Plan on doing an Akagera National Park safari and try your luck seeing the big five game? You’re in luck because Akagera National park is home to all of them!
In June 2019, I got a chance to do a safari in Akagera National Park. I’ve done a safari before at Kruger National Park and Chobe National Park. Since visiting those two national parks, I’ve already seen the buffalo, elephant, and rhino as far as the big five game animals goes. This time around, I would really like to see the lion and leopard as far as the big five goes. And it would be a real treat if I can see hyenas. Did I get to see any of those animals? Read on to find out!
In this article, I’ll talk about the three different ways you can explore the only game park in Rwanda and potentially see the animals that you’re looking forward to seeing.
Important information to keep in mind
Before doing a safari in Akagera National Park, here are some key important information to keep in mind.
- Akagera National Park is located on the east side of Rwanda. The game park borders Tanzania, and is home of the big five game animals. However, the lions were brought in from South Africa because the ones that originally lived in Akagera has all been killed. As a result, even though there are lions in this park, there aren’t very many of them (about 15 lions in the entire park).
- The entrance fee to Akagera National Park went up in price and now cost $50 USD to get in.
- Roads are not very good in the national park and I recommend you rent a 4×4 vehicle if you decide to drive yourself.
- The park’s hours of operation is from 6am to 6pm. You’re not allowed to do night game drives on your own must join a tour with the national park.
- You must pay for the entrance fee of your driver also (I believe it’s $25 USD for locals).
- The best time to visit Akagera National Park is during dry seasons. The long dry season is between June to September. And, the short dry season is from mid-December to mid-February.
Akagera National Park safari with a guide
When I went to do an Akagera National Park safari, I didn’t want to take any chances not finding any animals so my group decided to hire a guide when we went in the park. The cost of hiring a guide is $40 USD for your entire car so you can split the cost with other passengers. This fee excludes their tip also.
Basically, the guide will direct you or your driver to go the spots that has the highest probability of seeing animals. They’ll typically take you to areas where animals can get a drink of water. The guide also has a keen eye for the animals and can spot them even when they’re well hidden.
The bad news is, even the guide can’t find any animals if there aren’t any around.
When we went with a guide, we saw tons of baboons which was pretty cool. We also saw a lot of zebras, impalas, giraffes, wildebeest, waterbucks, and one hippo.
According to our guide, we should have entered the park earlier so we can drive further north. Apparently, if we want to see lions or other rarer animals, we have to venture north.
Our guide was very knowledgeable, friendly, and was enjoyable to talk to. Was having a guide worth it? Yes, I definitely think so. You should get a guide for your first drive through the national park to get a good idea on how to find the animals.
Akagera National Park night safari tour
As you can tell, doing a night safari has its benefits. First, many animals are nocturnal meaning they mainly come out at night. This is especially true for many predators such as hyenas, lions, and leopards.
However, the one downside to doing a night safari is that you are forced to stay within Akagera National Park in order to be eligible to join the night tour. And staying within the park is not cheap if you don’t want to camp.
Regardless, I personally do not regret staying that one overpriced night in Akagera National Park because we got lucky during our night safari! The night safari lasts roughly 2-2.5 hours and I would say, it was mostly uneventful until the very end.
About 10 minutes before the tour ended, we saw an elephant appear. And 5 minutes before the tour ended, we got so lucky because we saw a leopard! And we didn’t just see the leopard, it was really close to us and even circled the vehicle we were in!
If we didn’t see the leopard that close, I don’t think staying inside the park would have been worth it at all.
Accommodations inside Akagera National Park
There are three accommodations inside Akagera National Park. They are:
- Akagera Game Lodge – $100-$235 USD
- Ruzizi Tented Lodge – $265-$380 USD
- Camping – $20 fee per person if you want to camp
It seems that the Akagera Game Lodge is actually not too expensive; but, keep in mind that the lower prices are during low season. Most people travel during high or peak season so you’re looking to pay quite a bit for one night. They also sell out the rooms pretty quickly so you need to book fast. My group paid $168 USD each to get a room in Akagera Game Lodge. Check out my review of Akagera Game Lodge here.
Ruzizi tented lodge is the most expensive option and it’s also an eco-lodge. So if you don’t like eco-lodges, you probably want to avoid this accommodation.
As far as camping goes, there are three campsites within the park. They are:
- Muyumbu – Southern Akagera
- Lake Shakani – Southern Akagera
- Mutumba – Northern Akagera
If you plan on camping, then you probably want to stay in the Mutumba camp because it’s the closest one to the northern side of the park. Apparently, the northern side of the park has more animals making this an ideal choice for camping.
Accommodations outside the park
There are a few options in terms of accommodations outside the national park. We personally stayed at Rhino Lodge which is an eco-lodge.
However, my sister and I soon realized how much we hate eco-lodges. Despite the amazing customer service and fair price ($130 USD or $175 CAD split between the three of us), we simply do not like insects.
Eco-lodge means the accommodation is out in the open. Our toilet doesn’t flush and it’s right out in the outdoor. Same goes for our shower. Various different bugs will swarm your accommodation the moment you open the light.
If you’re scared of spiders, there are definitely tons of them crawling all over the walkway towards your room.
However, staying outside the park is definitely more budget friendly. So, if you plan on hanging around Akagera National Park for a lengthy period of time, you might want to stay outside the park and only staying within the park for one day so you can join the night safari.
Self driven Akagera National Park safari
The last option available is to do your own self driven Akagera National Park safari. You can rent cars in Kigali and drive yourself or hire a driver.
The car rental companies can provide you a driver for hire. My group rented a car from Kigali Car Rentals which rented us a Toyota Rav4 for $50 USD per day within Rwanda and $60 USD per day in Uganda. The driver that we hired with the company cost us $30 USD per person. Emmanuel, the driver that we hired, was really awesome and if you want to hire him directly, let me know and I’ll give you his whatsapp.
Anyways, on our last day in Akagera National Park, I asked Emmanuel if I can drive the car. It was so funny because he ended up acting like a tourist taking his cell phone out and snapping pictures of animals. I think I’m pretty lucky because this is the second time I’ve done a self-driven safari and whenever I drive, we see lots of animals!
We had such a blast so I think if you like driving, then you definitely don’t want to miss the chance to do your own self-driven safari here.
If you plan on visiting Akagera National Park, you’ll want to drive all the way north of the national park. The only way you can do this is by entering from the South because the North is for exiting only.
Apparently, the north side of the park is where a lot of predators like hyenas and lions reside. This makes it a worthwhile investment to drive all the way up there.
However, you’ll probably want to do a night safari also while you’re in the park. Keep in mind that if you drive in the park, you can’t leave to get gas so you’ll want to ration your gas accordingly.
If you plan on driving all the way to the north side, then in my opinion, you should stay overnight in Akagera first. That way, you can do a night safari. Then, you wake up bright and early the next morning with your rental vehicle still having tons of gas left and you drive all the way to the north and do all your animal sight seeing there instead.
In my opinion, if you do have the time, I would recommend all the three methods of doing the safari because they all bring something interesting to the table.
However, if you really want to see the park, then I’d say, conserve your gas and don’t do a guided safari in the south. Instead, do a night safari first then first thing in the morning, you can either hire a guide or drive yourself but you definitely want to head all the way to the north side of Akagera National Park.
I enjoyed my time here minus the customer service at Akagera Game Lodge which I’ll talk about more in detail in a separate article.