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Go off the beaten path in Tanzania

You've cracked the Kruger and witnessed the Mara: now it's time for something entirely different. Tanzania's unbeaten paths lead to extraordinary destinations, perfect for seasoned safari-goers or intrepid first-timers who want an unorthodox introduction to Africa.

Once overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, Kenya, Tanzania has earned its reputation as a safari destination par excellence. These days, names like the Serengeti and Ngorongoro trip off the tongue as easily as the Masai Mara and Amboseli. The drawback is that everyone else has heard of these places too. Visitors on a peak-season game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater will have to contend with dozens of other vehicles clustered around a good sighting, while migration season in the Serengeti sees the lion's share of the 100 000 visitors who flood into the park each year.

Off the Beaten Path in Tanzania - discover vast plains of animals
Head for Tanzania's remote parks to enjoy people-free game viewing in spectacular settings.

The Last Great Wilderness - Selous

How about a reserve the size of Switzerland with visitor numbers hovering around 5 000 a year - less than 1% of Tanzania's annual total? While stretches of the Selous Game Reserve are off limits, the vast territory that is open to visitors is wildly beautiful and,  game-wise, very rewarding. The Selous is jam-packed with animals - its nickname is Giraffic Park. And by jam-packed I mean Africa's densest populations of buffalo, hippo, wild dog and lion, not to mention a tenth of the continent's elephants. A handful of fly-in lodges in secluded settings offer game drives as well as guided nature walks and riverboat safaris.

Best time to go: the June to September dry season offers the Selous' best game viewing and most pleasant climate. The 'short rains' of October and November are followed by a drier spell from December to February after which the 'long rains' of March and April begin. Avoid the peak rainy months as parts of the Selous are flooded and camps are often closed.

Where to stay: Sand River Selous for a variety of great activities; Beho Beho Camp for an intimate romantic getaway and superb birding; Selous Impala Camp for a classic off-the-beaten-track safari base.

Off the Beaten Track in the Selous - the formidable buffalo
Where big herds of buffalo congregate...
Off the Beaten Track in the Selous - lions are seen in large numbers.
... you'll find large lion prides - the Selous is no exception!
Off the Beaten Track in the Selous - track wild dog across the plains
One of the rarest carnivores in Africa, wild dog flourish in the Selous.
Off the Beaten Track in the Selous - remote, yet luxurious
Lodges in the Selous' far flung settings offer classic safari comforts.
Off the Beaten Track in the Selous - the big tuskers
Successful conservation means Selous elephants sport massive tusks.

Mountain Retreat - Mahale

Another of Tanzania's off the beaten track parks is Mahale Mountains National Park: it is accessible only by boat and protects the rainforest-covered mountains that tumble down to the empty, echoing shores of Lake Tanganyika.

A cacophony of unfamiliar calls rings out from the forest when you stand at its edge, awestruck, by the majesty of the setting. Home to a dozen primate species, Mahale's signature activity is guided chimpanzee trekking, though with annual visitor numbers struggling to make it into three figures, you may simply want to revel in the tranquil solitude of this wild place. Relax on the lake's footprint-free beaches, go fishing, watch birds and butterflies, or trek into the cathedral-like forest for a face to face encounter with wild chimpanzees, our closest living relative.

Best time to go: Mahale is best for chimp trekking from July to October.

Where to stay: Greystoke Mahale for an authentic 'barefoot luxury' experience right on the beach.

Off the Beaten Track in Mahale -  chimp trekking is a popular activity
Chimp trekking is Mahale's number one attraction.
Off the Beaten Track in Mahale -  the dense forests provide a challenge.
The dense rainforest is alive with primates, birds & butterflies.
Off the Beaten Track in Mahale -  spotting a chimp in the vegetation.
Spotted! Wild chimps spend their days foraging, grooming & napping.

Secret Savannahs - Katavi & Ruaha National Parks

Equally far from the beaten path are Katavi National Park (safari-goers barely top a thousand a year) and Ruaha, attracting only about 20% of the volume of visitors who pack the Serengeti each year.

Both are big, rolling savannah parks with healthy populations of the heavyweight species - elephants, buffalo and the big cats - and both are serious contenders for that most coveted of Tanzanian titles: "Best-Kept Secret". The game viewing is great, the scenery spectacular and the parks retain a truly wild ambience. Fly in and see them now before the secret gets out: there are a few luxury lodges scattered in each, usually set next to rivers for easy armchair game viewing.

Off the Beaten Path in Katavi - plains game fill the savannah
Huge herds of zebra, wildebeest and giraffe fill the plains of Katavi.
Off the Beaten Path in Ruaha - a large buffalo herd
Large herds of buffalo can be seen in Ruaha, particularly in the Green Season.
Off the Beaten Track in Ruaha - huge herds of hippo
A vast hippo pod basks on a river bank in Ruaha.

Best time to go to Ruaha: the dry months of June to October are best for a Ruaha safari but temperatures increase dramatically as the dry season wears on. Although game viewing is at its peak from August to October, so is the heat. The rains begin in November and continue into late May.

Best time to go to Katavi: like Ruaha, the June to October dry season is the best time to visit Katavi. Most travellers avoid the December - April rainy season but if you are a bird watcher then these hot summer months deliver sensational birding in both parks.

Where to stay: In Ruaha, Jongomero Camp - set right on the river bank and super remote - and Ruaha River Lodge - rustic yet comfortable with fly-camping options; In Katavi, Chada Katavi - a luxurious and private tented camp set on the edge of a game-rich floodplain.

Written by Dominic Chadbon. Connect with him on Google+.

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