Mdonya Old River Camp: Our full report
Set in acacia woodland in the heart of Ruaha National Park, Mdonya Old River Camp is kept deliberately simple.It makes no apologies for sticking to safari basics – in fact it rather revels in the idea – and this results in a camp with a clear focus where you always know you're on safari and out in the wilds.
Mdonya shares the same ethos with its sister property in the Selous Game Reserve, Lake Manze Camp, which is very similar in feel and style. The managers here are young and enthusiastic, and genuinely passionate about conservation issues.
Accommodation at Mdonya Old River Camp is in 12 walk-in Meru-style tents which are almost identical to those at Lake Manze Camp. The tents are widely spaced in a roughly north-west to south-east orientation, with #11 at the northern end near the river (a 4-minute walk from the mess tent), and #10, #9 and #8 also near the banks, with some tree shade, then #7, #6 and #5 set further back into the bush. Tents #4, #3, #2, #1 and #0 are south of the lounge and mess tents. Tent #0 has a particularly good location, albeit at some distance from the central area, right on the river bank, and tent #1 features a big tree. We would suggest tents #5 and #4 for older people or families and tent #0 for honeymooners. For river front tents, choose #0 or #8 to #11.
Each tent is of a fair size, airy and relatively cool (afternoons in the dry season can be very hot), with an en-suite bathroom, including a hot shower – and with none of the frills of a luxury camp. There is no electricity, no fan, and no air-con. Batteries have to be charged in the main office. The furniture – including large double or twin beds, and a writing desk and chair – is simple and practical. Brightly coloured duvets add character, and woven makuti mats cover the floor. There is hanging space for clothes, a large, lockable wooden trunk for valuables, and plenty of candles as well as a torch.
At the back of each tent is a functional en-suite bathroom, with polished red cement floor, strong canvas walls and partly open to the sky. A simple steel bowl on the wooden plinth beneath a cold tap serves as a wash basin, and when you're finished you simply tip the contents into the bucket beneath. Behind a dividing wall are a flush toilet and hot shower.
Each tent has a large, private veranda with deck chairs – a great place to sit and listen to the sounds of the bush.
Mdonya's main lounge and dining areas are open-sided tents, decorated with gnarled wood, flowers and feathers from the bush. In the lounge, comfortable sofas and chairs covered in brightly coloured fabrics are set out around coffee tables dotted with wildlife books and interesting artefacts from the bush, plus a rather tatty shelf of wildlife books. The dining area is furnished with long wooden tables and directors' chairs which, in the evening, are set out under the stars, by the light of candles and storm lanterns.
In front of the lounge is Mdonya's bar, formed from a gnarled old tree stump, which sits next to the campfire, surrounded by directors' chairs. This is where guests gather for a pre-dinner drink and to swap the day's stories.
Mdonya Old River Camp also has a very small curio stand selling traditional Tanzanian material, jewellery and a few postcards. It sells items made by Neema Craft, a workshop run by disabled artists; Bama Art Jewellery made by Maasai women; and T-shirts from conservation organisations such as STEP. Maps of Ruaha are also for sale, and all proceeds go to Ruaha Conservation Fund.
Safari activities at Mdonya focus largely on game drives in open-topped 4x4 vehicles. All-day game drives are encouraged and there's a sense that while Mdonya does have wildlife in camp quite often - and indeed so many visiting elephants have pushed over the once dense grove of trees here that few are now standing - the best sightings are further east around Msembe. Full day game drives are available, with lunch served in the middle of the bush and the vehicle stocked with a cool box full of drinks, which can allow guests to spend more time in the best game viewing areas in the park. However, during the summer months (September-November) it can get incredibly hot during the middle of the day, so these drives tend to work better during the cooler months earlier in the year.
Game drives here usually go out with two guides, one as a driver and the more experienced standing up to spot wildlife. This maximises your chances of great game sightings, and frees up the guide to chat with you without having to concentrate on the spotting. Mdonya's guides have a good level of knowledge and know the park very well, and if you have a particular interest, we'd expect them do their best to take it into account. The camp has one Nissan vehicle and 6 Land Rovers, one TDi and 5 11Ds. Drives are invariably conducted with dried elephant dung burning in a brazier welded to the back of the vehicle in an effort to repel the tse-tse flies that infest this district of Ruaha.
Walking safaris can also be arranged from the camp for an extra cost, around $55 per person. However, there's no ranger post near the camp, and the bush in the immediate vicinity is thick and unsuitable for walking. Therefore walks take place in the Msembe area of the park, requiring a very early start. If you are keen to experience walking safaris in Ruaha we would suggest staying in a camp closer to the Msembe area instead.
Many camps that offer high levels of luxury can feel quite detached from the bush, but the simple Mdonya Old River Camp feels closely connected with its surroundings – and the game that walks through seems to feel the same! The natural theme that is key to the camp's charm and character is augmented by a fun and attentive team who, on our last visit in 2018, did their best to ensure that every guest enjoyed their stay.
