Expert Reviews – Selous GR

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My top tip for Tanzania
Overall rating
5/5

The Selous is my favourite game area in Tanzania, and possibly the whole of Africa. The landscape, with its emerald-green swamplands, dead trees submerged in water and shaggy-topped palms, is ravishingly beautiful. You have to work a bit harder for your game sightings – this isn’t the Serengeti – but that’s half the thrill or being in such a huge area – 55,000 square kilometers of uninhabited bush, only a fraction of which is open to the public. If you have a competent driver and guide, you can quite easily pass a whole day out here without seeing another soul.

A walking safari here is a must, even if only for a morning – the thrill of getting near elephants or giraffe on foot is incredible, and without the noise and smell of a car, you’ll spot the smaller often overlooked birds, insects and mammals that you’d miss in a vehicle. If you can, I highly recommend a multi-day walking safari - camping on the banks of a river, sleeping in a bedroll or a small tent and emerging at dawn to a steaming mug of coffee in the African dawn. You’ll wonder why you ever went anywhere else…

Southern Tanzania’s ultimate wilderness
Overall rating
4/5

A lot of the publicity for the 47,500 sq km Selous focuses on its status as the world’s largest game reserve, and its status as the centrepiece of Africa’s largest remaining tract of comparably untrammelled bush, the 155,000 sq km Greater Selous-Niassa ecosystem. This can set up false expectations, however, as 90% of the Selous is closed to photographic safaris, which means that all lodges, camps and game drive circuits are concentrated is the small part of the reserve north of the Rufiji River. In my view, it is this river – a muddy grey perennial meander through the dry miombo woodland that otherwise characterises the region – that is the real star of Selous. My favourite activity here is a motorboat trip along the river, which provides a thrilling opportunity to see hippos, crocs and a variety of water birds at close quarters. I also enjoy the guided game walks offered by most camps, and game drives can be superb too. Selous used to harbour the world’s largest population of elephants, but a fresh outbreak of commercial poaching has caused numbers to decline from around 70,000 in 2010 to an estimated 15,000 today. For this regular visitor to Selous since the 1980s, the decline in the frequency of elephant sightings north of the Rufiji is tangible, and those herds we did encounter herds on my most recent visit tended to be understandable skittish. Wildlife highlights include the high chance of spotting the endangered African wild dog, especially in the denning season (June-Aug), and the aggregations of several dozen giraffe that frequently converge at the lakes. Selous is perhaps the best place to see a lion kill, especially in the late dry season, when hungry prides spend their days snoozing below lakeside trees, ready to pounce on any antelope comes within range. Negatives, especially towards the end of the dry season, can be the intense heat (far more so than anywhere in northern Tanzania) and large numbers of tsetse flies. My experience is also that while game viewing can be spectacular around the established lakes circuit east of Stiegler’s Gorge, it is more erratic in the vicinity of several newer lodges built close to the gorge, or to the west if it.

Boat Safaris, Wild Dogs & Wilderness
Overall rating
5/5

For repeat Tanzania visitors, Selous tops my list of recommended safari destinations. Attractions include the sublime riverine scenery, year-round greenery and the complete climate and topographical contrasts from the northern circuit. Wildlife is not present in the same concentrations as in Tanzania’s northern circuit parks, but there is still plenty of it. Elephants, hippos and crocodiles are guaranteed, and species variety is excellent. Boat safaris are a highlight unique to Selous, and an experience not to be missed. Another essential Selous experience is a walking safari, exploring the bush on foot by day and sleeping in the wild by night. The chance to see wild dogs is a draw too, although sightings shouldn't be counted on; I've only seen them once in numerous sojourns.

For those on safari for the first time, a northern circuit itinerary will likely be more satisfying due to the greater abundance of wildlife, the ease of animal spotting and the north’s more developed roads and facilities. For visitors who have already experienced the northern circuit, or for those who want to combine a coastal or island-based itinerary with rewarding wildlife watching, the Selous is ideal.

Africa’s Ultimate Wilderness
Overall rating
4/5

Southern Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve is an outstanding, and genuine, wilderness. For a start it’s huge. At around 45,000sqkm, it’s the largest game reserve in Africa. But, in fact only around 5% of it is open to photographic safari tourists and much of the southern part is divided into hunting blocks. Even so that area open to non-hunting tourists is still vast. There’s a massive number of animals here although densities can’t compare with places like the Serengeti. The park is famous for being one of the last places in East Africa where Wild Dog sightings are likely. On my first visit to Selous I had encountered a pack within an hour.

Aside from the sense of space (emphasized even more if you drive there from Dar) and wonderful scenery, the highlights of Selous for me are the boat trips down the Rufiji River and the opportunity to walk in the bush. I can’t over emphasise how much more rewarding this can be than being crammed up in a safari jeep all day even though you won’t get as close to the big animals.

Selous might not appeal to first time safari goers and it can be a bit of a challenge for those on a tight budget and with limited time, but for those who would rather take a sense of undiluted African bush over a non-stop parade of large mammals then Selous cannot fail to disappoint.

