As part of our Family Holiday to Rwanda we spent two fabulous days in Akagera National Park staying at Ruzizi Tented Lodge.
Ruzizi Tented Lodge was the loveliest place we stayed in Rwanda and by far the most exciting for our three girls aged 6, 5 and 5. I mean we stayed in a tent on the banks of a lake where you could see hippos and crocs from your bed, and shared breakfast with monkeys – what’s not to love!
Akagera National Park is located in the north east of Rwanda along the border with Tanzania. Although the park began life in 1934, the park was significantly reduced in size following the genocide and reduced in size by half to its current size. A joint venture with African Parks in 2010 has seen Akagera National Park return to life with the return of larger animals such as leopard, hyena, lion and black rhino. After the introduction of the black rhino earlier this year, Akagera National Park has regained its ‘Big 5’ status.
Akagera National Park is beautiful that cannot be doubted and is home to an inordinate amount of birds, official sources say close to 500 species, but the big game is harder to see. Whilst the size of the park has been reduced, the number of animals that call Akagera home, has yet to return to its pre-genocide numbers, meaning the animals can hide easily if they decide to do so.
Planning a trip to a Safari in a National Park with 3 Young Children brought with it quite a lot questions so here are the answers to some of the questions we asked.
Where should we stay?
Akagera Game Lodge was recommended with 3 young children due to the buffet style meals and the swimming pool, however it was Ruzizi Tented Lodge that had caught my eye and where I wanted to stay. Granted the raised walkways and the raised eating area above the lake wouldn’t have been great for toddlers but for children who know to stay away from the edge it was amazing. The animals came to you and the Family Tent was perfectly big enough for 5 of us, despite technically sleeping 4.
The food at Ruzizi was exceptional and served outdoors on the lake. Breakfast is served in the stunning morning light, a picnic is packed for your game drive and the fire is lit before dinner is served by candlelight. The whole experience was incredibly special.
Do you need a guide?
We booked onto a boat trip to see the hippos and crocodiles on the day we arrived. Retrospectively we didn’t need to do this as the hippos came close to Ruzizi but the boat trip was one of the girls favourite things they did in Rwanda. It was something very special to be the only boat on the whole lake and having such a personalised experience. The boat trip is guided by the boat captain, so it is not necessary to hire an extra guide that day.
If your driver from Kigali doesn’t know the park very well it is recommended to hire a guide to find the animals in the National Park. Unlike Kenya where all the guides have radios to locate the game, the Park has taken the decision not to give their guides radios to make finding game a more natural experience, and avoid the situation whereby 20 trucks descend on lions within minutes after a call on the radio. This has its upsides but also its downsides for children who don’t necessarily understand why we can’t find the lion!
There are also community freelance guides (who also guide in the park), to be hired. The Community Freelance Guides initiative was designed to mutually benefit the park and the local community, helping the park to meet the increasing demand for guiding services and stimulate economic empowerment among the young and unemployed living on the boundary of the park. This allows the local community to benefit from the growing tourism within, and around, Akagera National Park.
How Long Do You Need?
We had 2 nights, one full day and two half days. This was enough for what we wanted to do. We had an afternoon on the boat trip, a full day driving around the park, and the second morning on a community tour. We spent our ‘day’ in the park in the South. It would have taken around 4 hours to drive to the North and 4 hours back, our three wouldn’t have managed that. For this reason we chose to miss out on the lions, as they usually base themselves in the North, and try and see the giraffes, buffalo elephants and rhino in the South instead.
We did in fact see plenty of giraffe, zebras and buffalo, as well as elephants from across the lake and a rhino running at speed so fast past us so that we only managed a photo of his bottom!
As an alternative for the last day, in Akagera you could plan to drive through the park and exit from the north, driving back to Kigali from there. A number of the other guests who we met at Ruzizi were doing that.
On our last morning we collected our Community Guide from the park reception and departed for a Community culture activity, a Heritage tour in Kageyo village about the culture of cattle in the eastern province. We got to visit a farm and try our hand at milking. For us the experience was a little marred by the closed roads, due to bad weather the month before, so it took a very long time to drive there. Worth chatting with the guides about timing and other options before you set off. It’s a worthwhile initiative but just worth a discussion about expectations before setting off.
We had a fabulous we days in Akagera Game Park and would happily return. Ruzizi is very special and if you are planning a trip to Rwanda do make sure you add on at least a night to stay there!