Country manager: Tanzania
- Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
- Ideal length of stay
- Spend at least three nights here to explore the area.
- It takes around two-and-a-half hours to fly to Ruaha National Park, then a further hour or two to drive to Mdonya Old River Camp depending on what you see along the way.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- The menu at Mdonya Old River Camp reflects the different cultures in Tanzania: Indian, Mediterranean, Swahili and Arab. Expect pasta, fresh salads, home-baked breads, fish casseroles and stuffed vegetables. During our last visit in July 2017 we found the style of the food to be more home-cooking rather than fine-dining, and found our meals to be tasty, wholesome, and full of flavour.
Breakfast usually consists of fresh bread, pancakes, toast and fruit. There is also a hot breakfast available – with eggs cooked to order.
Lunch is a selection of light choices such as crispy salads and vegetable kebabs followed by a dessert. It's usually a help-yourself-and-pass-along arrangement from the table. In 2017, we had excellent, warm Scotch eggs and pumpkin and mozzarella pastry parcels.
Dinner is a relaxed, convivial affair when guests join together at one table under the stars, and storm lanterns and candles provide atmospheric lighting. On our last visit in September 2017 we enjoyed hot beef stew with a selection of vegetables, desert was a sweet papaya pie.
- Dining style
- Group Meals
- Dining locations
- Outdoor Dining
- Further dining info, including room service
- Private dinners can be arranged for special occasions, set in the river bed.
- Drinks included
- Drinks are not included at Mdonya Old River Camp. Approximately US$3 a beer, US$20 for a bottle of wine
- Solo Travel
- Single travellers will love this friendly, rustic camp for its shared game activities, communal dining and notably low single supplements.
- See ideas for Solo Travel
- Ruaha's position at the centre of Tanzania, north of Selous but south of most of Tanzania's other parks, gives it an interested cross section of birds; a fascinating park for birdwatching in Tanzania.
- See ideas for Birdwatching
- Wildlife safaris
- You'll find all of the usual big game species in Ruaha, including elephant, large herds of buffalo, wildebeest, lion, leopard, cheetah and even wild dog. Ruaha also has a few species associated with the parks further north, including Grant's gazelle and lesser kudu.
- See ideas for Wildlife safaris
- Attitude towards children
- Mdonya Old River Camp welcomes mature children aged six years and over.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Children must be over the age of six to stay at Mdonya Old River Camp.
- Special activities & services
- There are no special services or activities offered for children.
- There is no special equipment for children.
- Generally recommended for children
- As with all safari camps, we would recommend Mdonya for mature children with an interest in wildlife– though parents must note that this is a very wild camp and children are their responsibility at all times. Also note that there is no pool or activity area to occupy children between game drives.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Mdonya Old River Camp
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Mdonya Old River 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
- There is no electricity in the tents and batteries are charged in the office which has power 24 hours a day.
- There is a mobile phone and email for the camp's use, and these can be used in cases of emergency. There is also a sporadic cellphone signal but there is no Wifi
- TV & radio
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- Drinking water is supplied.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- Managers and guides are all first aid trained. There is a medical box in each game-drive vehicle and a full first-aid kit in camp. Mdonya is linked to the flying-doctor service in case of a medical emergency.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- Three Maasai guards escort guests to and from their rooms at night.
- Fire safety
- There is a fire break outside the camp in case of a bush fire and a fire extinguisher in each tent.
Hot air ballooning
- Disabled access
- Not Possible
- Laundry facilities
- Laundry at Mdonya Old River Camp is an extra charge of around US$1–2 per item. As is common, underwear cannot be accepted by the laundry team.
- Mdonya Old River Camp is not able to offer any form of currency exchange. Wooden lock boxes are provided in the tents for money and valuables.
- Accepted payment on location
- Cash payments are preferred (they accept payment in US dollars Euros, pounds and Tanzanian shillings) but credit cards can be used using the in-camp 3G online payment system. There is a 3.5% surcharge for card payments and please note that the use of card is reliant on an internet connection.
Room types at Mdonya Old River Camp
The large walk-in guest tents at Mdonya Old River Camp are spacious, airy and cool. Inside are large, comfortable double/twin beds. Brightly coloured throws add character, and the furniture is simple and practical.
There is hanging space for all your clothes, as well as a large lockable, wooden trunk for valuables. Each tent also has a writing desk and chair. Woven makuti mats cover the tent floor, and there are two kerosene lanterns which you need to fire up. A torch is also provided which is vital as there is no electricity in the guest areas.
Each tent has a large, private veranda with a deck chair – a great place to sit and listen to the sounds of the bush.
Through the back of the tent is the en-suite bathroom. The floor is polished cement, the walls are made from strong canvas, and the ceiling is open to the sky. Like the rest of the camp, the bathrooms are functional, rather than stylish.
The washbasin is a simple steel bowl set on the washstand – the cold tap runs into the basin and then you can remove the basin and tip the contents into a bucket underneath. Behind a dividing wall is the flush toilet and hot shower.
Other lodges in Ruaha National Park
Alternative places to stay in this same area.