There are a number of great options of where to safari in Tanzania: NgoroNgoro crater and the Serengeti being two of the most popular, but the Selous area is coming into it's own due to the authentic experience on offer.
The Selous is the slightly lesser known area with far fewer tourists heading to the area. Vast, barren land covering the Selous game reserve covers an an area around the size of a small country like Belgium! This makes it ideal for an authentic safari. You may not know in advance where the lion, leopard or elephant are when you set off on a game drive but when you do find it, it's just you and the game. Some safaris are such busy reserves that you can have a number of other jeeps watching the same game as you, a sure reminder that you are on the tourist trail. For me, Selous was special because what we saw was unique to us.
Dar as Salaam is the main gateway to Tanzania so onward travel is by light aircraft to a local airstrip in the Selous. Most of the major camps have their own “airstrips.” I use the term loosely as this is essentially a small area of reasonably flat land that is cleared from trees and grasses and really gives a wild, outback welcome to your first camp. On our first day, as we were exploring camps, we went to see Sands River camp en route to our final destination.
Sands River is one of the more famous camps in the Selous and has a prime position set in wooden tents with views over the river and as a result, offers perfect game viewing opportunities. Every item does need to be packed away in secure boxes which are provided in the rooms so curious monkeys can't treat themselves to your treasured sunglasses or see what brushing teeth is all about. Monkeys, elephant and hippo regularly make their way past the stilted tents and the food and wine served with meals are simply delicious. Attentive service and friendly, knowledgeable guides are on hand for every desire you so wish.
We left by 4 x4 jeep through off road terrain, stumbling across giraffe, wild dog, and impala by the dozen, until we reached Selous Safari Camp (now known as Siwandu after so many camps in the area used the name “Selous Safari”): our first overnight stay. With any safari experience, it should always be accepted that game will go where they want, when they want so nothing is ever guaranteed with regards sightings but for us, we saw so much game at this camp. Just 12 tents are pitched around Lake Nzerakera, again offering excellent game viewings due to the animals inevitably needing to find water during sunrise and sunset. Tents are as luxurious as you would expect in this standard of camp, and bear no resemblance to what we would consider a tent. Large rooms, separate bathrooms with outdoor and indoor showers, a luxurious oversized double bed with tasteful furniture. They really do have it all and such friendly staff escorting you wherever you wish to go. Wild dog seemed to be ten a penny; so many that we became uninterested when we found more until our guide told us how lucky we were to have found so many! Game drives in the afternoon allowed us to find giraffe, herds of zebra and literally hundreds of hartibeest and wildebeest. Such a treat. An evening on a boat cruise at sunset allowed us to enjoy sundowner cocktails and discover just how many hippo and crocs lay beneath the boat as we cruised around, finally finding a pride of 11 lion resting by the banks of the river. I'm not sure whether finding the pride of lion or the spectacular sunset was more photograph worthy. What a choice.
Our next stop was at Amara Selous, however we headed via Beho Beho camp which was up in the hills and provided us with the opportunity to see the area from a different perspective. Game viewing is always more guaranteed when you stay by water, however Beho Beho, being perched at the top of a hill, allows you to look down upon the trees, watering holes and grasses and spotting game from this level is such a thrill. You feel that you have found something that no one else can see and although we weren't lucky enough to spot him, a leopard chasing it's kill was observed just 2 days before our arrival and guests were clearly still enthralled by it. Beho Beho is at the top of it's game in standards, and feels incredibly relaxed and luxurious in it's ambience. A “loo with a view” really must be seen to be believed but if you use it, prepare to take a while to emerge. For those that can't wait, pictures are supplied!
Arriving at Amara Selous was quite a drive for us, but clients would usually arrive by light aircraft unless staying close by already. Amara camp is relatively new, having only been there around 6 years and the area was formerly a hunting area. Incredibly sad that this still happens but it will take a long time to be completely abolished. The camps whole heartedly support abolishing the hunting business and progress has been made, no more so than by Peter and Anita who run the camp with passion, experience and friendliness. Again, based by the water, this time Ruaha river, providing activities for non-game times such as fishing, star gazing and photography. Peter is a particularly keen photographer and happy to help any amateur (myself included) take a memorable picture. My highlights here were many: Gloria the Hippo lazing across the path to our tent forcing us to go around back for entry, our fishing trip on the banks of the river, and one particular game drive in which we thought our driver had gotten lost after driving around in circles for a while, before we eventually saw what he was looking for: a herd of elephant with their young bathing and frolicking in the water. A very special moment.
