Tourists spending one day in the Akagera National Park are required to exit the protected area before six p.m. Since most visitors arrive early in the morning, violating the time limit is never a concern, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
I prefer entering the park at 6 a.m. Sometimes, I drive all the way from Kigali at the wee hours of the morning. Quite often, I travel to the neighboring community a day before and spend a night right outside the fence.
The last time I visited the park, I had visitors who couldn’t leave Kigali until 9 a.m. on the day of our scheduled visit. It was almost 12 noon when we finally reached Kiyonza Gate. Since the plan wasn’t to spend a night, the park wardens advised us to spin around the southern flank and exit through the same gate. I didn’t follow their advice, despite being fully aware of the time constraints.
I knew we wouldn’t see much on that side of the park in the afternoon. To avoid disappointing my visitors from the other side of the Atlantic, I offered them a 5-hour game drive experience from south to north.
Albeit in a hurry, we encountered baboons, elephants, zebras, buffaloes, giraffes and warthogs. We also saw antelopes, water buck and a myriad of bird species. In addition, we spared a few minutes to gaze at hippos and crocodiles. The half-day tour was fulfilling. However, by rushing to the exit, we bypassed viewpoints and skipped deviations that would have enhanced the experience.
Spending a night in the park would have given us ample time to bond with nature and make the most out of our safari escapade. If you are planning to stay longer in this magical wildlife habitat, below is a list of accommodation facilities found therein.
Muyumbu Campsite is set up on a ridge overlooking lakes Ihema and Shakani. From this vantage point, you can also see Kagera River and parts of Tanzania’s Kagera Region.
Muyumbu is fenced. Its electrified wire will make you feel safer. The zap sounds produced by electrocuted insects serve as an assurance that your canvas tent is not the only thing separating you from lions.
When you unzip your tent in the morning, you will be awestruck by the colorful sunrise. As the tender sun ushers in a new day, gleams of crimson rays on the surface of Lake Ihema will undoubtedly brighten your day.
This campsite is found on the shore of Lake Shakani. Shakani campers wake up to hippo grunts and songs from those birds I always write about.
Shakani Campsite has running water, flushing toilets and solar-heated showers. Unlike Muyumbu, this campsite is not fenced. However, there is a barrier preventing dangerous aquatic animals from accessing the site.
The campsite’s proximity to Lake Ihema makes it easy for campers to add boating to their itinerary. Group rides are offered four times a day, but tourists are free to book private tours.
Mutumba Campsite is in the northern part of the park. It is an ideal location for those who need to camp after a long south-north game drive. Being close to Nyungwe Gate makes it easy to exit the park early.
This campsite is named after the hills on which it is found. Set up on the highest point of the park, the surrounding vista is breathtaking. This spot is popular with photographers in pursuit of stunning sunrise and sunset shots.
On one side of the hills, you will see a cluster of lakes, Kagera River and parts of northwestern Tanzania. On the other side, you won’t get enough of the picturesque northern highlands. On a good day, Muhabura volcano can be visible too.
This is the only campsite that encompasses a coffee shop and a manicured picnic garden. The on-site café, coupled with running water and solar-heated showers, create an unbeatable package.
This is my favorite campsite in the park. While southern campers can hire tents from the park’s headquarters, Mihindi ones are required to bring their own tents and the rest of the gear. Plans are underway to make tents for hire available at the campsite.
Lake Mihindi is stunning. The view of its shuffled waves and a backdrop of lush vegetation, not to mention its picturesque island, will take your breath away.
Ruzizi Tented Lodge
This luxury ecolodge is designed to reflect the environment in which nature rules supreme. Its deluxe tents are set up amid swaying palms and fig trees.
Also known as glamorous camping, or simply glamping, this setup creates a harmonious blend of nature and opulence. Lately, more and more tourists are opting to stay in deluxe tents. The model is redefining safari accommodation.
Ruzizi Lodge’s tents are fitted with beds, chairs and coffee tables. Their interiors are artistically decorated. Here, glampers bond with mother nature without compromising comfort. With this new dimension of camping, luxury meets simplicity. Less is more.
Mantis Akagera Game Lodge
With sixty rooms, this is by far the biggest lodging facility in the park. Its meeting hall is the only conference facility in the natural reserve. In addition, the establishment has a swimming pool and a tennis court.
Akagera Game Lodge is designed to accommodate both business and leisure travelers. Apart from standard and executive rooms, the lodge has two suites, including a presidential one.
The biggest hotel in the Akagera National Park is managed by the Mantis Group, founded in 2000 by Adrian Gardiner. Apart from Akagera Game Lodge, Mantis is also managing Kivu Marina Bay and EPIC Hotel, located in Ruzisi and Nyagatare respectively. Earlier this month, the group launched a floating hotel, namely Mantis Kivu Queen uBuranga. The state-of-the-art vessel, traversing the turquoise waters of Lake Kivu, offers unforgettable experiences.
Karenge Bush Camp
Pieces of stones are used to build pillars supporting wooden floors. This combination of stones and wood form the bases on which tents are erected. The said construction materials blend perfectly to reflect the environment nature enthusiasts yearn for.
From the camp, guests soak up the view of Kilala Plains, Lake Rwanyakiziga and Magashi Peninsula. Using a pair of binoculars, one can zoom in herds of buffaloes, giraffes and other animals.
Karenge Bush Camp can accommodate up to twelve people at a time. Each tent has an open toilet and an equally unenclosed solar-heated shower. The freedom experienced in this bush camp takes away the need for extra privacy.
Located on the bank of Lake Rwanyakazinga, this luxury glamping facility offers one of the best ecotourism experiences in Rwanda. From the camp, guests soak up the view of the lake and the backdrop of the surrounding birding sanctuary.
Magashi Peninsula is one of the greenest parts of the park. The lush geographical feature boasts rich biodiversity. From birds to large mammals, Magashi is home to a wide range of wild animals.
From the lake, Magashi’s tents look like nests on the verge of being swallowed by the thick vegetation cover. The high-end facility, managed by Wilderness Safaris, attracts loaded tourists in pursuit of unmatched wilderness experiences.