~Looking over the picturesque landscape, I couldn’t help but smile. I was on my first African safari! As a kid, I had always loved observing animals. A dream of mine was finally coming true. Reminiscing~
Back in November 2018, I was able to travel to Akagera National Park. Sharing a border with Tanzania, Akagera is located in NorthEast Rwanda. It takes up an area of 433 square miles. Almost completely destroyed in 1994, Akagera has started to get back to what it was meant to be.
History of Akagera:
Poachers and the Rwanda Genocide destroyed a lot of wildlife in Akagera. Poachers used to kill lions because they were a threat to their villages, and were killing their cattle. Akagera was also a battleground for the Rwanda Genocide, and later named a relocation zone. A National Park that used to be a natural home to lions and rhinos, saw their disappearance in the 90s. As time went on, more Rwandans put in an effort to rebuild the park. Going from nearly destroyed, to reintroducing lions and rhinos back into the park was a major accomplishment. Fencing, anti-poaching laws, and better management have helped the park thrive. Akagera is now a major tourist attraction that brings in people from all over the world, and is regarded as a 5-star African safari experience.
I went on the Safari with 16 other individuals, 14 from Virginia Tech and 2 of our brilliant translators. We started our journey from a small hotel, about an hour outside of the park. Three beige safari trucks picked us up early in the morning. “Hills in the Mist Travel Tours” was labeled on the back. When we got to the entrance, myself, my translator Kim, and my friend Farrell took a picture in front of the Akagera sign (pictured below). We were extremely excited and wanted to get into the park as soon as possible, but of course pictures come first!
In a thick Rwandan accent: “Keep your hands inside the vehicle, do not be stupid and jump out. Or else the lions may get you.” One of the park managers jokingly told us. Was I scared? No. But I wasn’t planning on getting out of the truck!
The First Half:
To begin we drove down a bumpy dirt road. The road was small, giving off the feeling that it was only one way. “Giraffes” someone screamed in a truck in front of mine. I looked up and was amazed. I saw a plethora of giraffes feeding on green leafy trees. To say the least, they were massive! I knew giraffes were giant creatures, but it took me by surprise to see a lot of them in a small area. Fun fact: A giraffe’s neck is too short to reach the ground when standing straight up. If you want to see a funny picture, google a giraffe drinking water.
We continued down the road, passing several small ponds. Herons and other large bird species surrounded the waterholes. The ponds were mainly dried up, as they didn’t look like they had been exposed to rain for a bit of time.
Next we stumbled upon a large plain filled with Zebras, Buffalo, and Antelope. If you can picture a wide open flat field with a bunch of different animals grazing, that is basically what we saw. Zebras were probably the most abundant of animals across the plain. We saw elephants way out in the distance, but couldn’t get close enough to take pictures.
The Second Half:
After some time of driving around, I saw some of the most extraordinary views I’d have ever seen in my life. An overlook of famed Lake Ihema, and a landscape of green rolling hills and spaced-out trees. I would recommend visiting Akagera just for this view! For a lack of better words, it was simply unbelievable (sadly pictures or words don’t do it justice).
We made our way down to Lake Ihema, weaving through large bushes. When we finally reached the bottom, we hopped out of the lifted truck and ate lunch. The tour guides gave us bananas, sandwiches, and chips. When we were eating we were surrounded by hippos and crocs the whole time. Honestly I thought the predators were a little too close for comfort, however the tour guides made sure we remained at a safe distance. If you saw how big those hippos were you probably would have felt the same.
After a few minutes we got back into the truck, looking ahead to the last part of the trip. It wasn’t until the last five minutes of the safari that we saw an up close view of the one-and-only, African Elephant. Almost everybody on the trip made it a priority to see the elephant (except for me). Sadly we did not see any leopards, which was my number one. One of the tour guides told me they were nocturnal, so you rarely see them during the day.
When we finished the tour we went inside the Akagera National Park gift shop. I bought a t-shirt and a sticker from the shop, as I thought it would be a good idea to have for the mems. Sadly, I think the lost the shirt when I got back to the U.S.
Our tour guide dropped us off at our hotel. We were all exhausted from the trip. The safari was over eight hours long. Even though we were tired, we were all still talking about how amazing the African safari was. It really is a must-add to a traveler’s bucket list.
African Safari Tips:
- Bring a nice camera with a high zoom range: most of the time you cannot get too close to the animals without spooking them. Having a digital camera with a lens zoom of at least 250 is ideal.
- Make sure you put on a lot of bug spray. If you want to go the extra mile, try pemetherin. You spray this on your clothes – it is highly effective for repelling mosquitoes. I used it during my trip to Rwanda, it definitely works (and not very expensive). Spray bottles can be found here.
- Don’t forget your water! Unless you want to stop for a drink with the hippos and crocodiles, I’d recommend bringing 2-3 bottles of water for yourself.
- Get a tour guide. If I had to navigate the bush of Rwanda by myself, I may not be writing this blog right now. Kidding of course. But seriously, you see a lot of people struggling on their own, and oftentimes wind up lost or break down. Don’t be “that person”, play it safe and hire a fun tour guide!
- Have fun (and don’t jump out of the truck)!
Summary For Zoomers:
Located in Rwanda, Akagera National Park is a must visit location! The safari was an unbelievable experience that allowed me to see animals up close and not locked in a cage. If you get the opportunity to go on an African Safari in the future, be sure to write down the tips listed above. They definitely would’ve benefited me!