What to see & do in Akagera National park

Akagera National Park

Akagera is one of the four National Parks, and undoubtedly one of the unmissable safari destinations in Rwanda. For big game safaris and unmatched wilderness experiences, this Protected Area is the answer. Akagera National Park at the Eastern side of Rwanda is beautiful Akagera National Park extending for over 433 square miles/112200 hectares and is one of the country’s most renowned safari destinations. At the time it was gazetted, this Park covered an area of 965 square miles but due to several years of encroachment, it has tremendously reduced in size.

Vegetation of Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park’s 433-square mile size protects a typical African savannah ecosystem with acacia species and bushlands that are dotted with open grassland and dozens of swampy vegetation. It also has a complex system of Lakes and connecting Papyrus swamps that make it Central Africa’s largest protected wetland and the last remaining refuge for savannah-adapted species in the country. There are also montane forests, woodlands, and Rivers (Kagera River that drains through the Park along its Eastern boundary with Tanzania).

Akagera became a National Park in 1934 and was named after the Kagera River that drains through the eastern border of Rwanda with Tanzania, into Lake Ihema and other smaller Lakes.
Like most African Protected Areas, Akagera National Park has suffered a number of conservation setbacks such as encroachment into its boundaries, poaching, civil wars, and animal extinction. However, partnerships between the Rwandan Government and different International Conservation Organizations have been fundamental in the restoration of this Park to its former glory. In so doing, the wildlife that once called this Park home like the lions, Black and white Rhinos, Masai giraffes and many others have been re-introduced through the years. The year 2010 also saw Rwanda Development Board enter into a 20-year renewable agreement with the African Parks network for the effective and sustainable management of Akagera National Park.

Akagera National Park attractions
The diverse vegetation of Akagera National Park shelters different wildlife species, and a number of bird species, which are fundamental to the beauty and attractiveness of Akagera National Park
Akagera’s vast savannah plains, stunning rolling hills, and wetland-fringed Lakes are home to lots of wildlife species, many of which only live here and nowhere else in the country. It’s only here that you will see the big five game (Rhinos, leopards, buffaloes, lions, and elephants). Also sheltered in this National Park are bushbucks, serval cats, zebras, Duikers, mongoose, elands, olive baboons, Masai giraffes, Impalas, Defassa waterbucks, Klipspringer, side-striped jackals, Hippos, Topis, warthogs, blue monkeys, Roan antelopes Bohor reedbucks, vervet monkeys spotted hyenas, Oribis, to mention but a few.

Bird species
Akagera National Park’s savannah, montane forests, Bushlands, woodlands, wetlands, Lakes and other ecosystems offer shelter to over 500 species of birds. These include African fish eagles, papyrus gonolek, grey-crowned cranes, red-faced barbets, Hadada Ibis, Senegal Lapwings, Water thick-knee, giant kingfishers, grey-backed Fiscals, Hammerkop, Lilac-breasted rollers, Bateleur, Ross Turaco, African harrier hawks, pied crows, Long-crested Eagles, shoebill storks, , swamp flycatcher, Pied crows, African wattled plovers, to mention but a few.

Stunning Lakes
While most travelers are drawn to the diverse wildlife and bird species of Akagera National Park, the photographers are nature lovers cant resists the stunning Lakes. The Park’s swamp-fringed Lakes are simply unmissable. Lake Ihema is the largest Lake in this Park and surprisingly the second largest in the country. This is where boat cruises are undertaken. Other beautiful Lakes are Shakani, Rwanyakazinga, Gishanju and Mihindi among others.

Exciting Tourist activities in Akagera National Park

Hot air balloon Tours
Introduced in January 2022, Hot air balloon tours in Akagera National Park are operated by Royal Balloons and offer visitors the opportunity to explore the beauty of this Park. With this activity, it is possible to take in the scenic views of the different ecosystems- Lakes, Plains, savannah, and forests along with the animals. This is one of the ways to reach some of the remote areas that aren’t reachable through other activities such as game drives and nature walks.

