Usually booked in conjunction with Selous Game Reserve, Ruaha National Park is an off-the-beaten-track destination that is often described as ideal for old safari hands. However, we believe that this park is for everyone who has an interest in true wilderness and big game viewing. There is no reason that this ridiculously good safari park should be ignored by adventurous safari novices!
Ruaha has one of the highest concentrations of predators anywhere in Africa, and a wonderfully wild character that is rare to find nowadays. The camps here are adventurous but very high quality – guiding standards are truly exceptional. We love this park for its lack of visitors and incredible game viewing. Without any doubt this region is one of Africa’s best-kept secrets – a truly wild park where Africa’s biggest game is at its most ferocious. There is an argument that, if you want to get the full Ruaha experience, then you need to stay in the Mwagusi area, which is a good two hours’ drive north of Jongomero and approximately 45 minutes from Mdonya. Mwagusi is why Ruaha has gained its high reputation – this is where you see the huge concentrations of game. There are a couple of camps in this area, but the two stand-out properties are Mwagusi Camp and Nomad Tanzania's Kigelia Ruaha. The remote location only adds to the park's appeal, leaving it wonderfully devoid of travellers. Big cat viewing is superb here and the overall quality of guiding is probably the best in the country.
Can I see the Big Five in Ruaha?
In Ruaha the only missing member of the Big Five (lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard and rhino) is rhino - there have not been any in the park for years. There is no doubt that Ruaha is one of Africa’s finest destinations for big cats. The lion concentration here is as high as anywhere we know. A very strong lion population virtually goes hand in hand with healthy buffalo herds whilst Ruaha’s elephant herds are seriously impressive. Leopard are always found in the park with the majority of travellers seeing this elusive feline!
General game in Ruaha
Ruaha is an outstanding safari park due to the fact the park showcases a crossover of East and Southern African species in terms of flora and fauna. One reason for the hordes of animals in Ruaha is the Great Ruaha River, a vital water source throughout the year but especially during the dry season. The reliability of the river owes much to the success of game drives in this region, as animals congregate predictably on the long shores.
Lion live here in large prides, often numbering over twenty individuals! Leopard and cheetah love hunting on the open plains, while many smaller species are equally at home here – serval, caracal, civet, genet and banded wildcat. Cheetah are remarkably common making seeing the three main cat species very likely – something that’s rare anywhere in Africa nowadays.
Other mammals also thrive in Ruaha in abundance. The park’s elephant herds are absolutely humongous! Buffalo are plentiful too, as are zebra, giraffe, hippopotamus and an exciting assortment of antelope species such as roan, sable, eland, impala, gazelle, reedbuck, hartebeest, klipspringer – and the largest population of greater kudu in all East Africa! Predators, in addition to the cats, include black-backed jackal, spotted hyena and (less common) striped hyena. The park is also an important area for wild dog, hosting over a hundred dogs at last count.
When to go to Ruaha for game?
The best time of year to be in Ruaha is from July through to the end of October. This is the peak of the dry season and a time of year that guarantees Ruaha’s immense volume of game will be focused around the parks rivers.
When to go for value?
Firstly, we’d like to stress that Ruaha is one of the best value parks in Africa… and so there is an argument to say that travellers should always visit in the dry season when prices are at their highest but value overall (compared to elsewhere in Africa) is still superb! If you compare the prices here to similar lodges elsewhere in Africa then there is no denying that this park offers some of the best value in Africa. July to October is the peak of the dry season and is superb for game viewing – prices however are high. Travel just outside of these months however and you will pick up even better value. Some guides love June because the park looks beautiful after the rains, prices are low and Ruaha remains quiet in terms of visitor traffic. The beginning of November is also a great time to travel – rates drop on the 1st November!
Safari vacation activities in Ruaha
Ruaha is a National Park and is therefore bound by the rules of TANAPA (the National Park authority). Game drives are standard in every lodge whilst walking safaris are also possible at the majority. We would stress however that there are some very good walking operators here and others who have to rely on the TANAPA rangers to operate their walks. We do NOT recommend that anyone goes on a walk with a TANAPA ranger if they are the only licensed carrier of firearms. Below is a list of our recommended lodges and the activities they have on offer:
- Jabali Ridge - Game drives, night drives and walking safaris
- Ikuka Safari Camp - Game drives and walking safari (licensed)
- Jongomero – Game drives, walking safari (licensed), fly camping (minimum 2 nights)…No night safari.
- Kichaka – Game drives, walking safari (licensed), fly camping….NO night safari
- Kigelia – Game drives, walking safari (licensed), Night safari…NO fly camping
- Kwihala – Game drives, walking safari (licensed), Night safari…NO fly camping
- Mdonya Old River – Game drives only
- Mwagusi – Game drives and walking safari (licensed)
- Ruaha River Lodge - Game drives only.