I get asked all the time about the best tips for planning an Akagera trip with children. It’s such an exciting part of living here in Kigali- getting to take a weekend safari trip? We are so lucky!
But, I have to admit: I hadn’t actually taken my kids for over three years before this month. Yikes! So while I had some theoretical advice to offer (and some tips from trips long ago), I know it was time to plan another trip for my kids now that they are both old enough to enjoy (6 and 3).
The first things to know about Akagera is that to do a complete game drive from the south entrance to the north exit is LONG, about 6 hours at least. It’s about 2.5 hours from Kigali to the entrance, plus 3 hours from the exit to Kigali- all told, to do the entire thing in a day, you’re looking at at least 11/12 hours driving time, in addition to stops for animal viewing, bathroom, check in at the park, and picnic. It’s a long day, longer than most children can handle. I knew that it would be really hard for my kids. Plus, we wanted to make a weekend out of it!
So, I set out to find the most affordable and comfortable way to make it happen. Many people had been raving about the Akagera Game Lodge since it’s been acquired by Mantis Properties and subsequently renovated. In addition, I had heard great things about their sister property, Epic Hotel & Suites in Nyagatare, about 45min from the North Exit. By booking nights at these hotels back-to-back, we bookended our long and dusty game drive with air conditioned hotels, hot showers, and comfortable beds. I’m not sure I could do it another way again!
This is meant to be an open itinerary that you could do self-driving, or with a tour agency. If you have the means, hiring a tour agency or a freelance guide at the park entrance is a great investment, as they know how to keep you and your vehicle safe, can sometimes get you further discounts, and can help you find and identify animals. We’ve done it both ways, and there are pros and cons to going with a guide (another body in the car being a con) BUT you should definitely do it at least once, especially in these times where our economy needs our generosity!
Here’s our weekend itinerary, complete with all meals so you can copy exactly:
10:00 am DEPART KIGALI
12:00 pm LUNCH at IMIGONGO ART CENTER, Kayonza
1:00 pm DEPART for SOUTH ENTRANCE
2:00 pm ARRIVE, check in at gate, pay entrance fee at guest center
2:30 pm CHECK IN at AGL. Relax, eat included dinner, and go to bed early!
*CONSIDER going for a short loop drive on this afternoon! There’s lots to be seen, even just around the Game Lodge, Staff at the park entrance headquarters can show you a good loop to drive.
6:30 am BREAKFAST at AGL
7:30 am CHECK OUT and head out on the game drive!
LUNCH packed, on the go, or on Kilala Plain (depending on open picnic areas and hunger levels of kiddos)
3:00 pm ish EXIT North Gate, go on to EPIC Nyagatare
3:45 pm ish ARRIVE at EPIC, check in, eat dinner, relax and play! We ordered pizzas from the a la carte menu, but there was also a buffet with good COVID protocols in place.
Breakfast buffet and playtime at EPIC. Amazing kids room and pools!
10:30 am CHECK OUT
12:00 pm LUNCH at IMIGONGO ART CENTER or JAMBO BEACH MUHAZI (on the way)
1:00 pm DEPART for Kigali
2:30/3:00 pm ARRIVE in Kigali
Our stays at Akagera Game Lodge and Epic Hotel and Suites made a huge difference in the comfort of our trip. We had hot showers and comfortable beds on either end of the game drive, and places for our kids to explore and run off energy after sitting in the car all day. I don’t know about you, but I end every game drive wanting nothing more than a hot shower and a comfortable bed, and you can’t get that faster than driving straight to Epic. It’s a game changer, especially for families who have already been in the car for hours!
Once pools are allowed to open, these hotels will be even more enjoyable for families, though we loved them both right now. Both properties are incredibly nice, and felt like a vacation even without the safari!
Both hotels had great accommodations for families. AGL has recently renovated to upgrade rooms, including turning the bottom floor rooms into family rooms. These rooms feature a king bed for adults, and then can fit two twin mattresses (comfortably) on the floor to make a kids sleeping area.
