclusivity at a lot of activities. However you have to be ready for any interruptions by rains (be ready with rain gears). Also be ready for harder trekking because of the slippery and muddy trails, but gorillas, chimps and other wildlife in the mountains is ever more beautiful.

Best time for some tours/activities

Best time for trekking and safari

Trekking in the mountains to see the gorillas and golden monkeys in Volcanoes National Park and chimpanzees in Nyungwe forest is best done during the dry season (June to Sept, Dec to Feb) because the trails will be dry and therefore hiking is easier. However the animals are seen throughout the year.

The big game safari in Akagera National Park is also better done in the dry season as you can explore all trails easily with no worry of getting stuck in the mud. Wildlife may also be easier to see because of the shorter dried grass. The grass and bushes are thicker during the wet season which can hinder animal sightings. However the wet season brings the best scenery in Akagera with lush greenery landscapes.

Best time for birding

To get the best from your birding tour to Rwanda the best time to visit Rwanda is during the bird migration season. The Palearctic birds escaping winter start arriving in October and leave by May, so if you want to record the biggest checklist of birds in Rwanda the Palearctic migration season is the best time to visit, more so from the time after December when they start putting on the colorful plumage.

However, if your interest is only the resident species, more so the Albertine rift endemics then any time of the year is fine, more so after the migrants have left so that your identification is easier.

Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming ceremony

Kwita Izina gorilla naming day in Rwanda is one of the most beautiful ceremonies to attend in Rwanda. The Kwita Izina ceremony is about naming baby gorillas that were born in the last year and it is a colorful and eventful ceremony where Rwandan cultures and traditions are at display through dances and songs. The ceremony is carried out at the foot of the Virunga mountains in the north of Rwanda. It is attended by international celebrities and important persons that are invited to give the gorillas names.

You can plan your gorilla trekking trip for during the Kwita Izina ceremony which is often planned for the first week of September

Is there a bad time to visit Rwanda?

It is safe to visit Rwanda all throughout the year, but these times may feel uneasy for you while in Rwanda so may be you can avoid visiting, or may also be a good time to visit for these particular experiences

Kwibuka (Genocide remembrance)

Every month of April on 7th Rwandan remembers the Genocide against the Tutsi, a dark time in the history of Rwanda which casts such a blanket of misery all across Rwanda. The ignites the horrors of the genocide for those that were alive or lost their loved ones during the genocide in April 1994.

The mood on this day and next subsequent is so sad that as a visitor you may feel such uneasiness and a feeling of emptiness may grip. This is possibly the worst time to visit Rwanda.

Umuganda day – cleaning day (last Saturday of the month)

Not necessarily a bad time to visit Rwanda, actually it may be a good time to visit and witness how Rwanda has managed to be one of the cleanest and tidiest countries in Africa through Umuganda day. Umuganda day is the last Saturday of every month when all citizens get out with shovels, brooms, rakes and other tools to clean their communities. No one is exempt except those involved in emergency services such as health and security.

The downside to this day is that for the first half of the day the country is literally under quarantine from 8am to 11am so no movement is allowed. If you need to get somewhere you may be highly inconvenienced by this.

Where to see elephants in Uganda

Elephants are arguably the second icon of the African safari, after the Lion of course. The biggest land mammal is unmistakable in the African bush; a gigantic dark grey structure with pillar-like legs, large ears and a long trunk, gracefully strolling through the plains is one of the most beautiful sights of the safari.

Other than the intriguing structure of the elephant that you can’t get enough of, there is so much to learn about the elephant and its critical importance to the environment. For example, the elephant is regarded as the chief architect of the savanna whose constant felling of trees prevents the growth of the forest hence maintaining a savannah where other herbivores and cats can flourish.

Also, did you know that humans developed soft feet when they came down from the trees and learned to walk was only made possible by the elephants that made the ground soft on which man could walk…?

You may also want to see the Elephant simply because it is a member of the famed “Big Five”.

The elephant is therefore one of the animals not miss on the safari and Uganda is one of the places that still have a healthy population of elephants.

Elephant species in Uganda

There are two species of elephants that are present in Uganda, that is; the African bush elephant (or African savannah elephant), and the Forest elephant.

