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Rwanda Wildlife Safaris & Tours to Akagera National Park

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A brief About Akagera National Park

  • Akagera National Park situated in the far east of Rwanda is the country’s only savanna wildlife national park and home to the ‘Big Five’ African animals.
  • Though Akagera National Park hosts a variety of unique Rwanda wildlife, the major reason to undertake a Rwanda safari to this park is its inspiring conservation story.
  • Akagera may be something of a miracle these days. Like the country that hosts it, it has a violent past. Way back in the 1980s, Akagera National Park was covering nearly 10% of Rwanda and was regarded as one of the finest African safari parks.
  • Sadly, then along came years of violence that culminated in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. During these dark times, Akagera was largely left to fend for itself. Refugees escaping violence elsewhere OR returning to Rwanda after the genocide ended, inhabited vast sections of the park and most of the wildlife was forced out.
  • Poachers and settlers put so much pressure on it that, in a few short years, many of its iconic animals, from lions to rhinos, vanished, leaving Akagera National Game Park a shell of its own.
  • In 2009 the government of Rwanda called in a new nonprofit partner (African Parks) and launched an ambitious conservation program to rehabilitate Akagera Park. Lions and the rest of the famed “Big Five” gem soon returned and the park has returned on an African safari
  • Today, elands, topis, warthogs, impalas, waterbucks, giraffes, and zebras can be seen roaming in nearly every direction. Tourism is increasing. In many cases, wildlife densities are now returning back to what they were before the political turmoil of the 1990s.
  • Populations of some ungulates are believed to have reached the park’s carrying capacity. In 2010, there were only about 600 buffaloes and a similar number of hippos within the park. Since installing the fence, both species have increased to over 3,000.
  • Conservationists have hailed the park’s transformation, and some hope it can serve as a model for what can happen when nature is encouraged to come back.

Size/How Big is Akagera Park?

Akagera National Park has 1,122  km² (433 miles²) a relatively small span.

Map Of Akagera National Park in Rwanda

 History of Akagera Park

Created in 1934 to protect the lands surrounding the Kagera River, Akagera is one of the oldest National parks in Africa.

From 1990 to 1994, Akagera was a battleground between the Army of Rwanda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel group mostly composed of Tutsi exiles. For civilians, much of the area was a no-go zone.

At the age the Park in Gabiro was located as the main army base, and rebel soldiers staged some of the fiercest battles in the area.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, little was done to protect the Rwanda wildlife within the park. Many of the Rwandan staff, researchers, or conservationist working in parks had either left the country or been killed.

Led by the victorious Rwandan Patriotic Front, the new government prioritized the resettlement of ethnic Tutsi who had previously lived in exile.

Rwanda was and remains a densely populated country. With little arable land available, the government allowed returnees and their estimated 700,000 cattle to settle in Akagera National Park.  The returnees converged on the area, putting great strain on the delicate ecosystem of the park.

So as to minimize human-wildlife conflicts, returnees were allowed to stay in the park. However, in 1997, the Akagera National Park’s size decreased by two-thirds from 12,800 km2 to 1,120 km2. This was one of the largest reductions in the size of a conservation area in the modern history of Africa.

But the problems of Akagera National Park did not end there. Local residents and park officials who worked in Akagera during that time say elephants spent less time inside the new park than outside, where they roamed their historic feeding grounds and feasted on new crops.

Setting up conflict, a single elephant can destroy up to a year’s worth of a farmer’s income in one night. Ungulates such as impalas, topis, zebras, buffalos, and warthogs continued to graze in the same areas as livestock, competing for food.

Buffalo and Lions posed a severe threat to cattle and humans. The loss of a single cow could mean severe economic pain in the nearby communities. Consequently, many people reacted by hunting or poisoning the National park’s wildlife until some species were utterly wiped out.

Lions, which numbered over 300 prior to the 1990s, were completely eradicated by 2002. Poachers continued to penetrate the boundaries of the park every night to pull thousands of fish out of the several lakes in the area.

Akagera National Park’s last Black Rhino was seen there in 2007.

The government of Rwanda signed a 20-year contract with African Parks, a Johannesburg-based non-profit organization in 2009 to save Akagera. Its operations were to take over complete responsibility for the rehabilitation and management of the threatened conservation zones.

African Parks, together with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), a Rwandan government agency, founded the Akagera Management Company. This is a joint for-profit business to oversee the rehabilitation of Akagera Park.

How Far is Akagera Located From Kigali?

Akagera National Park is located on Rwanda’s eastern border with Tanzania, about 116 kilometers from Kigali.

The park is just two hours drive from Kigali, it is a beautiful and convenient savannah landscape to visit, and an easy site to add on to before or after gorilla trekking in Rwanda.