Game drives
Another amazing way to discover the beauty of Akagera National Park is undertaking a game drive through some of the well-maintained game tracks to see the majestic zebras, lions, Masai giraffes, impalas, Topis, Kobs, leopards, Rhinos, elephants, buffaloes, and many others.
Early morning and evening/night game drives introduce you to nocturnal wildlife such as serval cats, leopards, jackals, spotted hyenas, and lions. Other unmissable species are giant elands, bushbucks, Roan antelopes, Defassa waterbucks, warthogs, Oribis, and Mongoose, mostly spotted during day game drives.

Boat cruises
The best way to see the Hippos and Crocodiles of Akagera National Park is by taking part in Boat Cruises, conducted on Lake Ihema, the largest Lake in the Park. During this 3-4 hours’ boat cruise, you will also see herds of Elephants, Cape buffaloes, and antelopes, as well as bird species such as papyrus gonolek, African fish eagles, pelicans, Malachite Kingfishers, Hammerkop, giant and Pied Kingfishers, to mention but a few.

Guided bush walks
There is no better way to get up close to nature and see the smaller creatures of Akagera National Park than undertaking bush walks. In so doing, lots of bird species, smaller wildlife species, butterflies, and outstanding plant species will be spotted during the bush walks. Don’t worry about safety because the activity is undertaken in the presence of an armed Park Ranger and an experienced guide.

With the highest ever-recorded bird species in the country, Akagera National Park is simply unmissable during birding tours. Don’t be surprised to see at least half the Park’s bird species in a single birding trip. Always look out for the shoebill storks, Senegal Lapwings, Papyrus gonolek, long-tailed Cisticola, giant and pied kingfishers, grey-crowned cranes, swamp flycatchers, African fish eagles, red-faced barbets, African jacana, Herons, Long-crested Eagles, Pelicans, Pied crows, Grey-crowned cranes, to mention but a few.

Sport fishing
Are you interested in sport fishing during your Rwanda safari and wondering how to go about it? This is possible within Akagera National Park and it is done in Lake Shakani. Cat fish and Tilapia, are the mostly caught species here but as you go about your activity, expect surprise visits from the Hippos, and antelopes.

Bush Camping
While Camping is a form of accommodation, it is also an adventure for many travelers as a way of experiencing the wilderness. Unforgettable experiences can be derived from any of the three Campsites and guests are provided basic facilities like running water, flush toilets, and solar-heated showers. Camping is provided while providing views of the rolling grassland hills, stunning Lakes, and savannah plains.

Community visits
Visiting the communities around Akagera National Park provide an insight into the culture of typical Rwandan rural areas, and these are centered around cattle rearing, local beer production, arts and crafts, preparation and savoring on traditional food as well as festivities. Our visitors get the chance to visit the Imigongo Art and Craft Center to learn about the heritage of the people (cattle rearing). Here, there is a chance to see how cows are milked locally, banana beer brewing, and honey harvesting, to mention but a few.

Helicopter Tours
Conducted by Akagera Aviation, the Helicopter tour start from Kigali International Airport and explores the country’s countryside to Akagera National Park while providing aerial view of the Park’s diverse vegetation, wildlife and so much more.

When to visit Akagera National Park

Akagera National Park has few but remarkable accommodation options that include Magashi Camp, Akagera Game Lodge, Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Karenge Bush Camp, Dereva Hotel, and Campsites (Shakani, Mutumba). Other places of stay worth trying are far from the Park and they include Umubano Hotel, Manor Hotel, and Cari Hotel among others.

Getting there
Set in the Eastern part of Rwanda, about 120 kilometers/two and a half hours’ drive from Kigali City is Akagera National Park. This is the most accessible Park in the country and because of this, day excursions are possible for travelers limited by time. Akagera is currently mainly accessed by Road transport because there are no domestic flights to the Park, although charter Helicopter transfers can be arranged (provided by Akagera Aviation, lasting only 22 minutes).

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