Akagera National Park, Rwanda

Photo: Wilderness Safaris

The world could use some good news right now. Everything you’ve heard, read, and seen has been depressing and stressful for far too long. So you’re on the lookout for something, anything, to make you smile. You didn’t expect to find it in Rwanda.

The landlocked East African country has a violent history. It started with the Tutsi kings, who conquered Hutu land. Pro-Tutsi German and Belgian invasions followed. The Hutu people revolted. That led to a military coup, a civil war, and a devastating genocide. Rwanda has been slowly rebuilding ever since.

Akagera National Park is one of the areas that’s undergone a major transformation. The park sits in northeast Rwanda along the Tanzanian border. When the Belgians established it in 1934, it became one of Africa’s first national parks and largest protected wetlands. The park didn’t fare well in the decades that followed, though. Its Masai giraffes, introduced from Kenya in 1986, were killed during the Rwandan Civil War. Instead of gaining land, the park downsized by two-thirds after that. While the Eastern black rhinoceros, brought from Tanzania in 1957, was last seen in 2007 thanks to poachers. The park was in trouble.

Photo: Wilderness Safaris

The turnaround began in 2009. That’s when African Parks, a South African conservation-focused network, agreed to manage the park. In doing so, they developed infrastructure, increased security, and began reintroducing species back into the park’s hills, lakes, savannahs, swamps, and woodlands. Akagera National Park is now home to all of the big five. It’s also one of the best-kept safari secrets on the continent.

With the park in good shape, it was time to start thinking about visitors. In 2010, only about 8,000 people visited the park. That number increased to 44,000 in just eight years. With few accommodation options, most people make day trips from Kigali. But the Rwandan capital is two-and-a-half hours away. With the help of African Parks, a luxury safari camp, the first in the country, finally opened in the park last spring.

Magashi Camp sits on the edge of Lake Rwanyakazinga, which is home to one of Africa’s highest densities of hippos. You’ll probably hear them grunting long before you see them. The camp stands on raised decks. Its tents are made of natural canvas, poles, and timber. The main tent holds the lounge, the dining room, and the bar. Traditional imigongo murals and handcrafted trinkets decorate the space. Plus one side is completely open. It leads to the sundeck, the naturally purified pool, and a panoramic view of the water.

There are only six semi-permanent tents for guests. They feature roll-up canvas walls, wooden floors, and wraparound decks. You’ll find writing desks, complimentary minibars, and stone bathrooms inside. Rattan furniture is perfectly positioned outside. While early wake-up calls, guided safaris, afternoon tea, aperitifs, and wine-filled dinners are already planned. Hopefully, you’ll be able to check out Africa’s newest gem for yourself soon.


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