My first thought about camping is that it seems to be an odd hobby. I love the smell of clean air, and gazing up at a starry night. But I also love going home to my fluffy pillows, and getting cozy under my sheet and blanket. Yes I sleep with both because Rwanda is cooold for my island blood. So camping (aka sleeping inna bush) is one of those activities that would probably never have crossed my mind, especially without exposure to American media.
I got the opportunity to try out camping for the first time after last year’s Diner en Blanc. As luck would have it, my friends and I won best table, and our prize was a weekend for 6 in the then newly-opened Karenge Bush Camp.
Karenge Bush Camp is located inside Akagera National Park (Rwanda’s main wildlife reserve). I think it’s fair to say Karenge offers a glamping (glamour + camping) experience. We did not have to light fires, bring food, heat water, or pitch tents. All those little necessities were expertly handled by the friendly staff. I was a little apprehensive before the visit because the camp was new so there were no reviews anywhere online. I didn’t really know if there would be running water or electricity. Given that we would only be there for one night, I knew I could do without those basics, but I was a little concerned that I might be trampled by a wayward buffalo. Thankfully that did not happen! The camp was absolutely beautiful, and felt like an oasis away from the stress of everyday life.
We’d meant to leave Kigali at 10 am. Which of course ended up being 2pm. That was partially because we ended up switching out our 6th group member at the last minute. The Camp serves lunch at a specific time, so because we missed it, we stopped for a quick, yummy lunch at the Akagera Game Lodge, which is also located inside the Akagera National Park.
After getting directions from one of the Park guides, we were on our way…to getting a little lost. After stopping to gawk at a gorgeous giraffe, screaming to God as a whole family of giraffes nearly stampeded us, and engaging in a vicious battle with some horseflies, we found our weekend home.
We were extremely excited to find that our tents were walking distance to the lake. Close enough to get that ‘fresh air’ smell, but far enough so a hungry hippo wouldn’t wander over. We were greeted by the warmth of a campfire, a fully stocked bar, and a three course meal.
The tents are elevated which minimizes the risk of animal entry, and increases safety. Each tent features two comfy beds, a couple lamps, and the standard hotel room basics like toiletries, and towels. My bathroom was about 10 paces from my tent and not fully enclosed, which was fine by day, but a little intimidating at night. There was something extremely liberating about letting it all hang out with nature, but common sense told me to face the outside, just in case an animal decided to stroll by.
When we woke up Sunday morning, we were greeted by a yummy breakfast spread, the taste of which was only amplified by the beautiful backdrop of an azure sky.
The word Karenge means ‘small foot’ in Kinyarwanda. This aligns well with the camp’s goal to be eco-friendly, and leave as small an environmental footprint as possible. As a seasonal camp, it is open for specific periods during each year, and changes location each time. It is constructed with eco-friendly materials, which are all removed when the camp is deconstructed at the end of a season. It’s a very intimate atmosphere, as the entire camp fits 12 people across 6 tents.
In 2016, the camp will be open from June to August, and December to February (2017). Since it will be in the northern end of the park this time, I doubt you will have the same lakeside view, but it should be fun nonetheless. The cost is 150 USD per person for a shared tent. As a frugal traveller, I cringe at spending even $50/night on a room, but you can be happy that all proceeds go towards the camp’s conservation efforts. I definitely recommend the camp for a girl’s (or fellas) weekend, a romantic weekend for you and your boo, or a solo commune with nature.
Akarenge Bush Camp Contact
Phone: +250 (0) 787 113 300
Follow Akagera Park on Twitter, as they sometimes post discounts to Karenge.
(Thanks to Illume Creative Studio and the staff of Akagera National Park/Karenge Bush Camp for an awesome time!)