Located in the heart of Tanzania, Ruaha is the ‘other park’ on the Southern circuit. Ruaha’s relative inaccessibility means it gets far fewer tourists than the Selous and less than any comparable park in the Northern circuit.
The reward of traveling this far into Tanzania?
A wild landscape of baobab studded hills, rocky escarpments, and superb wildlife. Tanzania’s largest National Park is sure to wow any safari-goer.
Nearly 10% of Africa’s lion population lives inside the park!
Ruaha safaris have amazing predator concentrations, large herds of elephant and buffalo, and a blend of wildlife from Southern and East Africa.
A Safari In Ruaha National Park
We arrived in Ruaha National Park directly from the romantic Selous Game Reserve. When we landed in the Msembe Airstrip we knew we were in for an amazing four days in Ruaha.
The landscape, the air, the general feeling of being in Tanzania’s largest park was unlike anything we had felt before in Africa. We were truly on safari, without the mass crowds of the Ngorongoro Crater or the Serengeti.
Ruaha National Park is the largest park in Tanzania contrary to what many believe is the Serengeti due to its sheer popularity. The park is approximately 20,226 square kilometers in size and is about a two-hour drive West of Iringa. The park is named after the great Ruaha River, which is 475 km long, and one of the main reasons the park is wonderful for game viewing.
During the dry season, animals move to the river in search of water. This makes for excellent game density and viewing. Ruaha is well known for its large elephant population and is a hotspot for birdlife. We have recently got into birding (thanks to the help of this book), and enjoyed catching all the 570 different bird species in the park.
We spent four whole days in the park and saw several prides of lions, large herds of elephant, hyenas, buffalo, ostriches, giraffe, zebra, and the greater and lesser kudu.
The start and end of each day in this park is spectacular. Sunrises and sunsets among iconic baobabs are mesmerizing. We can not think of a more fitting setting to enjoy a sundowner than Ruaha.
Ruaha National Park Fees
Compared to other parks in Tanzania, Ruaha National Park fees are affordable. Ruaha Park fees are for a 24 hour period.
Park Fees are as follows:
- Citizens – 5000 Tanzanian Shillings
- Residents/Expats – $15 per day
- Foreigners – $30 per day
Ruaha National Park Landscape and Wildlife
Before our Ruaha safari we were told to prepare ourselves for baobabs and elephants. Within our first hour in the park that statement was evident. The park has more baobab trees in it than we have seen in all the parks we traveled to combined.
When I asked our guide, Jon, why this was he exclaimed that it was because of the high elevation. The constant sighting of baobab trees makes for a photogenic and picturesque African safari.
Because of the many rivers, Ruaha National Park has a rich and diverse wildlife population. As far as animals go, Ruaha National Park has four animals of the big five.
While they are absent of rhino, the park is the only park that has the lesser kudu species. You can also find rhone, sable, eland, impala, gazelle, reedbuck, hartebeest, and klipspringer antelope here.
The park also has an enormous amount of lions, elephants, hyenas, and a healthy leopard and cheetah population. Then throw in all of the rivers Nile crocodile and hippo are abundant.
While on our walking safari we counted 21 crocodiles in one area of the river – now that’s one place I won’t be going swimming! Although we never saw wild dogs in Ruaha, we were informed there are over 100 wild dogs in the park, so sightings are common.
Best Time To Visit Ruaha National Park
It is easiest to spot wildlife in the dry season. During the dry season, animals gather around water points. The decrease in foliage makes wildlife viewing easier. The dry season lasts from late June to October with the last rains ending in April.
We visited during the first week of June and although it was tough to spot game from the thick bush, we still had excellent sightings. The effects of the impending dry season were on full display.
Transport to Ruaha National Park
When we had our car and were Overlanding the continent we contemplated driving to Ruaha National Park from Iringa. It is possible to self-drive into Ruaha National Park.
However, most safari-goers will enter by air. The two main airstrips are Msembe and Jongomero. If you plan on staying at the fabulous Kigelia camp then the nearest airstrip would be Msembe. From Msembe airstrip it is about one hour drive through the park to reach Kigelia.
Daily flights operate out of Dar Es Salaam, Arusha, and the Selous with Coastal Aviation. It’s also possible to connect in Dar and travel onwards to Zanzibar or the Serengeti. If you want to fly to Western Tanzania there are flights open on Monday and Thursday.
