Ngabwe Trail

Ngabwe or the Eastern edge of Nyungwe National Park
Beautiful views
The mountain is a convenient hiking or picnic destination for
residents and visitors in the greater Huye region. For visitors
new to Nyungwe, this is a great place to test lung capacity
before blithely descending those fabulous ravine or mountain
trails deeper in the park. On the way out of the park at the
end of your visit to Nyungwe, you could still climb Ngabwe in
a few hours and arrive in Kigali well before dinner. Hikers with
experience in Nyungwe will appreciate two special advan-
tages this trail offers –the return trip is mostly downhill rather
than up, and the traction is good, due to sandier soil. Other
advantages include a surprising variety of vegetation commu-
nities (given the short distances traveled), and a spectacularly
placed camping and picnic site with a toilet, at the summit.
There are two main trails leading to the summit and it is recom-
mended that hikers use one to ascend and the other to re-
turn, for variety of scenery. Taking the counter-clockwise route
means you hit the steepest section for the descent.
The trail begins 200 m down a short side road, located about
3 km from the park entrance on the Kitabi side. You’ll see a water
tank on the right that supplies water to the Kitabi tea factory; the
side road continues briefly to the left; and the trail climbs up a ridge
between them.
The forest is mixed, with mature forest species and secondary spe-
cies. There are also strangler figs, including a particularly well-de-
veloped one with a waterberry tree as the host or ‘mother tree’.
While there are fine, gnarled old trees here, you won’t see many
with the same tall, straight trunks like those near Uwinka. In general,
the eastern part of the park is less biologically rich than the west-
ern side, but they’re both beautiful in their own right. The trail passes
in and out of several zones of shrubs on shallow soil and exposed
On an open shoulder to one side of the ridge, the summit comes
into view. From here it is easy to see where the darker green forest
vegetation abruptly stops and the heath begins — the heath com-
munity is paler green, more finely textured and shorter. If you enjoy
flowers, don’t forget to look up in the trees — it is somewhat easier
to see “air plants”, birds and primates because the trees here are
much shorter. Monkey species include mountain, blue, and Angolan
black and white colobus, the latter is being tracked by a team in
the process of habituating them. Mangabeys and chimpanzees may
also be spotted. Black-fronted duikers, a small mammal related to
the antelope, feed on the grasses higher up.
At the summit there are two benches facing different directions, and
a camp. The first bench, off to the left, has a sweeping view to the
east, looking out of the park, past the buffer zone of eucalyptus,
pine and tea, to villages and their patchwork cultivation plots. The
second bench, one minute further down the trail, looks down over
rainforest on the hillside to an area of regenerating forest, which
resembles savanna. It is recovering from the big fire of the 1997
dry season, which may have been set by honey collectors. Burundi
is hidden behind a large distant ridge. Swooping past, between
the visitor and the landscape, are red-rumped swallows, which are
often associated with rocky outcrops.
Along the eastern route back, there are several small gaps in the
trees for views to the south and east. You meet a trail junction half
way down the mountain and if you’re up for it, you can continue on
an 8-hour walk to the Kitabi tea plantation, or begin on that trail
but branch off to reach park headquarters instead. At the junc-
tion there is also a trail to the left which heads up the mountain to

the summit of Mount Ngabwe and back down through colobus
territory and ending in Uwasenkoko. Before reaching the end
of the trail, eucalyptus saplings, with their medicinally aromatic
leaves, begin to appear, mixed in with weeds and regenerating
indigenous vegetation. Soon the trail crosses a brook and climbs
back up the other side of a small, open valley. An increasing
number of invasive eucalyptus saplings are seen, in addition to
pioneer saplings of the umbrella tree. Soon a sand quarry comes
into view, ahead. It is on the far side of the road from the end of
the trail, and 1.2 km closer to the main gate than where the hike
started. The quarry is a good place to meet a pick-up vehicle.