Akagera National Park Safari Guide
This 1,122-square-km (433-square-mile) park along Rwanda’s northeastern border with Tanzania is Africa safaris’ best-kept secret. You can experience prime wildlife viewing safari drives without a swarm of tourist vehicles disrupting your experience like it is in pioneer safari destinations. Although the density of animals doesn’t reach that of the Mara, a private safari in Akagera National Park is still much rewarding with all the Africa safari’ Big 5′ animals present.
Although some of the main species can be difficult to find on a typical safari game drive, Akagera safari is not for the tick-off-the-list traveler but a more laid-back kind of safari vacation adventure. Buffalo and elephants are common and easy to spot. Lions are remarkably relaxed, but sightings are not reliably good. The shy black rhino is the most recent addition of thirteen individuals. You can spot the timid leopards on guided night drives.
Akagera still retains a genuinely off-the-beaten-track character without the Big Five. There is plenty of wildlife to view like zebra, giraffe, baboon, warthog, and half-a-dozen antelope species, all reasonably visible and less skittish than one might expect. The most common throughout the park is the gracious impala, but the big herds of topi are of particular interest. Defassa waterbuck regularly graze around the lakes and bushbuck is a widespread resident in the woodland areas. Additionally, the lakes support some of the highest concentrations of hippos and large crocodiles on the continent.
Akagera National Park is Central Africa’s largest protected wetland encompassing a labyrinth of lakes and papyrus swamps teeming with hippos and crocodiles, plus savannas dotted by giraffes, zebras, elephants, and nearly a dozen varieties of antelope.
Akagera inspires a rebirth from the 90s violent history with the African Parks nonprofit organization taking center stage to reintroduce savannah-adapted species, the country’s only protected savanna environment. Animals that once roamed Akagera have since been reintroduced to the park, including lions and rhinoceroses. The borders encompass a labyrinth of lakes and papyrus swamps teeming with hippos and crocodiles, plus savannas dotted by giraffes, zebras, elephants, and nearly a dozen varieties of antelope.
The park is now home to Africa’s Big Five once more, and the park has a new thatch-roof reception center, a café, and a luxury tented lodge. It also offers camping facilities, guided game drives, boat cruises, and fishing trips.
Akagera is still off the main tourist circuit, receiving less attention from safari adventurers, though this will likely change in the coming years. Currently, if you’re seeking solitude and a one-on-one experience with nature, it doesn’t get better than Akagera National Park.
When To Go
Late June through early September is dry season and high season at Akagera National Park for a good reason: animals are easier to spot because the bush thins out and wildlife concentrates around the lakes.
The best weather for photography and nature gazing is from June to August when there’s the least rain. During June to September, it’s peak season, and the park is busiest at weekends. The low season is during March, April, October, and November; the rains are at their peak. However, showers generally arrive in the afternoon, leaving plenty of time for morning hiking and an outdoor lunch. Plus, you’ll enjoy less competition for tours and discounted rates at some hotels.
Getting There and Around
Akagera is 2½ hours from the capital Kigali. A local tour operator, like Nkuringo Safaris, can get you a four-by-four safari car for at least US$200 per day, including gas and a local professional driver-guide. Park entrance fees are US$40 per day. Self-drive visitors are encouraged to hire a park guide for a daily fee of US$30. Should you opt to forego the guide, pick up the helpful guidebook for US$3 from the reception center just inside the Kiyonza Entrance Gate. It takes approximately six hours to drive from the park’s southern entrance to the northernmost exit gate, so plan for a long day trip from Kigali or an overnight at one of the campsites.
WHERE TO STAY
Ruzizi Tented Lodge
From USD 320 Per person per night, sharing
Akagera visitors flock to this solar-powered tented lodge on the shores of Lake Ihema to commune with nature without foregoing warm showers, three-course meals, and a fully stocked bar. The lodge features hassle-free camping, excellent showers, and a beautiful communal deck with lakeside views. Due to surprise animal visits, wildlife may keep you up at night.
