Lake Manze Tented Camp, Selous, Tanzania

Jonathan and Sophie check out one of Selous’ most popular lodges

Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby.

You can often tell a good lodge by how long the managers have been there, and Phil and Trisha, Manze’s excellent hosts, have been here three years already. And their work shows.

Lake Manze is one of the more affordable lodges in an exclusive reserve, and the emphasis is on the informal and having fun. We arrive dripping in sweat as usual, as the season’s rains have yet to arrive and we’re shown to our rustic safari tents with a glimpse of Lake Manze through the palms. There’s no swimming pool here but in this heat it makes little difference – the only way to cool down is to shower then drip dry under the solar-powered fan. It works!

Lake Manze main area

Lake Manze main area

Lake Manze itself forms part of the Rufiji river system, which is the focal point of the northern Selous, and the Camp is one of several strung along this wetland, renowned for its game viewing.

We join guide Victor for an afternoon game drive around the shores, teeming with hippo, croc and some great aquatic bird life. As South African guides, we have lots of new species to tick off! We watch an impala give birth, a first for us, spell-bound as the tiny lamb stood up on shaky legs and started to run, tripping over its own legs, afterbirth still dangling from its mother.

Boat trip, Lake Manze

Boat trip, Lake Manze

Later, we find a pride of six male lions sheltering from the heat and plenty of ellies. In Selous you should have almost guaranteed sightings of lion, elephant and buffalo and a decent chance of seeing leopard and wild dog too. This has it right up with the northern parks including Serengeti, with the benefit of far fewer crowds.

Back at the lodge we enjoy a beer with fellow guests before we all sit down at one long table for dinner – the atmosphere works well. Maasai tribesmen escort us to our tents, armed with spears against any lurking leopards. Like it or hate it, this is a common feature of Tanzanian safaris.

View from Lake Manze

View from Lake Manze

Next morning we take a boat trip through the river system with Rasheed, an excellent guide, past sunning crocs, angry hippo and passing elephant – boat trips are an integral feature of safaris in Selous.

Lake Manze camp is one of the most popular in Selous and we can see why.

Our verdict – Good value, friendly camp in the exclusive Selous Game Reserve.

Good for – Sociable types who prefer an alternative to the crowds of the northern safari circuit

Not so good for – Sticklers for comfort (no power in tents except for fans) – Manze has very much of a bush camp feel.

Impala Camp, Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

Overlooking a wooded stretch of the Rufiji River, Impala Camp offers a fabulous location in the wild, majestic Selous Game Reserve in Southern Tanzania. Being one of the most popular camps inside the Selous, Jonathan and Sophie visited to see for themselves

Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby.

It’s late afternoon and we’re cruising along on a boat trip to Lake Siwandu – enjoying the views, the breeze (quite a relief in the 36 degree heat) and, naturally, the abundant wildlife that inhabits this great body of water – hippos grunt left, right and center, crocs laze on every sandbank. Suddenly we come to a halt – Charles, our guide, is excitingly pointing at a flock of birds, flying beautifully in a tight formation, right above the surface of the water, almost skimming it with their beaks. African Skimmers! Being twitchers, this is a real treat for us, thanks to our guide’s efforts.

View over the Rufiji River

View over the Rufiji River

On our way back to camp, we stop for sundowners at the edge of the old airstrip, but this is no average sundowner stop. While we’ve been out on the lake, Victor has set up a beautiful table with champagne glasses, snacks and, naturally, a cold bottle of South African champagne! We sit back, relax and enjoy the stunning sunset through the palm trees dotting the riverbank. Yellow becomes orange, orange becomes purple and suddenly it’s almost dark and time to return to the camp.

We meet up with the other guests for pre-dinner drinks around the fire, and chat to Sylvia, the friendly and charismatic assistant manager, about our plans for the following day. For dinner we sit under the stars and enjoy a scrumptious 4-course menu of vegetable soup, aubergine rolls, beef fillet, topped off with cheesecake for dessert. We’re accompanied back to our tent by a Maasai guard, leading the way down the long path, a tight grip on his spear and shining the torch up every tree, down every hippo path. There’s no unaccompanied walking during the night as the camp is unfenced – an aspect that we really enjoy, especially waking up to the sounds of at least 15 different bird species outside our tent.

Impala Camp

Impala Camp

The tents at Impala are built on stilts and each has its own verandah with deck chairs to enjoy uninterrupted views of the bush and/or water. Simply decorated, unpretentious yet comfortable with all modern day amenities, such as electricity, hot water and a plug point. The camp also boasts a pool and a lovely bar with great views of the water – nothing beats game viewing with a cold Kilimanjaro beer in hand!

