Stay Longer, Stay Remoter: Southern Tanzania
One of the hallmarks of the safari experience is “remoteness.” In many of Africa’s wildernesses, it can seem like safari-goers have it all to themselves. The areas that offer this kind of exclusivity not only enhance the thrills and wonders of the safari experience, but can also allay concerns from those about their health.
A low density of people combined with longer stays can help minimize any health risks. By staying at fewer lodges and camps for longer durations, safari-goers can minimize in-transit health risks.
Southern Tanzania fits these criteria. Southern Tanzania’s national parks receive far less tourists than its northern counterparts. That’s not to say the safari experience is decidedly lesser in the south.
Southern Tanzania provides a more exclusive, off-the-beaten-path safari experience. It also offers activities and wildlife sightings unavailable in the Northern Circuit, like boating and seeing wild dogs! Furthermore, though walking safaris are available in the north, they are few in between. In contrast, walking safaris are a cornerstone of the safari experience in Southern Tanzania – some camps even offer fly-camping to really immerse yourself in the wilderness on foot!
In this iteration of AAC’s “Stay Longer, Stay Remoter” series, we’ll explore three of Southern Tanzania’s national parks and reserves: Ruaha, Selous and Katavi. We’ll break down where you can stay, what you can do, and we’ll even give you a suggested itinerary. Start exploring!
Ruaha is Tanzania’s largest national park, and receives only 20,000 annual visitors. In comparison, the Serengeti (Tanzania’s second largest national park) receives 330,000 annual visitors. The park’s landscape can be characterized by a mixture of miombo and acacia woodlands, golden plains, palm trees, the black riverbed rocks of the Ruaha River and other dry riverbeds, the Ruaha escarpment in the west, scattered rocky outcrops and an impressive density of baobab trees.
Expect to see felines: this park is a paradise for leopards and lions – 10% of latter’s entire population reside in Ruaha. Ruaha also has the third-largest population of African Wild Dogs. Fortunate visitors can see other predators like cheetah, spotted and striped hyena, and bat-eared foxes.
Besides predators, Ruaha also boasts large buffalo and elephant populations. The park also boasts an impressive array of antelope species, including kudu (greater and lesser), waterbuck, roan and sable. Giraffes are also a common sight – keep a lookout for them bending down to drink!
A very interesting characteristic of Ruaha is that it is a ecological and zoological transition zone between East and Southern Africa. This means there is a fascinating habitat overlap for species. Therefore, it’s no surprise then that over 570 bird species have been recorded here, which makes Ruaha arguably Tanzania’s premier birding destination. Keen birders should visit during the Wet Season (December-April) when migratory birds are present.
The Best Time to Go is from July to October. This is when wildlife most heavily concentrates along the Ruaha River, increasing visitors’ chances of great sighting while on a walk or game drive.
June and November are shoulder season. Though a more affordable time of year to visit, it should be noted that each month has its drawbacks. Though the rains of the Wet Season begin to end in May, grasses remain high through most of June, which tends to make animal sightings more difficult.
November is Ruaha’s hottest month. Additionally, their is a possibility that the Wet Season’s rains can begin uncharacteristically early. In contrast, November is a great time to visit because of the “impala drop.” With the arrival of newborn antelopes, you are very likely to see a kill!
A dramatic scene unfolded while Miles Nolting was on a game drive during his November visit to Ruaha. During a game drive, Miles’ guide spotted a lion dozing off at the foot of a baobab tree. Driving closer, the group also spotted a fresh impala carcass on a branch, and further up the tree, a leopard!
After visiting 9 countries over 4 trips in 2019, Miles undoubtedly believes this was his single best wildlife sighting. To learn more about his safari to Ruaha (and Selous), click the link below:
As the rivers dry up and the grasses are grazed, a walking safari in Ruaha becomes a must-do. Early morning is the best time of day for a walk – animal activity is high and temperatures are low enough to make walking comfortable. Walks are escorted by both a licensed walking guide and a park ranger. Furthermore, many walks at Ruaha are special in that visitors are able to approach many iconic species at jaw-droppingly close distances.
Each camp has different minimum age requirements for walking safaris. Though the terrain can be rugged, it is flat, meaning visitors don’t require a high level of fitness.
