How to plan the best safari in Akagera National Park in Rwanda

JUAN MARTINEZ

June 21, 2022

How to plan the best safari in Akagera National Park in Rwanda

From itineraries, transportation, accommodation, prices, and best time to go. This is the ultimate guide for planning a safari in Akagera National Park in Rwanda.

One moment you are driving through rolling hills, passing buffalo herds, and observing views of Rwanda’s untouched landscapes. A second later, you are at a vast plain surrounded by dozens of giraffes and hundreds of antelopes. Not many parks in Africa offer such a diversity of landscapes as Akagera National Park. Swamps, forests, savanna, lakes, and much more. Akagera seems to be the place to observe wildlife from different sceneries.

But these views you see today have not been there forever. In fact, they are considered a revival story.

safari car in Akagera National Park
I traveled to Rwanda with Home to Africa safaris

Understanding Akagera

Rwanda’s history is dark, and after the 1994 genocide, there was also a catastrophic environmental impact. Due to overpopulation, deforestation, and poaching,  Akagera was at the edge of disappearing. Many thought the park would never be able to recover, and big mammals such as the lion would never roam again on its premises.

It was only until 2010 when the government set strict regulations to re-develop Akagera National Park and bring it back. Poaching was banned entirely, and a plan to reintroduce species emerged.

entrance akagera national Park
Tough regulation was necessary to start protecting Akagera National Park

Lions coming from South Africa were for the first time reintroduced in 2015, and, with the addition of two males in 2017, the population has since quadrupled. Additionally, 18 eastern black rhinoceros were reintroduced in 2017, bringing the species back to the country after a 10-year absence. This rhino population was further expanded by an additional five rhinos translocated from European zoos in 2019.

Changes are also happening right now. Last year, 30 white rhinos were successfully translocated to Akagera from Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa, and this was the most significant single rhino translocation ever taken.

Akagera is not Masai Mara, where hundreds of lions roam freely, and you can witness events like the wildebeest migration. Akagera National Park suffered the effects of war and is trying to rise from the ashes and preserve the species that once were killed for fun.

Landscapes in Akagera National Park
Landscapes in Akagera National Park

Getting around

Visiting Akagera is a must for anyone traveling in Rwanda. It is the perfect complementary activity for those wanting to see gorillas and a fresh look at national parks for those who love game drives.

It is located only 110 km from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, and is a perfect place to explore during a long weekend.

This is also one of the few proper national parks where travelers can take a day trip from the capital. Additionally, travelers with more time can enjoy various activities inside the park, such as boat cruises, night drives, and birdwatching activities.

Travelers on a budget can even get to Akagera National Park using public transport. However, this option can take way longer and if saving money is your priority, maybe booking a day tour with a tour operator is the best choice.

You can also travel to Akagera with your vehicle (car or motorcycle). However, inside the park, it is recommended to use a safari car with a guide. It won’t only make your experience way more comfortable but also doesn’t have to be too expensive if you share the cost with 3-4 more people.

elephants in Akagera National Park
Elephants roaming in Akagera National Park

Prices to Akagera National Park

  • Entrance foreign adult: 50 USD per night – Ticket validity until 6pm next day
  • Local Guide from the Akagera National Park: 40 USD per vehicle/group
  • Safari vehicle from the Akagera National Park: 240 USD per day
  • Permit private vehicle: 10 USD per vehicle
  • Day tours: Start at 300 USD from Kigali – including the entrance fee

INSIDER INFO:

I used the local tour operator HOME TO AFRICA during my visit to Rwanda. They took care of planning my full itinerary and organizing a 5-day trip for my friends and me. After calculating how much it would have cost me to plan everything independently or arrange it through a single tour operator, going with an operator was cheaper. They know which hotels have discounts and can organize everything according to your budget.

elephant in Akagera
This is one of my favorite photos from Akagera National Park

Where is the best place to stay in Akagera National Park

With not many options to choose from, my best recommendation would be to discuss with your tour operator what budget you want to spend on accommodation and find the best option. However, if you plan to book independently, these are the only options you have.

Akagera Game Lodge
I stayed at Akagera Game Lodge

Inside Akagera National Park

Ruzizi Tented Lodge

A small but charming and authentic lodge overlooking Lake Ihema.

Starting at 200 USD per night per room, this is not a very affordable option for travelers on a budget. However, its prime location makes it a great place to stay and enjoy the day watching hippos in the lake or going on game drives and trying to spot a lion.

Akagera Game Lodge

This is the most popular lodge inside the national park. It is near the South Gate and offers a great view of Akagera. Prices start at 250 USD per night per person.