From USD 583 per person per night
Magashi Camp in the diverse north-eastern corner of Akagera National Park, overlooking beautiful Lake Rwanyakazinga, contains Six ravishing permanent safari tents that offer uninterrupted views over the lake. The camp’s main area comprises a luxurious lounge, dining and bar area, pool, and expansive viewing deck with a sociable fire pit. The architecture and interiors pay homage to traditional Rwandan culture.
Mantis Akagera Game Lodge
From USD 200 per person per night
Mantis Akagera Game Lodge stands on a hill at the southern tip of the Akagera National Park elevated above the savannah, with exceptional views of Lake Ihema. With 59 rooms, a conference venue, restaurant, bar, and a spectacular pool deck, the Lodge is perfect for large groups and families and feels like it was built for practicality rather than aesthetics, and is sorely lacking in character.
Visit Rwanda Q&A
Safety is a priority for most travelers, and Rwanda is one of the safest countries not just in Africa, but in the world: Rwanda handled the Covid-19 pandemic impressively with a 0.6% death rate and great standards of tour Rwanda operation that see the country growing back its visitors after the pandemic.
In 2015, the country ranked fifth globally and first on the continent in Gallup’s Law and Order Index, which measures how safe people feel walking home at night. Violent crime is near nonexistent, and the terrorist threats that have plagued other East African destinations in the past have not affected Rwanda since the genocide. Rwanda is safe to visit.
Must Read: Is it safe to travel to Rwanda
The following Rwanda entry requirements are mandatory for all inbound travellers:
- All travelers arriving in Rwanda must have a negative COVID-19 certificate. The only accepted test is a SARS-CoV 2 Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) performed within 120 hours of departure (meaning travelers must be tested and get results within 5 days of their first flight). Other tests, such as Rapid Diagnostics Test (RDTs), are not accepted.
- All travelers arriving in Rwanda must complete the passenger locator form and upload the COVID-19 test certificate prior to arrival. Please see passenger locator form and list of designated transit hotels on www.rbc.gov.rw.
- All travelers arriving or transiting through Rwanda will be screened upon entry and take a second RT-PCR test to confirm the negative results of the test done prior to arrival.
- All travelers are required to wait 24 hours for the results of their COVID-19 test in a designated transit hotel. All COVID-19 prevention measures announced by the Ministry of Health must be respected during waiting period.
- The Government of Rwanda has negotiated special rates at designated transit hotels for the 24 hour waiting period. Should a guest wish to remain in the hotel after.
Once at the hotel, the process is as following:
- Travelers will be tested for COVID-19 and there will be a medical team to assist for a total cost of 60 USD (includes 50 USD for the test and a medical service fee of 10 USD). For further information on payment method for COVID-19 test please visit www.rbc.gov.rw
- Test results will be received by SMS or email, and the turnaround time for results is 24hrs from the time a sample is collected.
- Upon receiving a negative test result, travelers will be invited to check out or may extend their stay in the same hotel at applicable hotel rates.
- If a traveler’s test result is positive for COVID-19 (even if asymptomatic) while in Rwanda, they will be treated as indicated in the National Covid-19 Management Guidelines until they have fully recovered, at their own cost. We encourage all travelers to have international travel insurance.
- All travelers departing from Rwanda must test negative for COVID-19. The only accepted test is a SARS-CoV 2 Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) performed within 120 hours before departure. Other tests, such as Rapid Diagnostics Test (RDTs), are not accepted. We encourage travelers to book and pay for their tests at least 2 days prior to departure through the online platform available on www.rbc.gov.rw
- Travelers from neighboring countries planning to start their international travel from Rwanda will be screened at points of entry and taken to transit hotels where samples will be taken for a COVID-19 test. They are requested to arrive at designated transit hotels at least 48 hours before departure where they will await their test results. There will be a medical team to assist for a total cost of 60 USD (includes 50 USD for the test and a medical service fee of 10 USD).
