Located in central to southern Tanzania, Ruaha National Park is around 130km west of Iringa. Covering an area of 20,226km², Ruaha National Park is the largest protected area in Tanzania and East Africa.The park derives its name from the Great Ruaha River which flows through the south-eastern section of the park and attracts a broad range of wildlife.
Ruaha is an integral part of the Rungwa-Kizigo-Muhesi ecosystem. The ecosystem spans across an area of 45,000km², and it includes the Rungwa Game Reserve, the Kizigo and Muhesi Game Reserves, and the Mbomipa Wildlife Management Area.The Rungwa-Kizigo-Muhesi ecosystem fuses the best of Southern and East African nature.
In 1910, the German colonial regime created the Saba Game Reserve, and the British colonial authorities renamed it as the Rungwa Game Reserve in 1946. In 1964, the southern part of the reserve was elevated to national park status.Ruaha has a stunning and diverse landscape with a vast savannah, a river which attracts a plethora of wildlife, and mountains in the south and west. Ruaha is home to rare species, including wild dogs, cheetahs, and leopards.
Ruaha is often overshadowed by its bigger sisters on Tanzania’s northern safari circuit. This – in many ways – is one of its biggest strengths.
At Ruaha, you can experience Tanzania’s wilderness without the drone of surrounding safari engines. Its remoteness – and utter vastness – is what makes it so compelling. Ruaha is part of Tanzania’s southern safari circuit, often combined with Selous.
Although Ruaha does not contain rhinos, it is home to the largest concentration of elephants in Tanzania, lions, and even crocodiles on the shores of the Great Ruaha River.
How to get to Ruaha National Park
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.
Wildlife viewing in Ruaha National Park
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. Of course, all these predators have to eat, and Ruaha has an extensive menu for them to choose from. Antelope species are varied and abundant, including waterbuck, kudu, roan, and sable.
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.
Where to Stay in Ruaha National Park
There are several choices when it comes to accommodations in Ruaha National Park. Luxury stays include lodges inside the park run by private innholders, while more affordable options are offered by the park service itself, and include cottages, bandas, and a hostel.
- Ruaha River Lodge: Pull up a ringside set to the wildlife action at this luxury lodge located on the banks of the Great Ruaha River. This lodge offers 24 stone chalets, each with comfortable double beds, an en-suite bathroom, and a spacious veranda for game-viewing. Two dining areas, one at the river’s edge and one perched up high, offer breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks, and a reading area, complete with sofas.
- Jabali Ridge: Jabali Ridge is perched on a rocky outcropping overlooking the park and offers eight luxury suites, an infinity pool, and a spa. There are also several tented camps on site. The mess tent here serves breakfast and lunch, including homemade specialties like bread, cakes, biscuits, and ice cream, and a three-course dinner.
Parks offers a range of more affordable accommodation options, including self-catering cottages, bandas, and a hostel. The bandas sit directly on the river; several have private bathrooms. If you stay in a banda, you can cook in or arrange for prepared meals. The cottages sit on a rise overlooking the river and all have private bathrooms. A dining hall next door serves inexpensive meals. The hostel can be booked for large groups and contains no-frills beds and a kitchen.
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. An on-site pool tops off this elegant stay that is slightly less adventurous than some of the other camping options.
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. The birdwatching from this location is unparalleled.
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.
Ruaha Natonal Park FAQ's
Ruaha National Park is famous for two important reasons: it’s the biggest wildlife conservation area in East Africa, and it boasts scores of unique wildlife species and ecosystems.
The park’s unparalleled predator sightings recently put Ruaha into the spotlight. The Big Cats of Ruaha documentary by National Geographic aired a saga of three lion families sharing hunting grounds in an idyllic oasis along the Mwagusi River known as ‘the Glade’.
Established in 1964, Ruaha is one of the newer reserves in East Africa situated in an area of the world known for its endless horizons, sprawling plains and all-encompassing wildlife arenas. Ruaha is neighboured on the south by the largest national park in Africa, Selous Game Reserve.
Ruaha has within the last few years earned the right to call itself the largest protected area in all of Tanzania. Having recently incorporated the Usanga Game Reserve into its borders in 2008 and several other wetland areas, Ruaha now spans an area covering an enormous 20,226 square kilometres.
Although the biggest, Ruaha is by no means the most frequented area of Tanzania and it attracts a relatively smaller number of tourists. In doing so, the Park has maintained a glorious aura of mystery and intrigue about it as one of the untouched lands of Africa.
A safari to Ruaha National Park costs anywhere from $150 per person to $1750 per person. This is for safari expenses like flights, park entrance fees, accommodation, meals, and additional activities like game drives and hot air balloon rides.
