Sand Rivers is famous for its excellent river safaris.
Sand Rivers Camp: Our full report
Sand Rivers was founded by safari legend Richard Bonham. Its site, deep inside the Selous Game Reserve, overlooking a wide curve of the Rufiji River, streaked with sand banks and girdled by rocky outcrops, was spotted when he explored this region with writer and traveller Peter Matthiessen. The camp, now owned by one of Tanzania’s – in fact Africa’s – very best camp owners and safari logistics companies, has a long-standing reputation as one of Tanzania’s top safari camps.
On arrival, you walk down towards the lounge and dining area, which stand in for reception and occupy a thatched boma with open sides right on the river bank. The soft furnishings here are comfortable, with squishy sofas and chairs and lots of cushions. With the mix of whitewashed and stone walls, carved wooden furniture and African décor, the result is a rustic, homely, relaxed atmosphere.
Immediately adjacent is the open-air curved swimming pool set under a large baobab tree. While you’re swimming and relaxing during the heat of the day you can enjoy the panoramic views of the river and the wilderness of the southern Selous beyond.
Sand Rivers also has a small curio shop which sells a variety of items, including beaded jewellery, woven kikoi sarongs and items like T-shirts and caps with ‘Sand Rivers’ logos.
The rooms, which rise upstream along the riverbank from the main parts of the camp, all have a similar design – open-fronted, gable-roofed in thatch, with walls of wood and rough, whitewashed plaster. The beds are fully enclosed in mosquito nets and there’s a comfy sofa and table at the foot of the bed just behind the deck. The bathrooms are set to one side, with their own view of the river – open as far as possible. High quality toiletries are provided. There are five Standard rooms and three Suites situated a little further up the hill. These have plunge pools.
When we last visited Sand Rivers in 2016, the varied activities included motorboat trips up to the towering, forest-flanked Stiegler’s Gorge. Sand banks covered in crocs and huge boulders draped with monitor lizards adorned the waters edge, beneath steep, jungle-swathed banks. Further upstream, close to the tightest part of the gorge and beyond the reach of our little craft, high cliffs of red sandstone festooned with greenery rose on either side. It's quite a trip, and highly recommended.
Sand Rivers also offers a good variety of long and short walks which begin from the camp, or after a short drive. The longer walks take place in the morning starting at a time to suit guests, but usually by 7am to avoid the heat of the day. Shorter walks are also offered as an afternoon activity, starting at 4.30pm and returning to camp around sunset. The camp is constantly looking at ways to help make what they do more eco-friendly.
Most popular are the camp’s 4WD safaris, which explore the plains and lakes of this part of the Selous. In the morning these also begin at around 7am, returning at midday for lunch. An afternoon safari will head out again at 4pm. Often you can combine a 4WD game drive with a short walk through the bush. Other options include fishing for tiger fish or edible catfish, or going for a soak in the Tagalala Hot Springs, a few kilometres away.
If you just want sit and watch the wildlife come and go, Sand Rivers also has a nearby hide – raised on stilts, and overlooking a large marshy area. You can stay here on your own for a few hours if you wish. This permanently wet area is frequented by a variety of wildlife – often in surprising numbers – from playful elephants and herds of giraffe coming down to drink, to a kaleidoscope of birds looking for food. It’s a remarkably good spot, even when there is plenty of water around, and a first-rate location during the dry season.
Our viewSand Rivers is very comfortable, stylish safari camp, in a thrilling and remote location, with plenty of space and excellent food and service. We think this is one of the Selous reserve’s very best places to stay. The only downsides might be occasionally low wildlife numbers in the vicinity, and the fact that its relative remoteness means that the roads to reach it are rough.
Ideal length of stay: 3-4 nights, or 5-7 nights if you choose to include a fly-camping trip
Directions: Fly for 35 minutes into the Selous Game Reserve, where you will land at Kiba airstrip. It's then a 15-minute drive to Sand Rivers. Alternatively, it is long day's drive from Dar – depending on the weather and the state of the roads (it can take up to 5 hours to reach Sand Rivers from the Mtemere Gate).
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Staff: Camp Managers: Eric and Natasha
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: We found the food at Sand Rivers in 2016 was very tasty and imaginative with obviously fresh produce used throughout. Bernadette is the chef, and her specialities include some unusual recipes like carrot baklava. Sundays are traditionally a barbecue night at dinner. From Monday to Saturday, the menus comprise a mixture of western and Tanzanian dishes.
