The remarkable Akagera National Park is Rwanda’s only savannah national park. The Park spans 1,122 km2 (433 sq. mi) and lies in a protected region in eastern Rwanda, situated along the country’s border with Tanzania. Home to a diversity of wildlife, the Park was established in 1934 and has habitats in the savannah, the mountains, and the swamp. Akagera National Park gets its name from the Kagera river which flows along the park’s eastern border and empties into Lake Ihema and numerous other smaller lakes, including Lake Gishanju, Lake Mihindi, Lake Shakani, and Lake Rwanyakizinga. Moreover, Akagera National Ark encompasses the largest protected wetland in Eastern-Central Africa, made up of roughly a third of a complex network of interconnected lakes and papyrus swamps.
Akagera is an incredibly picturesque and magnificent safari destination because of these water features, in addition to as well as the Savannah grasslands, acacia woodland, plains, and rolling hills. Even Jean-Pierre Vande in the conservation magazine – Africa Environment and Wildlife, agrees with this fact: Pierre says, “Akagera with its complex blend of landscapes, vegetation, and wildlife, is a truly unique area on the globe: a place worth preserving no matter the expenses for the future generations.” After the typically windy weather of the rest of the country and high, well-cultivated hills, Akagera National Park is a thrilling surprise for travelers on Rwanda safaris. This outstanding game reserve preserves a typical African savannah terrain of tangled acacia and Brachystegia bush, scattered with pieces of open grassland and a few lakes surrounded by swamps that follow the winding River Akagera course. It is with this incredible diversity of natural habitats that the Park thrives with a variety of wildlife including all the African big five and countless bird species.
Akagera National Park is a fascinating safari park that has existed for several years though it has endured some challenging times. Following the 1994 Rwandan genocide and civil war, the war resulted in a huge number of refugees fleeing the nation through the park. And even after the war, Akagera National Park was once more used by refugees to enter the nation. During this period, some of the refugees turned to poaching animals and tree-cutting in the park in search of land, food, or a place to go. The management of the park had difficulties during this time since some of the park’s wild creatures were extinct while others were threatened. Domestic animals, particularly the indigenous long-horned cattle, were gradually replacing the park animals; a populace that could not just be ejected without a plan of action. Therefore, the government decided to allocate half of the park to those who had nowhere to start their lives after the war, whereas the other half was set aside for preserving the wild creatures that had escaped the menace of humans.
In 2010, the Howard Buffet Foundation and other groups partnered with the Rwandan government and signed a cooperative management agreement with the Africa Parks Network: thus, signaling a significant change in the park’s fortunes. The park administration, working with several donors and organizations dedicated to international wildlife conservation, launched an ambitious program to reintroduce extinct animals like lions and rhinoceroses while enhancing safety by enclosing the area in fencing and stepping up air surveillance to combat poaching.
Fortunately, the program has been a great success; Akagera National Park now boasts over 50 mammal species including all five of the African big five animals, making the park a one-stop-center for visitors interested in an African safari. In addition to the Big 5, the park is home to a variety of savannah wildlife, including topi, waterbucks, eland, zebra, hippos, crocodiles, warthogs, hyenas, mongoose, serval cats, duiker, impala, black-masked civet, reedbuck, bush pigs, giraffe, side-stripped jackal, and Klipspringer among many others. Furthermore, Olive baboons, bush babies, vervet monkeys, and blue monkeys, and are a few of the primate species that can be seen in Akagera National Park.
Since Akagera National Park began to evolve, the birdlife here has also increased and birds in Akagera may live in a wide variety of habitats, such as woodlands, papyrus swamps, and savannah plains. Over 525 different bird species have been recorded in Akagera, which portrays the region’s extraordinarily diverse ecosystem. Among these species include a good number of Palearctic migrants, such as the Lesser Kestrel and Great Snipe, as well as 44 species of raptors. More bird species such as the Papyrus Gonolek, and Shoebill Stork, among others, have been observed. Some Zambezian biome species, such as Sauza’s Shrike, Arnot’s Chat, and Long-tailed Cisticola, have their northernmost range limits in the park too. In addition, Akagera National Park also hosts species from the Guinea-Congo Forests biome, the Afrotropical Highlands biome, and nine of the eleven species of the Rwanda-occurring Lake Victoria Basin biome. This makes Akagera one of the finest birding safari destinations in East Africa for birding enthusiasts.