Another great advantage of Ruaha is that night drives are permitted. In Northern Tanzania’s park and wildlife areas, there are very few places where visitors can go on a night drive. Which is a shame – night drives add a fabulous layer to the safari experience, revealing the park’s fascinating nocturnal wildlife. Guides are also given discretion to drive off-road during both night and day game drives. Such a luxury is simply not permissible in the high volume wildlife areas of northern Tanzania.
For those looking for a “bush experience,” Kigelia Ruaha is a great option. With only 6 banda tents (thatched roof over a canvas tent), this intimate camp offers creature comforts in an authentic bush setting. Each tent has en-suite flush toilets and a safari (bucket) shower. Families or small groups may also reserve the camp’s one family tent.
This is Ruaha’s most premier accommodation. Jabali Ridge is nestled among gaint granite boulders. It offers great amenities, including an infinity pool, spa and expansive library. The dining is also exceptionally tasty and creative – keep an eye out for the baobab sorbet! The lodge features 8 raised, airy suites wtih bird-nest thatched roofs, wooden shutters (great to let in the breeze during a siesta), en-suite bathroom and an expansive deck.
Their is also a private villa (Jabali Private House) nearby. It features 3 bedrooms, its own pool, and a private guide, vehicle and chef.
Nestled under a miombo woodland canopy along the Mwagusi basin, Kwihala is another example of a Ruaha “bush experience.” The camp has 6 canvas tents, each with an en-suite bathroom and safari (bucket) shower.
Kichaka offers Ruaha’s quintessential “bush experience.” As a seasonal camp, it leaves a minimal footprint, and its location can change on a yearly basis. Nestled in Ruaha’s extreme northeast, Kichaka can also be considered Ruaha’s most “remote” camp. It also has only 3 en-suite (with safari showers) tents (one of which is a family tent), meaning up to only 8 guests can stay in camp simultaneously.
The really adventurous sort should consider fly-camping for part of, or all of, their stay. Because it only takes a couple of hours to set up camp, visitors can stay at multiple different sites during their stay.
When you think of Jongomero, think “classic Africa.” The 8 luxury, en-suite tents and common areas of the camp are elevated on gorgeous wood platforms and covered by thatched bandas. Located in Ruaha’s remote southwest, it’s also ideal for going on day-long expeditions to some of Ruaha’s most wild areas – you’re very likely to spot some sable! Jongomero also has a pool, perfect for cooling off after your morning activity.
One of Ruaha’s newest camps, Ikuka is picturesquely situated atop the Ruaha Escarpment. The 6 banda-covered rooms (including one family room) are uniquely designed. During the day, the rooms are completely open, allowing for cool breezes and a more intimate immersion with nature. At night, the rooms are then closed off with canvas tenting. The camp also features a great pool with expansive views of the Ruaha valley below.
As you head go downriver along the Ruaha River, you come across the edge of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. The elevation drops notably, until the river merges with the Rufiji River. North of these two rivers’ junction is Selous’ prime game viewing area. This part of the part is predominantly composed of miombo woodlands, floodplains, river channels, grasslands and marshes, making for excellent game viewing on land – and water!
Selous’ most unique selling point is the opportunity to see iconic wildlife while boating, a rarity in East Africa. Buffalo, elephant, giraffe (one of Africa’s largest populations), and various antelope species are frequent sights along Selous’ lakes and river shores. And of course there are plently of hippos and crocodiles! Predator-wise, lions are commonly seen while leopards are occasionally seen.
But perhaps Selous’ biggest wildlife claim to fame is its African Wild Dogs. Selous has East Africa’ largest population and is one of the best places in Africa to see them. For visitors keen to see Wild Dogs, AAC advises you visit from September to November.
Because they’re so mobile, Wild Dogs are notoriously difficult to track – except when the alpha female has its litter. For roughly 3 months of the year, Wild Dog pups will gradually grow and acquire their hunting abilities. But until then, packs will gravitate around a den, bringing back fresh kills for their pups to feed on.
Outside of seeing Wild Dog, the Best Time to Go to Selous depends on a couple of factors. If you want to be out on a boat as much as possible, AAC advises visiting early in the Dry Season (June – August) when water levels are still high. But in general, the best time to go is from July – October during the reserve’s dry season. Animals will increasingly concentrate along riverbeds, making game viewing very productive on foot, on a game drive, or on a boat. This also the best time of year to go fishing!
November and June are shoulder season, which offers more affordable rates. However, each month has its drawbacks. During the month of June, vegetation is at its thickest, obscuring wildlife sightings. Additionally, the Wet Season is just coming to a close, meaning wildlife is still dispersed.
