From my seat in the Cessna I peer down at the red dirt that is the landing strip at Ruaha National Park. Safari vehicles are scurrying around like ants at a picnic and I wonder what the heck is going on.
The pilot circles one more time, telling passengers he’s waiting for the ground crew to clear a herd of zebras from the runway. We land without incident.
As in all game parks in Tanzania, vehicles stand by to chase off the game, but animals are unpredictable and usually one plane a year is lost in Tanzania in an animal collision.
In Your Bucket Because
- You want to see wild animals in their natural habitat without crowds competing for space.
- You want a safari with comfortable tents and good food.
- Good for those who love animals and wild places.
I see plenty of potential runway obstacles on my day-long game drive in Ruaha, and not just zebras. The bush is teeming with giraffes, impalas, baboons, ostriches and especially elephants. I spot a pair of dik diks, tiny antelopes that travel in twos. Birds are too numerous to count.
Tanzania’s Southern Circuit is Growing
East Africa’s largest country, Tanzania ranks among the continent’s fastest-growing tourist destinations. Most visitors head to northern Tanzania, along the Kenyan border, to well-known Serengeti and Kilimanjaro national parks. Tour operators frequently lump the parks on either side of the Kenya/Tanzania border together. As these become more crowded, though, Tanzania’s Southern Circuit of game preserves and parks becomes more appealing to visitors who want to see animals, not other tourists.
“Tanzania is what Kenya was like 30 or 40 years ago,” says Robert Maletta, an American who served in the Peace Corps in Africa and returned as a freelance photographer. In Kenya and northern Tanzania, vehicles— all carrying tourists clicking away on cameras—surround groups of animals spoiling the fun for all, he tells me.
In southern Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park, I spot only three other vehicles during eight hours in the bush.
With the incorporation of Usangu Game Reserve, Ruaha is Tanzania’s largest national park, a star on the country’s Southern Circuit. Its rolling hills are divided by rivers and dotted by trees, notably the baobab, which can live 3,000 years.
Because its crown of branches, which shed their leaves in the dry season, resembles roots, some believe God planted the baobab upside down. Tourism in Tanzania seems to be mimicking the baobab, turning upside down as more visitors choose its southern parks and reserves over its more famous regions on its northern border.
Monster at Mdonya Old River Camp
After a successful day of game viewing, we drive to our home for the night, Mdonya Old River Camp. I spot four lions lying by the roadside just a third of a mile from where I’ll rest my head. At dinner that night I hear them growling and catch a glimpse of a hyena slinking into the darkness beyond the glow of the lanterns illuminating the dining area.
Camp manager Pietro Luraschi warns me not to walk around unaccompanied —as if I need reminding. A whistle placed by my bed will summon the staff in an emergency, he says, but use it within reason.
He tells me one guest sounded this alarm in the middle of the night and Luraschi came running in his boxer shorts. “There’s a monster in my toilet,” the guest cried. The beast turned out to be a cricket about four inches long. It was dispatched with a flush.
- Mdonya Old River Camp is operated by Adventure Camps of Tanzania, www.adventurecamps.co.tz. Spacious tents are ample for two and have comfortable beds, dressing areas and bathrooms with showers and flush toilets. For other camps, consult the Tanzania Tourist Board.
- The rainy season is November through May with the heaviest rains March through May. Game viewing is best June through August. The coolest month is usually July, averaging about 86 degrees. Temperatures can go above 100 degrees between October and February.
- Prescription anti-malaria drugs should be started before departure. Pack sunscreen, sun hat, sunglasses, mosquito repellent, durable footwear and rain gear. Lightweight clothing can help protect from sun and mosquitoes during the day; a cover-up may be needed at night. Brightly colored clothing may alarm the animals, so stick with khaki and other muted hues.