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5 BEST-KEPT SECRETS IN TANZANIA (HIDDEN GEMS OF TANZANIA)

by | Apr 25, 2024 | 0 comments

 

1)      Nyerere National Park: The Last Great Wilderness

How about a reserve bigger than Switzerland with visitor numbers hovering around one percent of Tanzania’s annual total? While stretches of the Nyerere National Park (previously Selous) are off-limits, the vast territory that is open to visitors is wildly beautiful and, game-wise, incredibly rewarding.

Attractions at the Nyerere National Park

Nyerere is jam-packed with animals, and by ‘jam-packed’ I mean Africa’s densest populations of buffalo, hippo, wild dog and lion not to mention a tenth of the continent’s elephants. A handful of fly-in lodges in secluded settings offer game drives as well as guided nature walks and riverboat safaris.

When To Go

The June to September dry season offers Nyerere’s best game viewing and most pleasant climate. The ‘short rains’ of October and November are followed by a drier spell from December to February – a fantastic time to see migratory birds – after which the ‘long rains’ of March and April begin.

Where To Stay

Roho Ya Selous

With a name that translates as ‘Heart of the Selous’, it is fitting that Roho ya Selous does indeed lie at the heart of the photographic sector of the vast Nyerere National Park (Selous Game Reserve). Set on a hill overlooking the Rufiji River, it is close to Lake Manze and Lake Nzerakera, an area considered to offer the best game viewing in the reserve. Elephants and buffalo herds make their way to water where there are pods of hippo and abundant birdlife, and the Nyerere has a great mix of predators, including lion, crocodile, leopard and wild dog.

A newly-built, high-quality tented camp of the well-respected Asilia brand, Roho ya Selous offers eight stylish suites with a natural air-conditioning system as well as a private bathroom and a shady veranda. Guides are highly knowledgeable about the area and lead 4X4 game drives as well as guided walks, river safaris and even catch-and-release fishing trips, all designed to give guests a well-rounded and diverse Nyerere safari.

Closed during the Nyerere wet season (mid-March to the end of May), Roho ya Selous is the perfect introduction to the giant reserve for safari travelers looking for a new destination or for seasoned Nyerere travelers keen to explore a different area. A three-and-a-half-hour flight from the Serengeti, the camp welcomes families with children over five but it is a camp better suited for older children.

Siwandu

Situated in the prime wildlife-viewing location of the mighty Nyerere National Park (Selous Game Reserve), Siwandu promises an unparalleled safari experience in luxury tented accommodation. Ideal for romantics, the camp is divided into two sections to offer maximum privacy in this remote and beautiful location. Tents are dotted along the shores of Lake Nzerakera and sheltered by a palm forest – elephant and hippo frequently wander through the camp on their way to the lake.

 

Sand Rivers Selous

Sand Rivers Selous is an intimate safari lodge in Tanzania’s Nyerere National Park (Selous Game Reserve), set on a rocky peninsula with views over the Rufiji River. The lodge offers a unique blend of classic safari elegance combined with the ruggedness of a genuine bush adventure, overlooking the river that is brimming with hippos and crocodiles.

 

2) Mahale: The Mountain Retreat

 

Another of Tanzania’s off-the-beaten-track destinations is Mahale Mountains National Park. It is accessible only by boat and protects the rainforest-covered mountains that tumble down to the echoing shores of Lake Tanganyika.

A cacophony of unfamiliar calls rings out from the forest when you stand at its edge, awestruck by the majesty of the setting.

 

Things to see at Mahale Mountains National Park

Home to a dozen primate species, Mahale’s signature activity is guided chimpanzee trekking, though with annual visitor numbers barely making it into three figures, you may simply want to revel in the tranquil solitude of this wild place. Relax on the lake’s footprint-free beaches, go fishing, watch birds and butterflies, or trek into the cathedral-like forest for a face-to-face encounter with wild chimpanzees, our closest living relatives.

When To Go

Mahale is best for chimp trekking from July to October.

 

Where To Stay

Greystoke Mahale

Greystoke Mahale is a remote tented camp in the chimp-inhabited forests of the Mahale Mountains in West Tanzania. The camp stands at the base of the densely forested Mahale Mountains National Park on a remote beach and along the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Back at the camp, unwind on the sandy beach, relax in the thatched Tongwe-style lodge, or enjoy the views from the upper decks. Unwind in the cosy bar, perched on the rocks of the northern headland with stepped decks leading down to the water’s edge.

 

Dining

Dinners and ice-cold cocktails are served in the spacious torch-lit mess tent at the water’s edge, or on a 50-foot mahogany dhow on the waters of Lake Tanganyika. The cosy bar is perched on the rocks of the northern headland with large decks leading down to the water’s edge. Fresh sashimi and iced vodka are served while you soak up the tranquil lake views or marvel at the African night sky.

