Safari Expert Jessica Robertson packed her bags in September to discover Ruaha and Selous in Tanzania. These destinations offer off-the-beaten-track adventures, as well as luxury and excellent hospitality at beautiful riverside lodges and tented camps. Jessica did a comprehensive tour of both areas and explored the possibility of combining them with other Tanzanian gems like the Mahale Mountains and chimpanzee trekking.
Tell us more about your itinerary?
I flew into Dar es Salaam and spent the night. The next morning, we took a light aircraft flight to the Selous Game Reserve, which was around 40 minutes long, and landed at Siwandu Airstrip. We then spent two nights at the beautiful Roho Ya Selous, which is set on a hill overlooking the Rufiji River. It is close to Lakes Manze and Nzerakera, an area considered to offer the best game viewing in the reserve. Elephants and buffalo make their way to the water where there are pods of hippo and abundant birdlife, and the Selous has a great mix of predators, including lion, crocodile, leopard and wild dog.
After Roho Ya Selous, we moved on to Ruaha and spent two nights at Kwihala Camp, a bush camp with familiar comforts in an unspoiled setting. We then were transferred by road to their sister property, Jabali Ridge. After the last two nights at Jabali Ridge, we flew back to Dar es Salaam on the Pilatus PC-12 which is a pressurised light aircraft that is at least 20 minutes quicker than the older unpressurised models – so our flight was around ninety minutes rather than two hours. I then spent the night at the Serena Dar Es Salaam, which is in the city centre and only 15 minutes from the airport.
What were the wildlife highlights of your trip?
The best wildlife experience of the trip was when a young male lion (part of a pride of nine) left the shade and went for a drink down at the lake, scratched himself on a tree and then saw an impala a short distance away. He started to stalk it and I really thought we were about to see a kill – he got so close but right at the end he flicked his tail and the impala saw him and ran away. It was exhilarating!
What did you eat?
Every lodge I stayed at had delicious food – it was some of the best food I’ve had on safari. All the meals were fresh, healthy and quite simple, for example, building your own mini-burgers (sliders) for lunch, with chicken, beef and veggie options and lots of salads and potato wedges. Another delicious lunch was platters brought to the table – salads, yummy sauces, chicken schnitzels, basil pesto pasta – all presented beautifully and tasty.
What were your lodge highlights?
Jabali Ridge was absolutely beautiful and really blew me away. To be honest, all three of the camps we stayed at had such incredible staff that even Kwihala, a bush camp with basic facilities and no Wi-Fi, felt like a luxury experience. The staff were the best and really were the highlight of the trip. Always smiling, they knew everyone by name, remembered your favourite drink, filled your bottle with cold water – all without any prompting. They are incredibly professional and make you feel relaxed, often cracking a few jokes. They all made a lot of effort with their outdoor dining and pre-dinner drinks.
At Roho Ya Selous we were taken down into the dry riverbed, walked for about five minutes in the dark and rounded a corner to a beautifully lit-up bush dinner with another seating area around a big firepit, where we sat for hours after dinner, drinking wine and chatting.
The guides we had were exceptional, especially Hamza at Roho Ya Selous, Tony at Kwihala (one of the official Top 5 Tanzanian guides for 2017) and Lorenzo at Jabali Ridge (a young Italian who fell in love with the bush and one of the best guides I have ever had).
What makes Selous & Ruaha so special?
In Selous the landscape was intriguing immediately: it’s very dry in places (we were travelling at the end of dry season) and then around the corner you drive through lush green grass and palm trees alongside a lake. It really felt like there was a different landscape every few minutes.
Ruaha is still very undiscovered and is just as untouched and wild as Selous, but the game viewing is more diverse. The guides work hard for the sightings but this means that they will always be highly skilled. Both areas are quite tropical, very different and incredibly special.
What are the benefits of travelling to Ruaha and Selous?
Because you have to work slightly harder for your game viewing (compared to South Africa and the northern circuits of East Africa), it is more ‘untouched’ and with this comes fewer crowds and a more exclusive experience.
The biggest benefit is that when you do see predators (we saw lions every day over the full six nights) or really interesting sightings, you are able to take your time and just sit and watch them. Usually, safari etiquette decrees that you might have to make space for other vehicles and only get to spend around 10 minutes at a sighting before leaving so other safari lovers can come enjoy it too – but here, there aren’t necessarily other vehicles anywhere close by. When we saw the lion stalking the impala, for instance, we spent over an hour just sitting there and watching the big pride interact and lie around. I absolutely loved this.
Similarly, in Ruaha, we sat with another large pride of lions (including small cubs). When our guide picked up that a herd of buffalo in the far distance were heading in the direction of the lions, we went to make sure, circled back to the lions, and drove to the other side of the riverbed and parked under a tree where we had a good vantage point. We sat there for around 45 minutes, waiting for the buffalo to arrive – they did, exactly where the guide predicted. Then we waited in anticipation for them to go down into the riverbed where the lions would hopefully take advantage and make a kill. It might sound boring, but it was so exciting. Time goes by so quickly in the bush when you are sitting dead-still, as to not disturb what could possibly be the kind of sighting you see in National Geographic documentaries.
My Top 10 tips for your first trip to Ruaha and Selous
- Bring warm clothes for Ruaha: the morning game drives are much colder than what you usually experience in these regions, so definitely bring a jacket for this portion of your trip.
- Bring neutral coloured clothes for your walks. Avoid white, blue or black as these colours attract tsetse flies – some people aren’t bothered by them, and others get swollen bites.
- Clothes that can be layered and light clothing are essential – it is extremely hot during the day. Selous is closer to sea level, so is quite humid and tropical while Ruaha has dry heat.
- Don’t forget your binoculars and, if you can get your hands on a good camera, it really makes it so much more fun. There are so many picture-perfect photo opportunities.
- If you are combining Ruaha and Selous, I recommend doing a night drive in Ruaha. It is not always included and is more expensive in Selous, and you are likely to see more in Ruaha at night.
- Be open-minded and enjoy just being out in the bush. There is nothing better.
- Your daily schedule is slightly different here – be prepared for 5-hour long morning game drives with a bush breakfast. It is, however, completely comfortable and flexible to what you and the other guests on the vehicle prefer.
- Bring sunblock, comfortable walking shoes and a good hat.
- Book far enough in advance so that you don’t have to worry about availability of the limited accommodation. For peak season travel, book a year in advance to avoid disappointment.
- Combine this with chimp trekking for the ultimate ‘something different’ safari experience.
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