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A Complete Guide to Doing a Safari in Akagera National Park in Rwanda

Situated in a two-hour drive from the capital City of Kigali, Akagera National Park is the only savannah national park in Rwanda and the only place to see the Big Five- lion, elephants, leopard, rhinos and cape buffaloes.

Established in 1934, Akagera National Park’s wildlife population was greatly affected and it declined after the Rwandan genocide when returning refugees clashed with the animals.

Once home to over 200 lions, the population of the wildlife was quickly wiped out by angry cattle herders.

Akagera National Park has recovered with an area of 1,122 square kilometers, a new perimeter fence has been erected and anti-poaching strategies have been put in place to help the wildlife population to grow.

In 2015, Rwanda re-introduced lions back into the park and have since flourished in their new home. The black rhinos which had been missing from the park since 2007 have also been re-introduced back in the park.

The Park is named after Kagera River that flows along the Rwanda’s eastern boundary with Tanzania, the river feeds into Lake Ihema and other small lakes in and around the park.

Akagera National Park protects an African savannah landscape of acacia and bush with patches of open grassland and dozens of swamp lakes.

Akagera National Park is the biggest protected wetland in Africa.

  • Akagera National Park is located on the east side of Rwanda, bordering the Tanzania.
  • Akagera National Park is home to all the Big Five animals – lion, leopard, cape buffaloes and elephants. The lions in the park were translocated from South Africa as the lions that were in the park were all killed. Even the lions are present, they are not very many of them.
  • The Entrance fee to Akagera National Park is US$ 50
  • Routes in the park are not in good condition that is why you need a 4X4 vehicle that is if you are on a self-drive safari.
  • The best time to visit Akagera National Park is during dry seasons, the long dry season is between June to September, and the short dry season is from mid- December to mid- February.
  • The park opening hours are from 06:00 am to 06:00 pm
  • If you are planning on driving from the south gate to the north exit, you will need at least 5 to 6 hours which includes stops for wildlife and lunch as the roads aren’t in the best condition.

Akagera National Park is a Big 5 National Park, so you can expect to see lions, buffaloes, leopards, elephants and rhinos.

Other wildlife species found in the park include zebras, giraffes and several antelope species like bushbucks, Topis, Oribis, Water-buck, road antelopes and duiker, klipspringer, impala and the cape eland – the world largest antelope.

Akagera National Park is a popular and Important Birding Area in Rwanda, the park is a haven to bird watching enthusiasts offering birders opportunities to sight both the endangered bird species like Amur falcon, Beaudouin’s snake eagle, Black-crowned night heron, Blue-headed coucal, Blue-shouldered robin-chat, Blue-spotted wood dove, Booted eagle, Brown-chested lapwing, Cabanis’s bunting, Cardinal quelea, Carruthers’s cisticola, Caspian plover, Crested barbet, Denham’s bustard, Dimorphic egret, Double- toothed barbet, Eleonora’s falcon, Grasshopper buzzard, Lesser jacana, Lesser moorhen, Marsh owl, Marsh tchagra, Martial eagle, Moustached grass-warbler, Northern brown-throated weaver, Papyrus gonolek, Pennant-winged nightjar, Red-faced barbet, Red-winged francolin, Ring-necked francolin, Ross’s turaco, Ruaha chat, Rufous-bellied heron, Semi collared flycatcher, Shelley’s francolin, Shoebill, Short-tailed pipit, Slate-coloured boubou, Slender-billed weaver, Sooty falcon, Souza’s shrike, Striped pipit, Tabora cisticola, Western reef heron, White-winged swamp warbler, Yellow-bellied eremomela, Yellow-throated leaf-love among others.

Game Viewing Safaris

Game drives in Akagera National Park are offered as morning game drives, full day game drives and night game drives. Normally game drives start early morning in search of the leopards, hyenas and lions which are at their most active and are normally seen returning to their dens from their night hunting sprees.

On game viewing safaris you will enjoy excellent sightings of several animals including lions, leopards, cape buffaloes, elephants, rhinos, gazelles, antelopes, zebras and giraffes.

The night game drives in Akagera National Park normally start at 6 pm ending at 8.30 pm in the night, the game drives are carried out with a spotlight to help in watching the different nocturnal animals including leopards as they hunt and even the lions.

Visit the Visitors Centre Museum

Akagera National Park has such a tumultuous history and its museum provides a lot of information about its animals and its dark past.

Inside the museum you will find a skull of an elephant on display as well as a full skeleton of a crocodiles and many other bones from various animals calling the park home. Also, the museum displays some of the tramps commonly used by the poachers and has detailed posters on how the park has overcome this problem over the years.

Go on a Boat Trip

Akagera National Park offers scheduled boat trips and are the best way to spend an afternoon in the park, boat trips in Akagera are done on Lake Ihema and is a great way to see the aquatic wildlife and spot more of the park’s bird species.

You will see a variety of water birds like shoe bill stork, papyrus gonolek, jacanas Sandpipers, Malachite Kingfisher, herons among other bird species.

In partnership with the local community living in communities sharing borders with the park, visitors can choose from a few cultural tours. These activities are designed to be sustainable and the income generated goes back to the local community.

These cultural tours are designated to not only give you an opportunity to learn about the local traditions and way of life and also create steady revenue streams to the local people thus discouraging them from harmful activities like poaching.

The best time to visit Akagera National Park is during the dry season, from June to September. In this season there are little chance of rain and offers some of the best wildlife spotting opportunities.

In this season, you will see loads of animals as they congregate along the remaining watering holes to quench their thirst and cool off in the waters.

  • For international visitors to Akagera, it costs USD 40 each day.
  • There is also a USD 10 vehicle charge that you’ll need to pay as well.

The best way to get to Akagera National Park is to hire a car, when choosing a vehicle keep in mind that you will be driving on dirt roads and their terrain is not always smooth.

From Kigali, you drive through Rwamagana Town to Akagera National Park’s Southern gate which is the only entrance to the park. The Northern gate is currently used only for exit. The journey takes approximately a total of about 2 hours to arrive at the park entrance.

There is also an option of flying to the park using services of Akagera Aviation.

There are several accommodation options in Akagera National Park that is accommodations situated inside the park and those outside the park.

There are three accommodations inside Akagera National Park, these are:

Akagera Game Lodge – this luxury eco lodge is located in the southern section of Akagera National Park boasting panoramic views of Lake Ihema and Lake Shikani.

Ruzizi Tented Lodge – this eco-lodge is the most expensive option in Akagera National Park.

Camping grounds – there are three campsites within the park that is

  • Muyumbu – in Southern Akagera
  • Lake Shakani – in Southern Akagera
  • Mutumba – Northern Akagera

There are few accommodation options outside Akagera National Park, these include Rhino Lodge.

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