Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

Tanzania’s largest national park yet relatively unknown, Ruaha is Africa’s new safari frontier. This vast wilderness in the southwest of the country covers 20 226km², yet it is visited by only a handful of intrepid travellers each year.

Ruaha – named after the Great Ruaha River that serves as a lifeline for the animals of the park in the dry season – forms the core of a much larger wilderness ecosystem of 150 000km². The banks of the Ruaha are a permanent hunting ground for lion, leopard, cheetah, jackal, hyena and the rare and endangered African wild dog, who prey on the waterbuck, impala and gazelle that come to the river to drink. This is a remote wilderness area that offers an authentic and profound safari experience for those in the know.

tan-region-ruaha-map
Snapshot of Ruaha National Park
  • Home to 10% of the world’s lion
  • Baobabs and spectacular scenery
  • Abundant game
Perfect for
  • Seeing Big Cats
  • Exceptional walking safaris
  • Beautiful, unique scenery

Location

 

Ruaha landscape with elephant heard grazing in the background.
Ruaha landscape with elephant herd grazing in the background.

Ruaha is more remote than many popular safari destinations, which has the wonderful benefit of limiting visitor numbers to serious safari enthusiasts. It offers a truly rewarding wilderness experience in a remote and compelling African bush environment.

Situated in central Tanzania, the park is a part of the 45 000km² Rungwa-Kizigo-Muhesi ecosystem. It is characterised by diverse landscapes of extraordinary beauty, ranging from rolling hills to groves of spiky baobab. The main feature of the area is the Great Ruaha River that flows along the southeastern margin for 160km through rugged gorges and open plains, and from which the park takes it name.

The valley of the Great Ruaha River is considered an extension of the Great Rift Valley, which crosses the park. Ruaha’s landscape ranges from river systems, natural springs, wetlands and kopjes to mountains and undulating hills that form a good habitat for animals such as klipspringer. Natural springs occurring throughout the park –  associated with the base of the Western Rift Valley escarpment – are wildlife refuges in the dry season when the rivers run dry.

Over 1 650 plant species have been identified in Ruaha, which is characterised by semi-arid vegetation, baobab trees, acacia and other species. The park is the transitional point of two vegetation zones: the Zambezian (characterised by miombo vegetation) and Sudanian (characterised by acacia vegetation).

Lifeblood of the park

The park is currently facing a significant environmental challenge from the progressive drying up of the Great Ruaha River. The river used to flow all year round, but since 1993 there have been increasingly long periods every dry season in which it has dried up completely. Despite this, the park serves as a watershed both for wildlife and humans, and the river supports agricultural activities downstream and contributes to Tanzania’s hydroelectric power (HEP) at Mtera and Kidatu dams.

Wildlife

 

Ruaha Wildlife
Lion and her cub resting under the shadow of a tree at Ruaha National Park.

Game viewing in Ruaha National Park is unrivalled and the scope of wildlife extraordinary, with 80 animal species and 10% of the world’s lion population calling the plains home. Ruaha stands in a unique location, straddling two distinct vegetation zones of Eastern and Southern Africa. In some areas, the miombo woodlands typical of Zambia are dominant, while in others the dry open savannah of Kenya and Tanzania is common.

This variation lends itself perfectly to game viewing: leopard can often be found in the thicker woodland while lion and cheetah roam freely on the open plains, and elephant drink from the river.

The density of lions in the park is not only extremely high but prides are unusually large – it is not uncommon to see numbers of 20 or more. Almost 100 of the elusive African wild dog are to be found here, and black-backed jackal and hyena both have strong populations. Also common are buffalo, zebra, giraffe, Greater and Lesser kudu, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, waterbuck, bushbuck and impala and of course, the 580 recorded species of birdlife. In the height of dry season, see elephants obtain water from dry sand rivers using their front feet and trunks.

Top wildlife sightings in Ruaha

Our top sightings in Ruaha include:

  • Lion
  • Greater and Lesser kudu
  • Leopard
  • Cheetah
  • Sable antelope (rare)
  • Roan antelope (rare)
  • Elephant
  • Impala
  • Giraffe
  • Bushbuck

Activities

 

Asilia’s Kwihala Camp is renowned in East Africa for its excellent guides and proximity to the wild. Whether you’re tracking lions by vehicle, discovering the smaller wonders on foot or just relaxing in camp, the expert guides at Kwihala will enhance your wildlife experience with their vast knowledge.

Game drives

With 10% of the global population of lions living in Ruaha, the predators are never far away. A morning spent examining spoor and racing through the bush after these majestic animals is an exhilarating experience.

Wildlife photography

Our drivers are all extremely knowledgeable and know exactly how to place their vehicles for photographers. Sandbags for stability are available in our vehicles, which also have charging facilities.
Birding

The variety of birdlife in Ruaha is phenomenal with over 550 recorded species and an interesting mix of southern and northern varieties Take your binoculars and a bird guide, and prepare to be astounded by the number of species you can tick off the list.

Walking safaris

A guided walking safari in Ruaha is a truly intimate way to experience the beauty and magic of this wild park. The guiding is superb, and encountering game on foot gives you a fully immersive wilderness experience that is thrilling and memorable.

Night Drives

A guided night drive is a rare and valuable opportunity to encounter Africa’s elusive nocturnal animals.

Travel Seasons

 

If your prime interest is sightings of larger mammals and big cats, the best time to visit Ruaha National Park is the sunny dry season between June and October. As the rivers dry up, more animals congregate around remaining water sources. Of course, the apex predators are never far behind. June is also the Greater kudu breeding season, and so this is a good time to spot males.

The best time for avid birders to visit is during the long rains between February and April, when migrant birds visit the area. The wet season is also when the scenery is most lush and wildflowers are blooming, and the days are at their hottest.

Climate

  • Dry season: June to October
  • Start of rains: November to January
  • Peak of wet season: February to March
  • Max. temp. range during the day: 25ºC – 30ºC  / 77ºF – 30ºF
  • Min. temp. range during the evenings: 12ºC – 17ºC  / 54ºF – 64ºF

Asilia Camps in Ruaha National Park

  • Kwihala Camp
    Kwihala Camp

    Explore Africa’s new safari frontier.

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  • Jabali Ridge
    Jabali Ridge

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  • Jabali Private House
    Jabali Private House

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Itineraries based in Ruaha National Park

  • Southern Circuit in Style
    Southern Circuit in Style

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  • The Great Tanzanian Walking Adventure
    The Great Tanzanian Walking Adventure

    Explore Tanzania’s parks.

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  • Ruaha & Relaxation
    Ruaha & Relaxation

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  • North to South
    North to South

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  • Specialist Guided
    Specialist Guided

    Enjoy a safari 100% on your terms.

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  • Ultimate Bush and Beach
    Ultimate Bush and Beach

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Your positive impact in the Ruaha area

At the heart of a 150,000 km2 ecosystem that stretches from Selous Game Reserve in the east to Katavi National Park in the west, an area that is home to nearly 10% of the world’s remaining wild lions,  Ruaha is vulnerable to human population expansion and poaching.  Your support, through us, is aimed at bettering the lives of people who live around the park as well as assisting scientific research programmes.

Further Reading

Ruaha: Sense-ability in Nature

There is nothing better than the feeling of cool mud between your toes after a long dry spell!

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Ruaha: Small Beginnings

It’s the end of the dry season and conditions demand every last bit of everyone’s evolutionary armour to survive.

Read more