Akagera National Park is located in the northeast of Rwanda , around a 2.5-3 hour drive from Kigali, along the border with Tanzania and named after the river that flows along the eastern boundary. Since 2010, a joint venture with the African Parks organisation has seen Akagera start to return to its former glories and in our opinion is emphatically worth visiting for at least 2 or 3 nights!
Although it would be a mistake to compare the wildlife viewing at Akagera to nearby Kenya and Tanzania, there are plenty of animals to see and a variety of activities. The largest attraction is certainly the fact that you are certainly off-the-beaten track and safari in Rwanda means this is one reserve where you can happily drive for hours without seeing another vehicle. Akagera is without doubt also one of the most scenic African reserves, with a labyrinth of lakes of which the largest is Lake Ihema. It's forest-fringed lakes, papyrus swamps, rolling highlands and savannah plains combine to make Akagera an unmissable part of this beautiful country.
It has exceptional levels of biodiversity and forms the largest protected wetland in central Africa. It houses a diversity of habitats in one park including lakes, marshes, savannah, mountains and woodland, which makes for spectacular scenery. Although founded in 1934, much of Akagera was re-allocated as farms and in 1997 the park was reduced in size from more than 2,500 sq km (nearly 10% of the surface area of Rwanda) to its current extent of 1,122 sq km.
Akagera combines well with Nyungwe and Volcanoes to offer a great safari element to any trip and as it is home to many large plains game species, as well as species restricted to the Papyrus swamps such as the Sitatunga and the sought-after Shoebill. Akagera plays host to larger predators such as Leopard, Hyena, Side-Striped Jackal and Lion, which was re-introduced last year and we encourage you to read the story of Akagera's lions . Plans are underway for the reintroduction in 2017 of the Black Rhino too, and this will restore Akagera’s ‘Big 5’ status.
Other larger game include Elephant, Zebra, Topi, Buffalo, Waterbuck, Roan Antelope and Eland. Other antelope are Duiker, Impala, Oribi, Bohor Reedbuck, Klipspringer and Bushbuck. Primates include, Olive Baboons, Vervets and the secretive Blue Monkey are seen during the day, with Bushbabies often seen on night drives.
Akagera is an important ornithological site with nearly 500 bird species due to its wide variety of habitats. The rare and elusive Shoebill shares the Papyrus with other rarities such as the exquisite Papyrus Gonolek and countless other water birds that inhabit the wetlands in large numbers.
As a park under the guidance of African Parks Akagera has so much potential and by visiting you will be aiding in growing an important area of the country. We feel strongly about promoting the Rwanda safari industry and with camps like Ruzizi Tented Camp, Karenge Bush Camp and the new Magashi Camp (opening May 2019) these are a massive step forward in terms of offering a quality and authentic safari experience.
The guiding programme and park ranger development is superb in the park. There is a two-tier guiding system in the park with 10 park-employed guides and 15 community freelance guides. You will most likely have a park-employed guide who has guiding experience ranging from 2 to 12 years in Akagera National Park and has undertaken training in content, interpretive guiding and first aid in the past 2 years. Or, you can choose one of the Community Freelance Guides, who are enthusiastic and fast learners and have completed an in-house training and assessment programme. By choosing a freelance guide you are strengthening the relationship between the park and the local community, by stimulating economic development and allowing communities members living alongside the park to benefit from the tourism growth in Akagera. Both guides are dedicated to providing an authentic experience and support the success of the park and Rwanda safari as a whole.
Read more on the work of African Parks here - https://www.african-parks.org/
To reach Akagera National Park is around a 2-3 hour drive from the capital Kigali, which is a distance of just over 100kms. Leaving the capital Kigali after breakfast will mean you can reach Akagera in time for lunch, followed by an afternoon game drive.
Safari in Akagera National Park is traditionally split into morning and afternoon activities. Most people will stay for a minimum of 2 nights, although 3 or 4 nights is the optimum time to spend at Akagera. This will allow you to have a couple of game drives in a 4x4 vehicle, a boat safari out on Lake Ihema and if time allows a guided walking safari or birding. In special circumstances, a 'behind the scenes' look at how African Parks run the park can be arranged, speaking to their rangers and staff who do a fantastic job of running Akagera.
Dominated by the labyrinth of swamps and lakes that follow the meandering Akagera River, Akagera National Park (1,075 km²) is archetypal African savannah; tangled acacia woodland interspersed with open grassland but above all, Akagera is big game country!
Herds of elephant and buffalo emerge from the woodland to drink at the lakes; lucky visitors might stumble across a leopard, a spotted hyena, and now even lion and rhino. Giraffe and zebra are frequent on the savannah and more than a dozen types of antelope inhabit the park, most commonly the handsome chestnut-coated impala and the world's largest antelope, the statuesque Cape Eland. Alongside the picturesque lakes, pods of 50+ hippopotami grunt and splutter throughout the day, while outsized crocodiles soak up the sun with their vast jaws menacingly agape. And lining the lakes; some of the continent’s densest concentrations of water birds, amongst the parks over 500 recorded species.
Although it is no match for the ‘big’ parks of Tanzania and Kenya in terms of wildlife numbers, Akagera far more than makes up for this with her outstanding scenic and natural beauty. In addition to having relatively no traffic, thus really off the beaten track, no other park has these many lakes and waterways and with the beautiful Rwandan hills in the background. Akagera is a spectacular park!
The eastern side of the park is dominated by lakes and papyrus swamp, alongside the Akagera River which is roughly the border between Rwanda and Tanzania. This wetland is the largest protected wetland in central Africa. More accessible in the south, this environment is obviously very good for birding, as well as hippo and crocodile viewing and sitatunga also live in this papyrus environment.
The west is made up of hills and mountain ranges with stunning views to the lakes in the east.
The south is unique for its patches of dry forest thickets alongside the largest lake in the park, Lake Ihema. The south can be a high game area at certain times of the year, with herds of buffalo, zebra and giraffe often seen here. It was once a savannah grassland and formed part of the central valley, however, overgrazing in this area has caused the growth of an invasive species which has taken over large parts of the savannah. Most of the central valley is now outside the park, so it is in the habitat management plan to remove significant areas of this invasive plant and hopefully restore this area to its former glory and attract more animals back to the area.
Towards the middle of the park is Mutumba, another special area. This is the highest part of the park and is made up of mainly high rolling grassy hills with stunning views. This area also has a lot of game. This is where you are likely to see eland and roan antelope - of which there are only 30+ in the park. In the north is Kilala, an expanse of savannah grassland, which never fails to have game grazing on the plain. Herds of buffalo, topi and zebra are always seen here.
Ruzizi Tented Lodge and Karenge Bush Camp are our favourite options which help support the park directly, being run by African Parks. With Magashi Camp opening in May 2019, this will be a fantastic high-end option for those who prefer more creature comforts, whilst still keeping that 'bush camp' feel.