Magashi Akagera

Opening just a few years back, Magashi is a luxury lodge from Wilderness Safaris set on the edge of Lake Rwanyakazinga. This is the most upscale accommodation inside Akagera National Park, and prices here start at 400 USD per night.

Shakuni Akagera Campsite

This campsite is found on Lake Shakani, the only lake in the park where fishing is carried out. Camping in the area will offer you a chance to view the many hippos found in this area. Prices start at 25 USD + 10 USD camping fee – Camping equipment is not included, but it is available for hire.

Other camping sites inside Akagera

Muyumbu and Mutumba Camps offer affordable accommodation options for travelers on a budget. Prices are the same in all three camp options, each of which provides a unique charm. Staying in camp is an excellent option if you plan to travel independently with a camping vehicle and want to hire a safari vehicle and guide during your visit to the park.

Outside Akagera National Park

Akagera Rhino Lodge

Located just outside the park, this is an excellent option for those who don’t mind staying outside the national park to save money. Prices at Akagera Rhino Lodge start at 100 USD per night, and they can even arrange safari vehicles for day trips inside Akagera starting at 200 USD. 

Read more: How to plan a trip to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda

Activities inside Akagera

Game drives

With most accommodation options located in the south and a standard circle route to follow as a tourist, doing more than a full day of game drives is enough to get a good glimpse of Akagera National Park.

For travelers arriving midday or leaving in the afternoon, a half-day game drive would focus only on the southern side of the national park. Here you can spot buffalos, elephants, hippos, and antelopes.

On the other hand, travelers doing a full-day drive have enough time to go up north, find the rhinos (protected in a particular section of the park), and also see the vast plains Akagera has.

If you are traveling independently, prices for a full day of game drive start at 280 USD, including a driver.

giraffes in Akagera
giraffes in Akagera at the northern plains

Night drives

Night time is the best to spot the elusive leopard and lions looking for prey, and this is also one of my favorite activities in a national park. Even though spotting these big cats won’t be easy, there is some extra excitement in getting on a safari vehicle at night and searching for wildlife.

Unfortunately, this is an activity you can only do with the official rangers and vehicles of the national park, and the price is not negotiable.

Price for a night drive in Akagera: 70 USD per person (minimum 2 people)

Lake cruises

Lake cruises are considered the highlight of Akagera National Park, perfect for spotting hippos, elephants, and crocodiles. Cruises are relaxing, calm, and simply outstanding. Nothing is nicer than enjoying the wind blowing into your face while birds sing around you and hippos bathe just meters away from you.

Price for a lake safari in Akagera: 45 USD per person

Read more: Best things to do in Kigali

Lake cruise in Akagera
Lake cruise in Akagera

Best time to visit Akagera

Akagera National Park has two dry seasons: a long dry season from June to September and a short one from December to February. These are considered to be the best times to visit Akagera.

Visibility is better, and animals spend a big part of the day at the shores of the several lakes inside the national park. Boat cruises become your best shot to spot large herds of elephants, and travelers doing game drives can spot lions easier than at other times of the year.

Read more: How to plan a trip in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda

Cutting down the cost of a trip to Akagera National Park

Visiting Akagera National Park can be as expensive or affordable as you want it to be. For those traveling on a budget, day trips are the best option to visit the park but not the best opportunity to make the most of it.

Travelers looking forward to experiencing the best of this national park need to stay at least 2 nights inside Akagera and spend an entire day outdoors.

Activities like the boat cruise or a nocturnal safari are also great options to experience something different, and I would recommend them for a visit to this national park.

Either travel with a tour operator or book everything independently; prices won’t change much in the end. The only thing that can affect your final cost significantly is what kind of accommodation you are staying in.

Budget travelers planning everything independently should expect to spend between 250-300 USD per day (camping), while travelers using a tour operator can pay anything from 300-400 USD, including lodge accommodation.

In my opinion, going on a multi-day tour with a local operator is the best option to make the most of your time and money.

Read more: How to plan a trip to Masai Mara in Kenya

elephant in the shores of the lakes in Akagera
An elephant at the shore of the lake during a boat cruise

Read more: The importance of reintroducing animals in Akagera National Park

Planning a trip to Rwanda independently is fun. However, if you want to arrange everything with tour operators beforehand from the comfort of your home. SafariBookings is the best platform for it.

They have the largest database of tour operators in Africa and you can simply send a request and negotiate a tour and a price directly with the operator. You don’t have to pay any additional fees.

These are some of the most popular tours in Akagera National Park at SafariBookings

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