Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park in Rwanda is the largest protected wetland in Central Africa, as well as the last remaining home for savannah-adapted species in Rwanda. After the Rwanda Genocide that claimed many lives in the country, the locals that were returning from other countries from which they sought refuge embarked on deforestation to get timber, wildlife for food and also encroached on the forest to graze their livestock. Lions in Akagera National Park were hunted to extinction; rhinos that were abundant in the park disappeared and the wildlife in the park was lost in great numbers, leaving Akagera in demise of its former glory of its great biodiversity and abundant wildlife. Over the years, however, Akagera National Park retained its glory slowly for the much efforts put in by the Rwanda Development Board and the halting of poaching in the park.
The Park currently covers a total area of about 2500 square kilometres and is found in the eastern part of Rwanda. The park is named after the Kagera River that flows along Rwanda’s eastern border with Tanzania feeding into Lake Ihema and other smaller lakes in and around the park. The Park is mostly savannah land, and therefore has savannah landscapes including acacia and bushes with patches of open grassland. Akagera National Park has a number of swampy lakes, and its biodiversity is one to appreciate in the country. The park has a variety of flora and fauna that travellers can see while on a wildlife safari in the park.
Animals in Akagera National Park
Animals in Akagera are various in number and it inhabits a number of large mammals too though some like rhinos had gone extinct in the park but upon re-introduction in 2017, they can now be seen in the park. Lions which had got extinct in the park were also re-introduced in 2015. The abundant wildlife in Akagera includes buffaloes, African elephants, giraffes, zebras, hyenas, lions, and various antelopes like topis, oribis, duikers, the cape eland, impala, and roan antelope, among so many others. While at Lake Ihema, travellers can see large schools of hippos and crocodiles as they bask in the sun in the lake. Primates like the vervet monkeys, bush babies, and olive baboons can also be seen in Akagera.
Birds in Akagera National Park
There are about 500 species of birds in Akagera National Park, making it a hotspot for bird watching in Rwanda. Akagera National Park is an Important Birding Area in Rwanda. Among the birds in Akagera National Park that travellers are sure to encounter are the African wattled, Plover, Giant Kingfisher, the shoebill stork, Senegal Lapwings, African openbill stork, Grey Crowned Crane, African Darter, Hamerkop, Sacred and Hadada Ibis, Long-crested Eagle, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Augur Buzzard, among so many others.
All these birds and animals in Akagera can be seen as well other attractions in the park like Lake Ihema and other small lakes and swamps, on various activities in the park.
Activities in Akagera National Park
Game drives in Akagera
Game drives are probably the most done tourist activities in Akagera National Park. Game drives in Akagera National Park just like in other parks in Africa are done while in a safari vehicle perfect for game viewing and photography. Game drives in Akagera can be done early in the morning for travellers to have an opportunity to spot wildlife like leopards, lions and hyenas as they return from their nocturnal drills. Morning game drives in Akagera National Park also give travellers an opportunity to encounter other animals in the park as they leave their sleeping areas to head out for the day. Travellers should look out for the various wildlife in the park while on a game drive in Akagera, like buffaloes, antelopes, zebras and giraffes among so many others.
Bird watching in Akagera is very rewarding not with the abundant species of birds that roam the park. Akagera National Park is an Important Birding Area in Rwanda from where many travellers after bird watching specifically go to. With about 500 species of birds in Akagera Park, birders are sure to enjoy their time while in the park and spot a number of them. Endangered bird species like the papyrus gonolek and the shoebill stork can be spotted while bird watching in Akagera. Other bird species that travellers can see are the Senegal Lapwings, African open bill stork, Grey Crowned Crane, African Darter, Hamerkop, Sacred and Hadada Ibis among so many others. Bird watching in Akagera National Park can be done while on a game drive, nature walks as well as while on a boat safari on Lake Ihema. Birders in the company of bird guides are more likely to spot many species of birds for they are knowledgeable of not only the birds but routes or trails to take to find them.
Boat safaris on Lake Ihema
Lake Ihema is in Akagera National Park. Taking boat safaris on Lake Ihema is one of the best ways to spend an afternoon or evening in Akagera. Boat safaris on Lake Ihema reward travellers with sights of aquatic birds and animals like hippos and crocodiles. Travellers can also spot a number of animals taking shade in the nearby trees at the shores of the lake as some of them take an afternoon drink.
Sport fishing in Akagera National Park is done on Lake Shakani. Travellers intending to take part in sport fishing are required to book with the park first. Sport fishing in Akagera is basically about catching and releasing the fish but travellers can be allowed to take one catch for a meal if at all interested.
Nature walks in Akagera National Park are done through the developed trails in the park. Nature walks are done in the guidance and presence of game rangers. Nature walks in the park give travellers an opportunity to explore the park extensively and see more of it, including little hidden gems that could otherwise have been missed.
Cultural encounters near Akagera National Park give travellers an opportunity to experience a typical Rwandan way of life. Cultural encounters are in the cattle keeping communities that are near the park, from where travellers get to observe or if interested take part in various activities that the locals are doing at the moment say cattle grazing, milking, traditionally store milk in calabashes, cultivating, among others. Travellers can also engage in the preparation of food locally just like the indigenous Rwandese do it, and thereafter enjoy the meal if interested. These cultural encounters are very authentic and are a great way of learning of the locals’ way of life.
When to visit Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park can be visited all year long. Travellers however are most advised to visit during the dry season which also doubles as the peak season for the roads are more passable in the park. Some travellers however do not mind the slippery nature of the roads in the park during the rainy season and actually choose to visit Akagera National Park then. Irrespective of when you choose to visit the park though, you will enjoy your stay.
How to get to Akagera
Getting to Akagera National Park is not so hard for even with public means it can be reached. The Park is only about 2 hours away from Kigali city by road. Travellers drive through Rwamagana town to the park, and use the northern gate to get inside the park. Chartering flights to the park can also be done for those not interested in taking the 2 hours’ drive. Akagera Aviation is the best option for those intending to fly into Akagera.
Accommodation in Akagera caters for all sorts of travellers from basic to luxury. There are various lodging options in and outside the park that travellers can choose from including Magashi Lodge, Ruzizi Tented Camp, Akagera Game Lodge, among so many others.
With all the beauty and various park activities in Akagera, travellers are sure to enjoy their stay while in the park. Travellers can have their Akagera Park safari combined with other Rwanda destinations like Volcanoes National Park for a gorilla trekking safari, Nyungwe Forest National Park for a chimpanzee tracking experience as well as enjoy a canopy walk experience in the park. Travellers could also combine a Rwanda Safari with a Congo Safari for an opportunity to enjoy gorilla trekking in the two countries as well as seeing the eastern lowland gorillas that are endemic only in the Congo. Take time to reach out to a reputable tour operator to help you plan a memorable Rwanda safari tour to visit Akagera.