 

Mbali Mbali Mahale Lodge

 

The name Mbali Mbali is well chosen: it means ‘Far Far Away’ in Swahili and Mbali Mbali Mahale Lodge is your chance to access one of the most remote corners of Africa. A string of luxurious beach chalets set along a Lake Tanganyika white-sand beach, this small and intimate lodge is the ideal base from which to trek into the thick rainforest of the Mahale Mountains in search of wild chimpanzees. A ruptured twist of the Great Rift Valley, Mahale is one of the last bastions of these great apes and a unique opportunity for you to follow foraging chimps deep in the forest.

Accessed only by a flight and then boat ride, Mbali Mbali Mahale Lodge is primarily a chimpanzee trekking lodge but has a host of other activities.

Mbali Mbali Mahale Lodge sits on a Lake Tanganyika beach with a large, thatched lounge and dining area providing the main communal area. Here you find plenty of comfortable seating and a well-stocked bar plus a reference library. Step outside onto a wide deck that looks over the lake and the fire pit on the beach, where you sit on fine evenings with a glass in hand and the cosmos above you.

Powered by solar energy with a generator back-up, the camp provides electric power 24 hours a day – for lighting and battery charging – and has Wi-Fi access too, even in your chalet. The complimentary laundry service is a welcome feature.

 

Dining

The day begins with an early-morning wake-up call and a pot of coffee or tea delivered to your suite. You enjoy a leisurely breakfast with a lake view before the morning activity – usually chimpanzee trekking – before returning to camp for lunch in the shade. Meals are enjoyed at individual and group tables; room service is available on request.

 

Dinner is usually a candle-lit, three-course affair, served on the beach if the weather allows, and the kitchen is happy to cater for vegetarian and vegan guests with prior notification. Tea and coffee are available all day and the lodge supply your room with bottled water.

3) Ruaha And Katavi: Secret Savannahs

Equally far from the beaten path are Katavi (you’ve probably never heard of this national park) and Ruaha, attracting a very small percentage of the volume of visitors who pack the Serengeti each year.

Attractions at Ruaha and Katavi national park

Both are big, rolling savannah parks with healthy populations of the heavyweight species – elephants, buffalo and the big cats – and both are serious contenders for that most coveted of Tanzanian titles: ‘Best-kept Secret’. The game viewing is great, the scenery spectacular and the parks retain a truly wild ambience. Fly in and see them now before the secret gets out. There are a handful of luxury lodges scattered in each park, usually set next to rivers for easy armchair game viewing.

When To Go to Ruaha

The dry months of June to October are best for a Ruaha safari, but temperatures increase dramatically as the dry season wears on. Although game viewing is at its peak from August to October, so is the heat. The rainy season begins in November and continues into late May.

 

When To Go to Katavi

Like Ruaha, the June to October dry season is the best time to visit Katavi. If you’re an avid birdwatcher, the hot and rainy summer months of December to April deliver sensational birding in both parks.

Where To Stay

Jabali Ridge

Jabali Ridge is predominantly an open camp, its low walls and open-sides allowing for cooling breezes and an informal safari atmosphere. There is a lounge and bar at the main camp plus inside and outside dining areas; the camp also offers an infinity pool, a spa and plenty of space to catch some sun or seek a bit of shade, whichever you prefer.

Dining

All meals are part of the tariff at Jabali Ridge as are your drinks except cellar wines, premium spirits and champagne. In the dining area, breakfasts and light lunches can be enjoyed, and in the evening, there is a delectable, gourmet three-course supper menu under the stars. Meals are served at the main camp but individual tables are available on request as are bush picnics – your chance to enjoy a traditional meal away from camp or a packed lunch for a full-day game drive in Ruaha.

 

Kwihala Camp

The intimate Kwihala Bush Camp consists of six individual 40mu00b2 sand-colored canvas tents. Each spacious tent is lovingly furnished and features double or twin beds and an en-suite bathroom with a bucket shower and flushing toilet. In addition, all the tents offer welcoming comforts such as a shaded veranda area complete with safari chairs, as well as solar-powered electricity.

After a day of activity, enjoy a refreshing sundowner from the bar, while unwinding on your tent veranda or in the communal lounge area of the mess tent.

Dining

Begin your days with a delicious breakfast, served in the mess tent. For something unique and memorable, enjoy a ‘bonnet breakfast’ on your morning game drive. A bonnet breakfast is prepared on the bonnet of your safari vehicle and served in the heart of the African bush.

