Akagera meaning the Miracle was created in 1934 to protect the lands surrounding River Kagera, is back with a vengeance. It once protected nearly 10% of Rwanda and was considered to be one of the finest wildlife reserves in the whole of Africa. Sadly, due to the massive numbers of refugees who returned to Rwanda in the late 1990s, Over half of the park was de-gazetted and resettled with new villages. Human encroachment facilitated poaching and environmental degradation and Akagera’s wildlife was very nearly decimated. However, strict conservation laws, better management, the reintroduction of lions in 2015, and black rhinos in 2017, the revamping of old camps, and the building of new ones have meant that Akagera is getting increasingly popular. Sure, it can’t compete with its counterparts in Kenya or Tanzania, but its scenic landscapes, diverse habitats, and rich wildlife are well worth the trip.
Best time to visit
The best time to go to Akagera is during the dry season which is between mid-May to September. November and April are the wettest months.
For all activities bar the wildlife drives in your own vehicle, you should book in advance through the park office. For a classic wildlife drive, most people hire a Self-drive 4X4 car from Kigali, but this is very expensive like US$300 per day including fuel from most reputable agencies. Park ranger guides or community freelance guides are both optionally available.
One long but worthwhile safari option is to enter the park at the main gate, pick-up your guide and spend the day making your way to the park’s northern Nyungwe gate (wildlife populations are much higher in the north). Once there, you could drop off your guide with a taxi fare to get him back to the park headquarters, before you return to Kigali.
The other option is to rent one of the park’s safari jeeps. You should arrange this in advance through the park office.
Lake Ihema boat Trips
Park authorities can arrange boat trips on Lake Ihema to see the hippo pods and some of the huge Nile crocodiles that are otherwise difficult to observe. This is also the best way to view the park’s abundant water-birds, including swamp flycatchers, African fishing eagles, African darters, and breeding colonies of noisy and smelly cormorants and open-bill storks. For our money this is the single nicest way of exploring the park. It’s important to make a reservation through the park office at least an hour or so in advance. Trips depart at 7:30 am, 9 am, 3 pm, and 4:30 pm.
As dusk comes and all the daylight wildlife heads off to bed somewhere, a whole new cast of rarely seen characters emerges from the gloom. A night drive gives you the opportunity to see some of these creatures if you are lucky, Leopards, and Hyenas. The safari which starts at 5:30 pm lasts around two hours and requires a minimum of two participants.
Akagera lies on the great Nile Valley bird migration route, which means that you could potentially spot nearly 500 species of birds, including several endemics, more than 40 different kinds of raptors, and in wetland zones, the much sought after shoe-bill. It’s Rwanda’s best birdwatching destination outside of Nyungwe Forest National Park. The many kilometers of waterside habitat support African eagles, Kingfishers, herons, ibises, storks, egrets, cranes, rails, cormorants, darts, and pelicans. Seasonal visitors include large flocks of ducks, bee-eaters and terns, and the woodlands areas are particularly good places for barbets, shrikes, orioles, and weavers. Birding guides can be arranged at the park’s office.
Behind the Scenes Tour
One of the most innovative and interesting activities offered is the behind the scenes tour, this requires a minimum of four people. You will get to meet and talk to rangers, antipoaching patrols, and community-projects managers. It’s a fascinating insight into the often very political world of modern wildlife conservation in East Africa and the day to day running of a protected zone. It’s organized through the par office and you need to give at least a day or so notice. This activity lasts about 1½ hours.
Akagera Game Lodge
This is built on the ridge near the park office, this motel-like place has large and well-appointed rooms with views over the hills to the hippo filled lake below for a very good price. The restaurant is kind of soulless, but the food is tasty. Additions include a well-maintained pool and a play area for children.
Karenge Bush Camp
This temporary tented camp perched on the edge of an escarpment overlooking an incredible sweep of savannah offers six comfortable safari tents with private outside bathrooms. Its location is ideal for morning game drives around Kilala plain, which maximises your chance of spotting lion and hyenas.
Ruzizi Tented Lodge
Hidden under a tangle of dense riverine trees on the shore of Lake Ihema, this refined tented camp with an intimate feel, has only nine units all with lake views, it’s a delightful relaxing place. While it’s not as ornate as some top-end camps elsewhere in East Africa, it’s a steal at this price.
Lake Shakani Campsite
This basic yet ideally located campsite is right on the shores of Lake Shakani, a few kilometers northeast of the park headquarters. It offers firewood and a basic toilet with no shower. Book through the park office. Note; This campsite is not fenced.