Akagera National Park, Rwanda: The Complete Guide

Elephant in the water at Akagera National Park, Rwanda

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Akagera National Park

Address
4PC3+5J2, Akagera Road, Rwanda
Phone +250 787 409 137

Founded in 1934 during the days of Belgian colonial rule, Akagera National Park is located on the Tanzanian border in eastern Rwanda. It boasts 433 square miles of vast savanna grasslands, rolling highlands, and unique papyrus swamps—which together make for gorgeous scenery and an impressive diversity of wildlife. Today, Akagera supports more than 13,000 animals, but this has not always been the case. In the wake of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, the park was virtually decimated by poaching and many of its key species were hunted into extinction. 

Its recovery under the guardianship of African Parks has been a major conservation success story. Lions and eastern black rhinos have both been successfully reintroduced, and now Akagera offers visitors a chance to experience a traditional African safari in a country otherwise known for its mountainous rainforests. Add a stop at Akagera to your gorilla trekking experience in Volcanoes National Park or chimpanzee encounter in Nyungwe National Park for the perfect Rwandan adventure. 

Things to Do

The main purpose of a visit to Akagera National Park is to go on safari, either in your own vehicle or as part of a guided game drive organized through your tour operator or lodge. The park reception has a single game vehicle for hire, with scheduled morning, afternoon, and evening game drives. Night drives are a particularly rewarding experience for those who wish to see nocturnal species and predators in action. Boat-based safaris are also conducted on Lake Ihema, where hippos and Nile crocodiles can be spotted in abundance. There are four daily departures, with the first (7:30 a.m.) and last (4:30 p.m.) providing the best light for photographers.

In between safaris, Akagera also offers some exciting opportunities to get to know the staff behind the park’s impressive conservation initiatives. These include a behind-the-scenes tour of park headquarters and an experience known as “Walk the Line,” whereby visitors can accompany community guides on a morning foot patrol of the park’s perimeter fence. Catch-and-release sport fishing is offered on Lake Shakani (with catfish and tilapia being the primary species), while cultural experiences ranging from farm visits to traditional banana-beer-making sessions are available in the surrounding villages.

Game Viewing

Akagera National Park is Rwanda’s only Big Five reserve, meaning that it’s possible to spot lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes, and rhinos all on a single safari. The rhinos in particular have a special story, having been reintroduced to Akagera from other African parks and European zoos in 2017. This marked the first time rhinos had been present in Rwanda for 10 years. Other iconic safari animals include zebras, giraffes, olive baboons, and vervet monkeys, as well as a whole host of antelope species. In particular, look out for Africa’s largest antelope, the eland; the elusive roan antelope; and the rare, swamp-dwelling sitatunga. Aside from the big cats already mentioned, Akagera’s predators range from spotted hyenas to serval cats and side-striped jackals. 

Birding 

With so many diverse habitats in a relatively small area, Akagera National Park is also an impressive destination for birders. Almost 500 different species have been recorded within its boundaries, including many range-restricted and sought-after specials, such as the red-faced barbet, the white-collared oliveback, and the Carruthers’s cisticola. Perhaps the two most iconic feathered residents are the papyrus gonolek and the prehistoric-looking shoebill stork, both of which live in the park’s papyrus swamps. In fact, as the largest protected wetland in Central Africa, Akagera has many, many water birds to look out for. Keep an eye on the skies, too, where no fewer than six vulture species can be spotted. And if you head out on a night safari, the pink-lidded Verreaux’s eagle owl is another highlight. 

Where to Camp 

If you’re sticking to a budget or simply wish to experience the wonder of sleeping wild under canvas, book a night or two at one of Akagera’s three no-frills campsites. Firewood is available on-site and tents can be rented for the two southern sites. Otherwise, campers must bring all of their own equipment and supplies with them. 

  • Muyumbu Campsite: Situated in the southern section of the park, this fenced camp overlooks fantastic views of Lake Ihema and Lake Shakani from the top of a scenic ridge. It’s renowned as one of the best sunrise spots in the park. 
  • Shakani Campsite: This unfenced camp puts you right on the edge of Lake Shakani, within a few hundred feet of its resident hippo herds. It is the only camp with running water, showcased in an ablution block with solar showers and flushing toilets.
  • Mutumba Campsite: The only campsite in the northern section of the park, Mutumba is located amid the gentle slopes of the grasslands and is a great base for productive wildlife viewing. Like Muyumbu, it is fenced for added protection from roaming animals. 

Where to Stay

If you’re looking for a little more luxury, choose one of the four lodges located inside the park. 

  • Magashi Camp: Comprising six luxury safari tents and its own swimming pool, Magashi Camp is an isolated paradise situated on 6,000 exclusive-use hectares near Lake Rwanyakazinga. Activities offered include guided day and night drives, boat-based safaris, and fishing. 
  • Ruzizi Tented Lodge: A similar concept, the nine immaculate tents of eco-conscious Ruzizi are connected by wooden walkways to an incredible deck and fire pit that overhangs Lake Ihema. All tents have en-suite bathrooms, a queen bed, and a shaded veranda. 
  • Akagera Game Lodge: A more affordable option for mid-range travelers and families with young children, Akagera Game Lodge is located in the far south of the park. It offers a choice of 59 air-conditioned, en-suite rooms, as well as a pool, restaurant, tennis court, and game drives.
  • Karenge Bush Camp: Reconnect with nature at Karenge, a true wilderness escape in the north of the park that stays open for 9.5 months a year. It has six rustic tents with solar lights, and private, outdoor bathrooms fitted with warm bucket showers. 

How to Get There 

For most visitors, the main gateway to Rwanda is Kigali International Airport (KGL), located on the outskirts of the capital city. Akagera National Park is roughly 2.5 hours away by car. Typically, you will either hire a car and driver of your own to get there, or transfers will be arranged through your tour operator. If you wish, it is also possible to arrange a transfer by private helicopter through Akagera Aviation, which operates from location to location across Rwanda. 

Accessibility 

Although accessible facilities are not widely advertised for Akagera National Park, both Ruzizi Tented Lodge and Magashi Camp claim to be able to offer suitable accommodation for disabled guests upon request. Additionally, the fact that self-drive safaris are permitted means that visitors could potentially explore in their own adapted vehicle. 

Tips for Your Visit

  • Akagera National Park is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for day visitors.
  • International visitors pay a daily conservation fee of $100 per person, with discounts for two- and three-day stays. Reduced rates apply for Rwandan residents and nationals. 
  • If you plan on renting a car for your travels around Rwanda, self-drive safaris are charged at an additional $10 per vehicle, per day. 
  • Activities are priced individually; see the African Parks website for a full breakdown. 
  • Akagera’s equatorial location means that temperatures are consistently warm throughout the year, at 68 to 86 degrees F. The best time to visit for game viewing is the long dry season (June to September), while the short wet season (October and November) is especially great for birding since it coincides with the arrival of seasonal migrants. 
  • Before traveling to Rwanda, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and rabies. Proof of yellow fever vaccination is an entry requirement for anyone traveling from a yellow fewer country. 
  • Malaria medication is recommended at all times of year. Invest in good insect repellent, not only for mosquitoes but also for tsetse flies, which are common in Akagera. The flies are attracted by dark colors (especially blue), so stick to light colors and khaki for your safari wardrobe. 
  • 30-day visitor visas are now available for purchase on arrival for nationals of all countries. If you’re planning an epic, multinational adventure, consider paying $100 for the East Africa Tourist Visa, which lasts 90 days and grants entry to Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya.
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Akagera National Park, Rwanda: The Complete Guide