Ruaha River Lodge

Ruaha River Lodge: Our full report

Rooms
29 stone bandas, of which 24 can be triples.
Traveller's rating
Excellent (92%) From 12 reviews
Open
All year

Situated in a fantastic location right on the river, Ruaha River Lodge is the oldest lodge in Ruaha National Park. Unpretentious and relaxed, it is owned and run by the Fox family, and is well suited for those on a tighter budget. Although the lodge is relatively large, the atmosphere is more personal than you might expect, with very engaged management and friendly service.

Sandy, stone-lined pathways lead to Ruaha River Lodge's bedrooms – 29 detached bandas (thatched cottages), built of solid stone and spread along the river bank. Each banda is very spacious (totalling around 70 square metres, or 750 sq ft), with a large veranda equipped with a couple of directors' chairs – a peaceful place to watch animals coming down to the river to drink.

Large double doors lead from the veranda into the bedroom and lounge area, subdivided by a low wooden counter which also acts as an area to store clothes. In front of this a plastic, faux-wicker sofa and armchair set are ranged around a glass-topped coffee table of similar design. Foam filled cushions soften the edges, but the zebra-striped and animal-print décor is utilitarian and has an unintentionally retro look.

Behind the counter there's one queen-size and one single bed, under simple frame-style mosquito nets, with bedside tables and a double power point for charging batteries (however the power is only on from 9am-1pm and from 6.30pm-10.30pm and goes off without warning). Cool cement floors and walls help to keep the room at a moderate temperature, further helped by insect screen rather than glass in the windows to allow a breeze. The roof is very high – a good thing too from the temperature point of view, as there is only one thin layer of makuti thatch. The flapping curtains are being steadily replaced by blinds.

Like the rooms, the en-suite bathrooms are very large, with a flush toilet, twin ceramic washbasins and shower. There are no dividing walls, even for the shower, so it's all rather functional and unimaginative, and very dark. However, with basic complimentary toiletries, and solar-heated water (hot in the evening, tepid in the morning), the necessities are all provided.

One of the two main lounge and dining areas at Ruaha River Lodge is set on the river bank under a large thatched roof, with open sides, reed walls at the back and views north and south along the river. In the dry season this is a great place to watch out for animals coming down to drink. Polished red cement floors, dark leather sofas and chairs grouped around coffee tables, and the occasional set of antelope horns on the walls give a rustic, colonial feel. The design is simple, open and airy, with tables and directors' chairs set up in the adjacent area for dining.

A second lounge/dining area, similar in style, is an impressive structure built on top of a high kopje, with spectacular views across the river and the park. Although the walk up is quite demanding, it's well worth the effort, as this is a lovely place to have a spot of lunch or relax with a book. This dining area is generally used for lunch.

Ruaha River Lodge also has a small book exchange, and a shop where you can buy postcards, T-shirts and the odd gift, though don't expect a high-quality curios. The shop is located up behind the kopje dining area.

Activities at Ruaha River Lodge focus on morning and afternoon safari drives in 4x4 vehicles. They have a large fleet of vehicles here: 7 Maruti jeeps with room for 4 passengers, and 4 Land Rover TDi 6-passenger seaters.

You can also head out for the whole day with a packed lunch to explore deeper into the park. The guides at Ruaha River Lodge are friendly and seem to have a good level of knowledge, although we do not currently recommend that our guests do any walking safaris from this camp.

Our view

Ruaha River Lodge is an attractive lodge that feels very natural, and given its size it manages to remain quite personal and in touch with its surroundings. Elephants are often in the valley, very close to the lodge, and smaller animals are seen around the lodge grounds all the time. Were it not for the location and very good staff-management ambiance, this lodge would have much less appeal. But if you're looking for a permanent lodge with a decent level of comfort, great views and a moderate price tag, this is a good choice.

Geographics

Location: Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

Ideal length of stay: Consider staying here for three to four nights to have enough time to explore the different safari areas of Ruaha National Park.

Directions: Ruaha River Lodge is a nine-hour drive from Dar es Salaam, or a two-and-a-half-hour flight followed by a 17km, 1-hour drive from the airstrip.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Independently owner-run by the Fox family, originally from the UK, but based in Tanzania since the 1970s.

Staff: The managers are Candy and Graeme Smith, from Scotland.

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: When we were last at Ruaha River Lodge, in 2016, the food was wholesome and plentiful, but adequate rather than inspiring.

Breakfast is served between 7am and 9am. A continental-style buffet includes fruit, juices, cinnamon rolls etc, and there's a full cooked breakfast available to order as well.

There is a light, refreshing buffet lunch from 1 to 2pm, when a a variety of salad platters affords plenty of choice. When we last stayed, there were pasta, rice and green salads, and cold meats.

Afternoon tea is served at 4pm before guests head off on their afternoon activity. There's a selection of cakes as well as a hot drinks on offer.

Dinner is a three-course meal served to your own table. The starter is often a thick, warming vegetable soup, then for the main course you can expect something like a meat stew, or grilled fish with plenty of vegetables on the side. Dessert is then usually a fresh fruit salad, or cake.

Dining style: Individual Tables

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: Drinks are not included. A soda is about US$3 and a beer US$4.

Further dining info: Room service is not generally possible beyond the early morning wake-up call with tea or coffee.

Special interests

Birdwatching: Ruaha's position at the centre of Tanzania, west of the Selous Game Reserve and south of most of Tanzania' other parks, gives it an interesting cross-section of birds - and makes it a fascinating park for birdwatching in Tanzania.

See more ideas for Birdwatching in Tanzania

Wildlife safaris: You'll find most of the East African megafauna in Ruaha, including elephant, large herds of buffalo, wildebeest, lion, leopard, cheetah and even wild dog. Ruaha also has a few species associated with the parks further north, including Grant's gazelle and lesser kudu.

See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Tanzania

Children

Attitude towards children: Children of all ages are welcome at Ruaha River Lodge.

Property’s age restrictions: There are no age restrictions on children in camp, but only those over 16 may to take part in guided walks.

Special activities & services: Childminding can be arranged.

Equipment: Cots and highchairs are available on request.

Notes: Ruaha River Lodge has dangerous big game wandering through it fairly regularly, so children here need to be carefully supervised at all times.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Generator

Power supply notes: The power sockets in the guest rooms are on from 9am-1pm and from 6.30pm-10.30pm. Electric lighting is available in the rooms from 6.30pm-10.30pm only.

Communications: There is intermittent cellphone reception throughout the park. Ruaha River Lodge has no guest internet.

TV & radio: There is no television available at Ruaha River Lodge and guests do not have the option to visit the staff quarters to watch TV there.

Water supply: Borehole

Water supply notes: The lodge's borehole water supply is completely safe to wash with, but can become rather brown in the dry season. Bottled water is supplied for drinking.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: There are first-aid-trained members of staff on site and a dispensary at the main Msembe rangers' post, about 45 minutes away by car. For serious emergencies, the Foxes will use their plane to fly the patient to Dar es Salaam.

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: Guests are escorted to and from their bandas after dark, and there are small safes in all the rooms.

Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in the vehicles.

Extras

Disabled access: In Place

Laundry facilities: Laundry is included.

Money: Ruaha River Lodge will change GB pounds, US dollars or euros into Tanzanian shillings.

Accepted payment on location: They prefer you to settle bills in cash here, using GB pounds, US dollars, euros or Tanzanian shillings. Visa or MasterCard payments are accepted, but they have a surcharge of 5%.

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