Upon arrival from present-day Tanzania, Henry Stanley reportedly pitched his tent on the shore of Lake Ihema in the 1870s. His tent became a monumental landmark along the shoreline. Eventually, the lake was named Ihema, a Kinyarwanda word that means tent.
This was Stanley’s second expedition in Africa. The objective of his tour was to complete the exploration and mapping of the Great Lakes and rivers of Central and East Africa. His journey was part of the grand exploration project designed to circumnavigate lakes Victoria and Tanganyika in a bid to trace the source of the Nile.
There is a cluster of lakes in Akagera National Park, Ihema being the biggest one. It is also the biggest water body found entirely in Rwanda. Although Lake Kivu is bigger than Lake Ihema, the Rwandan side of the former is smaller.
Lake Ihema is rich in biodiversity. It is home to a huge population of hippopotami and crocodiles. Its larger marshland area is the biggest protected wetland in Central Africa and an emerging birding paradise.
Inside the park, luxury ecolodges are being set up to reflect the environment around Ihema. At Ruzizi Tented Lodge, several deluxe tents are erected amidst swaying palms and fig trees. The reception and dining areas are grass-thatched. From there, wooden walkways lead to a stunning deck hanging over the surface of the lake.
The neighboring Karenge Bush Camp encompasses six canvas tents. The tents contain beds, camp chairs, reed mats and solar-powered lights. The newest accommodation trend on the banks of Lake Ihema is a tented affair.
Setting up a tent was Stanley’s easiest way of building his makeshift shelter. He probably lacked options. Today, a tent is embraced by tourists in pursuit of an ultimate wilderness experience, including the high-end clientele.
I spent a night at the community-owned Ihema View Campsite, outside the national park’s southern fence. From my tent, I had a clear view of the lake and its pristine environs. This area has attracted a big investor from Qatar whose upcoming project is in line with Rwanda’s quest to position herself as a luxury destination. As tourism evolves and luxury is redefined, the tent concept doesn’t seem to go away.