Our final dinner was a surprise bush dinner and yet again, every whim was catered for with stunning food served by exquisite chefs with lights lit around the clearing and an armed guide just in case a lion or two decided they wanted to say hello. Light pollution is almost non existent and the sky lights up with stars, satellites, planets, meteors crossing the night sky and beauty to bring a tear to anyone's eye.
The following morning we headed to Zanzibar to relax for a few days before heading home.
Zanzibar, although officially being an Indian Ocean island, is a far cry from it's popular cousins of Mauritius and the Maldives due to it's African dominance. Rustic and authentic with a laid back ambience and beach based accommodation ranging from backpacker style beach shacks to genuine 5 star luxury hotels, there really is something for you no matter what you're looking for. I travelled around the island staying at some of the best luxury hotels on offer but it should be noted that access to even the very best luxury resorts, are inevitably via some gravel “roads” and local villages. I personally found this fascinating to see African island life, the island really has it's own heartbeat, and the hotels often buy their fresh produce from the local villages and employ local people to help tourism be sustainable for the inhabitants of the island. Service standards, whilst excellent throughout, are distinctly different to the Maldives or Mauritius who have seen tourists flock to their islands for many more years than Zanzibar and are as such, far more polished.
Our first stop was to The Residence on the South West Coast. The Residence now have 4 properties worldwide including this one and all are stunning in their colonial elegant décor and high standard of furnishings. Set right on the beach and with bicycles provided, the resort feels almost like a golf resort with clean pathways leading through meandering gardens and with low rise accommodation spread over the grounds. The four poster over sized double bed with draping mosquito nets and a view straight out to the sea is the first thing you see walking into the room. Service is probably the best we experienced anywhere on the island which is explained by the staff having been training largely by their Mauritian sister property. In the early morning you wake to find locals villagers and fisherman on the beach digging up the sand. Inquisitive, I asked a member of staff wheat was happening and he politely explained that they come to dig for worms for bait. They are very shy and private people (particularly the women being a largely Muslim island), extremely non-intrusive and if anything, it brought yet another dimension to the stay. I should explain that many hotels in Zanzibar claim to have a private beach: in fact none of them do. It is not allowed to “own” a beach in Zanzibar so whilst some hotels may be so far remote for villagers to reach their beach, it still is not private and if locals do come along to fish or to dig for their worms they are perfectly welcome to do so. I did not witness one even wanting to speak to a tourist at the hotel, if anything tourists were more inquisitive and so they backed off so really shouldn't be seen as an issue!
After a delightful stay at The Residence (and a wondrous massage) we moved onwards to Essque Zalu: an impressive, formidable structure boasting the highest roof in Zanzibar and set right on the sea. Essque Zalu is more modern, with an art gallery café set in the roof of the reception area, and cleverly designed swimming pool looking out to sea, leading to a board walk jutting out to sea which is where we were led for lunch. A stunning banquet ensued and in all honesty, I didn't even feel hungry but it would be a sin to turn down such a feast. The sun made the sea twinkle it's turquoise eyes at us and as the wine flowed, I fell a little bit in love with the resort. A very beautiful and modern hotel with just enough African touches to remain in tune with it's heritage. Despite the hotel being set on the sea front, it is a rocky drop down to the ocean and the beach which belongs to be hotel is a short drive away, reached by the hotel's complimentary shuttle service, although I'm not sure I would have felt the need to go there given how gorgeous the pool was.
Onwards to our final stop at Baraza which raised the bar yet again: a grand, almost Middle Eastern style hotel with lanterns lighting up the pathways in the evening, large pots of cardomom seeds and cinnamon cloves in the reception wafting around scents that can barely be described. It is another luxury resort, set in single story villas and the rooms are exquisite. A low rise day bed as well as king beds and huge bathrooms including outdoor showers are encased in each villas, some with private plunge pool and large open terraces giving garden or ocean front views. The Ottomans have a large influence on the island from the days when they used to pass through for trade and it is their influence that inspired the design of Baraza, and thankfully so as the result is stunning.
The French are already flying to Zanzibar as a stand alone destination for a 7 to 14 night holiday and the British market as yet doesn't seem to have realised just how special this island is and deserves and longer stay, so although adding onto any safari destination in Africa is incredibly easy and works as a great twin centre, it could easily be considered as a single centre in it's own right.