Located just east of Lake Tanganyika and north of Katavi National Park, is the low-lying 5,000 square kilometre Ugalla River Game Reserve in Tanzania. As its name suggests, the Ugalla River Game Reserve is dominated by the seasonal Ugalla River.
The broad meandering river is the wildlife stronghold of the reserve and runs directly through the middle of the open floodplains. During the dry season, the river drys up but creates permanent pans of water which attract a plethora of wildlife. This is the ideal time for game viewing and walking safaris.
Ugalla’s claim to fame is its exceptional landscapes and high densities of predators. The grassy floodplains punctuated by fan palms flank the river, while further afield the Miombo woodlands define the more inland sectors of the reserve. Small hilly termite mounds interrupt the flat landscape, providing good vantage points for predators to spot prey. Wild dogs, lions and elephant thrive on this intricate landscape.
Keen safari-goers can access Ugalla River Game Reserve from either of the gateway towns of Arusha of Dar es Salaam. The small domestic Urambo Airport is the closest airport to Ugalla.
Lucky safari-goers with keen eyes will be able to spot the Cape clawless otter while swarms of bees have found a wildlife haven in the grasslands of the reserve.
During the dry season, visitors will be able to go on walking safaris conducted by experienced guides and get the chance to come close to a whole host of species.
The Miombo woodlands and fragrant grasslands are an important conservation area for bees, and it’s one of the main regions for licensed honey gatherers. These woodlands also provide a natural habitat for lions, wild dogs and elephant.
Throughout the reserve, there is a variety of species such as ostrich, sitatunga, jackal, Lichenstein’s hartebeest, hyena, impala, oribi and East African bush duiker.
Visitors will see topi, roan, kudu and sable roaming the open plains of Ugalla; and find the river teeming with hippo, crocodiles and occasionally the Cape clawless otter. During the dry season, the river dissipates into a few permanent pools of water that are frequented by game.
Avid birders can spot wattled cranes, shoebill storks, pygmy geese and other waders thriving in this watery environment.
The rainy season, which is from January to April, is when the reserve is completely inaccessible. When the rains hit, there is extensive flooding. Despite the rain, this is the perfect time of year for birders to visit. Plenty of migratory birds flock to the area during this time.
The best time to visit is during the dry season when wildlife congregates around the pools of water formed by the river drying up.
Birding and walking safaris are the main activities in Ugalla River Game Reserve. Guided walking safaris introduce visitors to a host of unique fauna and flora that’s often missed while in a vehicle. Walking safaris are best conducted during the dry season when the landscape is easily navigable.
Birding is another favourite past time in Ugalla. Birders flock to the shores of the river in the hopes finding the elusive shoebill stork and other summer migrant birds. Although birding is best during the wet season, the road for tourism is only open during the dry season.
The Miombo woodlands and fragrant grasslands have an incredible bee population, and for six months of the year, the legal harvesting of honey is allowed. There are several beekeeping projects underway, worth exploring.
Within the game reserve, there are fully-equipped camping facilities and tented camps. Most of the accommodation options are hotels located on the outskirts of the reserve and are quite basic in terms of amenities. Breakfast generally attracts an extra charge.