My most recent safari to Tanzania featured the southern circuit where wildlife is plentiful, whereas fortunately, tourists are not! The trip began in Arusha, then onto Ruaha, Selous and finishing in Zanzibar.
After a short visit in Arusha I flew by scheduled charter flight to Ruaha – now the largest national park in Tanzania. Known for its great populations of elephant, buffalo, greater and lesser kudu, hippo, crocs, it is also one of the country’s best national parks, and because of its location, it is one of the least visited.
The dry season, June to October, is the best time to visit the park, when game is concentrated along the Ruaha River. Large numbers of greater and lesser kudu, elephant and impala can be seen, along with eland, sable antelope, roan antelope, buffalo, Defassa waterbuck, ostrich and giraffe. Lion, leopard, spotted and striped hyena, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox and African wild dog are also present in significant numbers. Black rhino are present but seldom seen. Over 573 species of birds have been recorded.This is also one of the best parks in East Africa for escorted wildlife walks, and for those interested in walking, Jongomero Camp is undoubtedly your best bet. Jongomero is located on the banks of the Jongomero Sand River in the southwestern section of Ruaha and has 8 classic luxury tents with double vanity and solar-heated showers. The camp offers game drives in open vehicles, escorted walks with armed professional guides, bush breakfasts and bush dinners. As the camp is in a remote part of the park, other travelers are seldom if ever seen.
Mwagusi Safari Camp, located on the seasonal Mwagusi River, has 10 large tents with hot-cold running water showers and comfortable lounge areas under thatch. Game drives in open vehicles and walks are offered. Elephant may often be seen digging for water in the dry riverbed right in front of camp – very entertaining indeed!
The Ruaha River Lodge is located on the banks of the Ruaha River and offers stunning views. The simple yet spacious 29 stone-and-thatch bandas are located on the river bank, each with a private patio. There are two dining areas, one on the river’s edge and another on a hill overlooking the river. Game drives are offered, but walks are not. This is the best option for travelers on a budget.
The Rufiji River, the largest river in East Africa, roughly bisects the park as it flows from the southwest to the northeast. High concentrations of hippo and crocs are present. Exploring the Rufiji River and its channels, and lakes by boat is another great way to view game and experience the reserve.
Morning walks accompanied by an armed ranger and guide are popular and are conducted by some of the camps. On one of my walks from Beho Beho Camp we encountered 3 female elephant as we tried crossing a dry river bed. We backtracked to another crossing point but as we went down the path we met these same elephants walking up it. Our guide had us quickly move back down the path we had come.
Fly camping for a few nights is also available from select camps. This reserve can give you the feeling of exploring the bush for the first time, because you will encounter relatively few other visitors during your safari.
Beho Beho is my first pick of camps for an overall quality safari experience – especially for those wishing to walk in the bush. Beho Beho has been completely refurbished and the 10 luxury stone cottages have a light, breezy feel and offer panoramic views over the Rufiji River flood plain. Game drives, boating on Lake Tagalala and superb walking are offered. There is a swimming pool to enjoy between game drives. Next to Beho Beho is Bailey’s Banda, a new private villa, features 2 bedrooms, private pool and deck. Guests enjoy exclusive vehicle, guide and staff.
I also visited Amara Selous, located in the remote western part of the park on the Great Ruaha River, featuring 12 deluxe air- conditioned tents with large wooden decks and private plunge pools. Activities include open-vehicle game drives, walking safaris and boating on the river (water levels permitting). Serena Mivumo River Lodge is built on the Rufiji River and has 12 thatched air-conditioned rooms and one suite. Game viewing by open vehicles and by motorboat area, and spa treatments are offered. This is a great choice for those traveling October – December and looking for relief from the heat.
My final stop was Zanzibar. The narrow streets and Arabic architecture of historical Zanzibar City are exceptionally mystical and beautiful on a moonlit night. Main attractions include the Zanzibar Museum, former British Consulate, Arab Old Fort, the Anglican Cathedral built on the site of the former slave market, Sultan’s Palace, town market and Indian bazaar. Livingstone’s and Burton’s houses are near the picturesque old Dhow Harbour, where traditional dhows are repaired and built. Antique shops stocked with Arab clocks, kettles, brass trays, Zanzibar beds, carved doors and frames have special atmospheres all their own.
The more pristine coral reefs off Zanzibar offer a superb diving or snorkeling experience. In addition to a mind-boggling diversity of brightly colored reef fish, dolphins, green turtles and the largest of all fishes’” the harmless whale shark’” are fairly numerous in the waters around Zanzibar.
Baraza is a “6-star” property located on a fabulous beach with 33 very spacious 1- and 2-bedroom villas with private plunge pools, several restaurants, swimming pool, and one of the top spas in East Africa. For guests looking for the best in food, service and accommodation, this would be my first choice.
Kilindi is located on a pristine section of beach and has 15 luxury pavilions – each with private plunge pools (some units with 2 pools). Guests enjoy regional cuisine, an infinity pool, superb spa and lush tropical gardens. Extensive water sports and excursions are available. This is a great property for honeymooners and others wishing for privacy.
For those looking from something smaller and more remote, Matemwe Retreat features 4 exclusive 2-story suites with air- conditioned bedrooms on the first floor and a private sun terrace with plunge pool on the second. I love the 15 minute or so drive on the sand road along the coast through a fishing village to get to the property. This really sets the scene for the remote beach holiday! Matemwe Lodge, perched on the cliffs overlooking the northeast coast, has 12 bungalows with private verandahs with hammocks to enjoy the sea views. There are 2 swimming pools, restaurant, dive center and a variety of optional excursions that can be booked. This is a good option for a mid-priced property. Matemwe Beach House, a private 3-bedroom villa set right on the beach, has a swimming pool and is rented on an exclusive basis. Ideal for families, the house has a dedicated butler and chef.