Reviews of Mdonya Old River Camp
They do not necessarily represent the views of Expert Africa.
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.
Mdonya Old River Camp review
An excellent begining to our holiday. Micol was a brilliant manager and attentive host.Read more about the whole safari
Great 'out in the wild' feeling!
Had great time here! Loved the tents, which were well spaced out and the fact that wildlife could just wander through! (the camp not the tents!!) Dinners taken communally outside, which was great to hear about who'd seen what that day and then continued round the camp fire... Still amazed that when someone shone a torch into the darkness there might be an elephant no distance away happily having a munch! Wonderful going to sleep to the sound of impalas and elephants feeding nearby and all sorts of cries coming through the air.
Ruaha is perfect for getting close up to the animals, giraffe and elephants in particular. We saw a cheetah with cubs and a leopard as well as lions and numerous deer! The animals do not seem too worried about the vehicles and we didn't experience any problem with having lots of other vehicles around either. The guiding is geared to what you want when so we didn't feel pushed into starting too early.
Good guides and good game viewing
The guides at Mdonya were amongst the best I have come across, very knowledgable and very good at spotting the wildlife. The number of lions was incredible (around 30 different lions in 4 days) and the highlight was seeing a female cheetah with cubs. It was possible to get close to a number of different species without disturbing them including bushbuck and dik-dik. The elephants and giraffes were particularly relaxed and I would highly recommend this National Park for both these species.
The only downside of the game drives were the occassions when cheetah and leopard (to some extent lions as well) were sighted. Some vehicles (most often from other camps) seemed to disturb the natural activity of the animals - for example, we watched the cheetah hunt some impala but the impala were disturbed by a racing vehicle despite our driver telling other vehicles to approach carefully to avoid disturbing the wildlife.
The camp's location was good although it felt a little away from the more habitat diverse part of the National Park. That said some interesting wildlife such as dik-dik and bushbuck as well as a number of raptors could be found near camps. I also heard lion and jackal on a number of nights.