Akagera Trip Report

Just wanted to update your great site and guide on Akagera National Park/Lodge. 

We did two days at the lodge this past weekend (8/17 – 8/19) including
a drive through the entire park from the lodge to the north gate.

The park is under (relatively) new management by the South African
outfit, African Parks (see Park_2_Akagera.html). As part of their
efforts to upgrade the park, a new day visitor’s center is being
completed (it’s the first thing you’ll find a few miles after passing
the gate to the park – there’s still nothing at the gate itself, which
can be a little disconcerting after 20 miles of dirt road). The guides
and game wardens all have smart new uniforms, and most importantly:
they now accept Visa cards for payment of all park fees. The day fee
for foreigners is currently $30, $20 for EAC residents; your car will
cost you $7 for the entire visit. Guides run $15 for a half day, $30
for a full day, which includes the guide’s expenses to get back to the
park HQ if you drop him at the north gate. They have a decent map for
sale for RWF1000. The markers within the park haven’t been updated for
some time, but at least in the dry season you’d be hard pressed to get
really lost in there, particularly down south.

African Parks are also the driving force behind the new Ruzizi tent
lodge, which is scheduled to open at the end of September with seven
big tents on platforms, as well as a dining hall/reception area and
decent facilities. It should provide a good alternative to the sketchy
camp sites and the decrepit lodge (see below).

The park has upgraded the equipment they use for the boat trips on
Lake Ihema – they’re now decent aluminum boats w/ life vests for all.
The boat trips cost $30 pp for an hour — debatable value for money,
unless you really want to get out and see the birds on the islands.

Work is really, truly underway on the fabled fence that will
eventually surround the entire park; once that is completed, the plan
remains to restock the park with both lions and rhinos.

Ex-President Habyariamana’s house on the lakeshore is slated to be
converted into something visitor friendly in the not-too distant
future – our guide wasn’t sure if it would be a guesthouse or a
restaurant.

Now for the bad news: the Akagera Game Lodge, which has supposedly
been under new-ish management and should have undergone some sort of
renovation over the past four years is still completely unchanged.
While the lodge is a decent enough base for exploring the park, and
the rates remain reasonable (at least compared to e.g. the overpriced
lodge at Nyonwe), it is a pretty run-down operation. A standard double
room runs USD60, and they can also do en-suite family rooms for USD120
with a massive king size bed and a set of twin beds. An adequate
breakfast buffet is included in the room rate, but for lunch and
dinner you’re at the mercy of the restaurant, which serves slow,
overpriced but generally pretty amazing food.

The restaurant will prepare a generous boxed lunch w/ drinks for $10
– great if you’re planning a daylong game drive. Otherwise, be sure
to bring your own supplies – there’s nothing to buy at the lodge
except for water, and even that is vastly overpriced (RWF800 for a
small 300ml bottle). Also be sure to plan for gas – fill up before you
enter the park if you’re planning on driving all the way from one end
to the other. It’s 40km from either gate to the nearest gas station.
We did the drive at the peak of dry season in our old beat-up Rwandan
RAV4, and it coped with everything we encountered. While we didn’t
need the 4-wheel drive, you couldn’t do the drive with the wheel
clearance of a regular car.

The lodge will quote you in USD, but they will put together your final
bill entirely in RWF (incl. any restaurant items you signed to the
room). You are then free to pay the whole thing in USD, but they’ll
use a pathetic rate of exchange (580RWF/USD, at a time when the rate
in Kigali is about 617RWF/USD), so be sure to bring enough RWF to
settle your account to your advantage.

Lars
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