Akagera National Park is located in the north east of Rwanda along the border with Tanzania. Although founded in 1934, much of the park 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. Since 2010, a joint venture with African Parks has seen Akagera return to its former glories.
It is named after the Akagera River that flows along its eastern boundary and feeds into a labyrinth of lakes of which the largest is Lake Ihema. The forest fringed lakes, papyrus swamps, savannah plains and rolling highlands combine to make Akagera amongst the most scenic of reserves anywhere in Africa. It has exceptional levels of biodiversity and forms the largest protected wetland in central Africa.
Akagera combines well with Nyungwe and the Volcanoes NP to offer a great safari element 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 Stork. Notable plains game include elephant, buffalo, topi, zebra, waterbuck, roan antelope and eland. Other antelope are duiker, oribi, bohor reedbuck, klipspringer, bushbuck and impala. Of the primates, olive baboons, vervets and the secretive blue monkey are seen during the day, with bushbabies often seen on night drives.
Of the larger predators leopard, hyena, side-striped jackal and lion, which was re-introduced last year are present. Plans are underway for the reintroduction of the black rhino too, and this will restore Akagera’s ‘Big 5’ status
Due to its wide variety of habitats, Akagera National Park is an important ornithological site with nearly 500 bird species. 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.
At Akagera you can variety of good things which include;
Game Drives in Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park management has vehicles avialble to hire for game drives, that come with their own driver and guide, and a choice of half day or full day drives.However, it is also possible in Akagera to self-drive your own vehicle round the park. Guides are available to accompany you on your drive. The guides can direct you to areas where wildlife is most abundant and guide you to stunning scenic spots that you may otherwise miss.
There is a two-tier guiding system in the park with 10 park-employed guides and 15 community freelance guides. As a park visitor, and subject to availability, you may choose to take 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, fast learners. They have completed an in-house training and assessment programme. Both guides are dedicated to providing an authentic experience and support the success of the park. 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.
Boat Trips and Fishing
If you are looking for a variation on the usual safari experience, a boat trip on Lake Ihema will not disappoint. Drift along the forest-fringed lake edge, past huddles of hippo and basking crocodiles. For the serious birder a boat trip is a must. Trips are scheduled 4 times per day at 7.30am, 9am, 3.30pm and 5pm. Non-scheduled, private, trips can also be arranged at other times.
Lake Shakani is the site of sports fishing in the park; spend a relaxing day fishing off the lake shore and then cook your catch over an open fire at the campsite.
Birdwatching in Akagera National Park
Birding safaris are popular amongst regular visitors and the immense variety and abundance of species will not fail to impress. From the vast concentrations of waterfowl to the myriad of savanna species, there is never a dull moment, with more than 500 species recorded in Akagera. Serious birders can seek out several endemic species as well as rare gems such as the near threatened papyrus gonolek (Laniarius mufumbiri), which is restricted to papyrus swamps, the localised red-faced barbet (Lybius bidentatus) and the sought after swamp flycatcher (Muscicapa boehmi).
How to get to Rwanda to visit Akagera National Park
The main entry point into Rwanda is Kigali international airport. The airport is open to various international; flights such as SN Brussels, Ethiopian airlines, Kenya Airways,Air Burundi and of course the RwandAir express. The airport is about 10 km out Kigali and it is where your journey to Kagera starts.
Akagera national park is located in the north Eastern region of Rwanda about 110 kn from Kigali the capital of Rwanda, which is about a 2 ½ hour drive. It is beautiful park with lush green scenery and lots of wildlife and birds to see.
Most favored and used means of transport to the park is by car. For the most part the road is quite good. There might be a few bumpy spots along the way, but that shouldn’t stop you from making the trip. The last 28km of the 110km from Kigali are mostly dirt roads, and so are all the roads inside the park. 4X4 safari vehicles are recommended especially if you are traveling during the rainy season.
After getting to Kigali either by air or bus road, you can start of your Akagera safari from the city center. From Kigali drive out of town towards the airport. Just before you reach the airport, about 100m out, take a left turn. You will then be heading east towards Rwamagana. Drive through Rwamagana and on to Kayonza. When you get to Kayonza, take the right turn at the roundabout and drive on till you get to a Discentre station on the left side of the road as you get into the town of Kabarondo. There is a dirt immediately after the petrol station. Take a left turn onto that road and drive on for about 15km till you come to a junction at Rwinkwavu. You will see a signpost that reads Akagera national Park on the left. The park gates are about 13km ahead after the signpost.
4×4 vehicles can be arranged by your safari operator of choice. Most tour companies will provide a driver and a guide, or if you are very adventurous you can opt for drive yourself, and depend on maps and directions to get you. It will all be fun and exciting. Several safari companies in operating in Rwanda have outlets and connections with major hotels in Kigali, so it should be easy to get in touch with one and arrange for a trip to the park.
To be able to enter into Rwanda and enjoy your safari with as minimal stress as possible, your travel documents should be in order. Be sure that your visa is in order, visas can be obtained upon arrival at the airport for only USD 30. if you are from Germany, Sweden, DRC, Mauritius, South Africa, Honk Cong, Uganda, Kenya or Tanzania, you do not need a visa, but you do need a valid passport.
With everything in order, passports and visa, finances in order, luggage in hand, and your safari hat on right, travelling to Rwanda, and then to Akagera should be quite easy and you should enjoy your safari in this beautiful park with no worries.
When traveling in a private safari vehicle, you can reach Akagera from Kigali in approximately two hours drive although when driving from Kibungo or Rwamagana it will take approximately one hour. The functional park entrance gate which is 500 meters from the brand-newly constructed Akagera Game Lodge can be reached on a twenty seven kilometers dusty road which branches off the main surfaced road at Kabarondo, only 15 km north of Kibungo.
The road is in good condition, and may be used by all kinds of vehicle during the sunny months but not in the rainy season. Inside the park, guests are recommended to use 4WD vehicles however any type of vehicle with good clearance may work during the in the dry months.
Reaching Akagera using public transport is to some extent challenging. The minibus taxis go to and fro Kibungo and Kayonza will take you up to the junction. From there the only available option is to use a motorbike-taxi in case you are lucky to find one. With the exception of those staying at the Game lodge, guests are not allowed to walk even if you have a guide inside the park, and actually you will not find any safari vehicles available to take you for game drives.
Akagera comes to sight as an amazing surprise following the sheer cultivated hills pus the breezy climate which characterizes the other parts of Rwanda of the country. found at a somehow low altitude on the border to Tanzania, this amazing game reserve shelters an typical African savannah terrain of twisted acacia plus brachystegia bush, intermingled with spaces of open grassland plus numerous lakes surrounded by swamps which follow the winding course of River Akagera.
Akagera National Park now offers a range of accommodation facilities catering to both high-end and budget travellers. Rusizi Tented Camp, which charges in the upwards of $280 per night, is the newest luxury lodge in the park and plausibly the most popular among high-end travellers.
The facility nestles on a patch of riparian woodland on the shores of the scenic Lake Ihema, offering guests a jungle alternative to the moderate Akagera Game Lodge, which is also currently under refurbishment following a takeover by Adrian Gardiner’s Mantis Group.
Akagera Game Lodge currently charges $120 per room per night, but this figure will likely shoot up to about $200 per night once the facility is relaunched, according to Daniel Niyishimye, chairman of the Akagera Community Freelance Guides Co-operative.
Niyishimye’s organisation runs the Ihema View Campsite, which offers visitors camping options at $30 per night. Niyishimye and co. also organise cultural activities for tourists, including homestays and banana beer making and tasting, among others