Ruaha National Park is a rugged tract of wilderness in Tanzania’s Southern Safari Circuit that expanded to 20,220 sq km (8,690 sq miles) by the addition of the vulnerable Usanga Floodplain in 2008, is now the largest national park in Tanzania, and one of the continent’s five largest. Like the Selous, Ruaha National Park forms the core of a much vaster ecosystem, extending into half a dozen other protected areas. Characterized by parched slopes covered in dense Brachystegia woodland, and wide-open baobab-studded plains, Ruaha National Park safari fulfils every expectation of untrammeled Africa, no less so because its 400km (250-mile) road circuit is accessed by only half-a-dozen small lodges and a few campsites – indeed, even Selous Game Reserve seems crowded by comparison.
Game-viewing roads follow the perennial Great Ruaha River and seasonal Mwagusi River through thick riparian forest frequented by what was once one of Africa’s densest elephant populations – sadly, population estimates have fallen from around 35,000 in 2009 to around 16,000 in 2015. Still, cheetahs pace the open savannah, which is grazed upon by herds of buffalo stretching to the horizon, as well as the usual cast of ungulates: impala, waterbuck, zebra, and Grant’s gazelle. The woodland, transitional to the eastern savannah and southern miombo biomes, is the most southerly haunt of the shy striped hyena and delicate lesser kudu, as well as three endemic birds: the blackcollared lovebird, ashy starling and the recently described Ruaha red-billed hornbill.
Ruaha also harbours a trio of lovely antelope that are rare in northern Tanzania: the imposingly horned greater kudu, sleekly handsome sable and roan antelope. Near the Mwagusi River, prides of 20-plus lions reduce a freshly killed buffalo or zebra to skin and bone in a couple of hours. Fine game viewing indeed, and yet if Ruaha National Park Tours always leave one overwhelming impression, it is the sense of solitude associated with driving for hours through untamed Africa without encountering another human soul.
How to get to Ruaha National Park
All camps in Ruaha National Park offer game packages which on top of the accommodation rate, do include 2 game activities per day. This makes Ruaha easier to access by air. The main flight aggregators are Coastal Aviation and Safari Link Air which can fly you from Dar es Salaam to Ruaha for a visit or as part of a safari package including extended visits to Selous, Katavi, or Mahale.
4×4 Road Safaris to Ruaha National Park are less attractive based on the fact that the distance involved is long; 580km from Dar es Salaam which is about a 10 to 12 hours drive to the park. Ruaha National Park tours by driving make more sense if the trip is in combination with Mikumi National Park and Udzungwa that way you have a way to break the long drive while visiting those parks.
Ruaha National Park can be accessed from Dar es Salaam by road via the Tanzam Highway. The endless strip of asphalt runs southwest from Dar es Salaam, via Morogoro and Iringa, to the Zambian capital of Lusaka (Tanzam being an abbreviation of Tanzania–Zambia). The Selous can be reached from Morogoro along the rough 120km (75-mile) Matombo Road (named for a buxom pair of peaks known as Matombo – ‘Breasts’), while a fair 100km (60-mile) dirt road runs west from Iringa to the main entrance gate of Ruaha.