Together with neighbouring conservation areas, Ruaha National Park forms the core of a wild and extended ecosystem covering about 40,000 sq km and providing home to Tanzania’s largest elephant population. In addition to the elephants, which are estimated to number about 12,000, the park (Tanzania’s largest, with an area of approximately 22,000 sq km) hosts large herds of buffaloes, as well as greater and lesser kudus, Grant’s gazelles, wild dogs, ostriches, cheetahs, roan and sable antelopes, and more than 400 different types of birds.
Ruaha is notable for its wild and striking topography, especially around the Great Ruaha River, which is its heart. Much of this topography is undulating plateau averaging about 900m in height with occasional rocky outcrops and stands of baobabs. Mountains in the south and west reach to about 1600m and 1900m, respectively, and running through the park are several ‘sand’ rivers, most of which dry up during the dry season, when they are used by wildlife as corridors to reach areas where water remains.
Ruaha is also notable as it straddles a transition zone between East African savannah lands and the miombo woodlands more common further south, thus offering a mix of plant and animal species from both regions.
Although the area around the camps on the eastern side of the park fills up during the August to October high (dry) season, Ruaha receives relatively few visitors in comparison with the northern parks. Large sections are unexplored, and for much of the year, you’re likely to have things to yourself. Whenever you visit, set aside as much time as you can spare; it’s not a place to be discovered on a quick in-and-out trip.
Why Go Outstanding dry season wildlife watching, especially elephants, hippos, lions and wild dogs; excellent birding; rugged scenery
When to Go The driest season is between June and November, and this is when it’s easiest to spot wildlife along the river beds. During the rainy season, some areas become impassable and wildlife is difficult to locate, but green panoramas, lavender-coloured flowers and rewarding birding compensate.
Practicalities Drive in from Iringa; fly in from Arusha or Dar es Salaam. Entry fees are per 24-hour period, single entry only, and payable with Visa or Mastercard only. The main gate (open 7am to 6pm) is about 8km inside the park boundary on its eastern side, near the park’s Msembe headquarters. Driving is permitted within the park from 6am to 6.30pm.
Budget Tips Ruaha has no true budget options. Your best bet: get a group of four or five, hire a vehicle in Iringa for an overnight safari and sleep at the old park bandas. Meals are available, but bring your own drinks. It's also possible to take the bus from Iringa to Tungamalenga, and arrange car hire there for a safari (about US$250 per day). But confirm vehicle availability in advance, and remember park fees are single-entry only. Car hire from Iringa and sleeping inside the park usually works out at better value.