The 5,000 square kilometre Uwanda Game Reserve in Tanzania is predominantly a waterlogged area, with the saltwater Lake Rukwa taking pride of place within the reserve. At least 80% of the reserve is covered by lake waters, making it a huge drawcard for safari-goers in search of the idyllic water-safari destination.
Famed for its astonishing crocodile populations, Lake Rukwa is a breeding ground for these prehistoric predators. But it’s not only crocodiles that are drawn to this rugged reserve. The papyrus-lined banks of the lake provide a refuge for over 350 species of birds, both endemic and migratory. 20% of the reserve is dry land characterised by acacias and Miombo woodlands that provide the perfect habitat for giraffe and antelope.
Uwanda Game Reserve forms an extension of Katavi National Park, and together is part of the Great Rift Valley region. The Rukwa Valley is a designated conservation area, and most of Lake Rukwa falls within this protected region.
Uwanda is easily accessible. Visitors can fly into Katavi National Park or to the closest domestic airport, Mbala. There are connecting flights from Dar es Salaam to Mbala, which is situated some four hours away.
Most of Uwanda Game Reserve is made up of water, which means aquatic species and water-birds dominate wildlife sightings. In the lake, there are crocodiles and hippos; and fish species such as tilapia and mudfish. The shores of the lake attract game such as elephant, buffalo, zebra, topi, puku, eland and kudu. Plains game can be spotted within the acacia and woodland areas.
The main highlight of visiting the area is to spot the unique of species within the reserve. This is one of the few places where visitors can see albino giraffe, crocodiles breeding, and plagues of red locusts. The red locusts attract thousands upon thousands of rare birds, both endemic and migratory.
There are 350 species of bird in the reserve, some of which include red sharks, woodpeckers, grey parrots, pelicans, lesser flamingo and the African skimmer. The rare shoebill is often spotted in the swampy papyrus surrounding the lake.
Because the reserve is primarily a walking safari destination, the best time to visit is during the dry season. This is when the trails are passable. It’s also easier to spot game when the thickets have thinned out. The dry season is from June to October.
From October to May is the wet season and considered low season. The landscape is beautiful during this time, but the weather is rainy and unpredictable. The wet season is the time of year for birding, but it’s best to avoid February and March when roads and trails are tricky to navigate.
This uncrowded, protected reserve has plenty of potential for safari activities. There are rare species to spot that move around the inland Lake Rukwa that visitors won’t see anywhere else. Boating safaris are the best way to spot wildlife. While sailing slowly across the placid waters in search of game, visitors will be treated to lunch and drinks. Hippo and crocodile sightings are almost guaranteed! Boating is a must - it’s the perfect way to see the landscape and take in the spectacular views of both the lake and surrounding grasslands.
Fishing excursions in the alkaline lake have become a sought-after activity. There are both catch-and-release fishing opportunities and sportfishing available. Fishing is led by experts who take visitors to specific spots to fish for tilapia, sardines and mudfish. Guided walking safaris along well-marked trails are also popular with visitors. Walks include anything from short walks to more arduous treks. Trails meander their way through the Miombo forests.
Game drives are possible, but the best way to see the reserve is via boat or on foot.
There are various accommodation options available that serve Uwanda Game Reserve. There are mainly hotels and resorts situated outside of the reserve in the town of Mbeya. There are a few options within the reserve, but these are limited. Most of the hotels and resorts come with a restaurant/bar area, swimming pool and travel desks to help arrange safaris.