Reviews of Mdonya Old River Camp
They do not necessarily represent the views of Expert Africa.
Mdonya Old River Camp: beautiful Ruaha
We really liked the camp - the layout, the tents and the wildlife in camp itself. The food was good and plentiful but the highlights were the pancakes for breakfast (including on the bush breakfasts!) and the bread (up there with the best we've ever tasted). And the provision of a packed lunch (with Cornish pasty!) on the day we flew out was very welcome.
The scenery in Ruaha was simply stunning and it was a pleasure to go out on a full day game drive around the river and the hills. Game was plentiful with many elephants and lions plus kudu, dikdik, eland & gazelle.
Unfortunately in the area close to camp we had a problem with the tsetse flies - we knew that they would be around at this time of year but we weren't prepared for how uncomfortable it would be stopping the vehicle in the 'tsetse zone'. It takes around 1 hour to 1.5 hours from Mdonya to get away from the tsetse flies and the only way to protect yourself is to be covered in thick clothing or a blanket from head to toe. As soon as the vehicle stops squadrons move in so the beginning and end of every game drive involved just trying to get through the tsetse zone only stopping for something really unusual.
Our guide (Djamani) and driver (Tom) worked hard to find some of the more unusual birds in the area for us and were very happy to go at our pace. It's a shame that they aren't encouraged to sit with us during bush meals (as happened at the other camps). The vehicles at Mdonya have, generally, seen better days and could do with an upgrade - our first vehicle had a problem and we broke down less than 10 minutes out of camp. The replacement had a problem with the alternator which meant that the engine couldn't be switched off. The first vehicle was fixed for our second day but then had the same problem on the third day. None of the tyres had any tread so there was little traction in difficult terrain.
The lions in camp after dinner just metres from our tent was something that we'll never forget!
Expert Africa comments
Expert Africa forwarded these travellers' comments to Mdonya's owners Adventure Camps, who thanked the clients for their helpful feedback. They asked us to point out that its unusual for the driver and guide not to eat with the guests, as in their other camps. They are not sure why they did not in this case and offer their apologies because its most unusual.
They are sorry that the tsetse flies were particularly bad when these guests were at Mdonya. They are right, it is a bad time of year for them, with the rains coming. Normally there are measures in place to control them - tsetse "traps" of material sprayed with insecticide are arrayed in the worst areas and regularly re-sprayed by the parks authority, but in the rains this washes off. Adventure Camps normally burn elephant dung at the back of their cars, which is extremely effective at repelling the tsetses, but in the wet season its difficult to collect and store dry dung. They do apologise and hope that this didn't spoil their stay too much.
They are very sorry that these travellers got a couple of unsatisfactory vehicles. Normally the cars are in good order, but there were some unusual breakdowns at this time. They thank these travellers for their patience and would like to assure them that all cars and indeed the whole camp are being refurbished for the new season.
Great safari at Mdonya Old River Camp
Great game drives here - although being in the National Park you're restricted to the roads and are not allowed to go off-road looking for animals. Having said that, we really appreciated that our driver was willing to go off-road a couple of times when we had a good sighting to get closer to.
On arrival at the airstrip, we were surprised (but happy) that we had a full day game drive immediately, and didn't arrive back at the camp until late afternoon.
Both days our driver (Francis) stopped about 10-15 minutes before getting back to camp to ask us what we wanted to do the next day - we felt awkward and uneasy both times.....knowing that at the previous camp (Lake Manze) the manager had made such arrangements with us each evening before supper. We didn't understand why Francis was "pressuring" us to decide before even getting back to camp and giving us all the options - don't know if it was his personal initiative (trying to ensure we stayed with him each day?) or what he'd been told to do.......but we didn't really appreciate it.
Food was exceptional - good choices, and good vegetarian options as well - it probably helped that the managers were eating vegetarian as well! All meals in camp were family-style around a large/long table - sometimes it would be nice to have individual tables for those of us who are more introverted! (Maybe alternate between family-style, and individual??)
On arrival at camp (every time - even from game drives) we were greeted with welcome drinks which was a nice touch. The manager (Marco - Italian) was very friendly and relaxed. He gave a good introduction, but was more informal/relaxed. He didn't have the same 'professional' approach as the managers at Lake Manze; but he was very friendly. Mary (other manager, who we met later) seemed more organised!
Tent and bathroom was very well set-up and equipped. Despite heavy rain most days, the camp continued, meals served, etc. Very impressed.
Again, a good quality torch and bug spray was provided in the tent - so we didn't need to bring our own.
Lots of animals passed through camp while we were there - good close-up sightings.
