Ruaha River Lodge

Ruaha National Park, Southern Circuit, Tanzania Book from US$650

A fabulous riverside lodge, at the heart of Tanzania's extraordinary Ruaha Park, where an unrivalled wildlife spectacular awaits you
Wild, remote and unimaginably beautiful, Ruaha National Park is one of East Africa's best kept secrets. Cut through by the mighty river of the same name, there are few places in the world with such prolific wildlife. Cheetah, leopard and lion, elephant, buffalo and hippos, wild dog, roan antelope and lesser kudu: you name it, there's a chance you'll see it at close quarters.

The Fox family were pioneers in setting up safari camps within this vast tract of pristine wilderness. And there's no better place for taking in the extraordinary wildlife spectacle than at their River Lodge. Twin camps (River and Hilltop, with 14 guest bandas apiece), nudge right up to the river's edge, one a low open-sided thatched lodge, the other wrapped organically around the top of a rocky kopje.The Foxes have spent years perfecting the standards of guiding, food and accommodation: you stay with them in the knowledge that you're guaranteed the safari experience of a lifetime.

Highs

  • Seeing is believing when it comes to the animal and birdlife - and in the company of the Foxes' expert guides you'll learn a whole lot about it all
  • The remote location means that you see far fewer game vehicles than in the northern game parks
  • The setting of the camp is sublime, wrapped into a thick stand of ancient riverine forest looking across the Ruaha to the Charawindi hills
  • The spacious bandas make the most of a stunning, riverside location with front decks reaching out towards the water's edge, each can host a family

Lows

  • The remoteness of Ruaha means that getting here entails a long, light aircraft flight down from Arusha or across from Dar. But rather than an ordeal this is an integral part of the adventure
  • The large number of guest bandas, 28 in all, could seem off-putting. But they're split between 2 quite separate lodges and the atmosphere remains intimate
  • In keeping with the bush pioneer vibe, there's no pool

Best time to go

Unlike some safari camps, River Lodge stays open all year. The prime time for game viewing is during the Dry Season, from June through to early December, when wildlife concentrates along the river banks and around the few remaining watering holes. During the Rainy Season the park looks simply stunning, you still see masses of game and new species of birds arrive from other parts of the country. And to see the mighty Ruaha river in spate is a sight never to be forgotten.

Our top tips

Bring wet weather gear and a fleece if you're here Dec-May, a sun hat, suncreams, binocular, bird guide, mozzie repellent, a head torch, spare memory stick for your camera.

Great for...

Eco
Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Safari Lodges
  • 14 + 14
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room:

Rooms

Both the River and Hilltop lodges have 14 guest bandas threading out along the banks of the Ruaha. All are similar in design with walls of dressed river stone with curtained, mozzie-netted openings to 3 sides, thatched roofs of makuti palm, coffee-coloured screed floors and front decks which take in a big sweep of the river: at Hilltop they do so at a point where the Ruaha breaks into rapids between the boulders.

Most bandas have both a double and single bed as well as writing desks, luggage racks and bedside tables made of local mafinga wood. There's still enough space to add a second single when required. Four of Hilltop's bandas are of smaller proportions and have just a double bed and one has been designed to give wheelchair access.

Expect to sleep really well even though you'll be tuning in to a thousand unusual sounds at night: mattresses and pillows couldn't be more comfortable. The beige-coloured sheets and slightly dated-looking fabrics detract from the overall 'wow' factor but this is a minor quibble: as living spaces the bandas work really well and most of your time will be spent on the front deck.

Bathrooms are also enormous with double sinks slotted into a long run of screed surface; the rain showers are nice and high. Expect locally sourced soaps and shampoos with the Foxes' logo and a big pile of towels but be prepared for intermittent hot water from the solar-charged system if you coincide with overcast weather. A 220V line has been run into the all of the bandas so when the main generator is running - for about 8 hours a day - you can use all of your electrical kit.

Features include:

  • Extra beds
  • Internet access
  • Mosquito net
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries

Eating

The Foxes have got the culinary side of things down to a fine art, drawing on the pooled experience of 5 different camps in southern Tanzania. Each individual lodge, Ruaha included, sources locally whenever possible whilst much of the fruit and veg gets flown in from the family's farm in the Iringa highlands. The dining areas of both camps feel authentically bush: we marginally preferred that of River Lodge where you never need to lose sight of the Ruaha during your meal.

