Discovering an overlooked gem in Tanzania

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Elephants in Tanzania's Ruaha National Park. There are as many as 12,000 elephants moving through the park in a given year.
Elephants in Tanzania's Ruaha National Park. There are as many as 12,000 elephants moving through the park in a given year.

Tanzania is one of the handful of countries that has opened its borders to international travelers. Whereas most will likely explore the possibility of catching a glimpse of the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, there are other worthwhile places to discover in Tanzania.

Ruaha National Park, with its beautiful landscapes dotted with baobabs, is one of Tanzania's best-kept secrets. Located to the west of the Selous Game Reserve, it is one of the largest national parks in Africa and has an incredibly rich flora and fauna, but its location is quite remote and untouched. This means there are far fewer tourists than the Selous and the Serengeti.

It is home to huge elephant populations, with an estimated 12,000 elephants moving through the park each year. Ruaha safaris also have reliably exciting predator concentrations: It is home to 10% of the world's lion population, contains one of four cheetah populations in East Africa and has the third-largest wild dog population in the world.

What makes this park truly unique, though, is the combination of Eastern and Southern African ecoregions and wildlife. It is one of only a few places in Africa where travelers will be able to see all types of kudus as well as Grant's gazelles, elands, oribis, giraffes, zebras, waterbucks, bushbucks, impalas, vast herds of Cape buffaloes and rare antelopes, such as sables and roans.

For birders, the park features over 580 bird varieties. This includes fish eagles, Eleanora's falcons, goliath herons, crested barbets and black-collared lovebirds. Ruaha also boasts endemic species such as the Tanzanian red-billed hornbill and serves as an important habitat for several critically endangered vulture populations.

Because Ruaha is quite inaccessible, there are only a handful of accommodation options. The good news is that boutique bush camp operator Hodi Hodi will soon open the private Ruaha Bush Camp on the edge of Ruaha National Park. The camp will welcome its first guests in October, with Covid-19 precautions in place.

Ruaha Bush Camp, situated on the edge of the Ruaha National Park, is slated to open this fall.
Ruaha Bush Camp, situated on the edge of the Ruaha National Park, is slated to open this fall.

The camp is situated about five miles outside the park, on the border of the wildlife management area. Accommodations consist of four double and two family canvas tents on teak decks, each offering incredible views. The bar, dining area and lounge overlook a waterhole. All produce is bought from local farms, in line with the camp's buy local, employ local policy. Ruaha Bush Camp is also fully solar-powered, ensuring travelers have lights, hot water and cold drinks at all times.

Activities offered by the camp include full-day game drives into the park, leisurely sundowners watching the evening visitors to the waterhole; hot-air balloon rides above the Mwagusi River; visits to the authentic Maasai cattle-trading market and nearby HeHe villages to see traditional lifestyle; and guided bush walks around a 100-acre private game area. Agents should email [email protected] for rates. The website Hodi-Hodi.com has more information about Hodi Hodi, the camp's sustainability and community policies as well as list prices.

AndBeyond also offers a few camps in the Ruaha National Park. Jongomero Camp, a classic luxury tented camp, is situated along the flourishing banks of the seasonal Jongomero Sand River in the wilderness of Ruaha National Park. From Jongomero, travelers can embark on a one- or two-day fly-camping adventure in the park, an expedition on foot that enables them to get right up close to the wildlife.

Like the Selous Game Reserve, Ruaha is a classic dry season park.  Game gets progressively better toward the end of the dry season as the waterholes and rivers dry up and the game concentrates around water.  Like the Selous, travelling to Ruaha out of season will virtually guarantee that you see no other people while on safari and there are pockets in the park where the game concentrations are good at any time of the year.  The birding from December to March is exceptional.

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