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Aim 4 Africa » Southern Tanzania

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Southern Tanzania Elephants


Game reserves and national parks in Southern Tanzania include the famous Selous, largest game reserve in Africa (and possibly in the world), Ruaha, Mikumi, Saadani and Udzungwa Mountains national park.

Game reserves and national parks in Southern Tanzania include the famous Selous, largest game reserve in Africa (and possibly in the world), Ruaha, Mikumi, Saadani and Udzungwa Mountains national park. The Great Rufiji River makes its way to the Indian Ocean through this area. Although not as popular as the northern safari circuit, the national parks and game reserves in the south are ideal for those seeking pristine wilderness and relative isolation amongst acres and acres of natural wilderness, most of which is made up of miombo woodland and afforded protection as one of the world's heritage sites.

The Southern Safari Circuit offers one to explore pristine areas of Tanzania, off the beaten track, away from the crowds of tourists and the sound of other safari vehicles. Here you will find prolific wildlife unscathed by human interaction, where the night sky dazzles with millions of stars, and a part of the continent, which is untouched by time.

Unlike the northern Safari circuit, southern Tanzania offers game drives in open sided vehicles, as well as the option of doing a walking or boating safari. Very few vehicles will be found in the southern Circuit in comparison to the more popular national parks in the north.

Covering an area of approximately 50,000 square kilometres, the Selous is Africa¡¯s (and possibly the world¡¯s) single largest game reserve. The reserve is three times larger than the Serengeti, twice as large as the Kruger National Park in South Africa and twice the size of Belgium or Swaziland.

The Selous has the largest elephant population in the whole of Africa (approximately 65,000) and 150,000 buffalo as well as approx 40,000 hippopotamus, close to 4000 lion, numerous reptiles including snakes, crocodiles and lizards, over 350 species of birds and at least 2000 plant species. It is also an important sanctuary for the more endangered wildlife such as the black rhinoceros, African hunting dog or wild dog, sable and puku antelope.

The now rare wild dog (African Hunting Dog)The reserve is made up of a diverse landscape from hot volcanic springs, channels and lagoons from East Africa's greatest rivers - the Great Ruaha, Rufiji and the Kilombero Rivers. The Rufiji River is East Africa's largest river with the river basin covering an area of 177,000 sq kms, most of which lies in the Selous game reserve, making this the most well-watered game reserve in Africa.

This is one of the few places where one can undertake a walking or boating safari as well as the more traditional game-viewing safari in 4-wheel drive vehicles.

The game reserve is named after Frederick Courtney Selous, one of the many European explorers and hunters who visited East Africa in the 19th Century, and whose grave lies on the north of the river near the Selous Safari Camp. Evidence of early civilisations that inhabited the area long before the advent of foreign adventurers have been found in the reserve, however little archaeological research has been carried out in this part of East Africa and as such the relics that have been found have yet to be studied.

Hippo bathing in the Great Rufiiji RiverRemarkable features in the Selous include the 100 metre deep Stiegler's Gorge where one can take a cable car ride across the 100 metre wide gorge. In the dry season there is a migration of elephant from the Selous to Mozambique's Niassa Game reserve - this is one of the true spectacles and a rare treat for visitors between June and November.

Because of conservation efforts, there is very little human habitation within the reserve and this is mainly confined to the few luxury tented lodges - it also means that one has the experience of being uniquely alone in this large reserve without seeing too many people or vehicles.

Ruaha National Park

With an area of approximately 12,950 square kilometres, the Ruaha National Park is second only to the Serengeti in terms of size of national park in Tanzania .

This park is unique in that ancient lands remain undiscovered and pristine due to the lack of numbers of visitors compared to its northern counterparts. Unspoilt reaches of Ruaha means that to get there one has to either fly or take a very long drive. This is the ideal place for a longer safari (minimum of four nights recommended) and a trip here can be combined with a visit to the Selous.

The Ruaha National Park has one of the greatest populations of elephant with its hilly savannah landscape and rocky shores of the Great Ruaha River . Lion, leopard and packs of African hunting dog (or wild dog), giraffe, zebra, sable and roan antelope as well as Greater and Lesser Kudu are all to be found here in great numbers.

Well watered by the Great Ruaha, Nzombe, the Mwagusi Sand River, the Mdonya Sand River and the Jongomero Rivers become the focal point for large numbers of animals during the heat of the day. Much of the park is miombo woodland and the other undulating plains with vegetation ranging from dry bush country to treeless grasslands, swamps and evergreen forests intersected by the many sand rivers that are such a feature of this area.