Game drives in Akagera National Park are available throughout the day, although the best times to see animals are early in the morning and late in the afternoon. On a game drive in Akagera National Park, you will be driven along marked trails across the savannah plains and marshes, in search of several mammals and bird species. Your driving guide will accompany you the entire time to locate regions where animals spend the majority of their time during the day. Expect rewarding vistas of the Big 5 animals—the Buffalo, Lion, Elephant, Rhino, and Leopard roaming the savannah. You may also get to see the Defassa Waterbuck, Semi-Aquatic Sitatunga antelope, Topis, Giraffes, Bohor Reedbucks, Oribis, and Eland, to mention but a few.
Furthermore, another way to see the wildlife at Akagera National Park is to go on a night game drive, which gives you the chance to witness the nocturnal animals. Nocturnal wildlife in the park includes civet cats, leopards, and bush babies, among others. Your driver guide and an experienced ranger will lead you as you use powerful torch lights to look for animals.
Due to the variety of habitats and abundance of avifauna species, Akagera National Park also offers the thrilling pastime of birding. In the woodlands, ponds, lakes, forests, and savannah grasslands of this park, a total of 500 bird species have been identified. African fish eagles, grey-crowned cranes, bateleurs, African jacanas, gigantic and malachite kingfishers, blue-billed teals, eastern grey plantain-eaters, cattle egrets, common squacco herons, African darters, blue-cheeked bee-eaters, and many other species are common.
Boat tours are one of the most tranquil things to do in Akagera National Park. Boat tours in the Park are done on Lake Ihema, Rwanda’s second-largest lake and they are as fulfilling as can they be. Travelers can enjoy sighting crocodiles and huge herds of hippos, in addition to various aquatic bird species such as the papyrus gonolek. Other animals can be observed at the shoreline as they take a swim or a drink in the afternoon to relieve their thirst. More so, there is no better way to enjoy up close and personal wildlife in Akagera National Park than to go on a boat tour on Lake Ihema.
While visiting Akagera National Park, you can go also enjoy sport fishing. This is an exciting experience that you can have on both Lake Ihema and Lake Shakani. Tourists can fish in the calm waters while listening to chipping birds and hippos who grunt as if to encourage them. Moreover, visitors are free to keep their catch and roast, fry, or grill it to enjoy the taste of fresh fish from the Land of a thousand hills.
Guided nature walks in Akagera National Park can be done in selected areas of the forest in the park, in the company of a park ranger guide. This is one of the terrific approaches to exploring the park and learning all there is to know about it and its residents. Additionally, it’s the perfect way of discovering hidden attractions that would otherwise go unnoticed while on a gaming drive.
The Akagera National Park management works in union with neighboring communities to permit visitors to enjoy cultural tours. Cultural tours in Akagera take you to the various cultural sites to explore and mingle with the Rwandese natives and community guides are in charge of these excursions. Tourists can learn how the villagers live while witnessing how they care for their long-horned cows, cook, and maintain their homestead, among others. Furthermore, visitors can participate in the milking of the cows, sample some of the regional Rwandese local cuisines, and dance to their folk. Cultural tours in Akagera National Park take no more than 3 hours.
