If you’re imagining your first safari, you’re probably dreaming of bumping across dusty tracks in a land rover far away from civilisation. Unspoilt scenery stretching as far as the eye can see with unforgettable wildlife sightings around every corner.
Some of the more famous areas of Africa can get pretty busy, especially during the peak migration season. However, there are still some remote corners of Tanzania where you can have your dream secluded safari.
Most visitors to Tanzania head straight for the northern circuit: Lake Manyara, Tarangire, Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. While these are fantastic places to explore, if you fly south you will come across huge parks with thriving wildlife, far away from the tourist trail. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some of these beautiful spots, so here are my recommendations.
Selous Game reserve is the largest game reserve in Africa, twice the size of the Serengeti and three times the size of the Kruger. Selous is one of my favourite safari parks for a few reasons.
Thanks to its size, the park is very quiet and you can easily go a few hours without seeing another vehicle. The Selous is a fantastic place for wildlife – home to 4,000 lions, as well as good numbers of serval, caracal and leopard. With so many predators, there are of course huge numbers of plains game, including wildebeest, zebras, hippos and many types of antelope.
Selous is also home to a good number of the critically endangered Painted Wolf (African wild dog). These are my favourite animal found in Africa and if you’re lucky enough to spend time with a pack it will be a highlight of your safari.
I also love that Selous offers the chance for different kinds of safari. The Rufiji River runs across the game reserve and most of the lodges are built along its banks. Floating along the river is spectacular, looking for hippos and Nile crocodiles lurking in the water, as well as all the wildlife coming down to water’s edge to drink.
If you really want to feel like you are back in the Victorian age, then a walking safari is the way to go. With your guide and an armed park ranger you will be shown tracking and stalking techniques to get as close a safely possible to the wildlife, as well as seeing the smaller creatures you might have missed when driving along in a land rover.
An important note is that Selous is a game reserve, rather than a national park, which means that there are some slightly different rules. The two you will really benefit from are:
If you are on a budget there are some great choices of lodges just outside the reserve. If you choose this option you will travel into the game reserve each day for your safari game drives. However, there are no fences on Tanzania parks, so you are still likely to see plenty of wildlife even if you are just outside the park boundaries. Sable Mountain Lodge is a great example of a lodge just outside the reserve.
Inside the park, the lodges are all spread out across this vast game reserve so wherever you chose you will have exclusivity. For a rustic safari experience, Lake Manze Camp deliberately doesn’t have power in the tents except for the main bar and restaurant. This reduces the noise and light pollution, encouraging wildlife to regularly walk through the camp. During my stay, some giraffes appeared only 10 metres away from me while I was sat reading a book with a G&T in hand. Magic.
Ruaha is the perfect park to visit for a wild adventure full of game. Unlike the Selous with the Rufiji River, Ruaha is made up of vast plains - more like the Serengeti in northern Tanzania. This park is definitely going to tick all your wild safari boxes.
The remoteness of Ruaha is its biggest draw but second is definitely its walking safaris. Depending where you stay you can spend a couple of days walking with your guide, tracking and spotting the wildlife close up. Sleeping out in dome tents exchanging safari stories with your guide around a roaring bush fire – this is an experience you will never forget.
Ruaha has had its problems in the past with poaching but the elephant population is starting to recover well so you will likely see them in good numbers. Thanks to the large plains, cheetahs thrive here in good numbers.
If you’ve ever seen a nature programme with lions taking down a fully-grown buffalo or giraffe, then there is a good chance it was filmed in Ruaha. Large numbers of lions mean they have adapted to hunting bigger game, which would normally be very dangerous for them, to feed their numbers.
If you are wanting to escape from the world and connect with nature then Mdonya Old River Camp is the place for you. Deliberately built to have no electricity in the sleeping tents and with bucket showers, you will feel like you are on a real adventure. If you are looking for luxury in the wilderness then I recommend Jabali Ridge, with stunning views from the infinity pool. If you want to go all-out luxury, then I highly recommend staying at Kichaka, where you can indulge in the best walking safaris in Tanzania.
In the far west of Tanzania, near the border with the Congo, sits Katavi National Park. Katavi is one of the wildest national parks in East Africa. Many safari operators would love to set up camps here but the logistics and costs of doing this in a remote corner of Tanzania has kept them away. Imagine endless miles of unrivalled wilderness and only sharing it with a couple of small camps dotted across the park.
Look for elephants and lions, hyena and zebra. I always enjoy watching the huge herds of Cape buffalo as well as roan antelope and puku. The bird watching is also excellent, with over 400 recorded species. In the dry season the wildlife congregates around small waterholes but when the rains return, the dry and dusty plains turn into a mini-Okavango – it’s an amazing sight.
In Katavi, the wildlife-viewing is unrestricted. You can follow any animal, anywhere, for as long as you like. Katavi is African game viewing as it used to be.
Katavi Wildlife Camp has six safari tents set amongst mature trees overlooking the Katisunga plains. The perfect location means even when you are in camp you are still on safari. The dining area is in a two story banda, maximising your view during meals and creating the most beautiful views while you relax with a G&T each evening.
Another option is Chada Katavi Camp, which aims to combine comfort with the rustic wilderness you’d expect in a park like Katavi. Sat amongst tamarind trees overlooking Chada plain, you’ll stay in one of six canvas tents, each with en-suite bucket showers and panoramic views. The camp also has a well-stocked library, observation deck and officers mess style dining tent to give you the feeling of being on a Victorian safari.
I highly recommend spending one-night fly camping to really experience the wilderness you have travelled so far for. I promise it’ll be the highlight you talk about for years to come.
Combining perfectly with Katavi National Park is the equally remote Mahale Mountains National Park. This isn’t a national park you come to for normal game drives, which is why it’s best to combine with Katavi. Mahale has Tanzania’s densest population of primates including yellow baboon, red colobus, blue, red-tailed and vervet monkeys.
However, the main prize is over 1,000 chimpanzees that can be found in the thick forests. Set off into the jungle each day to track these impressive animals – they are used to humans so you can observe them very close up.
The couple of lodges that are in Mahale sit along the secluded golden sand beaches that border Lake Tanganyika. From here you can go on boat safaris across the lake, seeing the hippos moonwalking beneath the crystal-clear waters.
Mbali Mbali was recently refurbished and their beach tents are now a very high standard. With the mountains at your back and the clear waters of Lake Tanganyika in front of you, it is a place like no other. The gentle lapping of the lake will lull you to sleep each night.
Greystoke is the ultimate place to stay in this wilderness paradise. With only six bandas overlooking the lake, this is pure African paradise. The treks and boat trips are all run to the highest standard - if your budget can stretch to a stay here you won’t be disappointed!
If you would like to plan a trip to Tanzania, give me a call on +44 1273320580 or request a quote. I can help you plan a safari through different areas of Tanzania, finishing with a relaxing beach break in Zanzibar or Mafia Island. We are experts in planning tailor-made holidays and round the world flights, so we can work together with you until we’ve created your perfect trip.