Deemed by many to be a very well-kept secret, Ruaha boasts a phenomenal variety of game. The park is located in central Tanzania and, with the addition of the Usangu Game Reserve in 2008, the size of the reserve is now over 20 200 square kilometres, making it one of the largest national parks in Africa. On a greater scale, the park is part of the 45 000 square kilometre Rungwa-Kizigo-Muhesi ecosystem. Ruaha represents a transition zone between the miombo woodlands common in Zambia, and the more open savannah, typical of northern Tanzania and Kenya.
Ruaha is home to the largest population of elephants in East Africa, with over 10 000 elephants roaming the park. During the dry season large herds of buffalo congregate in the park with herds of 500 being a fairly common sighting. Not far behind the buffalo are the prides of lion that prowl the vast plains - particular in the Mwagusi river area which is said to hold one of the highest densities of lions in Africa.
The name “Ruaha” derives from the Wahehe word “Ruvaha”, which means “River”, taking its name from the Great Ruaha River which borders the southern section of the park. From the high-altitude, cold, almost montane highlands in the west, to the low-altitude, hot valleys in the east, the variation in terrain across the reserve is huge. The south contains the Usangu Swamps which is the source of the Great Ruaha River, an enormous wetland which is home to thousands of hippos and provides a good sanctuary for Ruaha’s population of elephants.
The northern parts of the park are extremely remote with only the adventure seeker travelling here. The seasonal Mzombe River forms the park’s northern boundary which winds its way between enormous prehistoric rocky outcrops via several different habitats before tumbling into the Great Ruaha River in the East.
The park intersects so many diverse habitats that many of its inhabitants are rare or extremely habitat-specific and not found in many other parks within Africa. Notable unusual sightings include the endangered wild dog, sable antelope, roan antelope, Lichtenstein's hartebeest and lesser kudu, and cheetah is also a possibility on the plains of the east. The park also has a high density of kudu, zebra, giraffe as well as predators such as black-backed jackal, spotted hyena and the elusive leopard. In addition to the magnificent mammals, Ruaha is a bird-lover’s paradise with over 550 species of land and water birds.
There are three distinct seasons within the Ruaha National Park: dry, wet and green. The dry season between June and October is best for game viewing, as the water becomes scarce, forcing the game closer to the few permanent water sources. In the preceding months of June, July and August, rain is still scarce, but temperatures can drop to about 5°C at night, with days warming up to a beautiful 30°C with low humidity. The wet season extends from December to February, turning the land into a lush, green paradise. Storms are usually brief, followed by bright sunny skies that are great for game viewing. Temperatures climb into the mid 30°C during the day, but it does become quite pleasant at night. The green season runs between March and May with the big rains having left the rivers flowing and the plains lush and green. Temperatures are enjoyable with a high of 32°C throughout the day, falling to 15°C come nightfall.