Akagera national park
Akagera national park was gazetted as a national park to protect the ecosystem and wildlife in 1934 in the Eastern park of Rwanda closer to the Rwanda-Tanzania border and it covers an area of about 2,500 square kilometres. During the restoration of peace in Rwanda in the 1990s after the outbreak of the Genocide in 1994, most people settled around the park and cut down the forest for timber and consuming of savannah animals. Most of the animals were hunted including the lions, rhinos and other park’s wildlife was displaced by long horned cattle. Hence the park’s diversity was destroyed to a point of not existing at all; this makes the history of the Akagera national park even more remarkable. However, the great success of the African parks has been evidenced after many year of preparations through restoration and reintroduction of the lost animals like the Rhinos in 2017 and lions in 2015 in the park and use of effective law enforcement and management to protect the wildlife population and the vegetation. Akagera national park is under the management of African Parks Organfization unlike Volcanoes national park and Nyungwe national park that are under the Rwanda Development Board. African parks took on the responsibility of managing Akagera national park by partnering with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in order to shift the park’s path to development, prosperity and hope for future tourism. Akagera National Park’s wildlife population has thus continued to rise, receiving more than hundreds of tourists every year.
Akagera national park was named after River Kagera which is also known to be Alexandra Nile given that it forms part of the upper headwaters if the Nile carrying water from distant sources. It flows along the Rwanda-Tanzania border feeding into Ihema and other lakes. Akagere National Park has a complex blend of landscapes, vegetation and animals including the savannah landscape of acacia, open grasslands and woodland, bushes, lakes and swamps.
Attractions/activities in Akagera national park
Game Viewing; Akagera national park offers exciting attractions through the steep well cultivated hills and breezy climate which describes Rwanda’s natural formation thus the name “country of a thousand hills”. Akagera national park is relatively on a flat landscape supporting the existence of savannah wildlife and is therefore a home to a variety of wildlife which include the big 5 game that is Savannah elephants, Buffaloes, Lions, Rhinos and Leopards. Other animals include; Giraffes, Hyenas, Zebras, and several antelope species like the Waterbucks, Duiker, Impalas, Topis, Klipspringer, Elands to mention a few. The existence of variety of animals in Akagera national park has supported wildlife activities like Game viewing in the park. Game drives refer to driving inside the park through the designated trails while viewing or watching available animals. Game viewing in Akagera national park is not guaranteed that is why it is best done in the morning and evening time given that the animals specially the predators usually hunt in the morning and evening hours and go into hiding when the heat rises up although game viewing can be done at any time of the day. Game viewing usually takes 2 to 3 hours depending on the availability of the animals in a given location. The savannah type of vegetation and bushes are inhabiting the Carnivorous animals too and several animals like the Antelopes, Buffaloes, Elephants, Zebras, Giraffes, hippos, just to mention a few.
Night game drives in Akagera national park is the best way to explore the nocturnal and the carnivorous animals that hunt in the night including the lions, hyenas, leopards to mention a few found in the park. A night game drive lasts for about 2 hours depending on the animals found. Visitors must take armed ranger guides with them and touches for lighting.
Akagera national park inhabits some of the common primates like the Vervet monkey, Olive Baboons, blue monkeys and bush babies which are commonly seen during the night game drives.
Boat cruise safaris in Akagera national park
Lake Ihema is the main source of water supply in Akagera national park and it supports several water activities in the park including boat cruises and sports fishing. Taking a boat cruise on Lake Ihema is yet another interesting activity to do with in the park besides game viewing. Taking an afternoon boat trip is the best way to enjoy as most animals come to the lake shores to drink and bath from the lake. The weather is usually hot in the afternoon and so some animals hide under the shades of trees because of the heat while others come to drink and cool from the waters. The lake is blessed with several water animals and birds visitors can enjoy while on a boat cruise. Some of the animals to be spotted while on a boat cruise include; a school of hippos, crocodiles, elephants and other animals come to drink and bath from the lake. Apart from the afternoon boat cruise, visitors can also visit the sail on the lake in the morning and evening hours therefore the boat cruise takes place three times a day. These are scheduled boat trips according on the park management however; private boat can also be arranged at a relatively higher cost at your own convenience. The boat trip on Lake Ihema takes 2 hours with great views of the park scenery.
