May 28 – June 12, 2020
Guided by Jim Heck
A vast wilderness creeps across the center of Tanzania defined by errant sand rivers, soaring mountains covered with jungle and vast grasslands. It begins in The Selous, which in a few years may disappear.
The Selous is a lowland jungle defined by its great sand rivers interrupted by ancient river beds and old forests. Its biodiversity – including more than 440 species of bird and almost every species of animal found in Tanzania – has earned it a prized UNESCO world heritage site status, all of which is now jeopardized by a dam. The great Rufiji River – the heart and soul of this untamed wilderness – will be interrupted, turned on and off like a kitchen tap. One of Africa’s biggest dams is being built here and nobody really knows what will happen. This could be your last chance to experience a wilderness as it has been for more than a millennia.
The Selous, Mikumi, Udzungwa, Ruaha and Katavi – all remarkably pristine areas packed with game and loaded with botanical wonders, but remote and difficult to get to. This trip visits them all. For the more remote places there’s no choice but small aircraft and basic safari camps. This isn’t a safari for first-timers. Game is abundant but very wild, so harder to find or photograph. But it’s also where fragile and rare species like wild dog and roan antelope are often seen! Jim guides you overland through the last portion, from Ruaha and Mikumi into The Selous, something you simply won’t get from another guide. There aren’t good maps of these areas. But he’s done it a half dozen times and his trusted staff know the tracks perfectly. The scenery is spectacular, especially on the road along the Udzungwa Mountains.
Five nights in The Selous! Two in the deep interior and three on the great Rufiji River, the river to be dammed. Even as work begins the density of hippo and crocodile on the Rufiji is the highest on earth. Almost half of all Tanzania’s elephant are found here, along with virtually all the other big game.
Jim starts the trip on an island in Lake Tanganyika – three extraordinary nights at a lovely safari camp where you can unwind and get ready for this intense, remote journey! (A variety of water sports are available, especially snorkeling for the prized cichlid fishes: fresh-water aquarium fish like angel fish and neon tetras.)
In 2015, the latest year for which records are available, 1,218 foreigners visited Katavi National Park. Compare this to the 400,000 annually who visit Ngorongoro Crater – yet Katavi is 17 times bigger!
On this safari you won’t have a personal butler. White linen napkins won’t be unfolded onto your lap before being served your sea bass. Instead, you get the wildest Africa you can imagine, but with very comfortable tents with private toilets and showers. If you’ve been to Africa many times, you probably haven’t been here. It’s time. Time’s running out for all of us.
This will be Jim Heck’s 44th consecutive year of guiding in Tanzania. No one has his length of experience or vibrancy of knowledge. The nearly half million readers of his AfricaAnswerman blog, the awards to his novel and other writings, and his unique credentials (including being made one of the few non-native honorary Maasai elders by the Kenyan community) assures you of a safari experience second to none.
Jim has been following the dam’s progress from the start, and urges you to join him on what will very likely be the last glimpse of The Selous in its full glory.
The prices include:
** Jim Heck guiding the safari from start to finish;
** Guaranteed window seating in Landrovers & Landcruisers with pop-top roofs;
** Professionally-trained, English-speaking driver/guides with each vehicle;
** Meals as detailed in brackets following each day's description below;
** All park entrance fees, VAT and other government taxes;
** Comprehensive pre-trip material.
Additional expenses not included:
- Meals not included;
- Some beverages;
- All international, regional and local scheduled flights;
- Requisite visas and other travel preparations like inoculations;
- Tipping (Jim Heck does not accept tips).
Whenever you arrive you’ll be personally met and privately transferred to one of Dar-es-Salaam’s best hotels, the Hyatt Regency Dar-es-Salaam.[no-meals]
After a breakfast briefing with Jim, the group will return to the old international airport terminal for its charter flight to the far western side of the country. This will take about 2½ hours. The plane lands at a small gravel airstrip near Lake Tanganyika and staff from the island resort meet the group and transfer them by road, then boat, to Lupita Island. If everything is on time, you should be in your private thatched room on the island around 1 p.m. Lunch will be served, during which the manager will explain the various options you have for the next several days, although many guests just like to swing on their hammocks! Each cottage has its own plunge pool and is completely private. Dinner and overnight at Lupita Island Resort.[l-d]
Lake Tanganyika is the world’s “second lake.” Second only to Baikal in depth, volume and geological age. It achieves number one as the world’s longest fresh-water lake. At its deepest it’s more than 4800'! (You won’t be visiting that area.) The lake is laden with important history: this is where Livingstone made his greatest achievements exploring and where he died. As remote as it is, the lake figured prominently in World War I fighting. Today it’s bordered by four countries and probably is the insurance policy that Tanzania needs from the chaos and terrorism of The Democratic Republic of The Congo, its western shore.
