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Were they relocated to practically any other African country, the diverse cluster of national parks and game reserves set in the scrubby southeast Tanzanian lowlands and lush Lake Tanganyika hinterland would form the cornerstone of a national tourist industry. As it is, however, the fine reserves of the southern and western safari circuits inhabit the same country as the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, Mount Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, and other big names of the Northern Circuit, and they are overshadowed by them completely. The Southern Circuit attracts a tiny fraction -- recent statistics suggest as few as 1% -- of tourists who visit Tanzania.

So much the better for those adventurous souls who forsake the well-trodden attractions of the northern safari circuit and instead head south. For here they will find the most untrammeled safari circuit of comparable quality anywhere in Africa -- a complex of parks and reserves whose combined area of more than 77,000 sq. km (30,030 sq. miles) is serviced by a mere two dozen exclusive bush camps boasting the collective bed capacity of the average urban Hilton or Sheraton.

The centerpiece of the south, the immense Selous, is the largest game reserve in Africa, and it offers a more varied menu of activities than any northern reserve, with motorboat trips on the mighty Rufiji River, expertly guided walks, and wild fly-camping expeditions supplementing the more standard fare of twice-daily game drives. In pure game-viewing terms, Selous takes second place to Ruaha National Park, a rugged baobab-studded thirstland notable for its high predator densities and unusually varied selection of antelope and other ungulates.

The area has two other fine safari destinations in the form of Mikumi and Katavi National Parks, whereas the Mahale Mountains and Gombe Stream, set on the scenic shores of Lake Tanganyika, offer the world's best wild chimpanzee viewing. More esoteric attractions include the forested slopes of the Udzungwa Mountains, home to a dazzling array of endemic birds and mammals, and the brooding island-bound ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani, relics of the most important medieval gold trading center anywhere along the Swahili Coast.