My trip to Akagera happened by accident.
As I wasn’t planning on hiring a car while I was in Rwanda, going on a safari hadn’t been on my itinerary.
But as chance would have it, I met a backpacker at my hostel who invited me along on his day trip. And just like that, I was off on a road trip with someone I had just met. Cue eerie horror movie music.
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Akagera National Park!
A Brief History of Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park is a two-hour drive from the capital city of Kigali. Established in 1934, the parks wildlife population was devasted after the Rwandan genocide when returning refugees clashed with the animals.
Once home to over 200 lions, the population was quickly wiped out by angry cattle herders.
Today, the 1,122 square kilometres has recovered. A new perimeter fence has been erected, and anti-poaching strategies have helped the wildlife populations to grow.
In fact, Rwanda reintroduced lions back into the park in 2015 that have since flourished in their new home.
And this year, black rhinos who had been missing from the park since 2007, returned when 20 were sent up from South Africa.
Agakera is now the biggest protected wetland in Africa and Rwanda’s only Big 5 national park.
How Much is Entrance to Akagera National Park?
I’ll admit, these prices are not budget friendly – especially for South Africans.
The internationals from Europe didn’t bat an eyelid and told me this is cheap to what they normally pay.
I have no idea if this is true. But fuck me and my wallet. We are living the life in South Africa with our R 60.00 entrance fees.
- For international visitors to Akagera, it costs USD 40 (R 530.00) each day.
- There is also a USD 10 (R 130.00) vehicle charge that you’ll need to pay as well.
I’m still shook that I spent so much to see animals.
But do I regret it? Hell no.
Other Important Information
The parks opening hours are from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. I’d recommend getting there as early as possible so that poes slap from the price is at least worth it.
If you are planning on driving from the south gate to the north exit, you’ll need at least 5 to 6 hours. This includes stops for wildlife and lunch as the roads aren’t in the best condition.
Accommodation in Akagera National Park
Unlike South Africa, camping inside this national park is not cheap. But it is considerably cheaper than the lodges and worth it if you don’t want to drive the width of the park in one day.
Camping costs USD 25 (R 330.00) per person per night. You can also rent equipment from the visitor’s centre, and that’s not a budget option either so bring your own.
Keep in mind
If you decide to camp, the tap water is not safe to drink. You’ll either need to boil it beforehand or bring your own bottled water.
You can choose from three camping sites:
On the shores of Lake Shakani, this is the perfect spot for travellers who want to fish for their supper. It’s the only lake in the park where fishing is allowed, and it’s a great spot for seeing hippos. Though considering how many I saw on my game drive, I don’t know if I’d like to camp anywhere in their line of vision. But if you have a death wish…
The Mutamba campsite is located at the highest point of the national park. It’s one of the best spots to see large numbers of wildlife including the herds of antelope.
Muyumba overlooks two beautiful lakes, Lake Ihema and Lake Shakani as well as Tanzania. It’s also the closest campsite to the park entrance.
And if you’re feeling bougie, you can splurge at the parks safari lodges.
Ruzizi Tented Lodge
Ruzizi is a private luxury tented camp. It boasts seven ensuite tents on the shores of Lake Ihema.
Akagera Game Lodge
If you want to throw those dollars around, book a night here. It’s open all year around and has 64 rooms to choose from.
Getting to Akagera National Park from Kigali
The best way to get to Akagera National Park is to hire a car.
When choosing a vehicle, keep in mind that you will be driving on dirt roads and their terrain is not always smooth.
I’m not sure how much car hire is because I was a cheapskate and just tagged along, but the person I leached off hired their car from Kigali Car Rentals.
They don’t have pricing on their website, so you’ll need to contact them directly.
What Animals Are Inside Akagera National Park?
As Akagera is once again a Big 5 National Park, you can expect to see lion, buffalo, leopard, elephants and rhino.
Other critters that also call the park home are giraffes, 12 different types of antelope, monkeys, baboons, warthogs, hippo and a variety of birds.
Best Time To Visit Akagera National Park
The best time to visit Akagera National Park is during the dry season. From June to September, you’ll have little chance of rain and some of the best wildlife spotting opportunities.
However, I went in the beginning of September, and the rain had already started. While it didn’t last for long, it wasn’t the best day for a safari. If you’re planning to go around this time, I recommend checking the weather reports beforehand.
Even though my game drive did get rained on, I saw loads of animals. It was also my first time seeing hippos in the wild!
The Best Things to See and Do in Akagera National Park
Go on a Safari
If you’re only visiting the park on a day trip, a self-guided game drive should be right at the top of your itinerary.
But if you want to make the most of your time, you can hire a guide. The rangers charge USD 25 (R 330.00) for a half day safari and USD 40 (R 530.00) for a full day game drive.
While it’s possible to see plenty of animals by yourself, this is a good option if you want the best possible luck of seeing the Big 5.
From what I was told, they tend to be in the northern part of the park. As it does take a few hours to get from the south gate to this territory, it helps to have someone around who knows how to track animals, so you don’t waste time driving aimlessly around.
If you’re staying over, there is also a night game drive option. It lasts for 2.5 hours and costs USD 40 (R 530.00) per person.
Visit the Visitors Centre Museum
As the park has such a tumultuous history, it’s museum provides a lot of information about its animals and its dark past.
Inside you’ll find a skull of an elephant on display, as well as a full skeleton of a crocodile and many other bones from the various buck that call the park home.
The museum also displays some of the traps commonly used by the poachers and has detailed posters on how the park has overcome this problem over the years.
Go on a Boat Trip
Akagera has scheduled boat trips that you can book at reception. It’s once again not the cheapest activity, but a great way to see the aquatic wildlife and spot more of the park’s bird species.
A one-hour boat trip costs USD 35 (R 460.00) per person.
There is also a sunset cruise option for USD 45 ( R 600.00) if you’re spending the night in the park.
Learn About the Local Culture
In partnership with the local community, you can choose from a few cultural tours. The activities are designed to be sustainable, and the income generated goes back to the local community.
The tours are designed to not only give you an opportunity to learn about the locals traditions and way of life but also to create steady revenue streams to discourage harmful activities like poaching.
Take a Behind the Scenes Tour
If you’re a conservation nerd, this is the tour for you. You’ll get to go behind the scenes of Akagera and learn about it’s ongoing conversation developments and meet the people who help manage the park.
The tour costs US 25 (R 330.00) and lasts about 1.5 hours.
If you have the time and budget for Agakera, I highly recommend it. The vegetation is a mix between South Africa’s arid bush and lush tropical scenery which a sight to behold even before animals are thrown into the mix.
Just don’t expect the sheer number of wildlife you’d find in Tanzania and Kenya.