Akagera National Park Weather and Climate

Akagera National Park’s climate is usually moderate to warm. Average temperatures are relatively consistent over the year. It is advised that you wear warm clothes for early morning or night game drives.

The dry season in Akagera National Park starts from June to September. The park has two rainy seasons. The ‘short rains’ are from October to December and the ‘long rains’ are from March to May.

What to see in Akagera National Park? 

There are a number of things to see in Akager National Park including;

  • The Big Five gems (elephants, buffaloes, rhinos, lions, and leopards)
  • A variety of antelopes and other herbivores such as giraffes, and zebras
  • Primates such as vervet monkeys and Anubis baboons
  • Over 480 bird species including the Shoebill, Grey-crowned cranes, and saddle-billed storks
  • The beautiful lake Lake Ihema

Below is a detailed description of all attractions to see in Akagera National Park on your Rwanda safaris and tours.

Animals in Akagera Park

Wildlife populations are thriving in Akagera National Park today due to effective law enforcement and successful conflict mitigation with surrounding communities, and poaching within the park has reached an all-time low.

Big Five Animals

Akagera has recently become a Big Five destination but some of the main species can be difficult to find. Here they are in their order of commonality in the Park.

  • Buffalos
  • Elephants.
  • Lions
  • Black Rhinos.
  • Leopards.

Predators

Before Lions were introduced to the park, Leopards and Spotted hyenas were the only large predators in the park.

A founder population of seven lions was reintroduced in 2015 after being hunted out in the 1990s. Two additional males were translocated to the park in 2017 to increase genetic diversity and the park’s lion population has since tripled in size. Small predators are also abundant:

  • Servals
  • Side-striped jackals
  • Several mongoose and
  • Viverrid species

Herbivores

There are a lot of  herbivores in Akagera National Park including;

  1. Burchell’s
  2. Zebra,
  3. Masai
  4. Giraffe
  5. Hippos
  6. Warthogs
  7. Buffaloes
  8. Elephants are occasionally seen and the recently introduced Rhinos are rarely seen.
  9. Masai giraffe was introduced to Akagera National Park in 1986 from Kenya, and the existing population includes an estimated 60 individuals

Primates

  • Anubis baboons and Vervet monkeys are the most commonly seen primates of Akagera National Park.
  • Blue monkeys are pleasant in the park but are very difficult to see.

They also host several crocodiles.

Birds in Akagera National Park

Akagera National Park is the best destination for birdwatching tours in  Rwanda outside of Nyungwe National Park.

Of the 480 species, 100 birds are not found in any other protected area in Rwanda. The park is home to over 40 species of raptors including;

  • Bateleurs
  • White-backed vultures
  • Ruppell’s griffon vultures, and
  • Brown snake eagles.
  • Beaudouin’s snake eagle
  • Amur falcon
  • Booted eagle
  • Grasshopper buzzard
  • Eleonora’s falcon
  • Sooty falcon

Lake Ihema in Akagera National Game Park

Situated in the south of the park, Lake Ihema is also one of the most interesting Rwanda tourist attractions in Akagera.

The Lake is fed by the Akagera River and its the biggest lake in the park, covering an area of 90 km2  with a depth of 5 to 7 meters depending on the area and the season. The eastern lakeshore also forms the border between Tanzania and Rwanda.

This lake is also rich in biodiversity except for fish. Ihema is home to crocodiles and hippos. This is a perfect spot for travelers on bird watching tour of Rwanda. It hosts a variety of birds including

  • Shoebill storks
  • Papyrus gonoleks
  • Plovers,
  • Ibis,
  • Malachite Kingfishers
  • Jacanas, and others

Lake Ihema is also surrounded by the large seasonal as well as the perennial papyrus swamps which are significant habitats to Akagera National Park animals. You can take a boat safari within Akagera Park along Lake Ihema.

What to do in Akagera National Park?

There are several activities in Akagera National Park. The top things to do in Akagera National Park include;

  1. Game drives (day and night)
  2. Lake Ihema Boat Trips
  3. Bird watching
  4. Behind-the-Scenes Tour
  5. Walk The Line Tour
  6. Fishing trips
  7. Cultural visits

Game Drives in Akagera Park

Safari game drives are the main tourist activity in Akagera National Park that should not be missed by a traveler planning his/her travel to Rwanda.

Both day and night games are done in Akagera where visitors have the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife. Games drives in the Akagera National Park are best done in a 4×4 safari jeep.

The wildlife in Akagera National Park has increased over time and the recent population census estimated that the National Park is now home to over 8000 large mammals.

