AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
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
Safaris to Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park is a comfortable 2-3 hour drive from Kigali and can be visited on a long day trip if you’re short of time. However, although game densities aren’t massively high, it’s an exceptionally pretty park with pleasantly few other visitors, so it’s worth staying a couple of days to explore it.
The only entry to Akagera National Park is via Kiyonza Gate in the south, close to the Park Headquarters and Akagera’s best lodge. (Nyungwe Gate in the north is currently only available to exit the Park).
Akagera safari camps and lodges
At present, there are only two accommodation options in Akagera National Park aside from camping. Ruzizi Tented Lodge opened in 2013 and is close to the main gate to the south. Managed by African Parks, it’s a pretty bush camp on the shores of Lake Ihema. The other option, Akagera Game Lodge, has been ‘under restoration’ for some years and, although it is partially open, it’s of a significantly lower standard.
New camps are planned for the northern sector of Akagera in the near future so contact us for the latest news on these. In the meantime, you should allow a full day in your itinerary if you want to explore the northern plains and return to Ruzizi.
Activities on an Akagera safari
Akagera National Park’s roads have improved significantly since African Parks came on board allowing for varied game drives around plains, hills and lakes. They usually take place in the mornings and afternoons, or will take a full day if venturing to the north, with night drives an option for spotting Akagera’s nocturnal wildlife.
Boat trips along the shores of Lake Ihema, Rwanda’s second largest lake, yield some great aquatic bird sightings and you can even fish on Lake Shakani.
Unusually, African Parks offers the opportunity to get a feel for the management of a national park on behind-the-scenes tours to their HQ and to meet the staff. Interestingly, because Rwanda is particularly strong on gender equality, Akagera National Park has many female guides, a rare breed on most African safaris.
Wildlife of Akagera National Park
Akagera’s wildlife has increased significantly over recent years and the latest count estimated that the Park is now home to some 8,000 large animals. The new perimeter fence completed in late 2013 should also impact positively on numbers.
Plans are afoot to reintroduce lions and possibly rhinos, making Akagera National Park a “big five” destination once again. In the meantime, because of the lack of predators, game is surprisingly relaxed and relatively easy to spot – as long as you don’t expect massive numbers, an Akagera safari won’t disappoint.
Animals currently found in Akagera
The game on an Akagera safari includes most of the usual plains species. Impala and topi (known as tsessebe in Southern Africa) seem to be dominant, with eland, oribi, Masai giraffe, Defassa waterbuck, reedbuck, bushbuck, sable and roan antelope also present. Burchall’s zebra, hippo and crocodile are commonly seen whilst game viewing; buffalo are more prevalent in the north as are elephants, although more restricted.
One elephant in particular is well-known across Rwanda, having been semi-habituated when younger. Mutware is the grumpy old man of Akagera – at 50 years old, he can be calm but can also be anti-social and your guide is likely to change direction should you encounter him on a drive.
Birds of Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park is especially good for birding, with over 480 species attracted by its diverse habitat. Savannah birds and raptors are prevalent and several endemic species such as the red-faced barbet are often seen.
Short boat trips are available on Akagera’s lakes which will give you the opportunity to get close to the plentiful waterbirds including numerous African fish eagles, marabou stork, crowned cranes, open-billed stork, cormorants, herons and egrets. If you are lucky you may even get to see the elusive shoebill stork.
Ruzizi Tented Lodge
Opened in December 2012, Ruzizi Tented Lodge is a welcome addition to Akagera National Park. Located in the park itself it has just 7 tents, and aims to be a simple, eco friendly lodge in a good position to explore the game of Akagera.Until recently, Akagera Game Lodge was the only place to stay – and at a relatively low standard, the addition of a new, albeit simple, lodge is exciting. It looks like it should have a bush camp feel, and provide a reasonable level of quality. A recent report we read in March 2013 from a reliable source suggests that the camp was of a good quality, with excellent food.
Akagera Game Lodge
Akagera Game Lodge is currently the only accommodation option within Akagera National Park. More of a hotel than a traditional safari lodge, it has fantastic views over Lake Ihema, with a large swimming pool perched on the edge of the savannah. However, plans to upgrade and expand were been put on hold due to the recession, and the site is dotted with unfinished buildings. At present, fewer than half the 64 rooms are in use, although we understand that work is expected to recommence in 2012.
Although Akagera Game Lodge has a good location from which to explore Akagera National Park, and the service was friendly, it felt a little like a building site when we last visited in 2011. The hotel certainly has potential, but it currently has the feel of a place that has passed its prime and is in need of an upgrade.