Epic also offers family suites. We stayed in a normal room, and added an extra bed. One child on the extra bed and one on the couch worked fine for us, though it wasn’t ideal. We would probably opt for a family suite next time. But the rooms are very comfortable and the kids loved it! Especially the cookies they left in the room with turndown service. Okay, I liked those, too 🙂
Epic also features a fun kids room, complete with staff if you’re comfortable leaving your kids to play while you go relax. This was open even now, with COVID restrictions. There are video games, art supplies, board games, baby toys- it was really impressive. Our kids LOVED it and we had to drag them away!
Worth noting: neither of these properties have bath tubs, at least in rooms we were given. They do have gorgeous showers with rainwater heads (we loved them), but no tubs for kids. So just know that going in! We didn’t find it an issue, but if kids are younger it may be.
On the whole, I can’t imagine a more comfortable way to take a family safari than this itinerary. Whenever we go again, I’ll do it exactly the same way! I hope this inspires you to go out and explore Rwanda with your kids, and relax in a luxe hotel or two while you’re at it 🙂
Here’s a few tips we’d like to offer for your family safari, as well as a packing list of things you might not think to pack. I didn’t bring an extra set of clothes for after safari, and I really wish I had!
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR AKAGERA IN GENERAL:
Light colored clothing, as dark clothing attracts more flies. Be aware that if you have a dark vehicle, this will also attract more flies.
Pillows for the car, especially for little ones to be comfortable. We took our kids car seats out and put them in the boot so they could look around freely and see everything we were seeing.
Bring things to occupy your kids in the car. Even on the most successful safaris, there will be stretches where there isn’t much to see. Coloring books or iPads can be really helpful to fend off the sea of “this is boringggggg” from the backseat.
Bring anti-nausea meds and take them before leaving the Game Lodge. They are available in local pharmacies. The first part of the drive seems to be the worst for this, as it’s very bumpy and you are driving through the forest, so it’s more difficult to focus your eyes on something further away. You also need to keep windows closed because the flies are especially bad in the southern part of the park- and if you don’t have AC, the heat and lack of air movement in the car can make nausea worse. Trust me on this: you don’t want a carsick kid. Do whatever you need to do to prevent this.
Bug spray and sunscreen. If you have the windows down, there are many kinds of biting flies that will get into your car. Most aren’t actually tsetse flies, but they are still annoying and can hurt! Have something handy to swat those that get in. Also, If you’re hanging out your window, you’ll get sunburnt! Lather up even if you don’t think you will.
Purchase guides at the park entrance. There are adult guides with a map and species checklists, and a fun interactive kids guide, too. They are around 2-3,000 RWF and really great, especially if you self-drive. Numbers on the maps coordinate with numbers on the park signs, so it’s easy to figure out where you are. There are also photos of some species to help you identify what you see!
There are NO FACILITIES on the main drive of the park right now. None. Only at entrance and exit. This meant several stops to pee on the side of the road, which is kind of nerve wracking but unavoidable. Go for open areas with good visibility of the ground so you can avoid snakes. **NOTE: Apparently, in normal times, you can drive to the campsites and use their facilities. If you hire a guide, they can help you with this, or perhaps you can get guidance on where to go from the park staff before you set out in the morning if you’re self-driving!
Ask about what picnic spots are open. When we went, all were closed except for Kilala Plain (near the very end of the drive), so we did a ton of snacking in the car to get us through to the picnic area.
ADD TO YOUR PACKING LIST:
Anti-nausea meds for kids or adults who get carsick
Lots of snacks and drinks for the drives. Lunch too, if you won’t purchase from AGL.
Games or activities for the hotel stays if amenities are still closed
Adult beverages if desired
Laptop for movie at night
Car chargers for phones
Jibu container so you can refill water bottles when needed
CLOTHES TO BRING:
Travel outfit, day 1
Safari outfit (avoid dark colors)
Post-Safari outfit (you’ll want to change after safari)
Travel outfit, day 3
Swimsuits if pools are open
Thank you Mantis Properties for your kind hospitality & service! We can’t wait to come again. Disclosure: we were gifted free accommodation by Mantis Properties in order to review each of the hotels. All opinions are my own, and I was not obligated to write the review after the stay if I didn’t enjoy it and fully recommend it (which I do!)