Akagera National Park is a giant African wetland in Rwanda that acts as a safe haven for hippos, lions, leopards, and giraffes — but this wasn’t always the case. The park has a long, grim history and has only recently bounced back to resemble its prior self.
First established in 1934, Akagera National Park is one of Africa’s oldest national parks, according to National Geographic, but the expansive wetlands drew poachers, and in the early 1990s became a battleground. Following the war, new settlements — including an estimated 700,000 cattle – convened on the park, straining the ecosystem. In an effort to preserve the park while accommodating human life, the Akagera National Park was reduced by two-thirds in 1997 marking one of the largest reductions of conservation area size in modern African history.
In 2009, after the park continually struggled to return to its former state, the Rwandan government partnered with African Parks, an Africa-based nonprofit, to launch an ambitious conservation program. Today, Akagera is one of a select number of parks in Africa that boasts the Big Five — leopards, lions, Cape buffalo, elephants, rhinoceros — and tourism is increasing. Visitors to the park can see wildlife and get the African safari experience without dealing with the crowds that come with popular parks like Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.
“Rwanda didn’t know what they had here,” said Jes Gruner, the park’s manager, to National Geographic. “It’s a little gem.”
Travelers can access Akagera National Park via the Kigali International Airport in Kigali, Rwanda. Entrance fees are $50 per person, per day for international visitors. To have a guide accompany you on the game drive the cost is $25 for a half day and $40 for a full day.