In all there are approximately 1,650 plant species and over 520 bird species have been recorded within the park itself (some bird and plant species are still being discovered).

Ruaha is known for its large elephant and buffalo herds and one of its principal attractions lies in being able to see greater and lesser kudu as well as the majestic sable and roan antelope within the same area. As well as an abundance of lion, leopard and cheetah it is also home to the increasingly rare African Hunting Dog (also known as Wild Dog).

The best time to visit Ruaha is probably in the dry season between June and October. As with most well watered game reserves and national parks, the drier it gets the fewer the areas for wildlife to drink. As a result best game viewing areas are around the remaining water holes and riverbanks. However, the rainy season has its own appeal with the freshly grown, greener areas providing more hiding places and as a result, wildlife are more difficult to spot. Many of the lodges and tented camps close down for revamping during the long rains in April and May. This is also the time when some of the sand rivers are most likely to flood.

Ruaha is well serviced by air from Dar es Salaam and Arusha, generally via the Selous, which is why the two work so well together.

There are regular connections to the following parks from/to Ruaha:
Selous: 1.5 hours
Katavi: 2 hours
Mahale: 2.5-3 hours
Arusha, Lake Manyara and Serengeti ( Northern Tanzania ) : 3 –3.5 hours



Covering an area of 3,230 square kilometres, the main feature of the park is the Mkata flood plain, along with the Uluguru and Lumango mountain ranges that border the park on two sides. Open grasslands dominate in the flood plain, eventually merging with the miombo woodland covering the lower hills.

The park is rich in wildlife - buffalo, hippo, baboons, sable antelope, lions, wild dogs, wildebeest, zebra, impala, giraffe, warthogs, and elephants which can easily be viewed all the year round. Reptiles including crocodiles, monitor lizards and pythons are also resident in the park as are over 400 recorded species of birdlife. Among the bird species are the colourful residents such as the lilac-breasted roller, yellow-throated long claw and bateleur eagle joined by a host of European migrants during the rainy season.

The Mkata Floodplain is perhaps the most reliable place in Tanzania for sightings of the powerful eland, the world¡¯s largest antelope. The equally impressive greater kudu and sable antelope haunt the miombo-covered foothills of the mountains that rise from the park¡¯s borders.

A tarmac road connects Mikumi to Dar es Salaam via Morogoro, approximately 4 hours drive. There are also road connections to Udzungwa, Ruaha and, in the dry season only, the Selous. There are a number of chartered flights from Dar es Salaam, Arusha or Selous.


Palm trees sway in a cooling oceanic breeze... White sand and blue water sparkle alluringly beneath the tropical sun.

Traditional dhows sail slowly past, propelled by billowing white sails, while Swahili fishermen cast their nets below a brilliant red sunrise... Elephants strolling by for a drink from a nearby waterhole...

Saadani is where the bush meets the beach - and not any beach, but that overlooking the fabulous Indian Ocean.

Located only 130 km north of Dar es Salaam and directly to the west of Zanzibar, Saadani is Tanzania's newest national park (gazetted in 2004) and the only coastal wildlife sanctuary in East Africa. Covering an area of approximately 1,100 square kilometres, the park offers visitors the unique opportunity to observe Africa's big game and birdlife interacting with the sea - an ideal location in which one can relax on Indian Ocean beaches after each safari.
Saadani national park has a diverse population of mammals and birds inhabiting the coast as well as along the Wami River and forest areas: elephant, leopard, lion, buffalo, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, colobus monkeys, hippopotami, crocodile, red duiker, greater kudu, eland, and the rare Roosevelt sable can be seen here. A wide selection of marine and riverine birds, including the mangrove kingfisher, pelicans and lesser flamingo - making this park a haven for bird watchers and ornithologists. The little tidal sand island not far from the beachfront at Saadani is one of the last major green turtle breeding sites on mainland Tanzania. Dolphins are also very often spotted here during boat rides out at sea.

This is therefore the only park that uniquely offers a choice of a driving safari, a guided walk in the wild, a boat safari on the mangrove-lined Wami River, as well as a beach holiday all in the same area. This makes the park ideal for honeymooners or those wanting a short break but who want to enjoy a safari in the sun together with a beach holiday - so you can have your cake and eat it!

Other excursions include a visit of the Saadani fishing village, which lies within the reserve, and where 19th Century ruins display evidence of the area being a major trading port.

Charter flights can be arranged from/to Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar.

For those with more time why not visit Saadani then go on safari to the Selous or Ruaha, before continuing on to either Zanzibar, Mafia or Pemba. See our sample itineraries for some suggestions.