A trip to Mwagusi, in Ruaha, is all about the animals. However, let us first look at the camp.
Mwagusi Safari Camp: Our full report
Set on the banks of the seasonal Mwagusi River, Mwagusi Camp is smart and very comfortable, yet rustic in feel. It has been operating in Ruaha National Park for well over a decade. As a result, the game drawn to the river and in the surrounding area is well habituated. That Mwagusi is owner-run is something of a rarity in Tanzania these days. Its owner and usual host is the charismatic Chris Fox who was born in Tanzania and is passionate about Africa, the park and wildlife.
As part of this commitment, Chris operates a school to train all the guides for Mwagusi, during which time they also learn other skills such as waitering, plumbing and electrics.
Mwagusi's 13 rooms, or 'bandas', and its central area all look out over the seasonal river, whose natural pools attract game throughout the year. Characterised by high thatched roofs, and immaculate waist-high reed walls, the buildings have a stylish edge – with highly polished red stone floors and bits of drift wood built into the walls. The main dining and lounge area is a spacious open-sided room with dining tables for breakfast and lunch, and plenty of sofas for relaxation and game viewing. Animal skulls and other items collected from the bush are dotted around, adding a rustic feel. Read more about the bandas here.
In the mornings guests at Mwagusi gather around the campfire in front of the main area. Adjacent is a further lounging area and a small library – with a table and chairs, wildlife books, and comfortable, built-in sofas covered in bright-coloured fabrics. There's also a small bar area, where the staff sell items such as maps, curios, postcards and batteries.
Activities at Mwagusi focus mainly on 4x4 drives; head out in the morning after breakfast and then again in the late afternoon when it has cooled down. Sometimes there is the option of an all-day trip, which allows you to explore deep into the park.
If you want to experience the bush on foot – then there are two options. Short, informal bird walks around the outskirts of the camp in the early morning can often tally up a good number of different bird species. More serious three–four-hour walks through the bush or along the river, accompanied by a camp guide and one of the park's rangers, must be arranged in advance.
Our viewWe can see why Mwagusi continues to be popular. Judging by our last visit, in 2013, it is still one of Ruaha's best camps. Despite being quirky and even sometimes slightly haphazard, it feels both homely and welcoming: the antitheses of a stilted lodge created by professional architects and designers. Mwagusi's service is brilliant and the guiding very competent, resulting in a fantastic game-viewing experience. Mwagusi is not expensive compared with Tanzania's other top camps, but it does cost a little more than most of the alternatives in Ruaha. We think that it's worth it.
Ideal length of stay: We recommend spending at least three–four nights at Mwagusi to explore Ruaha National Park
Directions: Ruaha is a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Dar es Salaam, then it is a further 30–45 minute drive to Mwagusi Camp.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Independent / Owner Run
Staff: Camp/Lodge Manager: Chris Fox Chefs: Meru and Mohammed
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Mwagusi's two key chefs, Meru and Mohammed, have both been working in the kitchens and producing tasty food for a number of years.
At around 8.00am everyone sits together for breakfast. There is always plenty of fruit and fresh bread on offer – as well as Mwagusi's famous cinnamon rolls (which are quite an institution!). There is also a cooked breakfast available every morning.
If you head out soon after dawn on a drive, you will enjoy a bush breakfast later in the morning at some scenic location. This may comprise fresh fruit juice, hard-boiled eggs, rolls, cinnamon bread and fresh fruit (as well as tea/coffee).
Lunch is usually a relatively light meal – with plenty of cold salads and meats – served at around 1.00pm, when guests have returned from their morning activities. The various options are set out buffet-style, with desserts then served to your table.
Dinner is a slightly more formal affair, often served outside following pre-dinner drinks around the campfire, and frequently in a different location each evening. Everyone sits around one large table, with the meal either served to you or presented as a buffet, depending on the location.
On a recent visit in November 2013, we enjoyed tomato and basil soup, followed by lamb tagine with rice, and tomato stuffed with spinach and garlic purée, and rounded off with banoffee pie. The food at Mwagusi was tasty, imaginative, and consistently very good, and the team had no problem catering for special dietary requirements.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Apart from complimentary bottles of water in the rooms and on game drives, no drinks are normally included here. Having said that, if a guest wishes the drinks to be included, this can be arranged in advance. A beer costs around US$3
Further dining info: No
Family holidays: Overlooking a seasonal river in Ruaha, Mwagusi Camp is a quirky, owner-run camp, which feels comfortable though fairly rustic. Come for 4WD drives, (competently guided) walks and brilliant service on your family safari holidays in Tanzania! We recommend it for mature children 10+.See more ideas for Family holidays in Tanzania
Solo Travel: Ruaha’s owner-run Mwagusi Safari Camp is and a great choice for solo travellers visiting Tanzania. Plenty of water and open plains mean top wildlife safaris, whilst shared activities, communal meals and sociable lounge/dining area make it great for single travellers.See more ideas for Solo Travel in Tanzania
Birdwatching: Ruaha's position at the centre of Tanzania gives it an interesting cross section of birds - and makes it a fascinating park for birdwatching in Tanzania. Early-morning bird-walks are a very popular activity at the camp to catch dawn chorus with a guide before breakfast.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Tanzania
Wildlife safaris: Ruaha has all the usual big game, and the team here take a very enthusiastic approach to finding it for you. There's also a tremendous depth of experience at this small, owner-run camp; it's the right choice if you're passionate about your experience and your game-viewing!See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Tanzania
Attitude towards children: Mwagusi welcomes children of all ages.
Property’s age restrictions: There are no age restrictions to stay at Mwagusi, but no children under 16 are allowed on guided walks.
Special activities & services: A special children’s programme can be arranged where kids are taught certain bush craft techniques.
Generally recommended for children: Expert Africa does not recommend Mwagusi for under 10s.
Notes: Although Mwagusi welcomes children of all ages, we would recommend the camp only for well-behaved, mature children over the age of about ten. Because of the dangerous game (on our last visit, elephants were often wandering through the camp), children need constant supervision by their parents.
Communications: There is intermittent cell-phone reception at Mwagusi. The camp also has basic text-only email, which guests could use in cases of emergency.
TV & radio: There are no radios or TVs at Mwagusi
Water supply: Borehole
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: There is first-aid equipment at the camp, and the guides have basic first-aid training, with Ryan, the senior guide, fully trained in first aid. For serious cases, the camp has links with the flying doctor service.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Guests are always escorted to and from their tents at night. Valuables can be stored with management if required.
Fire safety: Extinguishers are in each banda, and the riverbed acts as a natural fire-break.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: Laundry is included. It takes 24 hours and isn't suitable for delicate clothing, as it is all hand washed and coal ironed. Please note that as at many other camps in Africa, the team here will not wash women's underwear for cultural reasons.
Money: Mwagusi is unable to offer any form of currency exchange.
Accepted payment on location: Mwagusi can only accept cash, preferably in US dollars or Tanzanian shillings. (Dollar notes older than the year 2003 will not be accepted.) No credit cards are accepted.