Inside Africa

Rwanda's rainforests: 5 reasons to visit right now

Pete Kowalczyk, for CNNPublished 4th November 2015
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(CNN) — Rwanda, which sits smack in the heart of sub-Saharan Africa, is home to one of the oldest rainforests in Africa.
Rising up to over 6,000 feet, the Nyungwe National Park is a highly elevated and isolated region of rainforest, covering more than a 386 square miles across the southwest of the country.
During civil war in 1994, many people fled to this remote area to escape the violence. Today, the national park is attracting people for the right reasons.
Tourists can meet a vast range of monkeys and chimpanzees, traverse east Africa's highest canopy, get the ultimate detox with rural plant medicines, and follow in the footsteps of ancient explorers to find the mythical origins of the river Nile.

1.Walk East Africa's highest canopy walk

Rwanda is known as the "land of a thousand hills." This evocative name fits perfectly when walking the wonderfully-named Igishigishigi trail -- a canopy walk 230 feet above the valley floor.
Starting at Uwinka Visitors Centre, guided tours take you 1.2 miles along East Africa's highest canopy walk. Held together by aluminum poles and rope, the canopy walk provides incredible views of the rainforest below.
If traversing a 230-foot high tightrope of wires doesn't appeal, choose from over 80 miles of hiking routes that have been created in Nyungwe Forest National Park -- and delve deep into the interior of the rainforest.

2. Come face-to-face with Africa's primates

The Nyungwe National Park is home to nearly 25 per cent of all primate species found in Africa. Visiting is a great chance to come face-to-face with a host of wild and wonderful simian characters living in close proximity to one another.
Chimpanzees are the flagship of tourism in Nyungwe. But guided tours of the area allow you to get up-close and personal to all kinds of primates, coexisting in their delicate and primal dance for survival.
Dent's monkey (a species of blue monkey) are often seen together with grey-cheeked mangabeys. Olive baboons, owl-faced monkeys and mono monkeys also call this area home. And local surveys show that the number of Angolan colobus monkeys is on the rise.

3. Get the ultimate detox

Some local people in Nyungwe have an intimate relationship with the forest -- they believe its plants can heal.
"These are natural herbs, I do not mix with anything from the laboratory," says Jeremie Retsinani, a local herbal doctor.
The rainforest is home to the Irebe tree (Begonia), which has been used for generations for healing. It is heated up and tied around wounds to heal bruising. It's also eaten to treat diarrhea and cholera.
Seeds of the indigenous Umushwati tree (Carapa grandiflora) are used to heal intestinal worms and produce an oil-like mosquito repellent. Its peel is eaten to encourage vomiting as a remedy to some poisons.
It might not sound like the most salutary thing to do on holiday. But the more adventurous traveler can explore the history and culture of the people of Nyungwe through their traditional medicine practices.
"My grandfather did it, my great grandfather too," says Retsinani. "It's a family heritage."

4. Go in search of honey

In the late 1990s, accidental fires caused by honey harvesting burnt down about 12 per cent of the Nyungwe rainforest.
Following the fire, honey cooperatives were organized and today more than 1,300 workers are employed, producing around 22,000 pounds of honey per year.
Visit the cooperatives, support the local economy, and take home something sweet. Then try your hand at baking your very own Rwandan honey bread.

5. Follow in the footsteps of ancient explorers

4,100 miles from the Nile delta, the Nyungwe area has found itself at the center of the mystery of the origins of the world's longest river, the Nile. You too can embark on this voyage of discovery.
For hundreds of years, explorers have tried to find the Nile's furthest source. As far back as 1898, a German explorer reached Nyungwe, following a stream through the dense forest, arriving to a single waterhole in a small marsh area.
"This is the point where Richard Kandt discovered (a water source)," says Kambogo Idlephonse, the tourism warden for Nyungwe National Park. "And he called it the furthest source of the Nile."
Park rangers now concede that Kandt's discovery isn't the furthest source, and the search continues.
In 2006, a few miles away from Kandt's area, explorers from Britain and New Zealand explored the area to prove that the source of the Rukarara river in the heart of the Nyungwe National Park is in fact also the source of the Nile.
Intrepid travelers can follow in the footsteps of these explorers. Get on board some inflatable dinghies and ride the myriad bends of the rust-coloured Rukarara river.
But beware, the rapids are not for the faint-hearted.