Visitor Information -- Ranthambhore National Park is closed July through September due to the monsoon. Unlike at Bharatpur, traffic and numbers are closely regulated. For general information, call the Sawai Madhopur Tourist Centre (Sawai Madhopur Railway Station; tel. 07462/22-0808; Mon-Sat 10am-1pm and 2-5pm).
Getting There -- The nearest airport is Jaipur's, which lies 180km (112 miles) away; it is just under a 4-hour drive. Alternatively, the sprawling village of Sawai Madhopur (10km/6 1/4 miles from the park gates) is well connected by rail to Jaipur (just over 2 hr.) and to Jodhpur (8 hr.), and is on the main line between Delhi (5 1/2 hr.) and Mumbai. All accommodations listed will arrange pickups from the station.
Game-Drive Formalities -- Only official vehicles with sanctioned drivers and guides are permitted to take visitors into the park. There are two types of vehicle: jeeps and Canter buses. The latter -- ferrying up to 25 passengers -- should be avoided, even though they're slightly cheaper. To ensure your place in a game-drive jeep, it's best to arrange well in advance through your hotel. Places on the 40 vehicles that are allowed into the park for each drive session are often booked up to 2 months in advance. For bookings in a jeep, call the Project Tiger office (tel. 07462/22-0223; Mon-Sat 5-7am and noon-2pm for advance booking). If you have no alternative, Canters buses can be booked a day in advance at the tourist reception center at RTDC's Hotel Vinayak. If you book with any of the accommodations recommended below, they will arrange all this for you (they also enjoy unofficial priority access to the park, and seem to be able to arrange entrance at short notice, although you shouldn't count on it). Please note, however, that you must let your host know when and how often you would like to go on a game drive as soon as possible -- these officially need to be booked 60 days in advance. The price varies depending on where you stay; the official rate charged by the park is Rs 800 for a seat on a jeep (which includes park entry, but excludes a Rs 200 video fee), but you can also book through your lodge, essentially sparing you the bother of exchanging cash at the park entrance. For a wonderful introduction to the park, ask your host to find a copy of The Ultimate Ranthambhore Guide (Rs 175) by Sheena Sippy and Sanjna Kapoor, also sold at the park's gate.
Tip: Although the park's seven routes are assigned randomly, and you are normally not allowed to choose which route you would like to go on, you can request that your host try to have at least one game drive either near a body of water in the park or in an area where a tiger was spotted the day before. The best time to visit the park is between November and April (Jan-Apr is best for tiger sightings). The park closes during the monsoon season (July-Sept).
There are two game drives: The early morning drive (winter 7:30-10:30am; summer 6:30-9:30am) is often preferable to the afternoon drive (winter 3-5:30pm; summer 4-6:30pm), given that temperatures can make for muggy afternoons. However, you should pack something warm -- it can get cold both early in the morning and once darkness approaches.
Routes (which drivers are pretty much forced to stick to) and guides are randomly allotted, which means you may be on a tight budget yet find yourself in a jeep with an excellent guide, watching a tiger bathe in the lotus lake that fronts the beautiful 250-year-old Jogi Mahal, while a hapless guest paying top dollar for the same trip trundles around with a monosyllabic guide with halitosis. Note that the overhaul of tourist entry procedures and rules are a constant topic for bureaucratic debate, and procedures may change on a whim at any time, so check ahead.