- If the traveler’s test results are positive for COVID-19 (even if asymptomatic) while in Rwanda, they will be treated as indicated in the National Covid-19 Management Guidelines until they have fully recovered, at their own cost. We encourage all travelers to have international travel insurance.
A direct flight to Kigali from London with Rwandair (a national carrier) takes about 9 hours 54 minutes and there are flights every day of the week. Other direct flights include Johannesburge, Amstadam, Istambul, Doha, Dubai and others. This was one of the reasons Rwanda is a destination of choice. The fact that you can take a direct flight to a travel destination is always very encouraging!
Foreigners who intend to visit Rwanda do not have to go through the hassle of applying for visas. With US$50 and a couple of questions, you get a visa once you arrive at Kigali International Airport. However, if you intend to do an East Africa tour, there is the option of purchasing a single tourist visa for Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya at US$100. More reason to tour Rwanda’s great attractions.
In the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, you may want to avoid contact with the visa process at entry point and make sure you have your visa before you jet in. Thanks to technology, this can be done online with little or no hustle as long you have the requirements to getting the visa like passport copy, yellow fever card copy, and other Covid standard requirements by the government. Here are links to help you get started: https://www.migration.gov.rw/anounce/online-visa/
Must read: Rwanda Safety Information
It’s no exaggeration, Kigali is the cleanest and greenest African city. The government encourages citizens to plant trees/grass in their homes and need a permit to cut down any tree. It is also a crime to walk on lawns in Kigali and you get fined $2 if you are caught walking on one.
Rwanda’s capital is on the move. From its psychedelic Easter egg of a convention center to car-free zones and yes, Wi-Fi cafes that dole out freshly spun smoothies, locally roasted coffee, and homemade scones (Café Neo, Bourbon Coffee), Kigali is making a mad dash toward modernity. Absorb the bright lights of Rwanda’s future at the Inema Arts Center, where promising young painters debut their best work amid weekly yoga classes and cocktail hours.
The tagline “Remarkable Rwanda” is apt as the Rwandans are truly impressive. The country and its people have come a long way from the genocide in 1994 and now live in peace and harmony. They are very welcoming to tourists and are always willing to help.
The land of 1,000 hills lives up to the greenery expectations with exceptionally gorgeous landscapes. The entire country is spread across various hills with abundant green confortably earning its name “Land of a thousand hills”. Potatoes, carrots, kale, chard, tea, cassava, sugarcane, coffee and passion fruit are key crops grown in Rwanda.
These horrific killings, aimed at wiping out an entire tribe, is easily one of the worst massacres to happen on the African continent in modern times. With genocide museums dotted across the country, the Rwandan people have documented this ugly past to the very last detail so the world can learn from it. Kigali Genocide Memorial is a must visit for everyone on a tour Rwanda vacation.
If you are an animal and nature lover, you’ll know that Rwanda is home to one third of the world’s population of mountain gorillas (the others are in Congo and Uganda). There are only about 1064 mountain gorillas remaining in the world and they can only survive in the wild. This means that to enjoy this one of a kind experience, you’ll have to “visit” them in their home.
To see gorillas in Rwanda, book a gorilla permit with Nkuringo Safaris for inside Volcanoes National Park, one of Africa’s oldest national parks, and our local experts will lead you on a daily guided gorilla trek that tops out at eight visitors per gorilla family. The only other two countries that we offer the same experience—in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest—require more vigorous hikes for seasoned hikers.
A gorilla permit in Rwanda currently (2020/21) costs US$1,500 per person per trek.
After acquiring lions and with the introduction black rhinos in Akagera National Park, Rwanda is once again a prime Africa safari BIG FIVE destination. With elephants, buffalo, and a wide variety of antelope, you’ll get the full savanna experience and the added bonus of the park’s river boat cruises, which include rare encounters with crocodiles and hippos. Akagera provides campgrounds and tents for a small fee, but honestly, “glamping” on the edge of Lake Ihema at the Ruzizi Tented Lodge is the way to go. Even better? All proceeds benefit the park.