In your literature, it said all drinks at Mdonya are additional cost and not complimentary - that is not accurate. Bottled water was complimentary on all game drives at Mdonya while we were there, and drinking water was always provided in our tents in a flask. The only time we would have been charged for water is if we had chosen to drink bottled water in the camp rather than the water provided in our tent. At meal times, drinking water was always provided on the table.
Tea and coffee in the morning before game drives was also complimentary.
Mdonya Old River Camp review
Very much the 'older' sister of the 2 camps - in need of a bit of refurbishment and a lick of paint. Mary the manager was a very pleasant person but had no managerial or organisational skills and consequently many things were nothing like as slick as at Lake Manze. They had my allergy information plus a picture form that I took out but I was still given quiche for lunch and nothing in addition (eg second sausage etc) to compensate for the fact that I could not eat the hard boiled egg allocated on the bush breakfast each day.
Carole and I were given a junior guide with a novice driver - not a good combination and consequently not a totally unsatisfactory and disappointing game drive, the guide admitted he did not know the birds but also forgot to take any identification guides with him!! We insisted on an alternative guide, which was provided for subsequent game drives and he was very good.
Hot and dry.
We enjoyed our stay at Mdonya, we particularly loved the animals around the tents at night, it was full moon, so we had some lovely sights.
The concentration of game was at the river, where the elephant herds added up to hundreds. Away from the water you could travel for hours without seeing any animals, but the park is scenic and we enjoyed the rides anyway.
It was exceptionally hot, any breeze was like being blown by a hairdryer.
Lovely camp in Ruaha
We stayed at this camp in Ruaha after having stayed in it's linked camp in Selous. It was very similar so we knew what to expect.
Our tent (number 6) was clean and comfortable and we often saw Impala, monkeys, and elephants strolling past and hear the hippos in the night.
Waiting staff were particularly friendly and attentive and the food was lovely (I needed vegetarian food and this was never seen as a problem). We especially liked the drinks with other guests around the camp fire each evening.
Our guide (Prosper) was very knowledgeable and the experience of seeing all of those animals around us is unforgettable. You have some flexibility each day about when you go out on game drives although we always chose to go early morning as it is so nice to see the animals then.
We were very lucky not to be bothered too much by the tsetse flies although there were quite a few bees each morning.
It was the end of the dry season and it seemed the camp was far away from where the animals were searching for water to drink so we often had to drive quite far before we would see any animals.
We would recommend this camp.
Mdonya Old River Camp review
Our entire stay at Mdonya was wonderful. The accommodation was very good, the staff and fellow visitors very helpful and nice, and we saw a lot of game including very interesting animal behaviour.
The location is good and the added bonus over Lake Manze camp is that there is more areas to walk in the camp.
We had an excellent guide and driver for most of our game drives and they took a lot of trouble in looking for interesting animal sightings. We went on one full day drive, which included breakfast and lunch in the bush, and 3 morning and 2 evening drives. We saw large numbers of lions and elephants - on the complete trip to Lake Manze and Mdonya we saw 30 different mammal species and over 100 bird species. We saw at least 70 lions, 2 cheetah, and a leopard. A highlight was seeing a pride of 24 lions drinking at a spring.
The tents look over a dry river bed and we saw giraffe, impalas and monkeys near the tent. (and monkeys in the en-suite bathroom!). A couple of nights we had lions roaring near the camp. The tents have just the right level of comfort. We also enjoyed very much at both Mdonya and Lake Manze having dinner outside at a long table with all the other visitors. This is much nicer than having separate tables. The quality of food was good, and appropriate to the level of accommodation.
The tsetse flies were an occasional irritant on drives (not in the camp) and the staff burn elephant dung on the back of the vehicles to deter the flies. The flies did not detract from our enjoyment.
Mdonya Old River Camp; a flavor of the past
This camp is located in the heart of the bush, has an open aspect which enables you to watch animals from your open tent deck. It has the feel of a bush camp from times past, but with modern touches: solar panel hot water, electric fan, flush toilet and battery charging in the office. The food is excellent, all seated together at a long table. The camp is a pleasure to experience.
The best game drives are up to 2 hours away along the Ruaha River when you are out all day with lunch provided. This may well happen immediately after arrival at the airport, which is in the same location. If this happens you may get back to the camp on your first day as darkness falls, making it difficult to settle in, lit by hurricane lamp, candles and torch, like the good old days. We were not fully informed at the outset about this plan, which gradually emerged, giving us little choice. This camp is in a National Park, so no bush walks allowed.
