The largest national park in Africa might not come with a world-famous reputation, but it certainly presents the wildest encounters for those who know what to look for.
Ruaha National Park is most famous for its fascinating beauty, ancient baobab trees, picturesque river and dramatic scenes and it offers incredibly exciting game viewing experiences to its visitors.
The park is one of the Tanzania birds’ paradise with more than 571species and some of them are known to be migrants from within and outside Africa. Migrating species from Europe, Asia, Australian rim and Madagascar have been recorded in the park.
Species of interest in the park include Ruaha red-billed hornbill (Tokus ruahae) which is dominant in the area. The recently annexed wetland, the Usangu basin is one of the country’s important bird areas (IBA) as recognized by Birdlife International. Though birds can be seen all the year around, the best time for bird watching is during the wet season.
Ruaha is believed to have high concentration of elephants than any national park in East Africa. It is also a place where, magnificent mammals like Kudu (both Greater and Lesser), Sable and Roan antelopes can easily be spotted in Miombo woodland.
The male Kudu have beautiful spiraled horns while male Sable antelope have impressive curved horns. The park is also a habitat for endangered wild dogs.
Other animals in the park include lions, leopards, cheetah, giraffes, zebras, elands, impala, bat eared foxes and Jackals.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Apart from large animals, the park also harbours a number of reptiles and amphibians such as crocodiles, poisonous and non-poisonous snakes, monitor lizards, agama lizards and frogs. The Great Ruaha and Mzombe rivers are presumably the most preferred habitat for crocodiles.
The park is characterized by semi-arid type of vegetation, baobab trees, Acacia and other species. There are over 1650 plant species that have been identified.
The park is the transitional point of two vegetation zones, the Zambezian (characterized by Miombo vegetation) and Sudanian (characterized by Acacia vegetation).
Historical and cultural sites
There are several historical and cultural sites in the park which offer a visitor a chance to explore the Southern Tanzanian tribes. The early trade routes used by the Arab caravan crossed here.
In 1830 these coastal traders expanded their routes northward, and in year 1857 to 1858 other European explorers such as Burton and Speke used these routes too. Chief Mkwawa used the same routes to visit his chiefdoms in Sangu and Gogo.
The park area often hailed as the land of the brave Chief Mkwawa, the Chief of the hehe people who resisted against the German attack in the late 19th century.
The fierce and successful battle tactics against the German invasion made the Hehe tribe famous in the Southern highland of the then Tanganyika (Tanzania).
The Hehe tribe under the leadership of chief Mkwawa was dominant around the Ruaha area. Some of the outcrops in the area are known as hiding places of chief Mkwawa who went into hiding after the fall of his empire (kalenga) to the German in 1894.
In brief, it is believed that, this ancient land (Ruaha National Park) holds many secrets of chief Mkwawa.
Some of the cultural sites that were used for rituals are “Ganga la Mafunyo”, Nyanywa and Chahe, Painting rock at Nyanywa, the “Gogo” chief “Mapenza” grave at Mpululu and “Mkwawa” spring area believed to be used by Chief Mkwawa.
Other historical sites near the park include Isimila pillars near Iringa town, Kalenga, Mlambalasi, Lugalo and God’s bridge just to mention a few.
Ruaha National Park has a wide range of physical features from the Great Rift Valley, river systems, natural springs, wetlands, hot water springs, and kopjes to the beautiful rolling hills and mountains.
The river systems and watershed are of economical, social and ecological significance for the park itself and country at large. Main rivers include the Great Ruaha, Mzombe, Mdonya, Mwagusi and Jongomero.
The Great Rift Valley crosses the park. The escarpment wall along the western valley side is about 50-100m high in the north-eastern parts, increasing in height to the southwest.
It is considered that, the valley of the Great Ruaha River is an extension of the Great Rift Valley. The Great Ruaha River flows for 160km long along the entire eastern boundary through rugged gorges and open plains.
They occur throughout the park and they are associated with the base of the Western Rift Valley escarpment, most notably Mkwawa, Mwayembe, Makinde and Majimoto springs. These are dry season refugees for wildlife and when most of the rivers get dry.
The park has undulating land and hills including kilimamatonge, Nyamasombe, Nyanywa, Chariwindwi, Igawira, Mwayiui, Kibiriti, Magangwe, Ndetamburwa and Isukanvyiola.
These act as kopjes creating good habitat for animals such as klipspringer which normally can be seen in some of these hills.
Where to stay
Jongomero, Kigelia, Mwagusi safari, Old Mdonya River, Kwihala and Flycatcher and one lodge namely Ruaha River lodge.
Ruaha River Lodge was the first camp to be built in Ruaha National Park and is quite a large lodge set in amongst a large cluster of rocks right on the water’s edge on the north bank of the Great Ruaha River.
The immediate vicinity of the lodge is one of the better areas for game viewing in Ruaha National Park and particularly during the dry season this area attracts large numbers of animals that are drawn to the river to drink.
Ruaha River Lodge has twenty detached cottages (‘bandas’ in Swahili language) that are built along the banks of the river and are reached on sandy, stone-lined pathways.
Each Banda is spacious and very comfortable, with a large veranda, a small lounging area, a double and a single bed and an en-suite bathroom.
Ruaha River Lodge has two separate dining and bar areas servicing ten rooms each, thus maintaining a personalized small camp atmosphere in each.
The lounge and dining areas are under one large thatch roof, with open sides and views out across the river.
Kigelia Camp is located on the Ifuguru Sand River, close to the confluence of the Mwagusi River and the Greater Ruaha River.
