Reviews of Kwihala Camp
They do not necessarily represent the views of Expert Africa.
On arrival, we were met at the air strip by Tony who was also our guide for the next 5 days. We took to Tony straight away and certainly liked his style. Just away from the airstrip he stopped the vehicle and chatted to us about what we wanted to get out of our stay in Kwihala Camp and Ruaha NP - nice touch Tony!
Next surprise was arriving in camp.....we were greeted by the Manager Tam and her team with huge smiles waving like mad, nice touch too Tam.
Kwihala Camp in every aspect is 5* all the way. Having already stayed in a Asilia camp before, they have to be some of the best trained friendly staff we have encountered in many years of safari holidays. It is like being welcomed into a family and treated special for your stay.
A special mention here has to go out to Tony, our guide. It was so evident that he was a very knowledgeable and experienced guide. He worked hard to find some good sightings for us and with his knowledge and all our patience one evening we sat watching 3 lionesses on the other side of the river. Tony was sure they were going to cross to our side of the river, which they eventually did, we then followed them for a while, all the time Tony kept saying I think they are going to find their cubs. Two of them then began very quietly calling for their cubs.....we then watched as 4 cubs appeared and began their greetings. What a magic moment and all with just our vehicle watching on.
Kwihala sets the bar high
I cannot add much in the way of compliments and adulations to all those reviewers, including a very high percentage of returnees and seasoned safari goers (including myself) who have described so effusively and consistently what makes Kwihala so very special. There are all the high quality factors you would reasonably expect from an industry focussed on tourism and hospitality but there is so much more on offer at Kwihala . There should be gradings above 5* to do this camp justice and while I have enjoyed other camps Kwihala leaves them standing.
I will instead take this opportunity to thank all the staff (front of house and behind the scenes) for their welcome ,kind attention, in depth knowledge and sheer sense of fun. Tam is an amazing hostess whose magic wand and problem solving skills are always at the ready to deliver the nigh on impossible . It was great to spend time with three of Kwihala's truly excellent guides (Lorenzo, Saidi and Moinga) together with trainees Charles and Michael.
Thank you Lorenzo for a great full day out to Maji Moto and beyond when we saw 2 male dik dik fighting for all they were worth to Saidi; for his patience with my birding attempts and for that panoramic breakfast spot we christened Milima ya Saidi; to Charles for replacing my footstool and that great night heron spot and to Michael for quietly pointing out birds when other guests were entranced by lions.
But it isn't all about guides ; Robert heads a great team of waiters: it was fun to see Goodluck's pride in the new mobile bar and enjoy his recipes:;I resisted Nico's gentle entreaties to eat more cake ; it was great to see Rajabu just back from leave filling my bucket shower and to Dani for so gently teaching me some Swahili en route to and from my tent in the dark .. Full marks too to chefs for great food and to everyone who we rarely see but who are an essential part of the Kwihala family.
What I miss from reviews is some idea of what to expect at different times of the year. Having said that my 9 nights in early January this year was far from predicable. The green season had barely got underway but it was still fascinating to witness this transition time where the smell of rain was so tantalising, the Mwagusi and Ruaha rivers were still very dry and green season birds were only just arriving. However it meant we could venture further afield and with the dawn of each new African sunrise just bask in what Ruaha had in store for us and wonder at this pristine wilderness which I so precious and life affirming.
Excellent, Excellent, Excellent
From the moment we were picked up by our wonderful guide Said we knew we were in excellent hands. Kwihala was, on paper, the least 'luxurious' place we stayed at for our honeymoon, but it was our favourite.
We had an amazing guide, doing everything he could to give us great sightings and with a unbeatable level of knowledge and good humour. Tam and her team made the afternoons enjoyable and dinners were wonderful. Tam is an incredible camp manager, with the most natural and enviable guest handling skills. The staff at the camp seemed to get on very well, organically creating a lovely family feel, and this really made the atmosphere so special. The housekeeping and service here was also exceptional.
