Isumo Waterfalls Hike
This trail of great contrasts provides a feast for the senses. Beginning at Nyungwe Forest Lodge, the first half winds through brilliant green tea fields, with grassy verges maintained by goats, and full of sun-loving wildflowers and butterflies.
This is big sky country with gorgeous views northwest to Lake Kivu and the DRC. The belt of tea cultivation bordering the forest is like a desert to most herbivorous forest creatures. They are not adapted to browse this alien shrub from China, and so return to the forest, making it ideal as a buffer zone plant. The animals’ lack of interest in the tea also helps keep tea interests and the park on friendly terms.
At 2.3 km the trail descends into one of the most densely vegetated and steepest rainforest ravines on any trail at Nyungwe. Cool moist air and the murmur of a river rise from below, mingled with calls of birds, tree frogs and insects. Ferns, mosses,lichens and flowers are exceptionally abundant in the high humidity. Curiously, three successive benches are completely surrounded by a brilliant display of wildflowers, each by a single, different species. The first is wreathed with deep pink jewelweed and also has a fabulous view of the ravine, the second bench is en-circled by delicately fragrant white begonias and a third by white flowers with heart-shaped leaves.
Several species of primates are commonly found here, as well as many birds. Although visitors will almost never see any, this is reputed to be the best trail for finding snakes. None is deadly poisonous. But the ultimate goal at the end of the trail is Nyungwe’s biggest waterfall and the inspiration for the trail’s name – isumo is waterfall in Kinyarwanda. At roughly 17 m in height, it is even more impressive for the force with which it shoots through a narrow gap into a stunning amphitheater, lined with fluttering fronds of ferns, flowers and lianas, all thriving in the mist zone of the fall. There are caves in the overhanging cliffs, and a rainbow in the spray on sunny days. Three km to the east, and 100 m higher in elevation, lies the bottom of the thirteen square kilometer Kamiranzovu
Marsh, which drains over the rim of this water-carved canyon.
You may enjoy the fall from two main vantage points depending upon
how wet you want to get. The first is at the end of a short spur, which
leads to a picnic bench overlooking the fall at 50 meters distance. Small
trees partially obscure the view. The fall itself can be reached by de-
scending to the wild river below and then clambering over wet rocks
to a large boulder in the middle of the amphitheatre. From here, you’ll
be thrillingly close to the bottom of the fall, where it thunders down, full
blast, nearly at your feet. Watch your footing on the wet surface as you
gaze upward. The water in the fall and the river rushing toward Lake
Kivu has a tea-colored tint due to the tannin content in the waters of the
marsh. While you’re there, don’t forget to look down too. You may be
startled by dark brown crabs scuttling around the dark wet rocks, look-
ing like they have lost their way from the sea. Mist keeps the bench
permanently wet but you will want to stay here for a while to enjoy
the awesome beauty and power of this one very special place in the
heart of Africa.
Hikers may save 3.2 km round trip by starting at Car Park 1, or 4
km round trip, starting at Car Park 2. The latter is accessible only in
4X4 vehicles and even these can get in trouble if the hard packed,
clayey surface is wet. There are two entrances to the forest. Starting
at Entrance 2 saves another 0.25 km. Consider varying your en-
trance and exit routes. If you like orchids, be sure to include Car Park
2 on your route, even if you do not park there. Look in the scraggly,
old jacaranda trees for some of the best views of epiphytic orchids
in the park –right at eye level.