Trip Reviews

Southern Tanzania Trip Report: The Selous Game Reserve

2018-07-02T19:55:46+00:00January 5th, 2018|

What you need to know to sell The Selous!
By Julian Camm of Albatros Travel East Africa

Julian recently spent a week exploring the Selous Game Reserve in Southern Tanzania and stayed at many of the top camps and lodges. His report and fast facts cheat sheet on what lodge is right for which travelers is below. Read on and take notes!

THE RETREAT FAST FACTS:

  • 12 rooms with a variety of options and “levels”
  • Located on the river with excellent views
  • Excellent vehicles, guiding good, but there’s room for improvement

6 eagle rooms – located on a hill with great views across the plains and the river. All rooms are open with nice verandah for enjoying the views. Bathtub on the verandah and open shower and toilet. Nice décor, writing desk and sitting area.
3 sunset rooms – located on the edge of the river very nice rooms on the edge of the river were hippos come out at night. The same as eagle rooms, but have their own sunset view main area with swimming pool.
1 honeymoon suite very big area / decking with plunge pool. Oddly enough also used for family’s as the decking is large and 2 beds can be set up for children as it has a separate bathroom.
2 hippo point rooms – located on the river edge with own mess area and swimming pool. Large rooms with bath tub and plunge pool. Close to its own mess area. Great spot on the river with amazing views. All rooms are furnished the same.

Summary of stay:  The Retreat is a beautiful property with very spacious rooms that have fantastic views. The food was good and the rooms on the river – in particular hippo point, were on an amazing part of the river with some really remarkable views from there. The main area/public areas features a nice grand entrance and when you walk in there is courtyard with an infinity pool with great views across the plains. There is an upstairs section which is for dining and lounge, although this is not as nice as it could be and had an odd feel to it – a little soulless not so real welcoming and cozy.

The vehicles we did the game drives in were new and in excellent condition. The guides were good (not excellent) and the game drives felt very exclusive as there is only one other property in the area. The unfortunate thing is the game; is not all that great in this area and not much is being done in terms of opening new tracks or controlling the tsetse flies – which are quite bad. On saying that, at night we heard many animals including leopard. It is also unfortunate that there is not enough water in the Ruaha River to do boat excursions due to the dam further up river. There are a few things that you notice when you stay that need attention and these are mainly minor details that would make this a much better place / experience (such as providing canapes at sundowners, making sure everything is in working order, etc).

In summary, a beautiful property that has all you would want, but is let down mainly by service and attention to detail, leaving it feeling a little soulless. Also game viewing not the best and the guides or manager are not doing enough to enhance the experience at The Retreat in light of less game (bush dinners / better game tracks / more hands-on experience). Another thing to consider is that the rooms are very open in terms of the shower, toilet and bath tub. They are not really separated by walls. If you are couple this is fine, but just friends or travel partners, it could be a bit awkward.

AMARA FAST FACTS:

  • 12 rooms but they try and only sell 8 rooms
  • Located on the Ruaha River
  • True 5-star experience and attention to detail
  • A/C is available so this lodge is salable in the hotter months, too.

Summary of stay: Located on the Ruaha River about 10 kms from the Retreat, using Sumbazi airstrip that is about 10 minutes away. When you arrive at Amara you immediately notice how smart and professional all the staff look. The main area décor is sophisticated, but with emphasis on comfort and the swimming pool is a truly great feature. When you arrive you quickly realize that the property reflects its 5-star status. There is a real emphasis on attention to detail.

The rooms are very spacious. As you walk in, there is a small hall with chandelier that looks great and a place to put your luggage. On one side is a spacious bathroom with both an indoor shower and an outside shower. The bedroom is enclosed by mosquito netting, which makes it feel bug proof. There is a nice veranda with your private plunge pool overlooking the river. This part of the river is fast flowing and therefore has a very nice sound that is soothing. There is also a/c which makes for a very refreshing and comfortable stay, especially in the afternoon.

The food was great and service during meals was excellent.

The vehicles are in good condition and the guides are excellent and sporting incredibly smart uniforms. The guides have been trained by Peter, the South African camp manager, who is excellent and it shows in their guides. Unfortunately, river safaris are no longer possible due to the volume of the river. We went on a walking safari which was very interesting and you end it by walking along the rivers edge. Very interesting game activity.

Peter and Anita, as camp managers, really focus on creating a very professional air to the whole camp, in terms of service, etc. They also ensure all guests get an amazing experience whilst at the camp, with great bush sundowners being arranged, bush dinners and dinner by the river – all as part of the Amara experience. Peter is also very much involved in searching for new game areas and game tracks to improve the over-all game experience. This property is in the same area as The Retreat, but Amara makes more of an effort for clients to have a really unique experience whilst staying with them. The Retreat is however on an amazing section of the river and for sunsets Hippo Point is unbeatable.

Things to consider would be that there are quite a number of tsetse flies in the area and the game is not as abundant as in the Siwandu area – although what you will see is very much more exclusive to you, due to the few properties in this area. I would say that this property is as a excellent product in terms of accommodation, service, food, management, etc. The only negative is the area is not as game rich, but at the right price (30% less than the other properties around Siwandu) you can sell the product as a true 5-star experience at a lower price and still have more exclusivity than other areas in the Selous and have some nice game drives / experiences.

In summary, you can sell this property with confidence. The rooms are well contained and would suit a variety of travelers. The main area is lovely and the pool a lovely refreshing option for the hot Selous afternoons. The rooms have A/C, which may seem over the top, but is a very refreshing addition during the hot days. I think the guiding is great, which is key in an area that is not as game rich as the Siwandu area of the Selous.