We would absolutely stay here again, and recommend it, in a heartbeat.
Wonderful tented camp
Kwihala is a very well-run camp in a great location on the (dry when we we visited) riverbank. Tents are spacious and well appointed. The bucket showers worked perfectly! The site is extensive, so each tent is well separated from others. Tam, the manager, is knowledgeable and experienced, and working with the team of guides and other staff, provides an all-round excellent safari experience. The food was really good, varied and of consistently high standard.
Highpoints - we arrived at the airstrip to be told that there was a pack of wild dogs which we really must see before being taken to the camp. After an exciting drive through the bush, we got there just in time to see them before they moved off from resting round a tree. As we had always wanted to see wild dogs, this close-up experience was perfect. Thanks to Michael and Charles for this amazing experience.
Our guide, Hamza, ably supported by Michael, was excellent and knowledge. He was determined to give us the best viewings possible. The two of them also provided us with the - entertaining, for us - spectacle of them rescuing another safari vehicle (from outside Ruaha) which had become bogged down in a riverbed. Good driving skills!
Ruaha provided excellent sightings of elephants, lions, a variety of antelope and wonderful birdlife.
Kwihala Camp review
We spent four nights at this little gem of a camp, coming from Selous Impala.
Although it sounds like a cliche, perhaps the best way of thinking about Kwihala is that you don't feel like a paying guest but rather a friend who has been invited to a weekend party. I'm sure that this is in no small part down to the skills and personality of the manager (Tam) who has got the fundamentals running so well that the team can relax into their jobs and create an atmosphere which is unstuffy, welcoming and thoroughly relaxed.
Our tent was comfortable and well-equipped; and although we found the design of the 'chest of drawers' slightly frustrating;, this really didn't seem to matter. The tents are well spaced and the only sounds we heard were from visiting jackals, hyena, elephant and monkeys (and the occasional lion grumbling in the distance).
The food was excellent. We had breakfast in camp only once (on our last day) otherwise having a bush breakfast out on an early game drive. Lunch was a really good buffet, and dinner a three or four course affairs. While there is no choice, they are keen and able to accommodate different tastes - when lamb curry was planned, knowing that we don't like spiced food they produced a lamb stew version just for us with no fuss.
Our guide, Hamza, was a star - knowledgeable, passionate about the bush (his excitement when we came across a pack of painted dogs was almost as enjoyable as the dogs), and yet with an easy manner and a sense of fun which made drives enjoyable as well as interesting. It was not unusual to go for several hours without seeing another vehicle, and while the volume of game was perhaps not as great as in the Selous the quality was exceptional - lions, elephants, many leopards, dogs and some splendid and rare birds.
But it is the staff which really make this camp. They are not just charming and helpful, they seem to anticipate what you need and unobtrusively make it happen. If you are looking for five star formality this may not be the camp for you - but as a place which combines professionalism, enthusiasm and a genuine warmth Kwihala would be hard to beat.
Amazing host Tam and her team make you feel like family the minute you arrive. The tented camp is immaculate and located on the river bed. Food amazing, I really don't know how the chef does it with limited facilities. Service fantastic. Game drives and the guides are top class, really go out of their way to give you what you want where possible, so friendly, experienced and informative.
On our last night as we were on honeymoon Tam and her staff surprised us with a meal for two outside our tent on the river bed, very romantic and so so gorgeous how it was set up. Definatley rounded off an amazing stay at Kwihala.
Cannot wait to return one day!
WOW WOW WOW!!!
The real experience at Kwihala Camp
Kwihala Camp was our first experience of a safari ever and it was absolutely amazing. The camp is very small and intimate, the staff and manager incredibly friendly, welcoming and always willing to share their experience. Our guide Tony was really special - passionate for his job, rather a vocation, extremely knowledgeable, always willing to go the extra mile to show us something very special.
During camp time, we had great conversations with the team, both children and adults. It felt more like a big family and at home, than just visiting. Finally, the owners of the camp are very committed towards making a positive impact on the environment and the people who live in it - a fundamentally important aspect of this kind of tourism in my view. We would always go again and highly recommend Kwihala Camp and their team.
