We decided that there was no way that we could leave Tanzania without doing a safari. Hoards of people fly to this country every year to do just that, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do something so amazingly cool.
I set to work checking online to find the one that would best fit our scenario. We didn’t have many requirements (and really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into since we have never done a safari before) but ends up my searching took more time than I thought it would. First we wanted a shorter safari because between all our time in Zanzibar and our flights out of the country, a few days on safari was all we could manage. With that in mind our locations were brought to parks closer to Dar (the capital) since we didn’t want to waste 2 full days just in travel time reaching and returning from the parks. Our second criteria was the one that threw me for a loop, it ends up that not many place accept having children as young as Ellia (age 3) along on safaris. Website after website I had to meticulously read through because often times somewhere in the fine print would be the notice “minimum age of 6 required”. I see the reasoning behind it, young kids can be loud, not patient enough to sit through long safari drives, and are SNACK SIZE for many of the wild animals out there!
I managed to find a handful of places that we could visit, but the one that checked both our above boxes (with a few bonuses) was the Rufiji River Camp in the Selous Game Reserve. They are only a 45min flight away from the capital, they are a well known brand with many establishments throughout Tanzania, they let us “customize” our safaris to suit our kids, and they agreed to collaborate with us and sponsor us our stay. This is so great because I never expected how expensive going on safari can get, you have to expect to pay for the lodge/meals, the safari excursions, the park entrance fees (these are a doozie but for a good cause), and getting to and from the parks. With the support of Foxes Camps, we could take the lodge + safari excursion costs out of the equation.
The next step was packing. What do you pack when going on a safari after spending 2.5 months hotel hopping on an island!? We had no clothing that was remotely kaki or safari looking. You know the typical attire that you see in pictures, the earth tones that keep you camouflaged, well we were the complete opposite! We were bright and beautiful, and that’s what we went with because, really, we had no other option. We packed a Sailorbags backpack with clothes, our Lowepro camera bag, and our laptop. All of our extra luggage was stored at Safari Airlink’s office, the charter plane company that was flying us in to the game reserve.
We didn’t want to get the girls too excited about what animals we might see on safari because we really didn’t know, or expect, to see any. We went with open minds, telling the girls that maybe we would get lucky. And did we ever.
We had the whole plane to ourselves! Thanks for the sponsorship Safari Airlink.
Our luck started at the airport when Safari Airlink informed us that we would be the only ones on our flight! Talk about luxury experience. There we were flying in to this remote area and had the whole plane to ourselves. The girls sprawled out and made that plane their home for the short flight. As we were landing on the dirt airstrip in Selous (Mtemere) the runway was lined with about 5 giraffes!!!! Going on safari Eben was saying he was hoping to see giraffes and hippos, and we got the first right off the bat! From there it only got better.
You know you are remote when the landing strip is dirt and mud!
The girls are pointing at so giraffes that are near the landing strip. And those are impala tracks all over the “runway”.
There is about a 3 minute drive from the airstrip to the Rufiji River Camp lodges, and along it we saw countless Impalas, baboons, warthogs, and birds. We were beyond excited about how many animals we were seeing and how close they all were.
A mama baboon with her baby hanging off her belly, on the road to our camp.
Impala everywhere! Ellia had a blast yelling “Impala!” every time she saw one, which was a lot!
The camp itself is gorgeous. They have a number of raised-tented lodges that line the river, each with plenty of space around them to not bother your neighbours. We had a gorgeous view, an all around patio, and a tent with two double beds and a fully built in bathroom. It was complete comfort in the jungle. With the briefing we were told that as soon as the sun sets a Masaai will come and fetch you to accompany you to the dinning area and walk you back to your tent after. Why? Because the camp is not fenced off and wild animals are free to roam where they wish. Again, see how Ellia could be snack size! So a Masaai warrior walking us home was a comforting bonus. Every night we fell asleep to the sounds of bush babies, hippos in the river below, and a ton of other animal sounds that we could not identify!
