Selous Game Reserve – Everything You Need to Know

Nestled in southern Tanzania, the Selous Game Reserve is a protected area covering around 50,000km2 with additional buffer zones. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, its fame derives from its diverse wildlife and undisturbed natural conditions. African bush elephants, black rhinos and hippopotamuses are among the favourite sights in the reserve, while lions, Cape buffaloes, Masai giraffe and Nile crocodiles are typical of what visitors can expect to see.

Though not as popular as other safaris in Tanzania, Selous is the oldest and largest wildlife reserve on the African continent. Human entry and exit are controlled, and permanent residence within the reserve is not permitted, meaning it has retained its natural beauty. Fewer tourists to the reserve can be attributed to its more remote location and vast size, meaning that the density of wildlife is much lower. However, this is offset by the benefits of miraculous, unspoilt beauty, very few crowds and an experience beyond the norm of every other traveller’s safari.

History

First designated a protected area in 1896, it became a hunting reserve in 1905. It was named Selous after a famous big game hunter, British adventurer and conservationist, Frederick Selous, died at Beho Beho in the territory in 1917 while fighting against the Germans during World War I. British colonists combined a number of game reserves in the area five years later to make one, much larger reserve and named it after Selous.

The reserve has been roughly the size and shape it is today since the 1940s and as of 1982, the region has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 2005, the area became a Lion Conservation Unit.

In 2019, controversial work began to construct a hydroelectric power station over the Rufiji River. The project aims to triple Tanzania’s hydropower capabilities but was criticised for ignoring the impact that flooding could have on the area, its biodiversity and people.

Facts

  • Serous Game Reserve is bigger than many better-known African wildlife hotspots, such as the Serengeti National Park and the Kruger National Park. It is also larger than some countries, including Switzerland and Denmark!
  • At 50,000km2, Selous is one of the largest faunal reserves in the world. 
  • Selous is one of few places where a land safari can be combined with a river safari.
  • The reserve has a higher density and diversity of wildlife than any other Miombo woodland in Africa.
  • Over 400 species of bird are known to inhabit the Selous.
  • Selous is a game reserve, not a National Park. This means you can leave roads and drive cross country accessing more and more wildlife.
  • The highest concentration of wild dogs in the world can be found in the Selous Game Reserve, with around half the world’s endangered wild dog population in the area.

How to Get There

Three modes of transport are available for anyone looking to reach the Selous Game Reserve.

Rail

Possibly the cheapest and a popular method to reach the reserve is by rail. The TAZARA (Tanzania-Zambia Railway) gives users an insight into the country as it weaves and wriggles through rural villages and around mountains. Alighting at Matabwe, the railway will take you to within a short drive of the reserve.

Road

Renting a car and driving to the Selous Game Reserve is a possibility and a great experience. Passing through Morogoro, people travelling by road will see a backdrop of stunning mountains and have the luxury of stopping off at will. This is the greatest benefit to driving as you are able to visit quaint and rural villages, full of culture and character. Driving from Dar es Salaam can take between four and eight hours of travelling.

Air Travel

Flights from Dar es Salaam, Arusha and Zanzibar make Selous an accessible place by air. Connections to significant Tanzanian locations means that the reserve is a possibility for people travelling specifically to visit, or as part of a wider, more general Tanzania tour.

Travelling by air is the most expensive method of travel to the Selous, but it is also by far the quickest and introduces you to the region with sensational views of the surrounding mountains.

When to Visit

Tanzania’s dry season is between June and October each year. During these months, the crowds are greater in the country and this will be the busiest time to visit Selous Game Reserve. Despite this, the area will still be far quieter than other regions in Tanzania, such as the Serengeti and Kilimanjaro National Parks. If you are looking to combine a trip to Selous with other famous attractions in the country, such as the Great Wildebeest Migration, the dry season is the time to travel.

The wet season runs from the end of October to May. As with the rest of Tanzania, there are great benefits to travelling during these months: prices are lower, crowds are thinner and the scenery is phenomenal as it prospers from the rains. Many migratory birds can be seen during the wet season too, making it a paradise for bird watchers.

Spotting wildlife is much easier during the dry season. This is due to more limited places that the animals can go due to thinner vegetation and limited water supplies. The weather is at its very best, with little rain expected during these months. Lower humidity levels make for a more comfortable feel and there are fewer mosquitoes around at this time, limiting your chances of catching diseases from them. However, the area will be much dustier and any winds can exasperate this. Crowds will be bigger and the greenery not as lush.

During the wet season, on the other hand, the wildlife will be more scattered as areas of vegetation grow and water becomes more accessible. This season can see some lodges close, particularly in the months of March, April and May, and roads can become very hard to pass, often flooding and causing travel problems. Humid conditions can make it uncomfortable for some people and attract a growing number of mosquitoes. For those who decide to travel at this time, though, there are rewards to be found. Bird watching is world-class, you will be greatly appreciated by locals in sparse crowds and the flora flourishing.

Selous Game Reserve is a stunning experience all year round and will leave you with images and memories to cherish forever. If you want to see wildlife at its very best, the dry season is a superb time to travel, while anyone looking to visit on a budget should consider the wet season as a really viable option.

wildebeests

Things to Do

When you are heading to a reserve like the Selous Game Reserve, you generally have one main aim: to see fascinating wildlife. Selous goes beyond that though, offering the opportunity to get up close, snap the perfect shot and delve deeper into the region’s culture than is usually possible in busier reserves. It is a personal experience with memories to treasure for years to come.