Tam, the host is exceptional. Different staff announced evening menus, in informal, fun way. Food was good. Tents were more than adequate. Location great.
Great guides and they really tried to find the animals people wanted to see. The day we left the morning drive found pack of dogs, knowing I wanted to see them, they radioed back and a driver took me out, but we missed them. That was really good of them, as they need not have told us, as we were leaving for flight
Got the balance right between individuals and groups and kept smooth running of drives and camp. I should have added on the Jongamer one that it seemed we were always rushing back because it was meal times, and could not be late. Here and other camps they were less stressed, and 5-10 or 15 minutes after curfew was fine, as everyone met for drinks before dinner anyway.
Rohoporini-the spirit of the bush
I have plagiarised the title of this, my sixth stay at Kwihala, from Tam the absolutely delightful new manager, who uses it for her blog about the camp. The Swahili word sums up so well what makes Kwihala special and a cut above other camps .
Much has been written by many in previous reviews about this magical place, which continues to attract a high proportion of return visitors who are in a good position to make favourable comparisons with other camps in other places.
When I came with my daughter on her first visit last October ,the bush plane had barely lifted off when she said 'when are we coming back!
Kwihala is that very rare combination of simplicity and comfort ,great food ,amazing scenery ,varied habitats, informal family atmosphere, communal dining, great team work and a real focus on guiding ,which is flexible and passionate. Where else can you be out in the bush from 6am to 1pm and then again from 4-7pm giving ample time to track animals or linger to observe interesting animal/bird behaviours or just drool over the palm trees along the Mwagusi River against an African sunset.
For those who appreciate all that Kwihala represents and has to offer it sets the bar very high and is greater than its constituent parts .
Just before I left I learned that the camp had been moved but was reassured it was to a beautiful place . Well hidden in the Sokwe forest opposite the Ichaka falls (unfortunately dry at this time) on the banks of the Mwagusi sand river, the winding entrance to camp was very intriguing and to be greeted at the final turn by Tam and the guys singing and dancing made my return even more special.
I cannot imagine how much hard work went into relocating the camp both physically and in terms of the selecting the best sites in virgin bush for the tents and eating areas. The huge effort was worth it and much appreciated. Tents 1 and 2 have long views up the sand river with a clear view eastwards -ideal for watching the African dawn to the crescendo of bird song . Because the trees provided more shade it was possible to eat lunch outside the mess tent and the evening campfire and dinner table were set very romantically in the dry river bed. The animals liked it here too-elephants were frequent visitors as were baboons scampering in the rain trees over our tent.The mass of droppings they left on the path in the morning were miraculously cleaned up thanks to Rajabu and his team, who keep the place spotless.
The food is delicious and varied and on one occasion to celebrate a birthday the chef made ice cream -by hand -in the bush.
Staff take it in turns to join guests at communal mealtimes ,which add so much to a safari experience by providing opportunities to share amusing tales of adventures and experiences that whet the appetite even further.
It was good to come in a different season .The weather in June is lovely and warm during the day if cooler at night ,but nothing that a warm sweater and hot water bottle for the beds and early morning game drives couldn't dispel.
By mid-June the rivers have gone down after the long rains but there are still scattered pools,which make game more elusive but still much more in evidence than at Jongomero just a few days before. There are echoes of the green season ,with beautiful flowers, grasses really as 'high as an elephant's eye' and a wonderful light that is more clear and luminous than in October or February .The condition of the tracks made driving challenging but not impossible, especially after Lorenzo, in his best Italian- accented Swahili, had charmed the driver of the grader to clear certain tracks to help us get further afield .
It was good to meet Charles ,the new trainee who had only been with Lorenzo for a couple of weeks. It was he who spotted a leopard slinking into the long grass on my first afternoon which led to a great drive tracking its movements over and around the Mdonya river area. He also spotted that my feet couldn't comfortably reach the floor of the vehicle, which made balancing a bit tricky over the bumpy tracks -in his quiet charming way the next morning he presented me with a little wooden footstall that he'd made himself and that made such a difference..