Lions and Rhinos have been recently introduced into the park. There are over 120 elephants and 3000 buffaloes. Lions are remarkably relaxed, but sightings are hit-and-miss.

The harbors a variety of plains animals, including Burchell’s zebras and Masai giraffes. Akagera host 11 antelope species and the most commonly seen within the park are the gracious impalas, but of particular interest are the big herds of topi.

Defassa waterbucks are commonly seen near the lakes and bushbuck is a widespread resident in the woodland areas.

The shy sitatunga antelopes are known to inhabit the swamps. All these can be seen on a game drive on a Guided day game drive.

Boat Trips in Akagera

A boat cruise is the nicest way to explore the secrets of Akagera National Park while on Rwanda tours. The park authorities can organize a boat trip on Lake Ihema to see the hippo pods and Nile crocodiles the lake.

For birdwatching ensuthiasts, a boat cruise in Akagera National Park is a must. It offers a great opportunity to view the park’s abundant waterbirds. These include swamp flycatchers, African fishing eagles, African darters, and breeding colonies of noisy and smelly cormorants and open-bill storks.

Bird Watching in the Park

Akagera National Park offers an exceptional birding experience with almost 480 bird species documented  including several endemics, more than 40 different kinds of raptors, and, in wetland areas, the much sought-after shoebill.

Akagera is the best destination for bird-watching safaris in Rwanda after Nyungwe National Park.

The park contains a variety of lakes and swamps that host numerous birds such as the African fish eagles, kingfishers, herons, ibises, storks, egrets, crakes, rails, cormorants, darts, pelicans, barbets, shrikes, orioles, weavers.

Birding in Akagera can be done on a game drive, or via a boat trip (on Lake NIhema). Birding guides can be arranged at the park’s office.

Behind the Scenes Tour in Akagera Park

Akagera National Park Behind-the-Scenes Tour is one of the most innovative and exciting Rwanda safari activities. While undertaking this activity, visitors will meet and talk to rangers, antipoaching patrols, and community-projects managers.

It is a delightful insight into the often very political world of modern wildlife conservation in East Africa and the day-to-day running of a protected area.

It is arranged through the park office and you need to give at least a day or so notice. The tour lasts about 90 minutes.

Walk The Line Tour Around Akagera Park

The 120km-long boundary fence of the park is patrolled by a team of rangers daily. Visitors on Rwanda wildlife safaris in Akagera also have the chance to walk in their shoes for 7km.

Guided by a freelance guide from a nearby village, the walk begins at the park entrance.  It lasts approximately 2 hours depending on your pace and costs US$30 (minimum of three people).

The walk is moderately difficult beginning from the Park gate. You will then gently slope, meeting lots of colorful birds and cattle herd men and farmers along the way ready for the day’s activities.

The fence goes continues up to the top of a hill along the ridge which offers fantastic views of the park.

Fishing Trips in Akagera

Akagera National Park offers an opportunity to participate in fishing activities for the whole day for travelers interested in fishing on Rwanda vacations.

Fishing is carried from the shores of Lake Shakuni, one of the several lakes found in the park. Visitors can catch fish like tilapia, catfish, and others.

Fishing in Akagera National Park also offers the traveler on a Rwanda safari tour an opportunity to learn about the various methods of fishing that are used in Rwanda. These include the gill net, cast net, scoop net, spearing and shoot arrow, lampara, and hooking methods.

While fishing, you can enjoy a cold drink, and listen to folk songs and tales or stories told by local fishermen.

When you do sport fishing in Akagera, you get to keep what you fish. If you feel like cooking it, you might start a fire and roast it at lunchtime.

Cultural Visits at Akagera National Park

Working with local communities and Akagera staff, the Community Freelance Guides have developed several cultural experiences to share with visitors on Rwanda safari tours.

During your Rwanda cultural tours at Akagera, you will learn about how to milk cows and traditions around cattle and milk on a farm in the Eastern Province. You can spend time with banana beer and honey artisans and see how local brews are made.

All revenues generated by these visits are shared with members of the communities you visit. Each of these Rwanda tours gives a glance into the life in communities around the park.

You can help in preparing a local meal and engaging in a traditional Rwandan dance. Each of the cultural tours will take you only three hours.

The income from these activities is shared with the participating community members. It gives families living along the boundary of the park additional revenue directly through tourism. This demonstrates the benefits of tourism creating long-term support for the conservation of Akagera National Park.

