Set at a relatively low altitude on the border with Tanzania, Akagera National Park could scarcely be more different in mood to the breezy cultivated hills that characterize much of Rwanda. Dominated scenically by the labyrinth of swamps and lakes that follow the meandering course of the Akagera River, the most remote source of the Nile, this is archetypal African savannah landscape of tangled acacia woodland interspersed with open grassland. Akagera National Park was named after the river that runs along its eastern boundary; The Park is Rwanda’s famous Savanna reserve. In comparison to the rest of the country, the area is relatively warm and low-lying, and plains support a cover of dense, broad-leafed woodland with lighter acacia woodland and patches of rolling grassland studded eloquently with stands of the superficially cactus-like Euphorbia candelabra shrub. The west of the plains lays a chain of low mountains, which reach the elevations of between 1,600m and 1,800m. The eastern part of the park supports a vast wetland. The mighty Akagera River feeds a complex of a dozen of lakes linked by extensive papyrus swamps and winding water.
Akagera is, above all, big game country! Herds of elephant and buffalo emerge from the woodland to drink at the lakes, while lucky visitors might stumble across a leopard, a spotted hyena or even a stray lion. Giraffe and zebra haunt the savannah, and more than a dozen types of antelope inhabit the park, most commonly the handsome chestnut-coated impala, but also the diminutive oribi and secretive bushbuck, as well as the ungainly tsessebe and the world’s largest antelope, the statuesque Cape eland.
Camping alongside the picturesque lakes of Akagera is a truly mystical introduction to the wonders of the African bush. Pods of 50 hippopotami grunt and splutter throughout the day, while outsized crocodiles soak up the sun with their vast jaws menacingly agape. Magically, the air is torn apart by the unforgettable high dotting of a pair of fish eagles, asserting their status as the avian monarchs of Africa’s waterways. Lining the lakes are some of the continent’s densest concentrations of water birds, while the connecting marshes are the haunt of the endangered and exquisite papyrus Gonolek, and the bizarre shoebill stork – the latter perhaps the most eagerly sought of all African birds.