Trips to Ruaha National Park tend to be pricier due to its location in the heart of Safari Country in Southern Tanzania. Its remoteness also means less foot traffic from other tourists in the area, which makes for a more exclusive safari experience.
The best times to visit Ruaha National Park are split into two seasons – the dry season (June-October) is great for safaris while the wet season (November-April) is great for bird-watching.
The best time for safaris
Safaris are most prolific in the dry season due to the animals congregating at river edges and watering holes. Although more popular for tourists, the park is remote enough that even in the height of the optimal game-viewing season it remains wonderfully peaceful and unspoiled by diesel engines.
Another benefit of the dry season is fewer mosquitoes and a reduced chance of catching malaria.
More recently, tourists have discovered the Tanzanian red-billed hornbill residing in Ruaha as well.
The rainy season sees many of the lodges closing their doors from March-May. For budget hunters, however, the lodges still open for business in this period offer significantly reduced rates.
Being close to the equator, the temperature fluctuates little throughout the year. In recent years the weather has become more temperamental due to climate change and can’t be as easily predicted as before.
Below is a complete breakdown of the dry and wet seasons to help you optimise your ultimate safari experience at Ruaha National Park:
Dry season (June-October)
The dry season is generally cooler, with temperatures around 27°C (81°F) in the day and 15°C (59°F) at night.
For these dryer and colder days at Ruaha National Park, I recommend you pack some warm and comfortable clothes to wear on a safari.
Wet season (November-April)
The wet season generally has more hot and humid conditions, with temperatures mostly around 28°C (82°F) in the day and 17°C (63°F) at night. It rarely rains the whole day and afternoon showers are usually expected.
The temperature peaks at the start of the rainy season during November and December and can reach a high of 38°C (100°F).
Also see more info on the best time of year to visit Tanzania.
There is so much wildlife to be seen in Ruaha National Park. If you have a favourite wild animal, you’ll most likely find it living in this wildlife sanctuary.
The Ecosystems of Ruaha
While the Glade has become one of the iconic images of Ruaha, the park is so vast that within it lie several vastly different biomes all tainted differently by the seasons. From mountainous regions and skeletal baobab groves to the vast, open expanses of the plains, Ruaha will leave visitors awestruck at its varied and dramatic scenery.
Huge Elephant Population
On the opposite end of the scale to the birds that flit through the vegetation are the parades of elephants that look to the greenery for sustenance. The Ruaha ecosystem is one of the last few real wilderness refuges for large mammals on the planet and is home to the largest elephant population in East Africa.
Despite heavy poaching, the elephants in the park thrive and over 12,000 migrate through the greater Ruaha area each year. In scenes that are normally reserved for television, guests at the park have the chance to witness elephants digging for freshwater with their trunks and tusks along the desolate riverbanks during the dry season, a behaviour that has been copied by some of the park’s lions.
Founded in 2009, the Ruaha Carnivore Project is a much-commended programme dedicated to protecting the park’s bountiful population of large carnivores. Ruaha has a proud reputation as a conservation unit with roughly 10% of the world’s lion population residing in the greater Ruaha landscape. Prides of over 20 lions are regularly spotted, making the lions the undisputed kings of the park.
The Ruaha National Park is also home to the third-largest remaining group of critically endangered African wild dogs, with around 100 reported in the area.
One of the four remaining cheetah populations in East Africa also calls Ruaha home as well as a host of hyenas, jackals and leopards.
Other Animal Sightings
While the big predators are a major drawcard for visitors, the Ruaha region also boasts a vast and varied array of antelope. Both the lesser and greater kudu can be found here as well as some of the more unusual and lesser spotted species such as Roan and sable.
Over 500 different species of birds also call the reserve home. Although the rains scatter the herds and larger predators, the birds revel in the verdant foliage and blooming wildflowers of the park in the wet season.
Located in central to southern Tanzania, Ruaha National Park is around 130km west of Iringa. Covering an area of 20,226km², Ruaha National Park is the largest protected area in Tanzania and East Africa.
Until recently, Ruaha National Park only had a few basic lodges. However, the range of accommodation has increased in recent years. Ruaha has a great balance of luxury and modest accommodation.
Ruaha National Park is the biggest national game park in East Africa, and it covers an area of 20,226km². Ruaha is an integral part of the Rungwa-Kizigo-Muhesi ecosystem.
The ecosystem spans across an area of 45,000km², and it includes the Rungwa Game Reserve, the Kizigo and Muhesi Game Reserves, and the Mbomipa Wildlife Management Area.
The Rungwa-Kizigo-Muhesi ecosystem fuses the best of Southern and East African nature.