Floating down the Rufiji River in the Selous
Overall rating
4/5

Although one of the largest eco-systems in Africa, the area accessible to tourists in the Selous is remarkably small. The game drive area runs along the crocodile infested Rufiji River and is dotted with small lakes, which attracts an abundance of wildlife. I’ve often seen lions lazing around these waterholes waiting for an opportunity to kill. Elephants are more often than not skittish because of their experiences in other areas of the park, which is mostly set aside for hunting concessions. Selous is known for its wild dog population, but I didn’t see any on my last visit. In fact, I was told that there have been no dogs in the main tourist area for a few years. Obviously, that can change anytime. It is possible to have a very rounded safari experience in the Selous as walking and boat safaris are offered alongside the usual game drives. The boat trip on the Rufiji River is highly recommended, and you’ll spot some of the biggest and most placid crocodiles you’ll ever see. Even better is the boat trip in Stiegler’s Gorge. Floating down this narrow, 100m deep gorge with hippo calls echoing all around, is an amazing experience.

True Wilderness
Overall rating
5/5

If you’re after a true wilderness sensation that goes beyond the confines of a Land Cruiser, then come to the Selous Game Reserve. The size of Switzerland, it is mostly untamed bush. A vast chunk of the Selous, most of the land south of the Rufiji River, is sadly out of bounds for photographic safaris, set aside for private concessions specializing in trophy hunting. But the small section north of the river, with beautiful grassy plains and acacia woodlands, is still wild enough and unfrequented enough to feel that blissful bush solitude. Don’t expect to see wildlife around every corner – this isn’t Ngorongoro – but do expect an exhilarating experience, walking, canoeing, fly camping and hopefully seeing the rare and elusive wild dog, along with elephant, buffalo and a host of hungry predators.

In 2008, I was privileged to stay at an innovative project called Lukula in Southern Selous where two former hunters had turned game-keepers, having developed an exclusive photographic safari in what was previously a hunting concession, wanting to change the mindset of the Tanzanian authorities to prove that trophy hunting was economically and environmentally unsustainable. At the time of writing, Lukula is closed but keep an eye on developments in the south - I have never felt a greater wilderness vibe.

Running wild
Overall rating
4/5

Without a doubt Selous Game Reserve is one of Africa’s most attractive and highly satisfying safari destinations. Yet while it lays claim to being the largest game reserve in Africa – it’s three times bigger than the Serengeti – the area accessible to tourists is surprisingly small. In spite of this it remains largely untouched and you get a real sense of the wild which for me is its greatest draw. You’ll find it has an abundance of wildlife including elephant, buffalo, lion, rhino and wild dog. The main game route follows the meandering Rufiji River which attracts thirsty herds of antelope and elephants and is packed full of grunting hippos and yawning crocodiles. On my last visit we spied lions, leopards and wild dogs and were woken to the sounds of elephants trampling trees right outside our tent. The reserve’s other great attraction is that it also offers boat trips and guided walks which add to its overall wilderness appeal.

A wilderness made for walking
Overall rating
4/5

Imagine a game reserve roughly the size of Ireland, with not so much as a square metre of tarmac and no habitation of any kind except for a handful of safari camps and lodges. Welcome to the Selous, Africa’s biggest, wildest game reserve. Nearly 90 per cent of it is off-limits to tourists; but that hardly matters when the accessible area – everything north of the mighty Rufiji River – covers more than 2,000 square miles and is jam-packed with animals, including 3,000 lions and at least as many leopards.

It’s also the wild dog’s last true stronghold and there’s an excellent chance of seeing these extraordinary predators here. Unlike the northern sector parks it is hot and humid, so the most pleasant time to come is in the relatively cooler months of the African winter (June-July-August). Boat trips on the Rufiji are brilliant for birding. Last time I cruised up to Stiegler’s Gorge I saw skimmers, trumpeter hornbills and a crowned eagle. But the best activity of all is to take off into the bush for a night or two on a walking safari. Apart from the Luangwa Valley there is nowhere better for foot safaris.

Pure and peaceful wilderness
Overall rating
4/5

The Selous won’t appeal to the first-time safari-goer simply because its vastness means animals are not seen easily around every bend on a game drive. It doesn’t mean that they are not there of course; far from it, this wilderness is home to a huge diversity and numbers of wildlife, but they are more widely dispersed than in the parks of the Northern Circuit. But it is the incredible space that is the appeal of the Selous – a massive, untouched corner of East Africa that has seen hardly any impact by humankind, where wildlife roams on natural migration courses over vast distances. For visitors, only a relatively small northern section between Matambwe and Mtemere gates is accessible. Even here, on my intrepid self-drive exploration along the Rufiji River and the lakes circuit, I saw just a handful of other vehicles. Easier ways to get to and around the Selous is to fly into the handful of camps and go on vehicle, foot or boat excursions, and safaris can be combined with the other Southern Circuit parks such as Mikumi, Udzungwa and Ruaha. Whichever way you visit, the Selous offers a well-watered landscape of open grassland and acacia woodland, cut across by slivers of riverine forest. I found it astoundingly peaceful where the animals were contented and relaxed – from antelope grazing quietly under the shade of doum palms to crocodiles napping in the sun on gently-lapping lakeshores.

Average User Rating

  • 4.3/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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