It may not have the cachet of a safari in neighboring Kenya or Uganda, but what a Rwandan safari also lacks is something you won’t miss at all: tourist hordes.
Actually, the fact that Akagera National Park—a stunningly picturesque 432-square-mile park in the country’s east, since 2010 managed by a public-private partnership between Rwanda Development Board and the nonprofit conservation organization African Parks —has only lately made its debut on the international tourism scene means that the time to go is now, before the crowds do. Here’s your guide to a seamless safari.
You’ll need to hire a tour company to take you on the three-hour drive from Kigali, organize your entrance to the park and coordinate game drives and other excursions. WOLF-dmc was impeccable, building a tailor-made schedule for me and providing me with a 4WD safari landcruiser and a wonderfully personable driver, Swaib, whom I appreciated for his knowledge of all-things-Rwanda and, especially, his flawless local music collection, which had me singing along for days. The company can also arrange extended experiences in Rwanda and Uganda after your safari.
Behold heaven in the bush: Ruzizi Tented Lodge, a fully solar-powered collection of nine gorgeous tents decorated in classic Rwandan style and connected by long wooden boardwalks. As I made my way to my home for the night I had my first animal sighting: butterflies so massive and vibrantly colored, I took them for birds. Then I had my second one: vervet monkeys, cavorting on the lake’s shore.
And my third—well, it was an animal hearing: hippos grunting in the lake beside my tent. Meals are delicious and supremely fresh—for lunch, paneer cheese and vegetable skewers with my favorite local hot sauce, Sabana Gold; for dinner, an impeccable steak—but really anything tastes divine when served in this setting: a boardwalk extending out to the lake, perfectly shaded from the sun during the day and home to a warming fire by night. Best part: Ruzizi is designed, built and fully operated by the management of the park, which means that all its profits go toward Akagera’s long-term sustainability.
On my game drive Swaib and I saw almost everything I’d hoped for: herds of buffalo and impala, zebras, antelopes, a giraffe, crocodiles, hippos and, I’d guess, at least 100 of the 482 bird species in the park. Akagera’s management is avidly working to revive the animal life here after years of poaching, introducing seven lions in 2015, but alas, I wasn’t lucky enough to lay eyes on one. I did, however, ogle dramatic landscapes of remarkable variety: rolling hills of acacia bush, scattered verdant grassland, thick forest, swamp-fringed lakes, and, on the way back to Kigali, a veritable sea of banana farms.
A sunset boat trip on Lake Ihema, amid lively hippos and basking crocodiles, was nothing short of magical. As the sky turned crimson, there he was, so close we could touch him: a lone male elephant, relishing his grass supper.
Dr. Baz Dreisinger is a globetrotter, professor and activist. This article was published by Forbes magazine.