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The Tanzania southern circuit: Selous Vs. Ruaha National Park

For many, the northern parks of Tanzania are usually the ones that you will have heard of, and know about. These include parks like the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater. While these national parks in northern Tanzania certainly offer an exceptional safari experience – especially for those who have never been on safari before – it’s worth noting that the southern parks of Tanzania offer something special, and are not to be disregarded.

The southern parks of Tanzania include the Selous Game Reserve and Ruaha National Park – two national reserves that are off the beaten track. Although it’s slightly more western, Katavi could also be categorized as part of the southern parks of Tanzania. In the dry season, these national parks offer some of the most incredible game viewing in all of Africa, but which should you visit? Banner image: Roho ya Selous Camp

Jabali Ridge Wild dog

The Selous is a 30-minute internal flight from Dar es Salaam – a city in southern Tanzania. This makes it very accessible for those who are looking for a short 3-day safari. This is the largest national park in Africa, and home to some of the most reliable sightings of the wild dogs (also known as the painted dogs or painted wolves). This is one of the main attractions to the Selous, as sightings of wild dogs in the northern parks are very rare.

The Rufiji River runs through the Selous Game Reserve, so the landscape is often very lush and the areas around the riverbanks offer exceptional game viewing. This is because the animals congregate around the permanent water sources, making it a reliable location for game drives. You can also do boat safaris and catch-and-release fishing on the Rufiji River which offers something different to the standard safari experience.

Baobab jabali ridge

Head about an hour west of the Selous (via an internal flight) and you will reach Ruaha National Park. In comparison, this park is much drier, characterized by its rich red soil. Although the Great Ruaha River runs through Ruaha, it dries up and becomes an expansive area for game viewing. Here you can do game drives and walking, as well as the opportunity to go fly camping (sleeping under the stars) in some wilderness areas.

Both of these southern national parks offer the walking safari – a chance to be guided through the African bush on foot, taking in the smaller flora and fauna that is often overlooked on an African safari. There are only a few places you do this in the northern parks, so if you’re looking for a diverse safari experience, the Selous or Ruaha are your better choices.

Roho ya selous2 1

When it comes to which national park in the southern circuit is better, it is certainly dependent on what you are looking for. If you are interested in seeing a particular species, then speak to our Africa specialists to find out which they would recommend. For example, sightings of large buffalo herds and lion prides are particularly good in Ruaha. In the Selous, sightings of leopards, wild dogs and elephants are world-class.

A good option is to combine both national parks in a southern circuit. From Dar es Salaam, fly over to the Selous (approximately 30-minutes) to spend a couple of nights on safari here before flying over to Ruaha National Park. Another few days on safari here allows you to take in the contrasting landscapes, wildlife experiences, and activities. After these two southern parks, you can fly back to Dar es Salaam, or head onto Zanzibar Island for some time on the beach, and explore Stone Town – a UNESCO world heritage site.

If you are looking for a Tanzania safari off the beaten track, the southern parks are certainly worth considering. Feel free to get in touch with our safari specialists to find out more or to ask for a sample itinerary.

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