During the month of November, Selous’ temperatures peak. Additionally, visitors should expect afternoon rains – and less accessible roads.
Beyond boating safaris, visitors to Selous may also go fishing. The catfish and tigerfish are most likely to bite during the dry season. Boating also allows visitors to go to a picturesque sundowner or picnic location. For those conscious of the sun, some camps’ boats will have awnings overhead.
Walking in Selous is a treat. After all, the reserve is named after the British explorer, big game hunter and conservationist. The best time of year to walk is during the dry season when the marshes and floodplains are dry enough for easy maneuvering. Like Ruaha, walking safaris here do not require a high level of fitness: the terrain is slightly rugged, but not at all steep. Game drives only occur during the day, and the off-roading policy is stricter than at Ruaha.
Siwandu is nestled in woodlands along Lake Nzerekera, a backwater of the Rufiji River. Each of the 12 en-suite safari tents and common areas are on raised platforms and underneath thatched bandas. Additionally, the camp has not one, but two swimming pools.
Roho ya Selous
For those considering a visit to Selous during the humid Wet Season, Roho ya Selous is a great option. Each of the 8 en-suite, stretch canvas tents (including one family tent) has over-bed “evening breeze” cooling system. Roho also has unique boats that allow it traverse shallower areas than at other camps. If you need additional cooling down, take advantage of Roho’s swimming pool.
Unlike most camps and lodges in Selous, Beho Beho is not located along a river or lakeshore. But its location high among the Beho Beho hills offers great views Rufiji River floodplain. It’s also the closer to Selous’ Grave than any other camp or lodge in the park.
The 10 luxurious rooms are an architecturally unique combination of a thatched banda and stone cottage. Their fronts are completely open, offering panoramic views from a veranda. All but one of the bandas have private plunge pools. You should also consider taking advantage of the open-air showers!
There’s also an exclusive, 2-bedroom villa on-site.
Kiba Point is located further up the Rufiji River than most of the camps and lodges in Selous. Furthermore, this camp is booked only exclusive-use – talk about remote! This hideaway has only 4 rooms, one of which has a children’s annex. These 4 open-fronted bandas are extremely spacious and open up to a veranda with a plunge pool overlooking the Rufiji River. Each room also features an open-air shower.
Sand Rivers Selous
Sand Rivers Selous is essentially a slightly larger, non-exclusive use, version of Kiba Point. Their are 8 spacious, banda-covered chalets, 5 of which are located along the Rufiji River. The other three are perched on a hillside, each featuring a private plunge pool and its own lounge area. The Honeymoon Cottage (one of the three hillside chalets) even comes with its own private guide and vehicle!
Of the three wildlife areas listed, Katavi is both the least visited and most “wild.” Of the 900,000 foreigners who visited Tanzania’s national parks in 2013, only 1500 had visited Katavi!
This park is defined by its contrast between the “dry and wet.” Two lakes, Lake Katavi and Lake Chada, are connected by the Katuma River and extensive swampland. As the dry season progresses, these bodies of water dry up, leaving wide open, golden plains with scattered miombo and acacia forests. Wildlife then concentrates en masse around the last remaining fresh water.
Commonly seen wildlife include hippo, crocodiles, elephant, zebra, lion, buffalo, and giraffe. Buffalo herds in Katavi are known to number in the several thousand! Large prides of lions are well-fed, thanks to the abundant buffalo and zebra here. The park is also known for its burrowing crocodiles and hippos; as the water levels dwindle, they attempt to congregate in the remaining water of the Katuma River, they burrow into the riverbeds to create mudholes – it’s quite a spectacle to see hundreds of crocodiles or hippos packed together!
Katavi has a short, 6 month season. The Best Time to Go is during the dry season, from July to October. June and November are shoulder season months. Visitors considering June should know that water levels and vegetation density are still high. November can be very hot and its not uncommon for it to rain. Driving is also more difficult during these two months.
Chada Katavi is unpretentious – and an ideal base of operations for any visitors considering to experience wild Katavi. The 6 canvas tents are en-suite, with a connected outdoor safari (bucket) shower. Visitors can walk or go on game drives. Because of the low visitor numbers, there are few off-roading restrictions. For an even wilder experience, consider fly-camping for part of your stay!
To begin planning your Southern Tanzania safari, contact an AAC Africa expert by calling our toll-free number: 1-800-882-9453
Or you can fill out the “Request Info” form below