Akagera NP is Rwanda’s only savannah reserve and is again a Big Five destination after the recent reintroductions of a lion and black rhino. Other animals include elephant, buffalo, giraffe, and hippo. In terms of pure wildlife viewing, Akagera can’t quite compete with the more famous parks in Kenya and Tanzania. However, the park is very scenic and the birdlife is particularly rewarding.
Wildlife numbers are on the increase in Akagera NP and animals are slowly becoming less skittish (problems have included human encroachment and poaching). Buffalos are easily seen, and elephants are quite common. Leopards are around, but very secretive. Lions were reintroduced from South Africa in 2015 and there were 19 in the park as of early 2018, along with the same number of black rhino, which was reintroduced in 2017.
Akagera has recently become a Big Five destination but some of the main species can be difficult to find. Buffalo is common and you might see the elephant as well. The newly introduced lions are remarkably relaxed, but sightings are hit-and-miss. The black rhino is the most recent addition, but they are very shy. Leopards can be spotted on night drives.
There are a lot of plains animals, including Burch ell’s zebra and Masai giraffe. Akagera is also home to 11 antelope species. The most common throughout the park is the gracious impala, but of particular interest are the big herds of topi. Defassa waterbuck are regularly seen around the lakes and bushbuck is a widespread resident in the woodland areas. The rare sitatunga antelope are known to reside in the swamps.
Akagera is particularly scenic and offers a wide diversity of habitats in a small area. Visitors can drive along a string of forest-fringed lakes and wetlands fed by the Akagera River. Tall mountains form a lovely backdrop to the ever-changing vegetation, which includes papyrus swamps and acacia woodland.
Akagera is located near the equator and has a consistent, moderate to warm climate. Temperatures are very uniform throughout the year. The average nighttime temperature is about 12°C/54°F below the average daytime temperature, therefore warm clothing is recommended for early morning game drives. There is a short Dry season from June to September.
The Dry season from June to September is the best time for wildlife viewing in Akagera. Wildlife is easier to spot because the vegetation is thinner and animals gather around the lakes, which are a big feature of the park.
With around 480 species recorded, Akagera offers excellent birding. Of the 480 species, 100 birds are not found in any other protected area in Rwanda. Akagera is Rwanda’s second most important birding site after Nyungwe, and the two parks complement each other perfectly – very few birds recorded in Rwanda can’t be found in either park. Akagera is a good place to see a variety of raptors, including bateleur, white-backed and Ruppell’s griffon vultures, and brown snake eagle.
The birdlife in Akagera National Park is good year-round. Each season offers a different array of species. The Dry season, from June to September, is best for francolins, many wetland birds, nightjars, and owls. The early rainy season, in October, is best for lapwings and many open grassland birds. Songbirds are most active from September to November and again in March and April. Colonial breeding water birds like cormorants, darters, herons, storks, and ibises mainly breed from February to July. Migratory birds are present from November to April.
Akagera can be visited throughout the year. The Dry season (June to September) is the prime time for watching wildlife in the park. Animals are easier to spot because the bush thins out and wildlife concentrates around the lakes.
Although Akagera can be visited at any time, the best wildlife-viewing months are from June to September. This corresponds with the Dry season when animals are drawn to the lakes as a source of water. At this time the bush is not as lush either, which makes spotting animals a bit easier.
The climate in Akagera is usually moderate to warm. The average temperatures are quite uniform throughout the year. It is advised to take warm clothing for early morning or night game drives. Akagera’s Dry season is from June to September. There are two Wet seasons. The ‘short rains’ are from October to December and the ‘long rains’ are from March to May.
Dry season –June to September
There is very little rain during these months. Vegetation thins out and animals are attracted to the lakes and wetland areas in the park. The temperatures are warm and pleasant.
June, July & August – Afternoon temperatures are usually around 27°C/81°F. Most days are sunny with a fine, clear sky. It gets cold at night, with minimum temperatures around 14°C/57°F. It’s usually cold in the early morning as well.
September – Early September is still dry, but sometime this month the short rains might start. Temperatures remain the same.
Wet season –October to May
As in the Dry season, temperatures are warm. Afternoon temperatures are usually around 26°C/79°F while nighttime temperatures hover around 15°C/59°F. During the Wet season, it rarely rains all day, but afternoon thundershowers can be expected. There is a drier spell between the short and long rains.
October, November & December – ‘Short rains’ – The rains start in October (or September). It is rare for it to rain throughout the day. Afternoon showers are common. Daytime temperatures are usually around 26°C/79°F while night and early morning are about 15°C/59°F.
January & February – This tends to be a dry spell between the short and long rains. The exact timing is unpredictable.
March, April & May – ‘Long rains’ – These are the wettest months. It tends to rain most days, although seldom for the whole day. It is often cloudy. The average temperatures remain about the same.
Most people come to Rwanda to track gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. Kigali International Airport (KGL), about 10km/6mi from the capital, Kigali, will be the entry point into the country.
Akagera NP is located in the east of the country, 120km/75mi from Kigali. The drive takes about 2½ hours.
Akagera is commonly visited as part of a 4×4 tour of the country, including a driver-guide.
There are no domestic flights to Akagera, but Akagera Aviation offers charter helicopter transfers to anywhere in the country. The flight from Kigali to Akagera NP takes 22 minutes.
Like other game reserves and parks in Rwanda, Akagera NP is very safe in our opinion. Most people come with their experienced driver-guide, but optional guides are available for self-drive visitors. This is recommended for people without much bush experience, as the park isn’t very busy and there are only basic signposts, so getting lost is a real possibility. Night drives and boat safaris are all conducted with local rangers.
Akagera NP lies in a malaria zone and precautions against malaria, as well as certain other vaccinations, are advised. Protection against malaria includes taking antimalarial medication and using mosquito repellent (those containing DEET are most effective). It is also advised to cover up in the evening by wearing long trousers, sleeves and closed shoes. The risk of malaria is worst in the rainy seasons – from March to May and October to December.
Risks are always present when viewing wildlife but can easily be avoided by following your guide’s directions and being aware of the wildlife viewing safety precautions below. Note that no walking is allowed within the park, and it’s forbidden to exit your vehicle while out on a drive.