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Experience Game Viewing in Akagera National Park

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Unless you are staying in the safari lodge, game drives are available only if you have a private vehicle, ideally a 4×4 car. Guides are provided at a small charge (though a tip will be expected at the visitor’s will). The guide will help you find your way around, spot wildlife in the thick bush, and identify birds during your Rwanda safari in Akagera . The main game-viewing circuit is in the South and is essentially limited to two main roads that form an excellent loop game drive out of Akagera safari lodge. One road runs from the entrance gate to lake Ihema and then continues Northwards, passing most of the lakes before it exists the park at the Northern Nyungwe gate. The other road signposted ‘Giraffe viewing Area’ forks left from the lake road about 100m past the entrance gate and then follows a long circuit  through the hills before descending back to meet the lakes road on the West shore of Lake Birengero. Turn back South here, and the full loop will usually take 3-5 hours, depending on how often you stop. Game drive options further North are restricted by the fact  that the only accommodation is in the far South. However, North of lake Hago, the road once again branches into two main forks, one heading West into the Mutumba Hills, the other continuing along the lakes, and they reconnect at Lake Rwanyakizinga.

In along half day, you could realistically travel from the lodge as far North as the Mutumba hills and back. To head further North requires the best part of a day, with the option of using the Nyungwe gate to exit the park North of Lake Rwanyakizinga. The tracks in the far North are very indistinct, and should be attempted only in the company of a guide. If you exit at Nyungwe gate, the guide can be dropped at Kayonza or kabarondo junctions with enough money to make his way back to the headquarters by motorbike-taxi. Starting from the entrance gate, a hilly road through very thick scrub where klipspringer and buffalo are often seen, leads over about 5km to lake Ihema. It is on a humid and mosquito-plaqued island near the Eastern shore of Ihema that Henry Stanley, the first European to enter modern-day Rwanda, set up camp on the night of 11March 1876, only to turn back into what is now Tanzania the next day after he was repulsed from the lake’s Western shore. Today, Defassa waterbuck are common residents around Ihema , as are some reported aggressive buffaloes. It’s worth stopping to look for hippo’s, crocodiles, scraggly marabou storks and waterbirds, also  a resident pair of the localized Arnot’s chat is resident. This is also where boat trips can be arranged. About 4km North of lake Ihema, a road forks through more thick scrub to the small lake Shakani, a scenic camping spot and home to large numbers of hippo.

The bush here is rattling with birdlife look out for the brilliant scarlet chest of the black-headed gonolek and impala are rather common. A rough track along the marshy Western lake shore is a good place to pick up the likes of African jacana, long-toed lapwing, open-billed stork, squacco heron and common moorhen. Unfortunately the lake is also a popular place to water cattle. About 8km North of this, Lake Birengero is a shallow, muddy body of palm-fringed water which supports huge numbers of waterbirds, notably pelicans, storks, and at least one pair of shoebill. To look for the shoebill, park at one of the open areas on the Western shore and scan the papyrus beds opposite for a large static grey shape

From here, you can follow the track into the hills through the so-called Giraffe-viewing Area, back to the entrance gate. This more open country can be good for antelope, especially topi and oribi, and giraffe and buffalo are also seen with some frequency. Its worth stopping at the Rwisirabo ranger post to look for Arnot’s chat and long-tailed cisticola . Better still is the birdlife at Muyumbu campsite, where fruiting trees often host various barbets along with green woodhoope, Meyer’s parrot and many smaller acacia-associated species. The best of the lakes for general game viewing is Lake Hago, which lies about 15km North of Birengero and is encircled by a descent track. This is where elephant are most likely to be seen, and animals are difficult to spot, though you can be reasonably confident of seeing baboons, vervet monkeys and impala. This all changes when you ascend to the Mutumba hills through an area of park-like woodland whose large acacias are favored by giraffe. Eventually the woodland gives way to open grassland and easily the best game viewing in the park. Here you can be certain of seeing the delicate oribi and reedbuck, as well as the larger topi. With luck, you will also encounter eland, Zebra and in the wet season large herds of buffalo. North of the Mutumba hills, the vegetation is again very thick, and animals can be difficult to spot, though impala, buffalo and Zebra all seen to be present in significant numbers. The papyrus beds around lakes Gishanju and Mihindi form the most accessible marshy areas in the park, and are worth taking slowly by anybody who hopes to see papyrus dwellers. The plage Hippos ( hippo beach) on lake Mihindi was, oddly, about the one place in Akagera where we stopped next to open water and didn’t see any hippos, but it’s a pretty spot, and would make for an ideal picnic site. Heading Further North, Lake Rwanyakizinga is another favoured spot with elephants, and the open plains to the West of the lake are excellent for plains animals such as warthog, Zebra and herds of 50 plus topi. This little visited part of Akagera is one that is inhabited by Lion and, until recently, a solitary and secretive rhino. Having looked around this area, your options are either to head back the way you came, or more popular to head cross-country out of the park along the route mentioned earlier in this section.

The most rewarding times for game drives are the early morning and late afternoon or early evening. Morning game drives start at 7am, breakfast can be taken beforehand at 6.30am or afterwards at around 10am. Evening game drives start at 4pm.