Breakfast begins at 7 and runs on to 10.30am so that guests returning from morning game drives don't miss out. Pot-fulls of tea and coffee, the Foxes' famous freshly baked cinnamon bread, locally made jams and an eye-catching fresh fruit salad are served at your table before an order is taken for a cooked breakfast: eggs are prepared in front of you by one of the Foxes' uniformed staff.

Boxed lunches can be made up if you're taking a longer trip out into the park. Otherwise a big buffet is laid up next to the bar. Ours included cold meats, quiche and a selection of attractively presented salads followed by a scrummy hot fruit kebab served with a toffee sauce.

At dinner expect the same attention to culinary and aesthetic detail. Individual camp-style tables are neatly laid with green linen cloths, white napkins and all-white crockery embellished with the Foxes' logo. Meals begin with soup or salad served at your table, after which you help yourself from a huge hot buffet set atop a series of hot plates. Ours was superb: roast lamb, breaded tilapa and Nile perch, rice and roast potatoes, a great selection of vegetables as well as a full range of chutneys and spicy chilli sauces. And there's a small selection of wines, most from South Africa, which are on display in the bar.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Head out on game drives in one of the lodge's fleet of 4x4s: wildlife viewing simply comes no better. Rates include 2 drives a day: one in the morning, either before or after breakfast, and one in the late afternoon, around 4pm. Alternatively you can request full day drives

  • All guides are locally born and bred, and trained by Peter Fox. Each drive is accompanied by 1 guide and 1 driver, with a 2-way radio

  • Sit for hours with binoculars watching for birdlife along the river bank: Ruaha's checklist numbers almost 500!

  • In the dry season (May-November) take a walking safari accompanied by an armed ranger. Nothing gets you closer to the raw beauty of the African bush and for a real gung-ho experience, you can overnight in a fly tent

  • Chill out back at the lodge finding time to talk to Sarah and Peter Fox about the family's long love affair with East Africa

  • Sit and stare: watch monkeys swinging above your head, wallowing hippos, crocs gliding through the shadows and fish eagles swooping low over the river - all without moving from your banda's front deck

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Hiking
  • Private guided tours
  • Safaris
  • Walking safaris
  • Wildlife

Kids

The Foxes have children of their own, and are pioneers of bringing families into the wild (since 1981!), so are very relaxed when it comes to having littl'uns around, unlike other safari companies. Maasai escorts are always on hand to ensure families get between their rooms and the facilities safely.

Bear in mind that when taking kids on safari, it's best if they're over 8 (younger ones can't sit still for long enough or stay quiet) and it's a good idea to bring games and DVDs with you. There is no babysitting option here.

The owners recommend splitting a family safari by doing maybe 3 nights on safari, then a break in the Highlands or somewhere where the kids can run around and do activities, then another 3 nights on safari and then back to the beach. In their experience, it has worked well.

Children aged 1-12 are charged at half price when sharing with 2 adults.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

All of the Foxes' lodges are geared up for families with big bandas that have space aplenty for extra beds to be added.

Children's meals:

Menus can be altered to take young children's needs into account; ask if you think they will need an earlier tea. The camp serves a lavish breakfast, buffet or packed lunch and a 3-course supper

Kids Activities on site:

  • Viewing deck

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Twice-daily game drives, which can be tailored to suit
  • Fly camping trips can be set up en famille for an ultra personalised experience
  • Trip to a nearby Maasai village as an alternative to wildlife spotting

Families Should Know:

The generator doesn't start up til around 8 or 9am, so there's no hot water for the early starts. Mozzie repellent is an essential. It's a long trek to get here. The main hazard is when getting around on foot (in the vehicles there is no danger from wildlife) hence why the Maasai escort guests to their rooms and that parents are not to let their children out of their sight. Anyone visiting the country should take anti-malarials if they pass through Dar or Zanzibar when travelling to Tanzania

Distances:

  • Airport: 1-3 hours (Mikumi / Dar)
  • Nearest town: 2 hours
Kid Friendly:

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