Ruaha is Tanzania’s largest National Park. Being the size of the Kruger National Park in South Africa but with only a handful of lodges, heading to Ruaha will guarantee you an off the beaten track safari experience with very few other visitors.
Whilst most people opt for a Northern Tanzania safari due to the famous Ngorongoro Crater and the mighty wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, Southern Tanzania is often overlooked. With a plethora of fauna and flora, as well as some beautiful accommodation options, Southern Tanzania is an exceptional safari destination.
Ruaha’s landscape differs dramatically from anywhere else in Tanzania. With baobab dotted horizons and an extremely arid environment, the flora and fauna are certainly worth exploring. Ruaha is also renowned for its huge concentrations of buffalo herds seen in the latter parts of the dry season which clash with large prides of lion. Their antics have drawn camera crews from around the world and there have been some spell binding documentaries made and shown across the globe.
In terms of lodges and access points, Ruaha can be divided easily into two parts. You have the Northern section where Msembe airstrip is located and where the majority of the lodges are situated and then the Southern area. This Southern section remains largely unexplored but where you will find a lone camp named Jongomero.
In a pocket of isolation lies the permanent luxury tented camp Jongomero. Situated on the banks of the Jongomero River, each beautiful, thatched room has views across the dry riverbed and into the wilderness beyond. Whether you are on the chez lounge outside your room or inside on the extra-large bed, views into the riverbed and its daily wild visitors are a joy to behold.
The swimming pool is a perfect place to relax during the midday heat and the main area complete with a bar is warm and welcoming, all of which have views into the riverbed.
Due to its location, Jongomero provides some of the most exclusive and private game drive experiences in Tanzania. Although the vegetation can be thick at certain times of year, the solitude and abundance of game in this area always makes for spectacular game viewing.
Whilst Jongomero sits in isolation in the South of the park, Ikuka takes seclusion to the next level. Although there are more camps in this part of the park, Ikuka is situated on one of Ruaha’s largest escarpments.
With unrivalled views across the Ruaha landscape, whether you are in the bathroom, in the main lodge’s library or in the swimming pool, the views from all angles are truly spectacular. Whilst the lodge itself is superbly luxurious, what makes Ikuka so special is the atmosphere and ambience that is created by the front of house team. Managed and run by owners Mark and Chloe, their warm and friendly personalities coupled with their excellent knowledge of Ruaha and its wildlife makes you instantly feel part of the family.
Game drives take place starting with the rocky escarpment and within easy distance of the ‘mini-Serengeti’, the great Ruaha river and so many other wonderful areas which make it a delight.
A must at Ikuka is a walking safari. Led by Mark you will explore the intricate workings of nature’s smallest elements like dung beetles and termites to the tracks and spoor of giants. And you never know, if you are lucky to come across big game whilst on foot, it will be an experience that will be hard to forget.
Without doubt the most opulent and lavish lodge in Ruaha is Jabali Ridge. Run by Asilia, who also have beautiful lodges throughout the other parks in Tanzania, you can expect the same first-class level of service and hospitality seen at their other lodges.
Built around giant granite boulders, Jabali’s suites are open, lavish and perfect for enjoying Ruaha’s peaceful and tranquil setting. The library and bar areas are perfect for relaxing in the evening and during the heat of the day, the infinity pool which overlooks the vast Ruaha landscape is the spot to be.
For those who like to travel in a larger group or a multi-generational family, Jabali also has its own private house. Running as a separate entity from the main lodge, the private house comprises of two master bedrooms and an additional twin bedroom. Complete with its own pool, bar library and spa, as well as a dedicated team including a private chef and guide you can be sure of a beautiful and exclusive experience tailored to your needs.
Kigelia is a beautiful permanent tented camp hidden amongst one of Ruaha’s mighty sausage trees, which is where it derives its name (Kigelia Africana).
The camp perfectly blends luxury with an authentic tented camp experience. The solitude of the camps provides a serene environment to enjoy the wilderness for what it is. Although there is no swimming pool, Kigelia focuses more on the feeling being in the bush and experiencing its wonders without the need for gold taps and the latest mod cons.
As with ever Nomad Tanzania camp, the service and dedication of the team are superb and will do anything for guests. Be it a picnic breakfast, an all-day safari or a special sundowner, the team at Nomad’s camps across Tanzania go that little bit extra to make your stay remarkable.
Mdonya Old River Camp
Specializing in a rustic and authentic safari experience, Mdonya mirrors is sister camp Manze in the Selous. Being a solar powered camp, you are transported to a safari of a by-gone era. Aptly named after the riverbed it sits in, at Mdonya the wildlife is never too far away from camp and more often than not, elephants and other game can be spotted from the chairs on your private veranda.
The tented rooms are fantastic for feeling at one with the wild, yet still provide all the luxury’s one could need on safari. At night the oil lanterns are lit and upon arriving back from an enthralling afternoon game drive, the camp is warm and welcoming. The main area follows the same tented structure as the rooms, and the bar and dining areas still exude that sought-after authentic safari atmosphere.
Whilst Mdonya may not be the most lavish and opulent camp in Ruaha, it certainly brings a style and authentic experience that is hard to come by in today’s safari world.
Marc Harris is Managing Director of Tanzania Odyssey. Tanzania Odyssey is a leading tour operator that has specialised in Tanzania since 1998.