If you are visiting over a few days, it is well worth your time seeing the animals from different vantage points. Here are just some of the things you must do when visiting the area.

Game Drive

Topping the list is the game drive. The reserve is huge, so the best way to get around is a 4×4. Selous’ fame is widespread for its elephant population. Lions, wild dogs, impalas, baboons, zebras, buffaloes, hippopotamuses, rhinos, giraffes and elands are also commonly seen, particularly when you are led by a local expert.

Traditionally, the animals in the region are considered shyer than in the northern parks, but you will find them in abundance. From the early days, and due to the abundant numbers, the area was set aside for hunting. Now, it is the ideal place for you to get an enviable photo of some of the world’s most beautiful creatures.

The reserve opens early in the morning and closes in the evening, meaning night drives are not possible. The best time to head out on a game drive is before eleven in the morning, or after three in the afternoon. You can still go on a game drive between those times, but as temperatures soar during those times, the animals are likely to be seeking shelter and shade, so you are likely to see fewer prowling or at their active best.

Walking Safari

Though you may not cover the distance that you will on other tours and safaris, there is no other way to feel so close to the action and at one with the African wild as going in on foot.

Tours are designed around seeing some of the tamer, though no less impressive and marvellous, creatures found in the reserve. You will have a good chance of seeing giraffes, zebras, elephants and birds on such a tour. The walk will be led by an armed ranger who not only keeps you safe and in known areas, but who will also be keen to pass on their valuable insight into life among the animals.

Boat Safari

A boat safari along the Rufiji River is a sensational experience. Tourists can experience half and full-day trips with sunrise and sunset options.

Numerous hippos and crocodiles will be seen, while it is an ideal venture for bird watchers with many bird species frequenting the surrounding areas and the swamplands. Your day can be peaceful, cruising along tranquil waters, or as exciting as you want, with countless sights and sounds to please your senses. A boat safari is one of the most highly recommended experiences in the region.

Cultural Tour

One of the most powerful things you can do when visiting any new place is to learn a little about the culture. When visiting the Selous Game Reserve, you will have the option to visit the nearby Mwaseni Village, where you can take a tour and spend an afternoon with the people. Led by a guide, you may be lucky enough to have the opportunity to head into one of the mud-hut houses, or a local school or shop where villagers will welcome you and enjoy your presence.

Villagers performing their daily activities, such as fetching water, are common sights. If you want to give something back, you could always take some gifts, such as sweets or stationery, to give to the local children who will show their appreciation with beaming smiles.

Other Tips

Certainly, worth the effort and time, Selous is a region left unexplored by many visitors to Tanzania in favour of the better-known areas of the country. While people visiting those areas are very unlikely to regret going there, they have left an amazing area untapped. Here are some additional tips to ensure you don’t do the same.

Plan ahead

The region is far more challenging to get to than other areas of Tanzania, but many of the best things in the world require a bit of extra effort. Take the time to plan your journey, book in plenty of time and relax in the knowledge that you are making the most of your African experience. Consider any additional supplies you may need, what mode of transport suits you and you need best and what you would want to achieve in the region.

Pack smart

Especially important if you will be taking a flight to get here, ensure you are not going to be carrying too much luggage that you will incur additional costs. The time of year will impact what you will need for your visit. Remember to take plenty of insect repellent and suncream, long sleeves, thin clothing and a sunhat. Don’t forget your camera, too!

Research who you book with

You will need to book through a company for the different activities that you are going to be doing, especially if you are honeymooning. Not only can a good guide guarantee your safety with their protective measures, but they will transform your Tanzania safari honeymoon package immeasurably. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you want to make the very most of it. Booking a guide who cares and has extensive knowledge is vital in doing so.

Pronunciation

Spelt Selous, pronounced ‘Seloo’. It was named after the British adventurer Frederick Selous, who pronounced his name in this way.

Selous Game Reserve is not to be missed. Often overlooked in favour of more famous parks, it is a hidden gem gleaming with excitement, understanding and worldly beauty. Step outside the norm and ensure this treat features high up on your Tanzanian wish list.

FAQs

Can you visit here as well as other areas of Tanzania?

Yes, absolutely. The best times to travel to Selous Game Reserve are similar to the most popular times for visiting the Serengeti and Kilimanjaro National Parks, two of the great attractions of the country. You can travel by air, road or rail, meaning you have choices to fit with your personal needs.

How long do you need to allow for a visit?

Really, this is up to you, what you want to do in the area and how much you wish to spend. If you are looking for a quick visit, half-day excursions allow you to do a couple per day, meaning you could go on a variety of safaris in just two or three days. However, if you have more time, you can take full-day trips on different safaris and get a deeper feel for the area. Lodges and accommodation vary in quality and price, giving options for all travel styles.

Is it safe?

Traveling anywhere comes with safety concerns, including some that can’t always be predicted. However, the Selous Game Reserve can be a safe place to travel, as long as you follow proper advice from local experts about where can and cannot go, only use reputable tour guides and rangers and seek medical advice before you travel.

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