Akagera National Park is accessible all year long; however, tourists can have safaris in the park to the fullest during specific months. The best time to visit Akagera National Park is during the dry season, which lasts from June to September. The climate in the park doesn’t change much throughout the year, but travelers will notice warmer temperatures during the protracted dry season. Temperatures in Akagera National Park range from 20 to 30 degrees Celsius. Rwanda experiences two climate seasons that is the dry and wet seasons. Whereas the dry season is between June to September and December to February, the wet season is between March to May and late September to November. Nonetheless, the dry season is the best time for tourists to travel there. During this season, tourists typically have more opportunities to view species in the Park as the grass is short and the game tracks are dry and accessible, enabling visitors to just drive around in search of wildlife. Additionally, animals in the park spend most of their time cooling off in the nearby waterholes and grazing in the open savannah grasslands which makes them easier to find.
On the other hand, Akagera National Park experiences a protracted rainy season from March to May; during which time the park gets a lot of rain, and the roads are frequently muddy. If you are visiting the Park during this time, renting a four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended for visitors to make getting about the area easier. The rainy season is the best time to catch the lush beauty of the park. More so, birds in Akagera nest and breed during the rainy season: and also, migratory birds are around from November to April. Therefore, this would be the best time for birding fanatics to visit the park. Additionally, visitors should pack adequate warm clothing because it can get very chilly at night in the park during the rainy season.
Travelers can access Akagera National Park both by road and air. Kigali International Airport is the country’s main entry point and it is a 3-hour drive from the airport to Akagera National Park. Visitors may be treated to a stunning aerial view of the park during the journey from Kigali. For travelers coming from Rwamagana or Kibungo, it will take one hour. The road from the main road to the park entrance is dusty; however, this 27-kilometer road is navigable by cars even during the rainy season. A solid 4 Wheel drive vehicle is required because the roads inside the park are not as good as those heading up to the gate, especially during the wet season.
However, domestic flights are also organized by Akagera Aviation from Kigali to the Park and back for travelers who dread the drive. For approximately $175 for a half-day or $275 for a full day, private automobiles and drivers can be rented from Kigali or the park. However, the majority of foreign travelers wish for convenience and reserve their safari through a seasoned tour operator. Tour operators are often the best choice because they will handle all arrangements, including lodging, transportation, and making reservations for activities: if you have never traveled to Rwanda before, using the services of a tour operator is the best option for you.
If you are planning on visiting Rwanda’s Akagera National Park, there are a few other things you need to know. The park is open from 6 am to 6 pm, and all visitors are required to pay an entrance fee of RWF 15,000 for Rwandese nationals, USD 50 for East African Citizens, and USD 100 for international tourists.
Furthermore, because Rwanda is a tropical country, it harbors insects and diseases to which foreign travelers may not be immune; hence it is crucial to visit your doctor and have a yellow fever vaccination before flying to Rwanda. Try to bring malaria pills with you because the park has Tse Tse flies and mosquitoes. Additionally, game drives are conducted with the car windows open, which can attract unpleasant insect bites. Therefore, carrying an insect repellent is crucial to prevent insect stings. More so, you may wish to pack comfortable safari clothing which includes long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and neutral-colored clothing.
Compared to other national parks, Akagera has fewer lodging choices. Some of the lodges are seasonal, so it’s important to confirm in advance when they’ll be open. The park’s stakeholders faced a significant obstacle in the form of these hotel issues. The good news is that both inside and outside the park, new lodges are being constructed. To avoid any hassles, make your hotel reservations in advance. The general hotel and lodge industry is separated into three price ranges: luxury, mid-range, and budget. The lodges include both permanent brick buildings and opulent tents. Accommodation facilities in Akagera National Park include Mantis Akagera Game Lodge, Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Karenge Bush Camp, and Akagera Rhino Lodge.
On the other hand, unlike many other national parks where camping is unrestricted, the park allows for independent camping for daring and budgeted visitors. However, keep an eye out for intruders, particularly baboons and insects that prefer to steal from campers. There are three established campgrounds in Akagera National Park where foreign travelers must pay $20 per person each night and an additional $20 for tents that can accommodate up to 6 people. Every campsite provides extras like firewood, restrooms, and cooking equipment.
White Water Rafting