Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Akagera National Park is the new pearl of East Africa

I visited Akagera NationalPark in Rwanda in February 2019, after almost ten years from my previous visit. In my memory I could recall a kind of run down park with little wildlife and limited infrastructure if any, basically a secondary game reserve option. However I have been following the progress and the success of the new management, the NGO African Parks, which started an incredible work since 2010, including fencing off the park, constructing the Rusizi Tented Camp, opening trails and repopulating animals.
After only 3 hours’ drive from Kigali, as I entered through the Southern gate of Kiyonza, I immediately found a well-organized recently built info point, with annex souvenir shop, bar, restaurant and toilets, definitely a good first impression. My first activity was the boat excursion on Lake Ihema, a guided activity done in small covered speedy boats mostly in the afternoon but also at different scheduled time. From the boat you have immediately the feeling of how immense is the lake with it horizon and how rich of wildlife is this water. During the 2 hours trip on Lake Ihema I spotted plenty of hippos, Nile crocodiles and expecially water birds found on the shores inside the papyrus swamps. Among the common birds I saw I can recall the whisltling duck, African openbill stork, African jacana, squacco heron, goliath heron, grey heron, African darter, great cormorant, African Fish Eagle, pied kingfisher, little bee eater, scarlet chested sunbird.

In the morning we went for a long photographic safari following the well demarcated trails, from the Southern sector of the Rwisirabo Trail (along Lake Ihema, Lake Birengero and Lake Shakani), continuing to the central area of Lake Hago and Lake Kivumba to Kitabili. The trail proceeds for more than 80 km North, as you stop over along open grass savannah or on the wetland on the shores of the Lakes to spot birds. The far North is the area of the Mohana plains and Lake Rwanyakazinga. Here is found the Northern entrance of Nyungwe Gate. It might take the whole day out to complete the circuit, however it is a continuation of game viewing, bird watching and photograph of breathtaking nature and colourful sceneries. I didn’t expect to encounter such a number of maasai giraffes, elephants, zebras, buffaloes, impalas, topi. There is also a big number of a more unique specie of antelope, the beautiful roan antelope. We were finally able to see a family of lions. I learnt that currently in the park there is a small population of 19 lions. I didn’t spot the black rhinos, yet they were reintroduced in recent years and they are said to be about 15 in the park.
In my conclusion, I was very surprised to find that the park is currently a high quality game reserve, not only for the unique sceneries, but also for the increased number of wildlife. In fact Akagera National Park has an outstanding landscape, probably the most various I saw in East Africa, where a total of twelve lakes makes a big portion of the Eastern wetland of the reserve (all fed and connected by the Akagera river that indicates the boundary with Tanzania), while the Western mountains delimit the western boundary and the rest is an alternating of dense and forest like vegetation on one side and extensive plain savannah on the other side. I would like to compliment the management for the good work done in making Akagera a “must” game park, actually Akagera is the new pearl of East Africa.

Accommodation in Akagera National Park
Currently accommodation is limited to the Southern sector of the park, however new investments are expected to be covering also the Northern sector.

Akagera Game Lodge.
This lodge is located on Lake Ihema about 3 km from Kiyonza Entrance Gate. By mid 2019 the ongoing renovation is expected to be completed with upgrading of rooms setting. This is a perfect middle range hotel – style tourist facility that can accommodate most of the expectations. With 60 en suite guest rooms and spacious restaurant, this is by far the biggest hotel in the park. Among the services it provides: swimming pool, wifi and satellite television in the rooms, breakfast open at 5.30 in the morning.

Ruzizi Tented Lodge.
This is the facility of African Parks. With nine tents, a luxurious restaurant and bar area, all built in harmony with the surrounding nature on top of raised wooden platforms and walkways, this is the upmarket retreat choice in the Akagera National Park. Some trees were incorporated into the structure and this gives a touch of uniqueness to the lodge. Each tent offers a verandah, en-suite bathroom with hot solar heater water and solar power, spacious beds.

Trips to Akagera National Park
I recommend visiting Akagera National Park as a 3 days 2 nights extension out from Kigali. See our website for the details. Also it works well as an extension to other trips, for example as a 2 days 1 night extension of the itinerary Thousand Hills Uganda & Rwanda.

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