Ruaha is situated towards the eastern edge of the central African plateau. Its northwestern boundary is the Mzombe River, its southern the Ruaha, which drains out of the Usangu Flats, northeast of Mbeya. The park is dominated in the southwest by Miombo, a deciduous type of woodland found generally at a higher altitude and in areas in greater rainfall than the mixed Acacia bush lands. This relatively low-lying bush and grasslands occupy the land between the Ruaha and the escarpment, which is, on average, about 100m high. The escarpment bends towards the Ruaha on either hand, enclosing, that area of the park presently used by tourists, leaving the plateau beyond, largely covered by Miombo and rising gradually from the escarpment rarely visited, which is a pity as the woodlands can be quite attractive and although game viewing or birding is not easy, the effort is rewarded by seeing sable antelopes and Lichtenstein's hartebeest. Less fortunately, it must be said that also the tsetse fly is active in this area. One can say that generally the rainfall is between November and April inclusive though they vary in timing and intensity from year to year.
Msembe, where the park headquarters is situated is a pleasant area, with low, undulating hills and open grassland, stubbed with baobab trees and embraced by long, gentle bend of the Ruaha River. Animals are also particularly fond of the area and animals like the Defassa Waterbuck can defend his territory with fights to the dead, but chivalrously allows competitors to cross and drink, should water be scarce. Also commonly seen is the "cute" but relentless killer the Black-backed Jackal. During the rains Msembe is transformed into a radiant green, the lush grass often attracting large herds of zebras, and of course elephant, giraffe and many other animal species are also seen.
The Ruaha River follows a path downstream from Msembe to the Mwagusi Confluence, a distance of around 20 km. It is a fantastic route to drive taking you through fine, open country, where tsetse flies are less and where lions, and many other animals and birds, are often found.
To travel the route upstream the Ruaha is in many ways different. The animals, birds and trees found on the downstream of the river are similar, but the river changes character, its bed generally narrower and less sandy, and in places cluttered with boulders. When the water levels are low these great, smoothly shaped boulders are revealed, a fantastic sculpture garden in the sand. Nearby the bridge of Ibuguziwa is a hippo pool which always is worth a visit and you can sit on the bank of the river overlooking the pool. Descend the bank carefully, as this stretch of water and its sandbanks are popular with crocodiles, which are more wary then hippos.
Just over 20 km west of Trekimboga you will find the confluence of the Ruaha and the Jongomero. The area around the confluence is known as Hussman's Bridge, after a gentleman who bridged a narrow stretch of the Ruaha River. In the dry season as many as 100 hippos and twice as many crocodiles might be seen here. Close to the point where the track crosses the bed of the Jongomero you will find yourself in the proximity of some attractive woodland and superb old trees towering above you as you proceed. The beautiful woodland is one of the many appealing features of the Jongomero area, together with its remoteness and the fine landscape visible from various vantage points, and enhanced by the nearby Palangire Hills.
Between 1860 and 1880, in response to threats from the Ngoni (a non-Tanzanian tribe) more than 100 Bantu clans united under Munyigumba and almost annihilated the interlopers. These clans became known collectively as the Hehe, a name which already existed. Visitors who drive to Ruaha will pass through several Hehe villages. These villages, particularly those close to the park boundaries, are quite attractive, with huts of locally baked brick, many thatched, and little thatched granaries, raised on small tilts. The villages are set among mango trees and other shade trees and interspersed by small farms.