Selous Game Reserve is one of the great wildernesses remaining in Africa, and the safari action here centres around a clutch of lodges on and around the Rufiji River. Partly water-based, and with fewer crowds than the parks of northern Tanzania, it’s a fine alternative to the beaten tracks of the Serengeti.

Sundowner drinks, Impala Camp

Sundowner drinks, Impala Camp

For our morning activity the following day we do a game drive with Charles and our fellow French guests. We are lucky to see two different prides of lions (one coalition of 6 males and another consisting of 2 females, each with her own set of cubs), a day-old hippo kill with more than 50 vultures (we spotted 5 separate species!) competing to be king of the carcass, while a few spotted hyenas lurked in the background. A wonderful way to end our stay at Impala Camp.

Good for:  Those seeking a semi-luxurious bush experience in the world-famous Selous Game Reserve. Good for families (double tented units available).

Not so good for: No communal dining so the camp has less of an intimate feel than some others

Our verdict: A beautifully located camp with great range of activities (game walks, drives, boat trips, fishing)

Mwagusi Safari Camp, Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

Some say Ruaha National Park is best kept secret in Tanzania. Jonathan and Sophie check out Mwagusi Camp to find out for themselves.

Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby.

There’s something special about Ruaha – the rippled plains stretching far away to hazy mountains. But it’s the baobabs that make it unique – forests of them – huge, ancient trees keeping watch over the plains, giving the place an almost haunted feel.

We’re impressed before we even arrive at Mwagusi, a delightful little camp on the banks of the Ruaha river, and with a warm welcome from hosts Ryan and Dalerie, we’re immediately endeared to the place.

Mwagusi main lodge

Mwagusi main lodge

We head out on a game drive with guide Justin and driver Vincent. Justin is excellent on his birds, which we like to see – in our experience, a lot of guides in East Africa lack basic guiding skills and knowledge, relying on merely finding the Big Five to satisfy their guests. Not so at Mwagusi, where the guide culture is among the best we’ve seen in Tanzania, with a strong emphasis on training.

An elephant carcass looms into view between some giant baobabs and a pride of lions are hungrily feeding. Now there’s not many places in Africa where lions are bold enough to regularly hunt elephant, but Ruaha is one of them. It’s a superb sighting, something we’ve never seen, and we all discuss it excitedly around the campfire, and later over dinner under the stars. Meals are communal which lends an informal and familiar feel to the camp, and it’s easy to make friends with like-minded people.

The camp itself blends in perfectly with its stunning location, with a comfortable thatched communal area and bandas (suites) strung along the river with enough birds and game wandering past to keep us happy for hours.

Banda overlooking the Ruaha River, Mwagusi

Banda overlooking the Ruaha River, Mwagusi

Next morning we head out for a half-day in the bush, with a picnic breakfast. This routine is popular in Tanzania (but uncommon on Southern Africa safaris). At first we were sceptical – it’s a long time in a vehicle, and everyone knows there’s nothing much to see in the heat of the day. But there is in Ruaha. It’s midday and searing hot, and we’re watching a young female leopard stalk a herd of impala. Justin, our guide, laughs. “This is normal in Ruaha,” he says. “Our cats hunt at any time of day!”

We watch spellbound for half an hour as she crawls between drainage lines, shifting position with the changing wind, using the trees as cover, before slinking into long grass for the final approach.

It was a Lilac-breasted Roller that gave her away, perched on a stalk, and when it gave its alarm call, the impala looked up. It was too late. They scattered, and our leopard skulked away, hungry.

Up-close at Mwagusi

Up-close at Mwagusi

On our last night we have a romantic dinner for two set up in the dry riverbed just below our banda. The wind picks up, a hot wind fuelling a big fire, it’s just us, a table, two chairs, and a delicious three-course meal, in the blackness and we feel the rawness. African safaris are as much about this as the animals.

Later that night, safely tucked up in bed, the wind drops and the night is still, so still we can hear a leopard lapping from a pool just below.

Ruaha might very well be the best kept secret in Tanzania – one of the largest national parks in East Africa, with none of the hoards of safari vehicles that are drawn to the northern parks. And with its rustic, laid-back atmosphere, Mwagusi is its perfect complement.

Good for: Great game and a friendly atmosphere away from the crowds

Not so good for: Those that demand a high level of privacy

Our verdict: A delightful camp with excellent guiding in a stunning, relatively little-known safari area