Akagera national park is one of the best destinations for bird watching in East Africa given its wide variety of bird species of about 500 different bird species some of which including the Papyrus Gonolek, Giant Kingfisher, Grey Crowned Crane, Long-toed, the rare shoebill stock, the Africa Darter, Squacco Herons, Water Thick-Knee, Senegal Lapwings, African Open bill stock Africa and Wattled Plover to mention a few. Commonly spotted bird species include; Cattle egrets, Fish eagles, Augur Buzzard, Pied Crow, Sacred and Hadada Ibris, Hamerkop, grey-backed fiscals, Black-headed and Viellot’s black weavers, fan-tailed widowbird, long- crested Eagles and Caruther’s cisticola. Akagera national park offers birders an opportunity to spot some of the endangered birds like the shoebill stock. Bird watching is carried out during the game drives and boat trips on Lake Ihema. Bird watching on Lake Ihema offers great views of water birds species which cannot be seen during the game drives in the savannah grasslands. Nature walks in the park provide a wider view of the different bird species. During bird watching activity, it is mandatory to take armed ranger guides for safety while in the park.
Other activities that can be done in Akagera national park include; Sports fishing which takes place on Lake Shakani, Cultural tours near the park where you will experience the Banyarwanda cultural life which revolves around cattle keeping. While on a community tour, you will be able to observe and participate in cattle keeping traditions like cattle grazing, milking and traditional milk preservations methods. Other cultural experiences include; traditional yogurt and ghee making, preparing tradition meals with milk products. This is a reliable cultural experience because the locals get to earn form the products from tourists who visit the park, thus, contributing to the conservation of culture and wildlife in Rwanda.
How to access Akagera national park
Akagera national park which is located in the Eastern part of Rwanda is mainly accessed from Kigali the Capital city of Rwanda which is about 2 to 3 hours’ drive to reach the park through the scenic nature of the country and some towns like the Rwamagana. The park has two entry points that is the northern and southern gates for both entry and exists. There is an option of driving from other parts if the country however the best way to reach the park is en-route Kigali city since it is the nearest town to access the park. There is no public transport to Akagera national park.
There is an option of accessing the park using the Akegera Aviation for visitors who find driving for 2 or 3 hours hectic. These flights are available at Kigali international airport.
There are park fees required for every visitor to pay to be able to access the park activities. For foreign visitors, it is $50 per person per day, for a day game drive, visitors pay $20. For doing a boat cruise on Lake Ihema, it is $35 per person.
Where to stay in Akagera national park
Accommodations in Akagera national park are limited as compared to those in other national park of Rwanda including Volcanoes national park and Nyungwe forest national park. Some of the accommodations in Akagera are seasonal like the Ruzizi tented Camp however, the good news is that the park is considering increasing the number of lodges.
Ruzizi tented Camp is the only luxury lodge built by the park management in 2013. The lodge is built near the park offices with beautiful luxury tents in local designs to match with the traditions of Rwanda. The tents are incredibly conformable with a capacity of only 20 people to reside per day. The lodge is also strategically located near the Lake Ihema providing great views of the park and opportunity to spot some water animals like the hippos. The lodge provided delicious meals in a cosy restaurant and a bar for relaxation. Although the lodge provides excellent services and value for money, the prices are very high.
Akagera Game lodge. Unlike Ruzizi Tented Camp which is seasonal, Akagera Game lodge is a mid-range based lodge with permanent structural lodge built inside the park near Lake Ihema. The lodge provided amenities like a swimming pool, good food from its cosy restaurant, conference centre and a tennis Court. The lodge has about 60 rooms including budget rooms, mid-range and deluxe rooms. The prices at this lodge are relatively affordable.
Dereva Hotel. This is a budget accommodation facility located outside the park in Rwamagana district about 40 minutes’ drive to the park entry points. The hotel has self-contained rooms with bedrooms, Wifi, and Flat TV screens.
Other accommodations facilities include; Karenge Bush Camp which is a luxury camp only open during the peak seasons of June, July, August, December and January. The other facility is Magashi lodge which is the newest constructed lodge within the park but in an exclusive area mainly for purposes of providing privacy for visitors.
Popular safari package to Akagera national park