Kigelia Ruaha Camp
We called Nomad Tanzania’s Kigelia Camp home for four days while we enjoyed our Ruaha safari. Kigelia Camp is a classic safari camp. There are no frills here, but it is comfortable and exactly what you picture for an African safari.
Kigelia Camp is located along a dry river bed beneath Kigelia Africana trees. Each of the six tents is the perfect size for two people to enjoy comfortable beds and an outdoor seating area.
It’s worth noting that there is also a family tent for children above 12 to enjoy with their parents. Each tent has a flush toilet and a classic outdoor bucket shower. All in an effort to preserve water a precious resource in the park.
Staying in these tents allows guests to connect with the wild. Falling asleep to the sounds of hyenas and lions in the night is a memory never to be forgotten.
The communal area at Kigelia Camp is intimate with a small lounge for tea and coffee and a fire pit. It was perfect to get to know your fellow safari-goers with a round of gin and tonics.
The communal area is where meals are served. We enjoyed light lunches under the canvas tent, and three-course dinners al fresco next to the fire. I loved that Kigelia Camp catered to all sorts of diets even though they are located in a remote area of the park.
Kigelia Camp, for us, was the perfect place to enjoy our Tanzanian safari at. It was intimate, comfortable, and most importantly it has everything to offer. It is one of the only camps in Ruaha that is fully licensed for walking safaris and night game drives within the park.
Game drives are standard at all lodges. Our Nomad guide, Jon, was extremely knowledgeable of the bush and wildlife and stuck with us through every night game drive, bush walk, game drive, and bush breakfast making the experience much more personable and enjoyable.
A Day on Safari in Ruaha
- 05h30 – Wake up call
- 06h00 – Depart on morning activity. We recommend doing walking safaris in the morning as after about 9:00 temperatures will get too hot to walk.
- 08h00 – Breakfast somewhere in the bush!
- 11h30 – Return from morning activity and get ready for lunch.
- 12:30 – Siesta time! Now is the perfect time to relax
- 15h30 – Afternoon tea and coffee
- 16h00 – Head out on afternoon activity. Usually accompanied with sundowner drinks
- 19h00 – Return from afternoon activity and relax with drinks before dinner.
- 20h00 – Dinner time!
- 22h00 – Sleep! It’s been a long day on safari
Video of Ruaha National Park
Book A Safari in Tanzania
Traditionally if you wanted to book a safari you’d have to go to a travel agent and have them book your safari for you. They made suggestions for camps and lodges then presented you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion.
However, Timbuktu is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day that way you can select the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you through booking your safari. With experts on staff, they can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details much like a travel agent.
Check Out Some Lodges in Tanzania
The pavilions at Kilindi are one of a kind, designed tastefully with minimalistic flair. Each “room” has three circle pavilions that open up to the tranquility of the Indian ocean. There is the main bedroom, open-air bathroom, and then a private lounging deck. In each setting, you are completely at one with the Zanzibar nature.
There are two pools in each of the villas. An upper pool extends right off the main room, and a lower larger pool for a little more space and sunbathing. The pools are private which is just what is needed for a relaxing couples holiday on Zanzibar.
Sand Rivers Selous
The lodge was founded in the 1990s by a legendary guide Richard Bonham. The fantastic camp sits in an amazing spot in the Selous Game Reserve, where the Rufiji River makes a wide curve on its way to the Indian Ocean.
Eight thatched guest bandas, are set on raised wooden platforms that overlook the river. The rooms are open-fronted, low-key and permit the wilderness to drift into the villas. The sounds of the babbling Rufiji river are ever-present while hippos grunt happily along the river banks all day and night.
Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge
There are only a handful of lodges that are on the rim of the crater and we were lucky enough to stay at one of them – the Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge. The stone hotel blended well into the crater’s edge while the atmosphere of the lodge was relaxing and intimate.
We enjoyed the main lounge which featured communal fireplaces and great views of the crater with floor to ceiling windows. The focus of the property is obviously the crater. With numerous balconies around the property ensuring a serene spot to relax and enjoy afternoon tea or sundowners.
What to Pack For Tanzania?
There are a few things that one should pack for an African Safari. We help you create your safari packing list and share some of our favorite safari products.
Overland Tour in Africa
Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere. The tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, but a water purifier, like the Grayl waterbottle, works well!
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.
I used this a lot in the on my Ruaha safari. Early mornings in the park can be pretty chilly so it helps break the cold. Once the sun comes out temperatures climb and things get very dusty. So, I use the shemagh to cover my face and electronics.
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.
I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land anywhere outside of South Africa a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot get thick rubber soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
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