Akagera National Park is on the border of Tanzania at a relatively low altitude and is more hilly then most national parks in Rwanda’s neighbouring countries. The park is creatively carved with a labyrinth of swamps that flow into the Akagera River. The park is greatly characterized by the savannah landscape, acacia woodland and open grassland.
The park is located to the Eastern province of Rwanda about two hours away form Kigali. The road is mostly paved until about a half hour before you get to the park when things get a bit bumpy and dusty… to get you ready for the park experience! Akagera is home to elephant, buffalo, giraffe and zebras, more then a dozen types of antelope species, and elusive lions and leopards. If you’ve been on game drives in places like Kenya or South Africa then you probably won’t be all that impressed with Rwanda’s little park. The animals aren’t nearly as plentiful as they are in the Serengeti’s of the world, but a trip to the park makes for a great day or overnight trip away from Kigali.
Akagera is a great spot for bird watching types with about 525 Species of birds (four of which are endemic) as well as a large number of migrant birds. The elusive Shoebill Stork can be spotted here along with the endangered and exquisite Papyrus Gonolek.
You can also take a boat ride for $30, hike a birding trail, do some fishing or, if you spend the night in the park, go on a night game drive.
Camping is a marvelous experience but beware of roving gangs of baboons. They’re cheeky and will do their best to steal your food and terrorize you just because they’re jerks and have weird bums. But spending the night around the campfire with a group of friends, some beers and the wide open sky makes for a great break from city life.
The campsite overlooks the mighty Akagera River which is populated by pods of hippopotamus and lazy, oversized crocodiles soaking in the sun… from a nice, safe distance. The views are great, it’s peaceful and, lets face it, camping in a game park with wild animals roaming in the bush is pretty damned cool.
If roughing it while evading baboons isn’t really your thing then you’d probably prefer to stay at the Akagera Game Lodge, the only other accommodation option in the park. As we only stopped there for lunch I didn’t get a look at the rooms, but the pool area was beautiful and the lodge seemed pretty nice. Nothing too flashy and fairly simple… but good enough, I thought. A single room in the in the lodge costs Rwf 37,650 and doubles go for Rwf 47,650. They’ve got the pool, tennis courts, business facilities and offer a variety of wildlife activities including fishing, game drives and bird watching trips. The lodge isn’t far from the main entrance to the park but being able to cut out the to hour drive to and from Kigali will mean more time to explore.
You could probably hitch your way to the entrance of the park. Or take a bus to Kayonza District before hopping on a moto for a crazy, dusty ride… but it wouldn’t make much sense since you’ll need a vehicle once you actually get to the park. A game drive on a moto, while it would be interesting experience and a hell of a story, probably isn’t the best of ideas.
So do like everyone else and hire a vehicle in Kigali for the trip. You can drive yourself through the park (if you want to pick up a guide at the information centre to lead you around and spot for animals make sure to leave space for him in your car) or you can hire a driver in Kigali to make the trip for you.
We opted to hire a car and driver for the three of us which cost US$200. This included the car, the driver and petrol. We had to pay the park entrance on arrival which was US$20 each plus a mysterious extra $10 fee which might have been for our driver or the fee for our guide, I never did ask. We were in a Rav4 which was pretty cramped with three of us in the back and the park guide in the front. But we got out several times to stretch and I don’t think we had too many problems seeing things. An open-topped safari style vehicle would be a lot better but also a lot more expensive. Most places quote $500 for these trucks.