Ranthambore National Park: The Complete Guide

Three Bengal tigers with safari jeeps in background
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Ranthambore National Park

Address
Rajasthan, India

In the arid hills of northern India, Ranthambore National Park is a fascinating blend of history and nature. Tigers are the main draw at Ranthambore, and the relatively high probability of seeing big cats combined with how accessible it is makes this one of the top tourist destinations in Rajasthan. The park is named for the centuries-old fort that sits in its boundaries and is considered a historical landmark in Rajasthan, so don't forget to add a cultural excursion to your national park itinerary.

Things to Do

Visitors come to Ranthambore primarily for the chance to see tigers in their natural environment. The park is one of the best places to see tigers in the wild, although sightings are never guaranteed. The park is divided into 10 different wildlife zones and visitors can only enter these zones on a guided safari tour, so you can't drive in yourself or walk around the park on your own.

The Bengal tigers are the star residents at Ranthambore, but don't overlook the rich diversity of wildlife that calls the park home. Other animals you may see include leopards, sloth bears, langur monkeys, sambar deer, hyenas, and much more. And those are just the mammals. There are also countless species of reptiles, birds, and insects, ranging from massive river crocodiles to delicate butterflies. The flora is just as impressive, including one of the largest banyan trees in the world—which is the national tree of India and considered sacred in many local cultures.

Outside of the wildlife zones, one of the most important attractions is the 10th-century Ranthambore Fort that gives the park its name. Built over a thousand years ago, the fort contains three Hindu temples as well as a Jain temple and is one of the most important structures in Rajasthan. In 2013, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Safari

There are two general routes for booking your safari expedition: the easier, more expensive way or the complicated but less costly way.

The cheap but complicated way is to book your own safari online through the Rajasthan government portal. You'll firstly need to sign in or register for an account and then select the "Forest and Wildlife" option to find Ranthambore and book your tickets. You'll select the date of your visit and choose which zone you want to visit. However, the website is not user-friendly and getting to the point of actually booking your tickets is a convoluted process. Plus, travel agencies and hotels often book up huge blocks at a time, leaving few options for travelers to choose from. If you do get a reservation, you'll be randomly assigned to a vehicle and a guide.

An easier way of going on safari is to leave the planning to a tour group or your hotel. You'll pay more for the service, but you don't have to worry about booking the right zone, getting a bad tour guide, or transport to the park. Since you can look at reviews for travel agencies or hotel safaris beforehand, you can choose one with high ratings instead of just being assigned a tour guide. Many hotels in the Ranthambore area include safari packages for guests, which is often the easiest way for getting into the park. Some tour operators even offer multi-day excursions that travel through multiple cities around India, an ideal option for travelers who want the entire itinerary to be taken care of.

Whichever method you choose, you'll have to pick your vehicle type. The options are a canter, which is an open-topped truck seating 20, or a gypsy, which is an open-topped jeep seating six. The gypsy is a much more comfortable and intimate ride with fewer people and easier navigation. However, often you have to reserve an entire gypsy vehicle instead of just a seat, which can be difficult for solo travelers or pairs. If you can, ask around for other travelers who are looking to share a gypsy to split the cost.

Where to Stay Nearby

There are no accommodation options within the park, but right outside is the city of Sawai Madhopur, considered the gateway to Ranthambore National Park. Sawai Madhopur has all kinds of options from inexpensive guesthouses to luxury villas, depending on what your budget allows.

  • Hotel Vinayak: This is about as close to camping as you can get in Ranthambore. This hotel is located in a rural area with frequent wildlife visitors, including monkeys and deer. Lodging options including tent structures with fans or rooms with air conditioning. Since it's a member of a government tourism board, guests also get priority for booking safaris in the national park.
  • Jhoomar Baori: This hotel is the only other lodging in Sawai Madhopur with priority safari bookings for guests. It's less rustic than Hotel Vinayak and situated on top of a hill with panoramic views of the nearby national park.
  • Anuraga Palace: To blend your wilderness adventure with a touch of luxury, the Anuraga Palace feels like spending the night in the Taj Mahal. All of the rooms have modern amenities and royal decor, and the high-end suites are each themed and come with a private jacuzzi.

How to Get There

Ranthambore National Park is located in India’s desert state of Rajasthan. There's a train station and a small airport in Sawai Madhopur that receives domestic flights from around India but the nearest major city is Jaipur, which is about 115 miles north. Taking the train from Jaipur or Delhi takes about two or four hours, respectively. Driving or taking a bus takes much longer, so unless you're flying directly to Sawai Madhopur, the train is your best option.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Zones 1–5 are considered the "core" of the park and are the most popular options for safari tours because they generally offer the best chance of seeing tigers. Zones 6–10 are considered the "buffer zones" and are in less demand, although tigers can still be seen in these areas.
  • Most parts of the park are closed from July to September during the monsoon season, including the core zones 1–5.
  • Winter (October to February) is the most comfortable time to visit the park, although it gets cold in the mornings so bundle up. During the summer months (March to June), the days are very hot. However, it's also the best time to see animals since they come out in search of water.
  • Your experience will greatly depend on your driver and guide. When numerous jeeps converge on one area and people shout between vehicles, the disturbance created is not ideal for viewing animals, so look at reviews before choosing a tour.
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Ranthambore National Park: The Complete Guide