SELOUS LUXURY CAMP FAST FACTS

  • 12 tented chalets
  • Overlooks watering hole
  • Challenging location to sell

Summary of stay: The rooms are your traditional tented camp on a wooden platform with excellent bathrooms (although a little tight on space due to having a bath tub, shower and double basin. Although it is quite nicely crafted from old wood).

Main mess is lovely and cozy with a thatched roof and nice big sofas with a deck overlooking the watering hole. There is a swimming pool, although it is by the main mess area and one would probably feel a little exposed when swimming or sunbathing. Overall the camp is nice, and the main area is lovely. The rooms are very comfortable if perhaps a little too close to each other – would be better to have 8 tents.

The main problem of this property is the location. The roads are terrible, the game tracks are minimal, it is in thick tsetse country, making any game drive quite tough. I think it is a tough sell for that reason alone. The area it is in feels a little claustrophobic and although they have access to river trips from Mivumu it does take 1 hour to drive there on backbreaking roads. If you are going to Selous there are other places to choose.

MIVUMO FAST FACTS:

  • 12 chalet rooms
  • Overlooking the Rufiji River
  • Road conditions are poor

Summary of stay: The 12 chalet rooms overlook the river. The rooms are log cabins on stilts overlooking the huge mass of water of the Rufiji River. The main area overlooks the river and its steep banks on the opposite bank. It is a very quiet spot – eerily quiet! The rooms are more like being in a Canadian log cabin as opposed to having an African theme, so just something to bear in mind depending your travelers expectations. The rooms are very comfortable with A/C, which is nice.

The river is is nice, but a huge volume of water so not much action in the river like crocs and hippos, as you’ll get on other stretches of the river. The boat ride to Stiegler’s Gorge is great and a very memorable experience, although the trip could have been improved with stops along the edge of the river as Sand Rivers Selous does.

Again the road to Mivumo is verging on the impassable and going on a game drive would be a no-go for me. When you do get past the bad road you are deep in tsetse country, so I find this whole area quite challenging to sell.

SAND RIVERS FAST FACTS:

  • 8 rooms, 2 different types – funky, cool decor
  • Expansive river views
  • A variety of activities
  • very open rooms so bear in mind for folks who are worried about bugs and creepy crawlies!

Summary of stay: 5 river rooms and 3 suite rooms. All are very funky Robinson Crusoe feel in that they are thatched and very open and have a rustic yet luxurious aire. Great views onto the river. The main area is truly lovely. It is on the edge of the river and lots of game action right in front of you. It has a beautiful pool and again a rustic yet luxurious feel to the whole place.

The vehicles are a little old, but the guiding is good and something that they pride themselves on. The lodge offers a fantastic river safari to Stiegeler’s Gorge with stops to the edge of the river to see wildlife, as well as serving breakfast or a sundowner on a sand bank en route. The game area is nice and has the advantage of being away from other areas making it exclusive and they have lakes nearby allowing for different vegetation and game experiences.

The game is not as abundant as in Siwandu, but it is more exclusive and I think with the mix of game activities makes Sand Rivers one of my favourite overall lodges. We loved the open style of the rooms, too! However, not all travelers would enjoy the openness of the rooms. In the evenings the bugs do come in and although you are protected by a mosquito net around the bed, the rest of the room is not. This does not bother us, but would bother some people so consider this as qualifying clients. Also, no A/C for use during the hotter months and mid-day heat.

KIBA POINT FAST FACTS:

  • 4 open-style rooms with its own private mess and pool area
  • ideal for families or a small group who wants their own area
  • Run very separately from Sands Rivers
  • Also on the river’s edge, but views aren’t as impressive as at Sands Rivers.

SIWANDU (formerly Selous Safari Camp) FAST FACTS:

  • 15 rooms, split into 2 sections
  • River and Lake activities
  • Excellent game viewing, but more vehicles

Summary of stay: This camp is also divided into 2 sections, with 9 rooms in the North Camp and 6 rooms at Private Camp. Private Camp is my favourite as it is more enclosed in the trees and palms. The main camp is on stilts to maximize the views. There is a swimming pool in each place, although Private Camp has the pool close to the dining area, which I find a little off-putting while the main pool is a quite a distance from the dining area, which I think is better.

The tents are smartly designed with a thatched roof under which is a metal framed tent made of mosquito netting rather than canvas. This makes it feel very open yet enclosed, bug free and safe. There is a bathroom area that also under netting with an outdoor shower. Overall a great open design of tent that would make any traveler feel comfortable and safe.

The game area is the best – but you do see other vehicles, although not the same numbers as the Mara and Serengeti, you are not going to feel as though you are completely on your own as you would at the other properties. The game is good in this area with many varying terrainsfrom the great lakes and woodland areas to the bush and the savannah areas.

Other thing they do very well is the boat ride on their lake and a truly amazing lunch on the boat. We then went on a boat ride through the tributaries of the Rufiji, which was one of the best game experiences I have had in East Africa – loads of hippos crocs and bird life as well as exciting sightings of elephants. I felt it was a truly amazing wildlife experience. A plus about this camp, is that If the water is low in the river, they always have the lake for excursions.

The negative here is mainly that there are other vehicles out on the game drives, but please note we are not talking the same quantity as the Northern Circuit, just more than in the really exclusive areas of the Selous. Just keep that in mind if that is a priority for your clients. This area has the best wildlife concentration, plus the accommodation is great. As a result, it is pricey!

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