The dining times for breakfast and lunch are very flexible for each guest, varying daily on what they have decided to do for their safari activities. Breakfast usually consists of tea or coffee, fruit, cereals, toast and a cooked breakfast with eggs of your choice. Stiegler's Gorge offers a perfect breakfast spot on a sandbank by the fast flowing upper river.
Lunch is typically a self-service buffet with a nice range of salads, bread, fresh vegetables and cold meat. There’s an ‘afternoon tea’ at about 4pm – with tea, coffee, fruit juice and delectable cakes.
Dinner has 3 courses with a choice for the main and is usually a mix of international cuisine. Dietary requirements can be easily catered for with prior notice. On our visits in 2013 and 2016 we enjoyed cream of courgette soup to start; red snapper, mixed vegetables and mango salsa as the main course; and a delicious coconut crème brulée desert. Dining takes place in a variety of imaginative locations around the camp, not just in the main dining area by the lounge.
Dining style: Mixture of group dining and individual tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: At Sand Rivers most drinks are included – including all soft drinks, house wines and local beers & spirits. However, Champagne, vintage wine and certain imported spirits are only available as extras to be added to your bill on departure.
Further dining info: Dinner arrangements usually alternate between private tables and group dining, but it very much depends on guests' wishes. Lunch is usually at your own table.
Honeymoons: Sand Rivers has a very romantic setting right on the Rufiji River and a level of personal service that will make your trip feel very special. The rooms are very private with lovely views across the river. Expect special touches to make your Tanzanian honeymoon unforgettable.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Tanzania
Birdwatching: The Selous Game Reserve is a great park for a wide variety of bird species. When we were here last, we saw different species of kingfisher, birds of prey, hornbills and a great deal more. The Sand Rivers hide is a fantastic place to camp out for a few hours and observe these birds – among many others – visitingthe marsh to drink and hunt for small fish and insects.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Tanzania
Photography holidays: Sand Rivers is an excellent lodge to include on a photographic safari in southern Tanzania. The photographic hide overlooks a marshy area which is frequented by large numbers of animals, from playful elephants to herds of giraffe.See more ideas for Photography holidays in Tanzania
Wildlife safaris: The Selous Game Reserve and area around Sand Rivers has an abundance of game, especially during the dryer months of July, August and September when game is drawn to the river for water. However throughout the year you can expect to see good numbers of giraffe, impala, elephant and maybe even lions and wild dog which are also found in the area.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Tanzania
Attitude towards children: The camp is happy to welcome over-8s.
Property’s age restrictions: Children under 8 are generally not allowed in camp. Children under 12 aren't permitted on walking safaris or fly-camping.
Generally recommended for children: This is quite an adult camp, but would appeal to older children with a strong love of the outdoors.
Notes: Sand Rivers is not ideal for young children as all the bedrooms and the lounge and dining area have open fronts with drops down to the Rufiji River. Furthermore parents should be aware that this camp is not fenced and wildlife can pass through at any time. If you bring your children they cannont be left unaccompanied.
Power supply: Generator
Power supply notes: The generator runs for 8 hours and charges large batteries that provide power for the other 16 hours. The rooms have 3 pin UK-style socket and universal multi-sockets. Hair driers can't be used here.
Communications: Though there is usually some mobile reception at the airstrip for emergencies - Airtel is generally accessible by the pool and also by the suites, though there is no Vodafone reception at all (as is the case in mos of the Selous). There is also a Wi-Fi corner in a shady spot near the pool and guests can download up to 4GB of data every 72 hours.
TV & radio: There is no TV for guests, but keen sports fans will be welcome in the staff canteen.
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: Water from the borehole is pumped to the hill top and held in a big settling tank. Solar hot water boilers provide hot washing water. Drinking water is supplied as commercially bottled water and camp-treated and filtered water.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: Members of the Sand Rivers team are first-aid trained and several staff have done an Advanced Wilderness First-Aid course. There is first aid equipment on site for minor illnesses and injuries. For more serious emergencies Sand Rivers has links to the flying doctors in Dar es Salaam.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Askaris are on guard around the clock and you will be escorted to and from your room at night. There are also emergency horns in all the rooms in case of an emergency during the night.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in the communal areas and in each room.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: A free laundry service is included (hand washed, line dried), although as usual it doesn't extend to ladies' underwear. Washing powder and a washing line are provided in the rooms for this.
Money: No currency exchange is available. There is a safe bag in each room which guests are invited to give to the managers for safekeeping.
Accepted payment on location: The camp prefers payment for any extras in cash and they accept all major currencies. They can accept Visa and Mastercard, though with an offputting 7.5% surcharge.