Reviews of Mdonya Old River Camp
They do not necessarily represent the views of Expert Africa.
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.
Mdonya Old River Camp
The camp has a wonderfully remote feel to it and we thoroughly enjoyed our game drives with our guide Chombo and driver Naighti who were both very knowledgeable and friendly.Read more about the whole safari
Mdonya Old River Camp
This experience was completely different from the first camp, a bit more primitive. The overall experience was good.
The guide and driver were wonderful. The camp host was very kind, but I wonder if it would have been different had the regular staff been on duty. Again, I did not enjoying sharing food/meals with the bugs, but did enjoying being in the camp. They may want to have more Massai on hand so that you can move a bit more freely about the camp after dark. These were minor inconveniences.
Overall a great adventure was had by all.
Mdonya Old River Camp review
This quite small camp was well sited and the Italian Manager was extremely helpful withe a passionate interest in the wildlife and the ecosystem. This was another occasion upon which I was well looked after.
At the end of the visit I was the only guest in camp from UK (all the others were French) and, again, it was ensured that I was not left on my own at meal times. Meals were at a communal table and the Manager sat with me to ensure that I was not left out. Returning from a drive we were invariably met by the Manager and another member of staff carrying a tray with drinks of juice laid out - a nice touch.
The camp had a civet which was sometimes found sitting on the window ledge to the camp office and elephants etc. wandered through the camp.
A very enjoyable visit and, if I expressed an interest in any particular animal, the driver and guide went to great lengths to ensure that I saw the animals concerned.
Mdonya Old River Camp review
Mdonya is in set a lovely location alongside a dry river bed. The camp itself is well laid out and the the food more than adequate. The guiding was also very good, with the spotting of a leopard 200 metres from the road in a tree in particularly noteworthy. This led to a fantastic sighting of a surprisingly relaxed leopard.
One downside to Mdonya's location is the distance from the main game viewing areas making all day trips a necessity. No particular problem with this but if you are into photography there is the feeling that the best times - early morning and late evening - are spent travelling to and from the camp along the same road.
Mdonya - frendly camp with excellent guiding
We had 4 nights at Mdonya Old River Camp in the September dry season. The staff are enthusiastic, efficient and friendly and the manager (Nicole) was a bundle of energy and seemingly ubiquitous - I don't know when she ever slept. The camp is comfortable but simple, with large well-spaced tents overlooking the long dry river. We were well aware before travelling that (apart from the office) there was no electricity in the camp but found this more of an inconvenience than we expected. The use of log fires and kerosene lamps works well in the communal areas but we feel that the combination of kerosene lamps, candles and a wind-up torch was hard work in the tents for dressing and washing. We accidentally knocked a kerosene lamp over in outr tent - luckily it did not break but it did make us think about fire risks.
Small solar panels that could provide lighting in the tents are now available (we are associated with a charity in Uganda which is supplying personal panel and lights to schools for under £15 each) and we feel that these would be a significant improvement. We did discuss this with Nicole who replied that they wanted to retain the "traditional safari" atmosphere: we think this is right for the communal areas but that some change is needed within the tents. At the very least, we suggest that you stress to your clients that they should take head torches!
Food at Mdonya was always substantial and hearty, if not "haute cuisine" - bush breakfasts and lunches were particularly welcome and varied. During our stay, the camp varied between half-full and full, with a range of nationalities which made for some interesting conversations.
Our guide Zak was excellent - he has been at Mdonya for over 6 years and during our stay had 2 returning couples who had asked for him again. There is wildlife close to Mdonya: there was an elephant virtually in the camp when we arrived, there were usually impalas or giraffes wandering past, and Zak could usually find groups of 20+ elephants within 15 minutes, not to mention the occasional lions and a leopard - but at this time of year, it is necessary to drive some distance to find the bigger numbers (which we certainly did). Half- and full-day safaris from Mdonya are therefore particularly attractive and "good value" (we had a "half" day of 7 hours, and day trips were about 11 hours). Zak was always keen to find out what we were hoping to see but also careful to manage our expectations (for example, there had been no wild dogs in the area for some time). Being a National Park, Ruaha is crossed by public roads and has some local tourism - however, although we did see a number of other vehicles including small coaches, it never felt crowded or intrusive.
As previous reviews have mentioned, there is a band of tsetse flies near the camp. However use of high-Deet repellents and avoidance of blue/black clothes (combined with the burning of elephant dung on the backs of the vehicles) seemed effective whilst driving through this area - we actually suffered more in Selous.
In summary, we thoroughly enjoyed Ruaha and Mdonya and had some great wildlife viewing in terms of both variety and quantity. Judging by comments from other travellers we met, Kwihala or perhaps Mwagusi may be closer to permanent or semi-permanent water and therefore to the bigger game numbers during the dry season (it would be interesting to visit Mdonya in the green season). We have expressed above our thoughts about lighting in the tents. However despite these reservations, and thanks to the enthusiastic and professional camp staff and guides, we had a great time.