Akagera National Park is in the Northeast of Rwanda measuring over 1,200 square km. After being decimated by high levels of poaching following the return of refugees and farmers after the 1994 Genocide, the park has been revived and is now the only 'Big 5' reserve in the country. Its inspiring conservation journey has seen the reintroduction of black rhinos in 2017, lions in 2015, and other game animals over the years.
The mass return of people who had fled the country in 1994 saw a large portion of the park's land handed over to people to farm. Conservation was not a high priority at this time and poaching took its toll on the park's wildlife including game species for bushmeat, elephants for ivory, and rhino. Lions were hunted out to keep livestock safe. The elephant and game populations vastly reduced and rhinos were last seen in 1997.
In 2010 African Parks assumed management of Akagera in partnership with the Rwanda Development Board. An overhaul of law enforcement and community engagement significantly reduced poaching to an all-time low. An anti-poaching canine unit was trained and deployed in 2015. A solar-powered fence was constructed to reduce human-wildlife conflict in the areas surrounding the park. Akagera is now Central Africa's largest protected wetland and the last remaining refuge for savannah species in Rwanda.
Tourism has significantly increased thanks to these changes and saw 44,000 visitors in 2018, enabling the park to be 80% self-financing - an incredible feat given its history.
The park has a vast diversity of habitats including mountains, lakes, savannah, woodland, and wetlands. Its rolling mountains offer amazing views over the lakes and rivers.
Flora and fauna
Akagera offers an exceptional birding experience for birders. Over 480 species have been recorded in the park including the Shoebill and several endemic species.
The park is home to the 'Big 5' - lion, black rhino, buffalo, elephant, and leopard. Other species include a variety of antelope, giraffe, monkeys, zebra, hyaenas, and many smaller carnivore species.
Despite Rwanda's location so close to the equator, its higher elevation gives it a relatively temperate and stable climate. The wet reasons mainly runs from March - May and again October - November. The long dry season, June - September, is generally the warmest with the wet seasons cooling it down. Average annual rainfall is about 750 mm and average daily temperatures range between 24 and 28.
Fees and permits
Day visitors are welcome to the park. Fees are US$50 per person plus a vehicle fee of 10,000 RWF (US$11) for locally registered vehicles.
These daily rates are included within your cost of accommodation if you are staying inside the park.
You can rent a car in Kigali and make the 2 hour drive to the park yourself. If you are staying at a lodge in the park, game drives and walking safaris are offered as part of your stay.
Boat trips are available on Lake Ihema. These can safely get you close to hippos and crocodiles as well as an immersive birding experience on the water. Scheduled trips run four times per day and private trips can be arranged.
Fishing on Lake Shakani is an available option. Note that your own equipment is required.
African Parks offers a 'behind the scenes' look into conservation developments in the park. You can take a tour of the park headquarters and meet some of the park's management team. This is open to anyone but is designed for educational groups or special interest travellers. In addition to this, you can experience the life of a fence attendant and walk a 7 km section of the fence line with a ranger.
While day drives are a great option to see a range of wildlife, night drives - operated by the park or lodge - gives you an entirely different experience and a higher chance of seeing predators.
Akagera's success is largely due to its collaboration with the surrounding communities. The Community Freelance Guide programme has developed cultural experiences to share with park visitors. You can visit a farm for milking and learn about the culture and traditions around this or visit a banana-beer maker or honey cooperative to see how these products are made locally and sold.
Magashi Camp, run by Wilderness Safaris, is a stunning luxury lodge overlooking the beautiful Lake Rwanyakazinga. Opened in the beginning of 2019, its six spacious tents mean this lodge will never feel crowded. Rates start at US$470 per person per night sharing in the low season.
Ruzizi Tented Lodge, run by the park itself, overlooks Lake Ihema. The nine widely-spaced tents blend into the surrounding environment, making you feel intensely close to nature. The lodge is entirely solar-powered and prides itself on being environmentally-conscious. Rates start at US$195 per person per night sharing for international guests.
Akagera Game Lodge is a more contemporary option to stay within the park. Rates start at US$190 per person per night sharing for international guests.
Karenge Bush Camp is run by the park itself. Rates start at US$175 per person per night sharing for international guests.
There are three campsite options available within the park - Muyumbu, Shakani, and Mutamba. All are available for prices starting at $25 per person per night. Tents are available for hire at reception and firewood is provided but guests are asked to bring their own camping equipment and supplies.
A new walking trail is to be opened in 2020 during a short season every year - August through October. Trail de Akagera, run by Africa Trails Co. in partnership with Akagera Game Lodge, is a 5-day backpacking trail led by a highly skilled and experienced guide. You carry everything with you and it's doubtful you'll see another soul on your journey through the park. This is an incredible way to truly experience this breathtaking landscape and its wildlife.
Rwanda prides itself on being one of the safest countries in Africa. Crime levels are low, however visitors should take normal safety precautions.
Malaria is endemic to the country and precautions should be taken. Visitors require a yellow fever vaccine certificate to enter the country. Tsetse flies are present in the park but no known cases of sleeping sickness have occurred in Akagera.
Drinking of tap water is advised against. Bottled water is widely available.