Dinning and lounge area at the Rufiji River Camp
The deck of our tented lodge.
Plenty of room for our family. It was so cool sleeping so close to nature.
Just because you’re in a tent doesn’t mean you can’t have a wicked bathroom.
In our 2 night stay there we went on 4 excursions. The first day we arrived they squeezed in a short 2 hour drive to go peek around before lunch was served. After lunch we did an afternoon river safari where they boated us up and down the river to see hippos and crocodiles, and a ton of birds. The following day we did a “full day” game drive, and our final day we did a morning game drive. With our many times out there our list of animal sitting grew and grew. It also made us feel slightly silly at how excited we were to see giraffes off in the distance our first day as we came to see that giraffes were all over the place and we had many many many sightings where these beautiful animals stood only 10ft away from our truck!
Ellia TRYING to use binoculars, it was useless, we did better with just her eyes.
Nap times continued as usual, but we just let the girls pass out when they got tired.
The velvet monkeys that played around our dinning room were very curious little guys.
Velvet monkey mama and baby.
The river safari was really fun because we got to see a ton of hippos. We discovered that taking a picture of a hippo in the water is much like playing “whack a mole”! The head pops up, you swing around to take its picture, down it goes. Then you are left guessing where the next head will pop up. It was good for many laughs. We did see some crocodiles and birds, but the hippos are what made our day. That evening, as we were heading to the dinning area, some other guests came to find us, whispering that we needed to bring the girls, slowly and quietly. Ends up there was a hippo (known to the staff as Luigi) that had made its way up from the river and was munching on the grass right outside the dinning area. It was completely amazing seeing such a large animal going about doing his thing, eating their lawn, as we sat back and stared at him. That night he made his way down in front of all the tents making sure he didn’t miss a single piece of grass!
Our family, back on a boat! This time to spot some hippos.
Look at all those heads peaking out at us.
The girls loved seeing them pop out of the water.
Luigi the hippo that wandered our lodge at dinner time.
Our game driver, Daudi, and guide, Eric, were so great at going with our schedule. I am not quite a morning person, so a 6am safari did not sound awesome to me. And we didn’t know how the girls would behave sitting in a safari truck for a full-day game drive. We were all willing to give it a go, and our guides told us, “we can start when you want, and if the girls get tired of it, we can always turn around and head back”. It made for a comfortable adventure where we weren’t stressing about having to keep the girls entertained for 8 hours of driving. But the girls did AMAZING did the whole day no problem! They quietly sang songs to themselves (a lot of the lion king soundtrack!), we played “animal I spy”, they took their naps in the truck, and they asked Eric a million and one questions, which he so kindly answered. He was extremely well informed and happy to educated us. Also, keeping the girls entertained wasn’t hard given that we saw so many animals.
Sticking their tongues out at the giraffes hoping they will do the same.
So strange how many animals just stood on the roads.
Hippos cooling off in a pond.
And more again.
Mama and baby elephant.
This guy was making sure we knew we were on his turf.
He came so close to the truck that even the guides were taking pictures on their phones!
Our full day safari game drive included a lunch in the bush.
This was our safari truck for the trip.
Giraffes, zebras, and a wildebeest all vying for the same shade.
On our trip we saw: impalas, baboons, warthogs, giraffes, zebras, turtles, chameleons, a black mamba, hippos, crocodiles, elephants (including 2 babies), Kudu, wildebeest, wild painted dogs, and a ton of birds (we’re not really bird people!) We had smiles plastered on our faces for 3 days straight. It was such a surreal experience, getting so close to so many wild creatures, having them just sit there starring at us as we starred back at them. It is certainly a trip that I will never forget and have a ton of stories to go along with our 900-ish pictures!
Day 2 nap time.
More shade seekers.
Chameleons are pretty hilarious to watch walk around.
Zebras on the roadway.
Our drivers made the smart decision to not go down this road, the one where the gas truck is totally stuck!
Wild painted dogs, apparently many people come to this park in specific just to see these guys.