Ruaha National Park | Safari to Ruaha
Ruaha National Park
Ruaha National Park is a national park in Tanzania. Ruaha National Park is the largest national park in Tanzania. It covers an area of about 13,000 square kilometres.The addition of the Usangu Game Reserve and other important wetlands to the park in 2008 increased its size to about 20,226 km², making it the largest protected area in Tanzania and East Africa. The park is about 130 kilometres west of Iringa.
Wildlife: The park has the biggest concentration of elephants of any national park in East Africa (Selous Game Reserve has a larger population). The park is famous for its huge buffalo herds and its variety of antelope. Ruaha is the only east African park with both Greater and Lesser Kudu, and sable and roan antelopes. It also offers an unusual combination of East and Southern African wildlife and birds. It is one of the most important areas in the world for large carnivores, with 10% of the lions remaining in Africa, as well as large populations of wild dogs, cheetahs, leopards and spotted hyenas.
For birdwatchers, Ruaha’s birdlife is extraordinary, with over 570 species recorded including turaco, racquet-tailed roller, red-billet fire finch and Dickinson’s kestrel. There are six species of both vultures and hornbills, and raptors abound.
When to go to Ruaha
The average rainfall at the park headquarters is about 500mm and usually comes between November and April. The coolest month is normally July with a daytime max. of 30º C dropping to 15º C at night; temperatures then rise until it rains in November or later. For larger mammals the best time to visit Ruaha National Park is in the dry season between June and October. As a simple rule, the drier it gets, the fewer places there are for the game to drink and the more the animals congregate around remaining water sources. Of course this makes life much easier for lions and other predators as they simply have to hide in a bush near such a water source and try not to fall asleep.
Getting to Ruaha
The easiest way to get to Ruaha is to fly into one of two airstrips—one is located at the park’s headquarters in Msembe, and one is in Jongomero. Coastal Aviation offers daily flights from Arusha, Dar es Salaam, Selous, the Serengeti, and Zanzibar.
Auric Air and Safari Airlink also fly to Ruaha from various destinations across Tanzania. Once you arrive at the airstrip, a representative from your lodge or camp will transfer you to your accommodations via a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
If you choose to drive to Ruaha, it’s a three-hour drive along a dirt road from Iringa (approximately 80 miles) or a 10-hour drive from Dar es Salaam. Don’t attempt these drives by yourself during the rainy seasons.
- Ruaha’s roads are challenging, in general, especially during the rainy season. You will need a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and the know-how to drive it, if you choose to embark on a self-drive safari.
Activities in Ruaha National Park
Visitors come to Ruaha National Park primarily to spot wildlife, and there are several different ways to go about it. The park’s camps and lodges offer guided game drives and night drives, giving you the benefit of an experienced ranger who knows which areas yield the best sightings. You can also head out on a self-drive around the park during daylight hours. This is an exciting option for adventurers who like to explore independently.
Walking safaris are also popular in Ruaha, whether you choose to sign up for one through your lodge or with the Tanzanian Parks service. The latter offers guided day hikes that last from two to four hours, in addition to the multi-day Kichaka to Kidabaga route. You can also view the animals and landscape from the air by embarking on a hot air balloon safari.
Back on the ground, enjoy bush meals organized by your lodge or guided safari trip, go birdwatching, or visit cultural and historical sights, like the Nyanywa rock paintings, the natural pillars at Isimila, and a trip to the Mkwawa Museum.
Ruaha National Park is particularly famous for its large predator sightings. Research conducted by the Ruaha Carnivore Project, established in 2009, showed that the park is home to a whopping 10 percent of Africa’s lions, including large prides with 20 or more members. This land also supports one of only four East African cheetah populations with more than 200 adults, and boasts the world’s third-largest population of endangered African wild dogs. Ruaha is also an excellent destination for leopard and spotted hyena sightings, while jackals and bat-eared foxes are relatively common, as well.
The park also has one of Tanzania’s largest elephant populations, with over 10,000 of the magnificent animals roaming freely across its vast expanse. The Great Ruaha River provides the perfect habitat for aquatic creatures, including hippos and Nile crocodiles. The only notable absence on the park’s wildlife roster is the rhino, which was poached to extinction here in the early 1980s.
Several lodges and outfitters give you the option to view all these magnificent creatures up close. In fact, a few will turn your walking safari into an unforgettable “fly camping” experience. This trip style includes a night or two spent under the stars in the middle of the bush, with nothing but mosquito netting separating you from the wilderness.
Birding in Ruaha National Park
Serious birders should carve out time to spend in Ruaha National Park, as more than 570 different species live here, including an exciting mix of birds from both Southern and East Africa.
Keep an eye out for endemics like the yellow-collared lovebird, the ashy starling, and the Tanzanian red-billed hornbill. Raptors occur in abundance here, and vultures are a specialty.
In total, there are six vulture species in Ruaha, including the critically endangered hooded vulture, the white-backed vulture, the white-headed vulture, and Ruppell’s vulture.
Where to Camp in Ruaha?
Five public campsites offer tent space within the park, while a plethora of private operations provide glamping opportunities in permanent and seasonal camps. Some offerings include a “back to the basics” approach, complete with only a tent, a meal, and a fire, while other, more extravagant outfitters boast tented main lodges and luxury camping suites.
- Ikuka Permanent Tented Camp: This tented lodge is located in the northern part of the park overlooking the Mwagusi River Valley. Accommodations at Ikuka include seven luxury, open-sided tents with thatched roofs, king or twin beds, a dressing area, a walkway to a bathroom with rain showers, and a large deck and seating area to take in the view.
- Kigelia Camp: The simple Kigelia Camp is located in a grove of Kigelia trees and contains six tents in a bush setting. Each tent is furnished with locally crafted wood furniture, an en-suite bathroom, and a safari-style outdoor bucket shower. The dining tent offers tasty locally-inspired meals and evening cocktails.
- Kichaka Expedition Camp: At Kichaka, you can choose between three accommodation options. The first includes one of three spacious, airy, and well-furnished tents that hold a maximum of 8 guests. The second option takes you into remote sections of the park where you’ll set up fly camps amid the bush. The third option allows you to book out either the entire property, complete with en-suite tents, or the fly camp, for a completely private experience.
- Tanzania Parks Public Camping: Public camping is available at three campsites within the park (Tembo, Kiboko, and Simba), as well as two special campsites (Mbagi and Ifuguru). The better-equipped public campgrounds have basic facilities, including toilets, showers, and a communal kitchen. Whereas, the special campsites are wild camps with no facilities and should be booked in advance.
Best Ruaha Safari Tours
Ruaha is now Tanzania’s largest national park and offers excellent wildlife viewing. It is particularly good for spotting predators, including very large prides of lion and the endangered wild dog. Elephants and a big variety of antelope species are another big draw to the park. It also has outstanding wilderness appeal, with limited exclusive, luxury camps available.
All big cats are regularly seen, and wild dog are the star attraction. They are especially easy to find when denning. Several antelope species that are rare or absent in northern Tanzania, such as greater and lesser kudu, roan and sable antelope, are often encountered.
Approximately an hour and a half flying time to the west of the Selous, Ruaha National Park is often paired with its neighbour and provides the perfect foil. Where the Selous is verdant and riverine, Ruaha is barren and sparse. Where the Selous has elephant, hippo and crocodile, Ruaha has lions, buffalo and leopard. In every sense, to step into Ruaha is to step into how Africa has existed forever