Sand Rivers Camp: Our full report
Sand Rivers was founded by safari legend Richard Bonham, famous for pioneering walking safaris in the Selous.Its site, deep inside the Selous Game Reserve and overlooking a wide curve of the Rufiji River lined 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 well-deserved, long-standing reputation as one of Tanzania's top safari camps.
On arrival, you walk through the entranceway of the main thatched building and are immediately wowed by the view from the riverbank location. The open sides of the lounge, bar and dining area offer vistas over a river bend and wide sand bank frequented by animals and birds. The lounge has an air of rustic chic with whitewashed walls, inset bookshelves, comfortable sofas and chairs, beautiful bronze wildlife sculptures and partially carved supporting poles. It’s the hub of the camp and a welcoming environment in which to share a drink or leaf through images of wildlife in coffee table books under cooling ceiling fans. The adjacent dining room can be set up with individual or communal tables, both under thatch and on the open-air patio.
To one side a curved swimming pool is partially shaded by a majestic baobab tree. Relax on a sun lounger or sit under cover on comfortable chairs catching up with news in the camps WiFi hub. All the while enjoying panoramic views of the river and the wilderness of the southern Selous beyond.
Sand Rivers also has a small well stocked curio shop which sells a variety of items including beaded jewellery, woven kikoi sarongs and branded T-shirts and caps.
There are 5 standard rooms, stretching upstream along the raised riverbank, all similar in design – gable-roofed in thatch, with walls of wood and rough, whitewashed plaster. The rooms are open fronted to make the most of the views whilst the beds are fully enclosed in walk-in mosquito nets. A comfortable sofa and table are set below the bed on a wooden deck. The partially open-fronted bathrooms are set to one side or back of the bedroom. Waist high whitewashed walls divide the shower and flush toilet and the sink bench is set with mirrors, with high quality complimentary toiletries provided. Two of the rooms are linked by a raised deck, making them suitable for a family.
Set higher up the slope are 3 suites. Built in a similar style to the standard rooms, the suites are larger with a vast en-suite bedroom, separate lounge and a plunge pool.
All the rooms are spacious, with plenty of light, through breeze and memorable views. Ample storage space and multiple electrical sockets for charging batteries meet the needs of the modern traveler.
When we last visited Sand Rivers in 2019, 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 a highly recommended trip with the chance to see quite a bit of wildlife including the beautiful Pel’s fishing owl and black and white colobus monkeys.
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.
Most popular are the camp's 4WD safaris, which explore the plains and shores of Lake Tagalala. 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.
In between wildlife viewing you might treat yourself to a massage. Provided in your room and costing US$1 per minute, all proceeds go to charity through the Nomad Trust.
Sand Rivers is very comfortable, stylish safari camp, in a striking and remote location. There’s a real feeling of space coupled with welcoming and excellent service and delicious food. We think this is one of the Selous reserve's very best places to stay. Guests share this special area with relatively few other visitors and explore with very informative and engaging guides.
Country manager: Tanzania
- Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
- Ideal length of stay
- 3-4 nights, or 5-7 nights if you choose to include a fly-camping trip.
- Fly for 45 minutes into the Selous Game Reserve, where you will land at Kiba Airstrip. It's then about 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
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- We found the food at Sand Rivers in 2019 was very tasty and imaginative with obviously fresh produce used throughout. Sundays are traditionally a barbecue night at dinner, whilst 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, smoothies, fruit, cereals, toast, perhaps donuts and a cooked breakfast with eggs of your choice. For a different setting, Stiegler's Gorge offers a perfect breakfast spot on a sandbank by the fast-flowing upper river, or perhaps enjoy a bush breakfast after an early morning game drive start.
Lunch is typically a self-service buffet with a nice range of protein and salad dishes. On our last visit we enjoyed chicken kebabs with potato, beetroot, green bean and leafy green salads. Freshly baked bread completes the spread and a light desert such as passionfruit ice cream rounds off the meal. There's then an 'afternoon tea' at about 4pm – with tea, coffee, fruit juice and delectable cakes.
Dinner has 3 courses with a choice for the main. Guests can opt to sit at individual tables or share with other willing guests and dietary requirements can be easily catered for with prior notice. On our visits in 2013, 2016 and 2019 we enjoyed cream of courgette soup and gazpacho to start; red snapper and mango salsa, lamb and potato gratin, and pork medallions and mash potato, served with seasonal vegetables as the main course; and a delicious coconut crème brulée and chocolate oblivion desert. Dining takes place in a variety of imaginative locations around the camp, not just in the main dining area.
- 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 ideas for Honeymoons
- 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, 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.
- See ideas for Birdwatching
- Photography holidays
- Sand Rivers is an excellent lodge to include on a photographic safari in southern Tanzania. The photographic platform overlooks a marshy area which is frequented by large numbers of animals, from playful elephants to herds of giraffe.
- See ideas for Photography holidays
- Wildlife safaris
- The Selous Game Reserve and area around Sand Rivers has an abundance of game, especially during the dryer months when game is drawn to the river for water. However throughout the year you can expect to see good numbers of giraffe, elephant and maybe even lions and wild dog.
- See ideas for Wildlife safaris
- Attitude towards children
- The camp is happy to welcome over-8s. Families with younger children, aged from 5 years, can opt to stay at nearby Kiba Point.
- 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. Children aged 12 and under must share a room with an adult.
- Special activities & services
- The Standard Family Room has an attached enclosed children’s annexe. Triple rooms are possible for two adults and a child under the age of 16 years only.
- Generally recommended for children
- Sand Rivers has a camp with a mature feel and works well for older children with a love of the outdoors.
- Sand Rivers is not ideal for young children as all the buildings 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. Children must be constantly supervised.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Sand Rivers Camp
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Sand Rivers Camp have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- 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 overload the system and so it is not possible to use them here.
- 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 most of the Selous). There is 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 for any big sports events.
- Water supply
- 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
- 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 air horns in all the rooms to attract attention in case of a medical emergency during the night.
- Fire safety
- There are fire extinguishers in the communal areas and in each room.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- A free laundry service is included (hand washed, line dried). For cultural reasons this doesn't extend to ladies' underwear. Washing powder and a washing line are provided in the rooms for guests to do some hand washing if required.
- 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.
Room types at Sand Rivers Camp
Sand Rivers has 5 standard rooms and 3 suites. They are similar in terms of design and style, however the suites have private plunge pools. Between the standard rooms, #1 and #2 are more 'jungly' in feel, while #3–5 are more open. Suite #1 is on a prominent ledge, while Suite #2 is built on flatter ground.
All the rooms are large and airy - they're open-fronted with pale floors of stone or polished cement, plenty of light and breeze and great views.
The large bed (which can be set up as a twin in most rooms) is covered by a mosquito net as well as a ceiling fan. Electric sockets are dotted around for recharging batteries. A desk with a mirror stands behind the bed, and there is plenty of clothes storage space.
The rooms all have spacious en-suite bathrooms, which are open-plan with a flush toilet and hot shower. A mirror hangs above the white ceramic basin and high-quality toiletries are provided. In the suites there are intriguing rock showers with stunning views.
Other lodges in Selous Game Reserve
Alternative places to stay in this same area.