The African bush elephant is the most prominent elephant species in Uganda that is easily found in a number of parks across Uganda.

The forest elephant is a rare one to find and inhabits some of the forest parks in Uganda such as Bwindi forest. The forest elephant presence in Uganda has however been refuted by some who claim these elephants in the forest are not necessary forest elephant species but simply remnants of the Africa bush elephant.

What is the population of elephants in Uganda?

Uganda is one of the few places in Africa where the elephant population has had a steady increase in the recent past.

As of 2020 the population of elephants in Uganda was put at 7975, an increase from 5808 in 2017 which was also an increase from 5730 individuals in 2014. This is according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority, an organization tasked with managing the parks in Uganda.

Places to the see elephants on safari in Uganda

Queen Elizabeth National Park

Queen Elizabeth protected area (which includes Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kyambura Wildlife Reserve and Kigezi Widlife Reserve) has the biggest population of elephants in Uganda which the last census carried out in 2018 put the figure to 3953 elephants.

On a good day you will have the best elephant experience in Queen Elizabeth National Park. I say on a good day because this park is linked with the Virunga National Park of the neighboring Democratic of Congo and there are seasonal movements of herds of elephants from one park to the other.

Never the less, Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of the best places to see elephants in Uganda. The Kasenyi plains, Mweya peninsula and the remote Ishasha plains near the Congo are areas you won’t miss an elephant sighting while on a safari drive. For even better sightings of elephants the Kazinga Channel offers up close views while on a boat cruise safari as the elephants come to quench their thirst and cool off the afternoon heat. The Kazinga Channel boat cruise actually offers some of the closest encounters you will ever have with an African bush elephant without compromising your safety.

Elephants in the Kazinga Channel

Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda’s biggest park, is another place in Uganda that will give you wonderful sightings of elephants in Uganda. The population of elephants in the conservation area (which includes the park and surrounding reserves) as of 2019 was 2726.

Elephants in Murchison Falls National Park are best seen during the safari drive in the savannah which is on the northern bank of the River Nile.

The afternoon boat cruise on the Nile River also offers great views of the elephants along the river bank where they come to drink and cool off.

Kidepo Valley National Park

The remote rugged Karamoja plains in the Kidepo Valley National Park host a relatively small population of elephants that was counted to be 295 in 2019, this is in addition to the incredible herds of buffalo for which the park is famous. Kidepo is an incredibly beautiful safari destination located in the north eastern corner of Uganda, way off the popular tourist circuit.

Given the long distance to the park and a small elephant population, may be you should travel to Kidepo if you are looking for more than just elephants.

Karenga Community Wildlife Area

Karenga Community Wildlife Area is like an extension of Kidepo Valley National Park. The wildlife area has a population of 351 elephants sighted in 2019. Elephants tend to migrate between Kidepo and Karenga which is sometimes the reason for the few elephants in Kidepo National Park.

Kibale National Park

Kibale Forest National Park, a famous primate capital mostly known for the chimpanzee trekking is one of the forests you easily come by elephants too. The last elephant census of 2019 put the population of elephants in Kibale National Park at 566 individuals which is quite impressive for a largely forest park.

However since activities in Kibale forest are done on foot, it is never safe to meet the elephant along your trail. Therefore you do not go looking for elephants in Kibale forest but you stand a chance of seeing them during the activities in the forest.

Bwindi Forest National Park

Bwindi forest has elephants that are thought to be forest elephants. Bwindi forest is popular for the gorilla trekking adventures and along your trek to see gorillas you may bump into a lone elephant or see traces of elephants such as foot prints, dung and fallen trees. The last census of elephants in 2019 put the elephant population at 106 individuals

Rwenzori Mountains National Park

The Rwenzori mountain ranges varied habitats include forest that harbors among other wildlife elephants. The Rwenzoris has a tiny population of elephants that the census carried in 2019 puts at just 13 individuals. The elephants in the Rwenzoris have been the most vulnerable due to the long insurgencies in the region that rendered the park hard to protect thus exposing it to a lot of poaching.

You therefore may be lucky to spot an elephant on the hiking trip in the Rwenzori.