introduction and short history
The Ruaha is an enormous undeveloped wilderness whose beautiful open landscape is especially rich in elephant, buffalo and lion. This national park is for people looking for a genuine, off-the beaten track, round-the-campfire experience.
This is the largest National Park in Tanzania.. The addition of the Usangu Game Reserve and other important wetlands to the park in 2008 increased its size to about 20,226 square kilometres (7,809 sq mi), making it the largest park in Tanzania and East Africa.
It comprises a transition zone between the southern part of Africa's miombo ecotype and that of northern Tanzania, which is of the Maasai Steppe ecotype. Thanks to the large variety of environments the number of plant, bird and animal species is enormous. The landscape is magnificent with red hills interspersed by flat open areas of grassland and by thicker areas of Combretum and Brachystegia. The Great Ruaha River fascinates with its variety of mammals and birds coming to drink. The best period in which to visit the park is from June to February. The short rains of December are followed by an enchanting flush of greenery which appears almost overnight. You may have to add to the adventure the possibility of pushing the car out of mud. This is one of Tanzania's least accessible parks and as result it is totally untouched and therefore one of the most exciting game-viewing areas in the world.
The Park was established in 1910 as part of the Saba Game Reserve, though it’s present boundaries were demarcated in 1964. It is part of a much larger 45,000 sq. kms ecosystem which includes Rungwa and Kisigo Gamer Reserves. The central spine of the Park is the watershed between the Nzombe and Ruaha rivers, with its dramatic escarpment above which are large stretches of miombo woodland. Below this lie undulating plains with vegetation ranging from dry bush to treeless grasslands, swamps and evergreen forests intersected by the many sand rivers that are such a feature of this area. In all some 1,650 plant species and over 571 bird species have been recorded within the park itself and even today , new species are still being seen there - an indication of how little known the park is. Ruaha is known for its large elephant and buffalo herds and one of its principal attractions lies in being able to see greater and lesser kudu as well as the majestic sable and roan antelope within the same area. As well as an abundance of lion, leopard and cheetah it is also home to the increasingly rare African Hunting Dog. Ruaha is a great all year round park due to its good all weather road network. The South West area of Tanzania where Ruaha is located has the lowest rainfall in Tanzania. June to November is driest with the focus of wildlife viewing around the river courses and permanent waterholes.
The Ruaha offers palpably different safaris to Northern Tanzania; because it is so remote. It is visited by far fewer tourists for a start, so it feels very unspoilt and much of the game is completely different to that in the north. It's also a great contrast to Selous which is why it works so well to combine these two areas. Like the Selous it's a place that isn't to be rushed. Three days are a sensible minimum and in five you still have plenty to see. This is a very large park, only around 5 percent is regularly driven by tourists and there are many areas which only an experienced Ruaha guide will know about.
Ruaha National Park
When to go
The best time of year for a Ruaha safari is the July through October season, when the bush dies back and wildlife is easily visible.
June to October
This is the period conventionally considered to be the best time to visit the park, the main 'dry season although a few showers may still fall in June. July and August are cool, especially at night. September to October warm up though the evenings always cool off.
November to March
The arrival of the short rains in November renew the greenery, benefitting the wildlife. There is a slight dispersal of wildlife to the hinterlands.
Into February however the rains really should be more pronounced. Dry area flora should start to show new growth and the park as a whole should take on a fresh sheen. Many of those animals which remain accessible will start to have their young. So this period tends to be a favourite amongst more experienced safari people who are less concerned about the volume of sightings.
April and May
April is usually the month which sees the greatest rainfall in the Ruaha, with May not far behind. Most of the camps are closed for this period and flight services from Dar es Salaam are suspended.
National Park entry fees
Adults from 16 years: USD 75 per person per 24 hours
Children from 6 to 16 years: USD 25 per child per 24 hours
Average Price of Accommodation:
High end - 800 to 1000 usd per person per night
Mid range - 350 to 700 usd per person per night
Low price (outside of the NP, be aware of costs for activities may not be included when booking) 100-300 usd per person per night.
Most of the big game are present: elephant; buffalo; hippo; crocodile; lion (the Ruaha contains 10% of the world's lions); cheetah; leopard; African wild dog; zebra; greater and lesser kudu; roan and sable antelope and impala. Also, a fascinating diversity of smaller animals can be seen. The prodigious numbers of buffalo are relentlessly trailed by some very large prides of lion, which can number over 20 individuals. 38 species of fish have been identified in the Great Ruaha River. They traditionally provide an important part of the diet of people living along the river. Within the Park crocodiles have apparently increased in recent years and now some very large ones can be seen along the riverbank. There are also many hippos that use the river by day and come out to graze at night on the surrounding grassland.
More than 580 species are found in Ruaha National Park, including fish eagles, Eleanora’s falcon, goliath herons, crested barbets and black-collared lovebirds.
The Ruaha serves as an important habitat for several critically endangered vulture populations. The Red-billed hornbill and the Ruaha chat are endemic species.
Ruaha’s birdlife is endearingly colourful, with a sensational mix of southern and northern species. More than half of Tanzania’s bird species can be seen in this region.
The Great Ruaha River
(or Lyambangari as it is known in Kihehe, the local language) and it's flood plains form only a small part of the park in terms of area, but are not surprisingly the most significant part of the park in terms of game viewing. The river rises in the swamps to the west of the park and more or less forms the southeastern boundary, running from south west to north east. Just outside the park it is joined from the north by the Mzombe River and eventually flows into the Rufiji River a short distance above Stiegler's Gorge in the Selous Game Reserve. The Ruaha River is rarely full these days, apart from at the height of the rains in April and in the driest months it all but stops flowing, so that it resembles a wide sand river. The banks of the Ruaha are lined in places with tall stands of acacia, tamarind and other riverine forest. To the north east of Msembe the river lies within wide open grassy plains and is eventually joined by the Mwagusi Sand River en route to Lunda on the eastern edge of the park.
Some camps offer walking and night safaris
How to get there
Many domestic airlines in Tanzania go to Ruaha we recommend Coastal Aviation, the single biggest airline covering bush destinations.
By road, from Dar es Salaam via Iringa - allow a full day
The Great Ruaha River has exceptional wildlife congregating around it.
The Ruaha has many different ecosystems so the variety of bird and wildlife is extraordinary.
You will see relatively few other cars and guests.
The National Park is hard to navigate in the rainy season – from end of March to end of May – so most camps are closed during this period.
Be aware that if you book a camp located outside the NP, activities may not be included – always ask.
Ruaha does have tsetse flies.