Lunch consists of tasty fresh fruit and salads, while evening meals are an elegant three-course affair, served beneath the starry African sky or in the main mess tent. Selected beverages served from the well-stocked bar are complimentary.

Chada Katavi

In the heart of Tanzania’s Katavi National Park, Chada Katavi is a stylish tented camp situated off the beaten track in a landscape of seasonal rivers, open plains and woodlands. From its elevated vantage point, the lodge is perfectly positioned for panoramic views over the Chada plain, while the canopy of acacias, kigelias and tamarinds are a popular source of shade and food for wildlife.

Chada Katavi offers six spacious walk-in tents, each with two twin beds or a double bed, with crisp, white Egyptian cotton and fine furnishings.

Each tent has a private bathroom with safari toilets, and bucket showers behind each tent with ample piping-hot water. The bathrooms also feature washstands, with pitchers of hot and cold-water set-in front of each tent.

Dining

Lavish picnic breakfasts, brunches and lunches are laid out under shady trees awaiting your return from the morning’s game viewing. Dinner time at Chada Katavi is a simple yet elegant affair. Guests dine together at the long table – perfect for sharing stories of the day’s sightings.

4) Mafia: Island Unknown

While Zanzibar is probably the most popular island off Tanzania’s coast, Mafia Island has managed to remain under the radar for decades. This classic Indian Ocean Island lies 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Zanzibar and flaunts a genuinely serene tropical ambience. It’s home to one of the world’s best dive sites, the Mafia Island Marine Park, and the perfect place to live out your castaway fantasy.

When To Go

Whale sharks migrate along the coasts of Kenya and Tanzania from about October to April every year. During this period, these gentle giants concentrate around Mafia Island longer than anywhere else on the East African coast.

Things to see at Mafia Island

Whale sharks are fascinating creatures: some live more than 100 years and reach lengths of up to 20 metres (65 feet). They are slow-moving filter-feeders, consuming enormous quantities of plankton. To swim alongside the biggest known fish in the sea is one of life’s greatest privileges.

Where To Stay

Chole Mjini

Situated on Chole Island, which is just a short dhow ride from Mafia Island and lies at the heart of the Mafia Island Marine Park in Tanzania. Hidden in the tree canopy, the wooden chalets offer panoramic views and complete privacy.

The spacious communal area of Chole Mjini is situated in the lush garden, amongst the old ruins of the island. Covered by thatch with open sides the lounge area is scattered with comfortable cushions and provides books and board games to while away the hours. Climb the stairs to the wide viewing deck with its gorgeous views over the island.

There is no electricity at Chole Mjini so the evenings are lit by flickering lanterns and there are no modern appliances to distract you from the serious business of getting away from it all.

Dining

The delectable cuisine at Chole Mjini more than often includes freshly caught seafood and locally grown produce, which is cooked in traditional Swahili style.

Meals are generally served in the thatched dining room, however, you’ll also get the chance to experience true Tanzania as you dine at a table set up in an old ruin entangled in the roots of a huge fig tree, by the soft light of hurricane lanterns or on your private deck.

Thanda Island

The villa has five bedrooms with king-sized beds (extras can be arranged for children) while the bandas each have their own king-sized bed.

Each of the five bedrooms in the main villa is spacious and beautifully furnished in cool tons of white, stone and sand. The king-sized 4-poster beds with romantic netting face the Indian Ocean while hand-picked art graces the walls. The bathrooms are en suite and have deep free-standing tubs, some with a view of the beach, as well as outdoor tubs and showers.

Extra beds for children can be arranged on request.

Dining

Think tropical island and fragrant coconut-milk curries, fresh papayas, deep-pink watermelons and sweet pineapples immediately spring to mind. In addition, the chef at Thanda Island can whip up homemade ice-cream, refreshing sorbets, and handmade yoghurt and muesli. In the evenings, head to the traditional pizza oven for authentic pizzas made with flour imported from Italy and topped with prosciutto di parma. On other nights, tuck into traditional Swahili grills and curries or Arabian flavors under the Bedouin tent.

There is an alfresco cocktail bar, barbeque area, outside breakfast boma and a bonfire pit for enjoying nightcaps.

 

Pole Pole Bungalow Resort

With a name that translates as ‘Slowly Slowly’, there can be no doubt that Pole Pole Bungalow Resort aims to deliver a very relaxing accommodation experience. Set on Tanzania’s Mafia Island (a local word for archipelago), Pole Pole Bungalow Resort offers five bungalow suites with twin or double beds as well as two additional suites which can sleep four guests. Combining barefoot luxury with great cuisine and a long list of activities, Pole Pole makes the perfect retreat for travelers looking to wind down after their East Africa safari.