The lake’s waters are safe, clear and calm, providing the ultimate setting for water sports, many of which are included at the lodge. Optional activities at additional cost include both independent and guided kayaking and canoeing; scuba and snorkeling for the unique underworld of central African lakes, the aquarium of cichlid fishes; motor boating; fishing and numerous spa treatments and massages. The resort has a good gym available to all guests and a game room. There are numerous hiking trails on the island and opportunities to visit nearby fishing villages. Meals and overnights at Lupita Island Resort.[b-l-d]
Another day to relax, play and enjoy your island paradise! Meals and overnights at Lupita Island Resort.
Just a little more than an hour’s flight brings the group to the furthest west of Tanzania’s big game parks, Katavi. The group will arrive in the afternoon and will immediately begin game viewing enroute to camp. Katavi is mostly a grasslands plateau, fringed with thick forests and including a number of seasonal lakes and ponds. It has the highest density of Cape Buffalo of any wilderness in the world, ridiculously large groups of hippo (exceeding 500) and all the rest of the big game as well. Dinner and overnight at Katavi Wildlife Camp.[b-l-d]
Two game drives are normally offered every day, although the park is large enough that a full day game drive can be arranged to distant areas. The terrain is almost completely flat. There is one important river, the Katuma, which dries up during particularly harsh dry seasons. Otherwise the river provides endless game viewing opportunities, including the ridiculously large hippo pods. Much of the park turns swampland in the rainy season (December - April). Being Tanzania’s third largest park with so few visitors, some wildlife is very skittish. Game activities, meals and overnights at Katavi Wildlife Camp.[b-l-d]
More game driving in the flat, wide-open beauty of Katavi! Game activities, meals and overnight at Katavi Wildlife Camp.[b-l-d]
This morning the group flies to Ruaha National Park. This takes the safari into the most least visited part of the normal Tanzanian central safari circuit. Ruaha is half-way from the Tanzanian coast to Lake Tanganyika, so it’s difficult for many to visit. Its low visitor use means its wildness has been preserved, and it’s one of the larger, most diverse parks in all of Tanzania. Defined by the great Ruaha River, the scrubland and infrequent woodlands is a virgin landscape probably similar to what all East Africa’s great wildernesses once looked like. The lodge is fairly large with 40 rooms plus a self-drive tented area which attracts many local safari travelers and many from South Africa as well. The setting along the Ruaha is quite beautiful. Jim’s vehicles and drivers will collect the group at the airstrip and now remain with the safari until its conclusion. Dinner and overnight at Ruaha River Lodge.[b-l-d]
Another full day in Ruaha. An advantage to having Jim’s vehicles and drivers is the chance of exploring further afield than the guides normally associated with the camps here do. Except for the odd intrepid self-driver, almost all tourists fly into the park and use the individual camps’ driver/guides. They’re very good but tend to restrict their game drives to the area of their camp. Like all sand river wildernesses, the dominant creature is the elephant, but there are growing numbers of cats in Ruaha, something which bucks the trend elsewhere in Africa where cats are suffering serious declines. Ruaha also provides a good chance of seeing three rare antelope, the lesser kudu, sable and roan. Meals and overnight at Ruaha River Lodge.[b-l-d]
After breakfast Jim takes you through a remote section of the park on the way back to civilization! At the end of several tracks beyond the park gate is a tarmacked highway! Nothing spectacular, the two-lane pavement represents the end of the main highway from Dar-es-Salaam. Jim will take you into the town of Iringa, a major center for tea production, for lunch. The afternoon is spent on a really beautiful scenic drive down the highway through the Udzungwa Mountains, thick forests with sometimes soaring cliffs that are often peppered with lots of baobab trees. By the end of the day you arrive at Mikumi National Park, and game drive to Vuma Hills Tented Camp for dinner and overnight.[b-l-d]