Rules & Regulations in Akagera Park

  • You must present all necessary documents at the Akagera park entry point.
  • Firearms are prohibited in the park.
  • Pets are not allowed in the park. These include dogs, cats, snakes, etc.
  • The park opens for day visitors at 6 am and closes at 6 pm.
  • Driving off the designated trucks is prohibited. The fine is 100$.
  • Avoid making motor horns while in the park. When caught 100$
  • Drivers are strictly ordered to drive below 40km/hr. (25mph)
  • Visitors are cautioned to remain in a vehicle while in the park.
  • Littering in the park is not allowed.
  • Bush camping is prohibited. Only camp in designated areas.
  • Please, avoid feeding animals.
  • You are cautioned from plucking leaves, and flowers or uprooting plants in the park.
  • It’s your responsibility to have a stead vehicle. In the event of a breakdown, you are charged USD 150 to cater for it.

What to Wear During a Rwanda Safari In Akagera

Are you wondering what to wear when going for your African safari in Akagera National Park?

Look nowhere, we have got everything for you that you will need to wear and enjoy your ultimate safari.

As you know, every wear that you put on depends on the day or where you are going. There is wear suitable for office, culture, dinner, weddings and many occasions.

Forget all that and what you have had on what to wear while on an African safari. This is the ultimate guide on what to wear when going for a safari in Akagera National Park.

However, each wear depends on the weather conditions in the park.

  1. Light hiking Shoes or boots
  2. Light Long Sleeved Shirts and Trousers
  3. A hat
  4. Sunglasses
  5. Garden Gloves
  6. Light woolen Stockings
  7. Sandals
  8. Buff

What to Carry/Packing List For a Rwanda Safari In Akagera

Are you planning to visit Rwanda Akagera National Park? If yes, there are key items you need to carry when embarking on an African safari to Kagera National Park.

There are essential items that you require to enjoy a true wildlife safari in Rwanda’s savannah national park.

We have used essential! That’s right, you don’t need to pack everything, you need to travel light and simple but on point.

Below, we have compiled the most important key items that you can carry when visiting Akagera National Park.

  1. Light Day Backpack
  2. A pair of Binoculars
  3. A good camera with extra batteries
  4. Poncho/ Rain Jacket
  5. Insect Repellent
  6. Sunscreen
  7. Refillable Water bottles
  8. Backpack
  9. Walking sticks
  10. Swimming suits
  11. Personal First Aid kit
  12. Toiletries
  13. Led torches/ Headlamps
  14. Personal Medication
  15. Charging Accessories
  16. Wildlife Guide Books
  17. Exchanged money in Rwanda’s Currency

Get to know more about each item in detail and why you need to carry it.

Accommodation in Akagera National Park?

Akagera National Park has five accommodation choices that offer excellent services to visitors during their tour in Rwanda.

Accommodation in Akagera National Park ranges from luxury to midrange and budget options and they include safari lodges, safari camps, and campsites.

Below are the best Akagera National Park accommodation options;

  • Magashi Camp−Luxury
  • Akagera Game Lodge−Luxury
  • Ruzizi Tented Lodge−Midrange
  • Karenge Bush Camp−Midrange
  • Akagera National Park camping−Budget

Best Time When to Visit Akagera in Rwanda 

Akagera can be visited throughout the year.

Visiting Akagera Park in the Dry season (June to September)

  • This is the best time of year for wildlife viewing in Akagera National Park
  • Animals are very easy to see since the bush thins out and wildlife tends to concentrate around the lakes.
  • There is almost no rain and the skies are bright
  • There are fewer mosquitoes and thus malaria risk reduces
  • However, conditions are dry and dusty, and the sky can be hazy

Visiting Akagera in Wet Season (October to May)

  • Akagera National Park scenery is green and lush during the wet season
  • Birdlife is abundant, this is the best birdwatching time in the park
  • However, rain often interferes with activities in the park
  • Animal viewing in Akagera National Park during the wet season is not as good as during the dry season

How to Get to Akagera National Park?

  • For any traveler planning to visit Rwanda, Kigali International Airport (KGL) is the main entry point.
  • There are various international airlines that operate flights to Kigale including Ethiopian Airlines, RwandAir, Kenya Airways, Brussels Airlines, KLM, Qatar Airways, and Turkish Airlines
  • The airport is located 10 kilometers from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Your local Rwanda safari tour operator will usually arrange for you to be picked up at the airport and will take care of all further transportation as part of your Rwanda safari package.
  • Akagera National Park is located in the east of the country, 120km from Kigali. A trip to Rwanda’s Akagera Park by road takes about 2-3 hours and Akagera is easily accessed as part of a 4×4 tour of the country, including a driver-guide.
  • There are no domestic flights to Akagera, but Akagera Aviation offers charter helicopter transfers to anywhere in the country. The flight from Kigali to Akagera National Park takes 22 minutes.

What to do in Akagera

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