Committed to the environment and proud of its low-impact design, Pole Pole Bungalow Resort also gives back to the local community and you can visit a local village for an insight into island life. Recommended for repeat travelers and those looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination, Pole Pole appeals to adventurous couples, families and travelers who want an Indian Ocean holiday experience but without the potential crowds of Zanzibar or the Kenyan coast.

The seven bungalow suites at Pole Pole are perfectly blended with the surrounding tropical garden and all of them overlook the pristine Chole Bay. Built entirely out of wood and positioned on raised stilts, these suites are spacious and combine elegance with a rustic, natural feel.

Choose between a double or twin room with imported Italian linen, carved and antique furniture, and a bathroom with his-and-her basins and a large shower. Walk out onto a large private veranda that features a Zanzibari day-bed, chairs and a coffee table as well as gauzy drapes.

Pole Pole Bungalow Resort is built around the main lodge where you will find a well-furnished lounge and bar plus indoor and outdoor dining areas. The library, complete with cards and board games, is a nice detail, as is the complimentary laundry service. The swimming pool offers both sun and shaded seating and comes complete with its own bar while the Massage Centre overlooks the beach so you can enjoy a soothing massage to the sound of gently breaking waves.

The resort also has a 5-Star PADI Dive Centre with a highly experienced team of local and expatriate instructors and dive masters.

Dining

All meals at Pole Pole are included in the rate but drinks are for your own account; bottled water is served every day and is available on request. Dietary requirements are catered for as far as possible.

Supporting the local islanders, Pole Pole Resort sources much of its food from Mafia Island itself, either organically grown or harvested sustainably from the ocean. The result is three delicious meals a day, a combination of diverse culinary traditions with a familiar touch of Italian. Traditional Swahili dinners are served once a week or on request.

5) Rubondo: Noah’s Ark

Rubondo Island National Park is an unspoilt paradise located on Lake Victoria, Africa’s biggest lake. Its extraordinary natural bounty has earned it the nickname, ‘Noah’s Ark’.

Attractions in Rubondo Island National Park

While its shoreline supports masses of hippos and crocodiles, the island’s interior forests and woodlands are sanctuaries for chimpanzees, monkeys, rhinos, giraffes and elephants. Rubondo’s emerald heart is a papyrus swamp, home to more than 200 bird species, almost 70 species of butterfly and 40 species of orchid. Truly, an unknown paradise.

Rubondo Island Camp is the only accommodation on this verdant island and will immediately immerse you in a pristine ecosystem. If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind adventure in a supremely wild location untouched by man, then set your compass for Africa’s biggest island national park.

When to Go

While Rubondo is a birdwatcher’s nirvana between November and March, taking part in a pioneering chimpanzee habituation experience is arguably the highlight here. For a very limited time (anywhere between June and October), guests at Rubondo Island Camp can join a research team as they accustom chimpanzees to the presence of humans and encounter them up close in the wild: a once-in-a-lifetime experience seldom available to non-scientists and researchers.

 

Where to Stay

Rubondo Island Camp

This exquisite gem of a camp is located on an unspoilt paradise, Rubondo Island, on Lake Victoria. The island’s extraordinary natural bounty has attracted national park status and earned it the nickname, ‘Noah’s Ark’.

Retreat to one of eight en suite Afro-chic chalets surrounded by the forest and only 60m from the shores of Lake Victoria.

Open your sliding screen door and step out onto your outdoor patio to admire a gorgeous pink sky as the African sun goes to bed.

Select from a range of local and imported beer, wines, spirits and soft drinks from the charming bar and relax in the serene lounge surrounded by a canopy of trees.

Take a cool dip in the large swimming pool and soak up the African sun on the surrounding wooden deck. Keep warm with a good read beside a crackling log-fire on chillier days.

Dining

Hearty meals are prepared by a dedicated chef with fresh ingredients flown in from Mwanza. Freshly prepared buffet breakfast is served while lunch and dinner is a 3-course affair inspired by African, Asian and European flavors.

Unwind in the lounge or dining area with a cup of coffee, tea or a refreshing drink from the bar, available throughout the day.

Conclusion


In conclusion, a Tanzania safari is a journey of discovery, where adventure and wonder await at every turn. From the iconic Serengeti and the majestic Ngorongoro Crater to the hidden treasures of Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Selous, and Ruaha, Tanzania offers a diverse range of wildlife and breathtaking landscapes. Add to that the rich cultural experiences and the backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro, and you have all the ingredients for an unforgettable safari adventure. So, pack your bags, and get ready to unveil the hidden gems of Tanzania.

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