Dawn game drive in Mikumi. This park is a comfortable day’s ride from the main Tanzanian city of Dar-es-Salaam so it draws many residents and visitors with limited time. Most of the big game is found here, but its proximity to more populated areas and the highway has limited much of it, especially elephant. Authorities have established “bore-holes” here – a southern African concept – using wells to sustain year-round water holes. This tends to make much of the resident game sedentary, including several prides of lion. The park is conveniently half-way between Ruaha and the interior Selous. After breakfast the safari continues for a short while down the highway to the big city of Morogoro for lunch. Afterwards, Jim takes you off the standard roads and heads over the Uluguru Mountains. Together with the Udzungwa just to the northwest this is one of Africa’s most unique areas: Many of the world’s violets and related species like begonias are endemic here, together with several dozen birds and some interesting small voles. The road winds nearly to the top of the mountain ridge at 9,000'. What’s particularly interesting, though, is that this remains a pretty densely populated area. Traditionally a part of the Luguru tribelands it’s become an important agricultural area with many small cash crop farms. By the end of the afternoon the safari enters the gate to The Selous Game Reserve, and shortly thereafter reaches Sable Mountain Lodge for dinner and overnight.[b-l-d]
The day is spent game viewing in this northwestern corner of the reserve. The lodge is convenient to those who dare take Tanzania’s railway since the park gate is linked to a railway station and was the reason the lodge was initially built here. With the demise in reliable railway service this area became underutilized until a new airstrip was built several years ago. This interior area of The Selous is heavily forested, quite unlike most of the rest of reserve, because of its higher altitude and nearness to the Udzungwa and Uluguru Mountains. The area near the lodge is a particularly good place for unusual monkeys like the Uhehe red colobus (more commonly referred to locally as the Udzungwa red colobus) which is critically endangered because of a bureaucratic oversight that granted one of their primary forests to a sugar plant. Being somewhat distant from the great Rufiji River, which is scheduled to be dammed, its unlikely much of the ecology of this area will be as immediately effected as along the river. Meals and overnight at Sable Mountain Lodge.
The day is spent driving through mostly unused parts of The Selous through the forests of the interior to the unique and beautiful Rufiji River. Game is encountered, especially giraffe, but it’s notable how skittish they are. So few visitors transit the area that the animals are simply not used to visitors. It’s also likely that there is considerable poaching in this vast area. Easy to see, of course, are the many beautiful endemic birds and gorgeous little ponds ensconced by forests. As the afternoon wanes the safari passes several large inland lakes presaging the great river. Your safari camp is one of Jim’s favorites: excellently located on the river, it commands a special position near an important river bend collecting very large groups of elephant, hippo and crocodile. Once at the river the safari has “returned to civilization.” This is where virtually all normal tourists to The Selous come and it has a wide variety of accommodation, from the super luxurious to very basic. Jim rates this camp as squarely in the middle of that group, small and with wonderful personal service. Dinner and overnight at Selous Impala Camp.[b-l-d]
Jim’s vehicles and drivers leave Wednesday morning for their long return to Arusha and the group is placed in the care of the camp’s great guides. Most of the activities in this traditional place for Selous tourism are on the river. This is, of course, one of the principal reasons for coming on this safari, to experience this so important part of The Selous before the dam. Unlike the area around Sable Mountain Lodge it’s pretty well known that this area will be destroyed. The area upriver behind where the dam’s being built at Steigler’s Gorge will be completely inundated, and where most of the tourist camps are the river is likely to change so radically they will all end up high and dry! On the boat safaris expect to see huge numbers of hippo and crocodile, elephant and other game coming down to the river’s edge. The camp offers game drives as well on the many tracks that follow this winding river into its many tributaries and lakes. Activities, meals and overnights at Selous Impala Camp.[b-l-d]
Another full day to enjoy the beauty of the Rufiji River. Meals, activities and overnight at Selous Impala Camp.[b-l-d]
The safari flies right after breakfast to Zanzibar. Right now Zanzibar is a better place from which to depart Tanzania than Dar-es-Salaam: A number of airlines operate nonstops to connecting points in Europe and the Mideast. A full overnight is included at the luxurious Park Hyatt Zanzibar in Stone Town, but many will find convenient departures later this evening. Of course for those who haven’t seen Zanzibar, EWT will be happy to arrange full touring both of Stone Town and the island’s world famous eastern beaches. Jim hosts a farewell dinner party this evening.[b-d]
Hotel checkout is at 10 a.m.[b]