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Situated within the Eastern side of Rwanda is the spectacular Akagera National Park extending for over 1122 square kilometers and one of Rwanda’s most popular destinations. Gazetted in 1934, this magnificent Park was named after the Kagera River draining through the eastern edge of the country into the popular Lake Ihema (found in the Park) as well as other tinny Lakes.

Akagera National Park prides in its complex system of Lakes as well as connecting Papyrus swamps that make the Park the largest protected wetland in East and Central Africa. At the time of establishment, this Park covered an area of 2500 square kilometers but years of encroachment have greatly contributed to its current size. It also protects a typical African savannah ecosystem with acacia species as well as bush land dotted with open grassland as well as dozen of swampy Lakes.

Akagera National Park just like most African Protected Areas has suffered conservation challenges resulting from poaching, civil wars and encroachment on the Park’s boundaries. However, the Government of Rwanda through partnerships with several International Conservation Organizations/Agencies has worked towards its restoration. Animals that once lived in the Park such as Black Rhinos, lions, Masai giraffes and many others have been re-introduced into the Park through the years. Also, in 2010 Rwanda Development Board entered into a 20-year renewable agreement with African Parks network for the joint management of the Park.

Attractions in Akagera National Park

Akagera National Park’s magnificent landscape houses hundreds of wildlife species, plethora of birdlife and numerous Lakes that have surprisingly kept thousands of tourists visiting the destination.

Wildlife

The diverse ecosystem of Akagera National Park that includes vast savannah plains, rolling hills as well as wetland-fringed Lakes shelter unsurpassed diversity of wildlife species that cannot be found in other places of the country. The Park is a haven to big five animals (leopards, buffaloes, lions, elephants and Rhinos) in addition to the warthogs, Bohor reedbucks, Topis, Rothschild giraffes, zebras, spotted hyenas, Oribis, side-striped jackals, Impalas, olive baboons, blue monkeys, serval cats, mongoose, Hippos, vervet monkeys, bushbucks, elands, Defassa waterbucks, Duikers, Klipspringer, Roan antelopes and many others.

Birdlife

When it comes to avifauna, there are over 480 bird species in Akagera National Park occupying the savannah, forest galore, wetlands, Lakes and other ecosystems of the Park. Notable species include the Water thick-knee, Hammerkop, Senegal Lapwings, shoebill storks, grey-crowned cranes, giant kingfishers, papyrus gonolek, swamp flycatcher, African fish eagles, the red-faced barbets, Long-crested Eagles, Pied crows, African wattled plovers, grey-backed Fiscals and Hadada Ibis among others.

Lakes

On top of animals and birds, Akagera National Park is comprised of several swamp-fringed Lakes, of which Lake Ihema is the largest in the Park and second largest in the country. This Lake is where most of the Park’s watersports take place. Other Lakes include Lakes Gishanju, Rwanyakizinga, Mihindi and Shakani among others.

Tourist activities in Akagera National Park

Game drives

Game drives in Akagera National Park are the perfect way to explore the best of Rwanda’s savannah wildlife species and this Park is the only destination in the country to see the magical zebras, impalas, Topis, Kobs, Rothschild giraffes and the big five animals among others. If you undertake the night or early morning game drives, you are likely to see the hunters such as leopards, spotted hyenas and lions. Other animals spotted during this activity are bushbucks, Defassa waterbucks, Oribis, Roan antelopes, Mongoose, giant elands, warthogs and many others.

Boat cruises

Boat cruises in Akagera National Park are conducted on Lake Ihema, the largest Lake in the Park and second largest in the country. While on the 3-4 hours’ boat cruise, keep a close look on the Hippos, Nile crocodiles, Elephants, buffaloes and Kobs in addition to the African fish eagles, Malachite Kingfishers, Hammerkop, Pied Kingfishers and Herons among others.

Guided nature walks

Akagera National Park has several spectacular sights that can be well explored up-close. These guided nature walks offer chances of exploring the extraordinary bird species, butterflies, unique plant species, smaller animals such as the Mongoose and many other attractions.

Bird watching

With over 480 species of birds occupying various ecosystems, Akagera National Park is a dream birding destination in Rwanda. Surprisingly, it is possible to see at least half the Park’s bird species in a single trip but the shoebill stork is every birder’s must-see specie. Other bird species to look-out for are Senegal Lapwings, shoebill storks, long-tailed cisticola, Papyrus gonolek, grey-crowned cranes, giant kingfishers, papyrus gonolek, swamp flycatcher, African fish eagles, the red-faced barbets, Long-crested Eagles, Pied crows and many others.

Sport fishing

For tourists interested in sport fishing, Akagera National Park is one of the few places offering sport fishing opportunities in Rwanda and is conducted in Lake Shakani. The commonly caught fish species here are Cat fish and Tilapia, and besides the fish you are likely to see other wildlife species of the Park such as Hippos, Kobs and waterbucks among others.

Camping

Might as Camping is a form of accommodation, it is also an important tourist activity and if your idea of a safari is spending night/s within the wilderness with Campfires, then Rwanda’s Akagera National Park is where you have to be. There are currently three Campsites that offer basic facilities such as solar-heated showers, running water, flushing toilets and most interestingly reward tourists with the jaw-dropping views of some of the Park’s Lakes, rolling grassland hills and spectacular savannah plains and many other features.

Cultural tours

Cultures tours around Akagera National Park are organized within typical Rwandan communities and focus on local beer production, culture of cattle, arts and crafts as well as food and festivities. For your cultural tours you will be visiting the Imigongo Art and Craft Center that take tourists through the heritage of the people (cattle rearing) to see how cows are milked locally, processed into ghee, local production (banana beer and honey) and many other activities.

Helicopter rides

Helicopter rides are conducted from Kigali to Akagera National Park and offer the perfect aerial view of the Park including the animals, Lakes, savannah plains, forest and wetland among others.

Best time to visit Akagera National Park

Akagera National Park can be visited all year round but the best time to enjoy the Park’s activities is during the dry season-January, February, June, July, August, mid-September and December because it is easier to spot the wildlife as they tend to gather or be concentrated around the water points.  The rainy season-March, April, May, October, and November are avoided because routes/paths within the Park are impassable yet is perfect for birding.

Where to stay

Places to stay in Akagera National Park are grouped into Luxury, midrange and budget/basic facilities that include Karenge Bush Camp, Akagera Game Lodge, Dereva Hotel, Ruzizi Tented Lodge and the three   Campsites (Shakani, Mutumba). Besides the accommodation facilities within the Park, cheaper and exquisite Lodges are just a stone throw away from the Park and they include Manor Hotel, Cari Hotel, Umubano Hotel and Seeds of Hope Guesthouse among others.

How to get there

Akagera National Park is situated within the Eastern part of Rwanda, approximately 120 kilometers and two and a half hours’ drive from the City of Kigali. The Park is currently mainly accessed by Road transport because there are no domestic flights to the destination. However, charter Helicopter transfers taking only 22 minutes can be organized by the Akagera Aviation.

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