Our guide Fadhili and driver Ayubu were absolutely excellent, enabling us to enjoy every aspect of the environment especially our interest in birds. Nothing was too much trouble for them.
4 nights at Mdonya Old River Camp
We loved our stay at Mdonya Old River camp.
We had an excellent guide and driver to ourselves for the duration of the trip which we found very restful, and thoroughly enjoyed the game, scenery, food and accommodation. Highlights included breakfast in the middle of the bush and sparkling wine at sunset, as well as a private dinner on our veranda on our last night (honeymoon treat).
Although compared to Lake Manze camp in the Selous the range of activities was more limited (to just game drives) and the game drives nominally have to stick to the roads in the park, we found the whole experience excellent and saw plenty of game including leopards and cheetahs. We had both taken binoculars and were glad to have done so. We didn't miss electricity at all. Camera batteries could be charged in the office and candles and torches more than sufficient at night and are provided in the tents.
We had been a little worried before our trip by comments in some reviews about Tsetse flies, but we hardly noticed them. A complete absence of mosquitos was a plus. Honey bees disrupted breakfast on a couple of days, but the camp staff were very helpful and professional and set up honey traps and breakfast in an alternative location.
Overall, a very restful, comfortable and enjoyable Safari.
My husband and I stayed here for two nights during the second stop on our honeymoon and we were slightly disappointed. Perhaps it was because we had just come from Lake Manze Camp in Selous (a sister camp), which we thought was so amazing. Unfortunately Mdonya has a way to go to surpass (or even equal) the standard to service that was provided by Lake Manze.
Mary the manager of this camp seemed very appathetic about her job and it really showed in the running of the camp. She only seemed to do what she felt was required and she didn't really seem that interested in how we were. As an example, on our last morning there, as we were leaving for the airport she said "Have a nice day. See you later". She didn't even know we were leaving that day!!
During our stay here we were only ever offered full day drives (which are nice, but can get a bit dull at times). This is in contrast to the array of activities on offer at Lake Manze. I accept that Lake Manze has a number of water based activities on offer, which increases the number of activities they can offer. Half day drives were not really offered as the amount of game is significantly lower than that in Selous and you have to travel a fair distance from the camp before you start to see stuff. There were also problems both days we were there with regards to what time we wanted to leave to go out the next day. It seemed that management were constantly trying to get us (or others) to change what they wanted to do in order to fit in with others and make thier job easier. The excuse we were given was that they only had a certain number of vehicle permits and therefore, some people had to fit in with others. In my opinion, if that is the case, get more permits! When you have a full camp, you should should still be able to offer guests their preferred options more often than not. There also seemed to be a shortage of staff in the camp and the staff that were there were running around like chickens with no heads during peak breakfast times etc.
As stated before, the amount of animals here is not as high as in Selous, but we did manage to see our leopard on our last morning which was fantastic! As Ruaha is a National Park you have to eat in designated areas (where there are often others) and you can't always get as close to the animals as you would like as you have to keep to the roads. Again, this is in contrast to Lake Manze where you can eat in the middles of nowhere, with no one else around and you also get very close to the animals.
The food here is good and very wholesome and always tasty.
I accept that this review may seem excessively harsh, but don't get me wrong, this camp is very pleasant, and we had a good time here, but it's not somewhere that I would rush back to or recommend to a friend. Again I will reiterate, I think we were disppointed because we had had such a fantastic time at Lake Manze. All in all, I would recommend Selous and Lake Manze over Ruaha and Mdonya.
Expert Africa comments
Mdonya Old River camp was very sorry that the guests' stay was not perfect. They looked into these issues immediately. They checked all their logs, and there weren't any staff shortages over the days these travellers were staying - but they commented that the kitchen is a little bit of a walk from the kitchen, so the staff do tend to move very quickly between the table and kitchen during meal times to try and avoid the food going cold!
Mdonya usually advocate longer game drives to give the guests the best possible chance of good sightings as often the better game viewing is a little further away. They commented they do have some excellent game areas nearby, but there is more variety if the guests go out for a full day - but they acknowledged that they should have made the reason for suggesting full day drives clearer.
The number of permits for cars allowed to each camp is governed by how many tents each camp has - this is government rules to avoid there being too many vehicles in the park. Mdonya have the maximum they are allowed.
To give maximum flexibility they can offer private vehicles at an extra cost - but this would depend on how full the camp is.
Mdonya Old River Camp review
Mdonya is a very good camp. Mary runs it really well.
Driver and guide on the game drives were very good at spotting the game. Unfortunately their English wasn't that good which made the communication rather difficult at times.