Some say Ruaha National Park is best kept secret in Tanzania. Jonathan and Sophie check out Mwagusi Camp to find out for themselves.
Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby.
There’s something special about Ruaha – the rippled plains stretching far away to hazy mountains. But it’s the baobabs that make it unique – forests of them – huge, ancient trees keeping watch over the plains, giving the place an almost haunted feel.
We’re impressed before we even arrive at Mwagusi, a delightful little camp on the banks of the Ruaha river, and with a warm welcome from hosts Ryan and Dalerie, we’re immediately endeared to the place.
We head out on a game drive with guide Justin and driver Vincent. Justin is excellent on his birds, which we like to see – in our experience, a lot of guides in East Africa lack basic guiding skills and knowledge, relying on merely finding the Big Five to satisfy their guests. Not so at Mwagusi, where the guide culture is among the best we’ve seen in Tanzania, with a strong emphasis on training.
An elephant carcass looms into view between some giant baobabs and a pride of lions are hungrily feeding. Now there’s not many places in Africa where lions are bold enough to regularly hunt elephant, but Ruaha is one of them. It’s a superb sighting, something we’ve never seen, and we all discuss it excitedly around the campfire, and later over dinner under the stars. Meals are communal which lends an informal and familiar feel to the camp, and it’s easy to make friends with like-minded people.
The camp itself blends in perfectly with its stunning location, with a comfortable thatched communal area and bandas (suites) strung along the river with enough birds and game wandering past to keep us happy for hours.
Next morning we head out for a half-day in the bush, with a picnic breakfast. This routine is popular in Tanzania (but uncommon on Southern Africa safaris). At first we were sceptical – it’s a long time in a vehicle, and everyone knows there’s nothing much to see in the heat of the day. But there is in Ruaha. It’s midday and searing hot, and we’re watching a young female leopard stalk a herd of impala. Justin, our guide, laughs. “This is normal in Ruaha,” he says. “Our cats hunt at any time of day!”
We watch spellbound for half an hour as she crawls between drainage lines, shifting position with the changing wind, using the trees as cover, before slinking into long grass for the final approach.
It was a Lilac-breasted Roller that gave her away, perched on a stalk, and when it gave its alarm call, the impala looked up. It was too late. They scattered, and our leopard skulked away, hungry.
On our last night we have a romantic dinner for two set up in the dry riverbed just below our banda. The wind picks up, a hot wind fuelling a big fire, it’s just us, a table, two chairs, and a delicious three-course meal, in the blackness and we feel the rawness. African safaris are as much about this as the animals.
Later that night, safely tucked up in bed, the wind drops and the night is still, so still we can hear a leopard lapping from a pool just below.
Ruaha might very well be the best kept secret in Tanzania – one of the largest national parks in East Africa, with none of the hoards of safari vehicles that are drawn to the northern parks. And with its rustic, laid-back atmosphere, Mwagusi is its perfect complement.
Good for: Great game and a friendly atmosphere away from the crowds
Not so good for: Those that demand a high level of privacy
Our verdict: A delightful camp with excellent guiding in a stunning, relatively little-known safari area