Ruaha is the size of a small country, the largest national park in Tanzania, much wilder and less visited than the Selous. This is an action-packed safari adventure across wide, open grasslands, hills lined with baobab groves, rocky escarpments, acacia woodland and the colossal Great Ruaha River. You’ll enjoy excellent predator concentrations across the park, better than many other parks in the country. Apart from rhino, all the main animals are thriving. Because Ruaha lies on a convergence zone, you have the rare privilege of being able to see both East African and South African wildlife in one park, resulting in an overwhelming number of species. Exploring Ruaha’s vast, untouched wilderness over several days will reward you with a game-viewing experience that’s hard to beat.
The Great Ruaha River
Ruaha’s most dominant geographical feature is the Great Ruaha River, the lifeline of the park, converged by hundreds of smaller streams. The river bursts its banks in the rainy season, thundering across huge boulders at terrific speed. It is likely that you will visit Ruaha in the dry season, when the river shrinks dramatically to just a few pools that attract huge crowds of animals, bravely risking the threat of predation to quench their thirst.
An Overwhelming Number of Species
Watching predators hunting at the Great Ruaha River during the dry season is a thrilling experience. You’re likely to spot all the big cats and other main predators – large prides of lions, packs of African wild dogs, leopards, cheetahs, jackals and gangs of spotted (and striped) hyenas. The abundance of prey makes catching their next meal so easy, the predators just need to make sure they don’t fall asleep!
Their prey includes rare species like the greater and lesser kudu, sable and roan antelopes, buffalo, zebra, Grant’s gazelle, waterbuck, bushbuck, impala…the list goes on and on. During your stay in Ruaha, you will also encounter plenty of giraffe and huge herds of elephants – 12,000 elephants migrate through the park each year and Ruaha boasts the largest elephant population in East Africa. Particularly enjoyable to watch is the pack behaviour of the endangered African wild dogs when they are denning, and you’ll be amazed at the size of the lion prides – some are more than 20 strong. All animals crowd the river to drink during the dry season, but you’ll also spot many of them roaming other areas of the park even in the driest months, particularly cheetah hunting on the open plains.
Ruaha’s birdlife is endearingly colourful, with a sensational mix of southern and northern species. An incredible 580 bird varieties have been sighted in Ruaha including fish eagles, Eleanora’s falcon, goliath herons, crested barbets, black-collared lovebirds and lots of vultures.
Daytime game driving is the main activity in Ruaha and it’s an experience of a lifetime. Walking safaris are also recommended, where you can feel even closer to the wildlife. Nightime game drives are being trialled. One camp offers a superb fly-camping trip, where you go out into the wilderness with a highly-trained guide for 2 or 3 days, sleeping under the stars. Fly-camping is an unforgettable adventure for those who are brave and fit. If fly-camping seems too challenging, how about a short, guided walk and a bush picnic?
Due to it’s size, you should spend at least 5 nights in Ruaha, perhaps in 2 or 3 camps in different areas. Stay in the Eastern sector for the prime game area, then explore the Central and more remote Western sectors. High-end accommodation includes a beautiful, remote and indulgent camp, as well as surprisingly affordable, luxurious tented camps. There is also a comfortable, very reasonably-priced lodge in a prime location. If your budget is small, the park runs several basic but adequate “bandas” along the banks of the river, plus several campsites, en-suite rooms and a restaurant.
Best Time to Visit
To see enormous concentrations of animals at the Great Ruaha River, visit the park in the dry season from June to October. The drier it gets, the more animals you will see collecting at the shrinking water sources, and the easier it is to spot predators trying to hide in the thinning vegetation. For bird lovers, the perfect time is during the wet season, from February to April – this is when migratory birds stop-off at Ruaha. Breeding season for the male Greater Kudu is in June.
How to Get There
Ruaha National Park is in the heart of Tanzania, on the southern circuit. Ruaha is not easy to get to and its remoteness is part of its appeal. You can drive from Dar es Salaam for a bumpy and uncomfortable 10 hours, or you can fly – much faster and more comfortable! Depending on your itinerary, you can book a chartered or scheduled flight from most main towns in the north and south of the country. This will take you directly into one of Ruaha’s 2 airstrips at Msembe and Jongomero. You need to arrive at your accommodation before dark, as night driving is not permitted in Ruaha.