The Camp offers six large double tents and can be booked individually or alternatively, exclusively by parties of eight people or more.
The comfort and safety of our guests is our prime consideration at all times. The accommodation they offer within their luxury tents enables the guests to enjoy a refined, authentic camping experience within a totally wild environment without sacrificing any of the comforts of home.
Each tent has comfortable, locally crafted beds and its own ensuite bathroom with flushing toilet and open air bucket shower for that true camping experience.
There is nothing better than to stand under a steaming hot open air shower at the end of a long day’s game drive.
The meals are prepared to the highest standard using wholesome fresh produce, offering plenty of choice and good vegetarian options where required.
For those who like their wines, good selections of International wines are served with meals.
Ruaha Hilltop Lodge is built on a hill with a wonderful panoramic view. The Lodge is 100km from Iringa on the Iringa – Ruaha main road and 5km from Tungamalenga village and near the boundary of Ruaha National Park.
The luxury self-contained cottages are very comfortable and private, each with its own balcony with a beautiful view. Our water is heated by solar power.
The reception, dining room and bar are all under one roof, with a gallery to enjoy the spectacular African sunrise and sunset. Giraffes, elephants and baboons and kudus can sometimes be glimpsed not far away.
The Camp is situated in the South-West of Tanzania, Ruaha sprawls within and along an ancient arm of the Great Rift Valley, covering a unique transition zone where the Eastern and Southern species of both fauna and flora meet against a dramatic topographical background.
The scenery here is quite dramatic with tall Brachysteiga trees forming continuous woodland housing some specialist species of antelope such as the magnificent sable as well as several miombo specializing birds.
Jongomero has eight large and well-appointed tented suites, under enormous thatched roofs that also encompass a spacious private veranda. All eight tents are raised up on wooden platforms, spaced along the river bank.
They are large and stylish and the word ‘tent’ does not do Jongomero justice. Inside there are high-quality furnishings on polished wooden floors and special touches throughout to create a luxury feeling in the bush.
The dining and living areas have fantastic vantage points to surround you with the sights and sounds of the African bush around camp, as does the natural rock pool to cool off in the mid-day sun.
Mwagusi Safari Camp offers its guests a unique and comfortable tented safari experience. Almost all of the camp is built from natural materials such as grass thatch, timber, drift wood, stones and reeds, allowing the camp to be in perfect balance and harmony with its surroundings.
Each “Banda” (meaning ‘temporary shelter’) consists of a large spacious tent sheltered by a cooling thatch roof and set on a polished red floor.
Each Banda has en-suite facilities with flushing toilet, an unlimited supply of hot water, shower, sink, shelving, a large mirror and good night-time lighting.
Built using stones, driftwood and bones the bathroom is an area of interesting, unique and original design. Thick comfortable towels and locally produced clove soap are provided.
An efficient same-day laundry service that is free of charge is offered. The tented living area includes dressing table and mirror, trunk for storage, comfortable beds with high-density mattresses, safari style chairs and bedside tables for night-time reading.
All the “bandas” are built into the sandy banks of the Mwagusi River providing their own private and secluded view. Each has large covered veranda, with a comfortable cushioned seating area and swinging hammock, making this the perfect place to relax and view the passing wildlife.
A stay at Mdonya Old River Camp is a journey to meet our very ancient roots, a time when we were actually parts of the bush ourselves, in harmony and equal to all other creatures.
You will fly to the heart of Tanzania, in the center of the country, to a plateau located a thousand meters high at the footstep of the Rift valley.
That is where the Mdonya Old River is. Even though we are animals, we do like to have all our comforts but be extremely light footed.
Lying in the remote region of the park with the Great Ruaha River running alongside, the Flycatcher Ruaha Camp offers you the prefect location for a memorable stay.
All spacious and comfortable guest tents and the open dining tent are placed to have excellent views, allowing you to observe the movement of animals between the savannah and the river bed: Elephants, dik diks, baboons, impalas, giraffes and zebras.
In Flycatcher Ruaha Camp you will be staying in a spacious tent erected under thatched roof.
The tents are equipped with comfortable beds with Nordic bedding, canvas cupboards, luggage racks, safari chairs and electric lights generated from solar panels.
Each tent consists of an en suite bathroom with a flush toilet and a bucket shower where hot water will be provided daily.
Screened windows on all sides of the tent allow you to encounter nature at its closest.
All six tents are nested adjacent to the river bed in the shade of Acacia trees. You can enjoy sightings of animals going to the river for water from the privacy of your veranda.
The dining tent with open sides situated in the middle of the camp offers marvellous views of the river and its surroundings. Their experienced cooks serve excellent meals with a good variety of fresh food products
Kwihala is a refreshing combination of adventure and style, designed for those who would like to be that little bit closer to the wildlife and the excitement of Africa, but who still crave the creature comforts to which they have become accustomed.
Kwihala is located in the Northern part of Ruaha in the Mbagi area. The camp is only 45 minutes’ drive from the airstrip at Msembe and also close to the river and the best game driving circuits in Ruaha.
It is a small camp of just six, well-spaced tents giving guests a very private opportunity to enjoy this magnificent park well off the beaten track of the main ‘big game’ circuits of East Africa.
From the first sight of one of the Kwihala tents you are immediately aware that this is a ‘different’ style of camping. The shaded veranda with traditional safari chairs welcomes you to enter your spacious sleeping area.
Furnished with ‘proper’ beds – either double or twin bedded – with bedside tables, a dressing table, space for luggage and hanging space, floor rugs and even curtains! – this forty square meter canvas ‘home’ is a far cry from crawling into a bivouac tent.