Selous Game Reserve
Once one of the world’s biggest game reserves, Selous has recently been split up to accommodate the new Nyerere National Park in honour of Tanzania’s first President Julius Nyerere. Together, the parks cover around 50,000 square kilometres in southern Tanzania, an area several times the size of the Serengeti.
Selous, at a glance
The Selous Game Reserve is off the beaten path, and only 1% of Tanzania’s tourists heading down to this part of the country.
It is often seen as one of Africa’s last true wilderness areas – its savannah spans as far as you can see, and you can go days without ever seeing a car or another traveller.
One of the best sights within this game reserve is the Rufiji River, a gigantic river with a high density of crocodiles and hippos. Together with the Great Ruaha River, it creates a river delta, making for formidable game viewing and some of the most exciting boat safaris in East Africa.
History of Selous
The Selous Game Reserve was first designated as an area for protection in 1896 by the German Governor of Tanganyika Hermann von Wissmann.
In 1905, it was developed into a hunting reserve and in 1922 received its name – Selous Game Reserve – and was formally founded (its use as a hunting reserve is no long over).
It was named after the famous hunter and friend of colonialist Cecil Rhodes, Frederick Courtney Selous. He died in 1917 at the hand of a German sniper and was buried in the game reserve in Beho Beho.
Only in the 1940s did it reach such a huge size, and in 1982 it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2019, the Tanzanian government under President Magufuli carved out a sizable chunk of the territory to create a new national park, put under the control of TANAPA, the national park agency.
President Magufuli also planned the erection of a mega dam to support surrounding villages with hydroelectricity. This decision has been hugely criticized by conservationists and economists alike.
Wildlife in Selous Game Reserve
Selous boasts some of the best wildlife densities in Tanzania.
The reserve has 40,000 hippos, 120,000-150,000 buffalo, 100,000 wildebeests, and 35,000 zebras inhabit an area the size of Denmark.
The sheer amount of prey attracts a diversity of predators including 4,000 lions, as well as leopards, hyenas and crocodiles. Some rarer species include the African wild dog, of which 50% of its population live in Selous, as well as the sable and puku antelopes.
It is also one of the few places in Africa where the endangered black rhino can be found. Bird enthusiasts will also cherish this place, as 440 different species of bird populate this area. These can best be discovered by a boat safari.
How to get to Selous Game Reserve
There are several options for reaching this remote bit of wilderness. The most convenient option is by plane from Dar es Salaam, or the next big national park, Ruaha.
Dar es Salaam to Selous is about 45 minutes by small plane, while from Ruaha it would take around 90 minutes.
By car, this journey takes considerably longer but offers great views. From Dar es Salaam it is a 4-6 hour drive, and you pass by the equally stunning Mikumi National Park, getting two adventures for one.
For adventurers, there is also the unique opportunity to take the train. The TAZARA train line, running from Dar es Salaam all the way to Zambia, can be taken to Selous. The journey takes 4-5 hours and offers stunning views and a unique experience of seeing wildlife directly from the train. The train is notoriously late, though!
When to visit Selous Game Reserve
Like most national parks in Tanzania, the dry season from June to October is perfect for game viewing, as the vegetation is more sparse, making it easier to spot animals.
March to May and late October to mid-December is the rainy season, which makes many of the roads impassable and animals harder to spot.
For bird enthusiasts, we also recommend the shorter dry season from mid-December to March, as many migratory birds then settle in Selous. If the scarce wild dog is what you are after, June to August is perfect, as this is their denning season.
Things to do in the Selous Game Reserve
There are a number of ways to explore the park, including game drives, river rafting safaris, boat cruises, fishing and walking safaris.
Hot air balloon safaris and fly camping are also possible.
Bird enthusiasts can watch the 440 species from a boat, also taking in views of hippo pods and crocodiles, waiting for prey.
Accommodation options in Selous Game Reserve
Selous has a variety of lodges dotted around the park, many of them sustainable eco-hotels.
The park’s vastness creates that miles-from-anywhere experience, and you’ll feel like you’re truly in the middle of the African bush.
Usually, there are no more than 300 visitors sleeping in the 50,000-square-kilometre park at any one time.
Selous Kulinda Camp: this simple but beautifully decorated camp is located close to the river with 14 spacious tents, a pool, and a stunning dining deck looking right over the Rufiji river. It’s technically outside the reserve, but the game reserve can be reached within just 20 minutes.
Lake Manze Tented Camp: this eco-friendly tented camp has 12 tents and is located next to a lake. In the evening you can enjoy sundowners around the bonfire.
Rufiji River Camp: this recently re-designed lodge is also at the river, and has 11 tents and 3 suites. The camp has all the amenities you could hope to find in a remote safari camp.
Selous Impala: this hotel is reasonably priced and can easily compete with its much more expensive neighbours in service and style. They also offer the opportunity to go fly-camping.
Siwandu: in proximity to the Lake Siwanda, this lodge is pure luxury. 10 tents and a beautiful pool invite customers to come enjoy wildlife from the doorstep. You can also book out this place on an exclusive basis.
Roho ya Selous: the name means the heart of Selous, and a descriptor that truly expresses the style and location of this lodge. It has 8 tents, and a pool to refresh yourself after a game drive.
Beho Beho: this small lodge is one of the oldest and actually does not have tents, but 8 bandas (huts) and thatched cottages. The family that owns Beho Beho also lives on the property, helping forge a home away from home feel.
Kiba Point: Kiba Point is as exclusive as it gets in Selous. Four separate rooms also have private plunge pools as well as a communal pool. The hotel offers exclusive hire, fly camping and trips to natural hot springs, as well as other sights.
Sand Rivers: this lodge places a lot of importance on sustainability. Fly camping is offered by the lodge. 8 cottages allow the lodge to feel exclusive and private. Most of them have a view over the Rufiji River, so you can enjoy watching hippos and crocodiles from the comfort of your bed.