We saw lots of groups elephants with babies, several prides of lion including 3 lionesses stalking impala and afterwards noisily crunching on the bones, an amorous male lion waiting patiently for a female to signal interest, huge family groups of banded mongoose dashing across the river bed plus all the usual suspects .
Having experienced the phenomenal birdlife of the green season I came with realistic expectations. However there were many birds like sand grouse with tiny chicks and the large number of immature birds proved a real challenge to my attempts at identification ,which didn't ruffle Lorenzo's patience . A few new species were added to my list including a barn owl which Lorenzo inadvertently flushed out of its roost in a cavernous baobab ..
Lorenzo, as ever up for an adventure, proposed a full day out heading east to Lunda and beyond,which we readily agreed to as last year we had had a similar full day out but heading west .Ever hopeful of seeing roan or sable, despite it being early in the season ,there were large herds of impala and zebra ,which being nearer hunting areas were much more skittish and fled in alarm. At one point a flock of about 50 white stork,wings outspread against a clear blue sky and reminiscent of a Chinese painting , simply took our breath away.
The thing about Ruaha is that it's so lovely that just being driven through the bush and taking in sights and smells ,the varied vegetation and the changing light is quite heavenly.
My hope is that the new camp planned by Asilia near the old location (and complete with swimming pool) will not detract from Kwihala -the true spirit of the bush
Amazing and so different in green season
A third trip to Kwihala but first in the green season. Ruaha is thankfully still quiet in terms of tourism and as amazing as ever. As a camp Kwihala just keeps on getting better – constant Asilia improvements.
It was already very good back on the first visit and it meets all my key criteria. It is small, just six ground level spacious tents giving an authentic bush feeling. You are provided with all the comforts / facilities you need but nothing that for me detracts from the bush experience. All the staff are outstanding – you could not be made more welcome and no request is too much trouble – e.g. hot bucket shower whenever you want it. The food is wonderful, right from the bonnet breakfasts out on game drives to lunch and dinners back in camp. The whole situation of pre-dinner campfire (weather permitting!) drinks and communal dinner feels like one big very friendly family. The guides are excellent at their job but it is more than just being in a vehicle with a really good guide – you are in a vehicle with someone as a friend which raises the whole experience another level.
So to the green season comparison with dry season. Before arriving we were expecting what I believed to be a typical January: a mixture of good dry spells with a number of heavy showers / storms. However, the thing no one can control thought different – we arrived in the wettest January anyone could remember for years. Rivers were all flowing fast and many routes were either impassable or partly destroyed by water torrents. That sounds bad but in reality we got out for every game drive – a few just a bit delayed while the worst rain cleared and also a bit restricted to the available roads, although during our stay we did manage roads for the first time in over a week.
Game is undoubtedly harder to see – general dispersal and the lush green undergrowth see to that. However we still saw plenty – lions on kills, cubs playing, leopards, civet, all the usual antelope, giraffe, elephants, zebra, hippo, hyena, jackal etc. etc. The sighting highlight had to be the wild dogs – I would not have believed a dog could be so vividly beautiful. There is also a mass of birds and butterflies not present in the dry season. Sitting watching weaver birds build their nests from strands of grass is entrancing. You can be shown side by side pictures of the same place in the dry / green season but the difference is so amazing that you really need to see it firsthand. Just to see the Ruaha, Mwagusi and Mdonya rivers full, bank to bank and flowing fast was a wonderful sight.
Of course the weather led to some issues on the road and in the camp. Whatever problems occurred were dealt with efficiently and professionally and we never felt insecure or unsafe. Overall we had a fantastic time and everything contributed to an unforgettable nine night experience.
Kwihala really is the complete package and yes I want to go back again – green or dry – that is the question. If you have only been in one then you have missed out.