Greatly extended in size a few years ago when the Usangu Game Reserve was added, Ruaha National Park now covers an area of more than 20,000 km2 (7,700 square miles) and is the largest park in Tanzania and also in East Africa as a whole.
Its name comes from the Great Ruaha River, which flows along its east and south borders.
Whilst, in theory, you could drive to the park, most visitors will take the 2.5 hour light aircraft flight from Dar es Salaam landing at Msembe, the main airstrip and location of the park headquarters.
The scenery is varied, including large open plains, rolling hills, wooded escarpments and, of course, the Great Ruaha River and it’s associated ‘sand rivers’ like the Mwagusi. The climate is generally hot and dry, which means that animals don’t stray too far from dependable water sources.
As with much of East Africa, Ruaha is characterised by two distinct seasons - the lush "green" season, which normally starts in January and runs through to April, and the dry "yellow" season that follows through the rest of the year.
In the wet season the park is transformed into a green oasis with flowing rivers and thick vegetation. Wildlife viewing is more of a challenge but, subject to conditions, may provide better opportunities of seeing more elusive animals including the rare and endangered wild dog. You may also experience different animal behaviour to that which you would see later in the year, such as congregating elephants getting ready to breed. It's also the best time for seeing the park's great variety of birds, as there have been with well over 550 different species recorded.
As the land dries so do the river beds, which then start to form some of Ruaha's most appealing features, becoming the focus of attention as the animals come searching for water. Animals such as buffalo start grouping together in larger herds for added safety of numbers as they are now roaming a land that is no longer providing the natural cover that it did in the earlier wet season. The previous lush green landscape turns to muted shades of browns and yellows, transforming the area into a totally different environment. The lions become more active and leopards become slightly easier to see, with much associated interaction between these predators and the game herds.
The park supports a good head of wildlife, including the Greater Kudu - a species of antelope not found in any other national park. It’s particularly famous though for its huge elephant population including a number of old 'big tusker' bulls. There is also a high density of lions with a couple of particularly large prides, one of which is the 'bushbuck pride', which we’ve been lucky enough to encounter on a quite a few occasions.
We combined Ruaha with Selous for our first safari in 2012, staying at the Mwagusi Safari Camp
- a fantastic camp in a great location. We returned to this camp in 2014 when we linked it with Katavi - both of these trips being in July, in the dry “yellow” season. We then went back again in March 2016 to experience the “green” season and the birds. And, then returned for a fourth time in July 2017, again combining it with a stay in Selous. It’s no surprise to note that we’re rather fond of Mwagusi and, consequently, would like to think that we’ll make at least one more visit at some point in the future.