Off the Beaten Path

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Sand Rivers Selous

Family-run camp

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At a Glance

An old-fashioned lodge built by legendary guide Richard Bonham with excellent guides who lead walking and boating safaris in extreme wilderness.

Indagare Loves

  • The guided bush walks and boat trips on the Rufiji River
  • The intense sense of isolation, especially if you choose to do an overnight fly camp
  • The family-style dinners where travelers swap safari tales


The Selous Game Reserve, which is 55,000 square kilometers, is the largest single wildlife area in Africa, roughly the same size as Switzerland. Set on a bend of the Rufiji River, Sand Rivers Selous was established in 1984 by the legendary safari guide, Richard Bonham, who owns Ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya. The main house, or mess, and eight guest cottages blend into the landscape with their thatched roofs, stone walls and tree trunk stilts. The Rhino House, or honeymoon cottage, is a new one-bedroom with a private lounge and dining area that also comes with a private vehicle and guide.

All of the structures were made of local materials and feature open sides facing the river so if it weren’t for a tree-branch railing you could step right off the polished wood floors and drop into the bush or the river where the hippos wallow below. Peter Matthiessen declared this reserve the last great wilderness in his book Sand Rivers: The Ultimate Safari into the Last Wilderness, and the extraordinary isolation that he described can still be experienced, even though a number of new camps have opened in recent years and Sand Rivers has been spiffed up by Nomad Camps, which now runs it.

Though when I visited, we did do a few game drives to see rare wild dog (the species is almost extinct, with only about 5,000 left in Africa), the great advantage here is that you are rarely in a vehicle. We set out often on walking safaris or on boats along the Rufiji. One of the most popular options for guests is to include a night or more of fly-camping, during which you do a portered safari and spend a night or more in tents on the river bank. Exploring the bush by boat and on foot, you feel much closer to the animals than you do in a Rover—and you are much closer. Bonham declared long ago that the best kinds of safaris are the ones that require you to carry a rifle, and that philosophy is what draws many of the best guides on the continent here. Once we had an encounter with a hippo that inspired our guide to drop to his knees and ready his Winchester, all the while motioning for us to start backing away slowly. Another time, we wished that he hadn’t left his gun on the dock when the motor stalled on our flimsy metal motorboat and a hippo charged us. Thankfully, the motor caught before he reached us.

Who Should Stay

Adventure lovers and active types who can live without air conditioning and cell service, and want to experience safari away from crowds, cosseting and car time.

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