Camping Safaris: Get Up Close and Personal with Africa's Wilderness
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Picture this: you’re lying under a blanket of stars while listening to the soundtrack of the African bush.
Some time passes and you drift off to sleep only to be awaken by the sun filling your tent as it rises. You wake up to the trumpeting of an elephant, and when you step out of your tent, you spot paw prints in the dirt mere feet from your tent door.
Sounds exciting? If you’ve been on the hunt for a way to experience all that Africa’s wilderness has to offer, why not try camping? Thankfully, camping in Africa is not nearly as daunting as it may seem. And the chance to get up close and personal with nature is more than enough reason to give it a go.
Whether you’re the type who prefers to rough it or one who opts for comfort, there’s a camping experience for you. Unsure as to what camping options are available?
In this article, we’re sharing useful information on the types of camping in Africa, best countries to choose for a camping experience, what to pack, as well as tips to ensure you have an amazing camping safari!
What’s known as adventure camping is probably what you envision when you think of camping: setting up a dome-shaped tent, cooking over an open fire, and sleeping on the bumpy ground while cocooned in a sleeping bag.
Bringing you as close to African wildlife as possible, adventure camping is a popular choice for outdoor enthusiasts and budget travelers. This is, especially so if you choose to set up camp outside of the designated areas. This is referred to as wild camping.
Whether you pitch your tent outside of a lodge’s area or share the grounds with locals in a rural African village, that’s what wild camping is all about.
You shouldn’t expect any amenities except for the basic ones, such as a shared bathroom facility and a bucket shower. This ensures you stick to a low budget. Plus, the reward of being one with nature is priceless. Please keep in mind that when you’re traveling in remote areas to check ahead whether the property is privately owned. If you’re unsure, you can always ask the local authorities.
Photo credit: Tented Adventures Pretoriuskop
Need a little more from your campsite? Designated campsites, located in Africa’s national parks and private game reserves, offer most modern-day conveniences, including flush toilets and bucket showers.
In the larger parks, you may also find electricity and power outlets, communal cooking facilities, and self-service laundry equipment.
It’s important to note that campsites in the African national parks and private reserves & conservancies are available for a variety of budgets and tastes:
- Budget campsites are what most travelers consider the quintessence of budget travel. Basic tents come with shared bathroom facilities, no electrical outlets, and no fences either.
- Mid-range campsites offer more than minimum comfort but lack the extras that make them luxurious. A tent is usually located in a fenced campsite, has an electrical outlet, but the bathroom is still shared.
- Luxury and ultra-luxury campsites (also known as glamping) offer tents that come with the same amenities you can find in lodges. They have private bathroom, electrical outlet, are mostly in fenced campsites, and most often your experience is all-inclusive. Transfer to/from the airport, meals, and game drives are almost always included in the cost.
You can access the designated campsites via overland tours or self-drive safaris.
Photo credit: Wildlife Oasis Tours
Overland tours are a great option for those who want to do the most possible with the least hassle. All accommodation and transportation are included, and sometimes, food and activities are covered as well.
But please note that there will be early mornings, you’d have to pitch your tent every night, and more often than not, you need to share bathroom facilities.
Overland tours are well-suited for solo travelers since all the costs are shared among the group, the time spent getting around is reduced, and there’s a good chance you’ll meet like-minded people. Should you travel with a group of friends, you may also consider taking an overland tour.
Families, however, may want a bit more flexibility in terms of creating your own itinerary and staying for as long as you wish in a certain place.
When it comes to comfort, you can always upgrade to a glamping experience as there is the possibility to upgrade to a room or luxury tent.
However, if independence and flexibility are important to you, then perhaps a self-drive safari would serve you better.
A self-drive safari is one where you are completely in charge of your safari experience. You decide where you want to go, how you want to get there, and for how long you want to stay.
What’s unique about self-driving safaris is the option to sleep on the roof of your vehicle. Most off-road vehicles and 4x4s are equipped with rooftop tents, giving you another way to experience camping in Africa. And if you ever want to switch it up, just park your vehicle at a national park or game reserve and pick from tented luxury suites to furnished cabin lodges.
Self-drive safaris could be a great option for families who need flexibility and have kids old enough to enjoy sleeping in nature. However, in order to truly enjoy this experience, you need to be used with driving off-road and have very good navigation skills.
Best countries to go camping in Africa
Photo credit: Safari With Us
There are a lot of amazing campsites in all of Africa’s safari destinations. However, each country has its particularities and offers different camping experiences. Choosing the right country for your travel style and budget can really make or break a trip.
Namibia: Home to some fantastic and cheap campsites in its stunning national parks. There’s no better place to do star gazing than in the Namib Desert. The air is dry and cool which is just perfect for gazing at the night sky.
Botswana: One thing that distinguishes campsites here is that they are not enclosed. So, the animals can actually go near and in the camp as they please. It’s not uncommon for hyenas to get close to the camps at night. Botswana is, thus, perfect if you really want to get up close and personal with the wildlife.
South Africa: There are a lot of campsites available. Thanks to the country’s populartity and especially in Kruger National Park, you may feel that you really don’t get away from it all. Thankfully, you can seek campsites that are more remote (with no electricity or any shop nearby) in all national parks.
What to pack when you go camping in Africa
In terms of equipment, what you’ll need to take with you will depend on how you choose to camp.
If you wish to camp in the wild, then you’d best be prepared for anything. You never know where you might end up and what supplies might come in handy. After all, the best gear is the gear you have with you.
The good news is, you won’t need to haul everything all the way from home. Thankfully, there are stores in larger cities that allow you to either buy or rent camping gear and supplies.
For those opting for an overland tour, most companies will provide tents and sleeping mattresses. But you still need to bring a sleeping bag and a proper pillow. Do make sure to check with your safari operator so that you know exactly what is provided.
Tips for camping in Africa’s wilderness
Photo credit: Adventour
Camping in Africa’s wilderness, even within the confines of designated campsites, can put your health and safety at risk.
Remember that you are sharing nature with the locals, wildlife, and other travelers so camping practices that are respectful to the environment and the animals are a must.
With that in mind, here are a few tips and camping practices which will help to ensure your safety during this adventure:
- The best spot to camp is as flat as possible and at a reasonable distance from bodies of water and game trails.
- Consider buying firewood in advance, otherwise, only collect dead wood. And always extinguish your campfire before going to bed.
- Pack up your food, garbage, and laundry before you leave your campsite unattended to avoid unwanted visitors. And by unwanted visitors, we mean giant carnivores or herbivores that may find your food smelling too good to pass up.
- Don’t sleep with your tent door open. Unless you want to cuddle with a hyena or a snake.
- Remember to bring a daypack. You will need it to bring water, sunscreen, and your photo gear during game drives.
- Make sure you have enough entertainment. Bring that book you’ve always wanted to read, fill your e-book reader with some new titles, or bring some audiobooks with you. This is especially true if you travel with kids.
- If you prefer to self-drive stay in your vehicle at all times. Bring binoculars and a tele lens for your camera for the best animal spotting.
- To minimize the effects of the African sun, drink plenty of liquids, apply and re-apply sunscreen, and protect your eyes with a pair of sunglasses and some kind of headwear.
- Talk to your local health provider well before your departure for all necessary check-ups and vaccinations.
- If you are planning to travel across multiple countries, make sure to get your visas ahead of time. The traveler is responsible for having all the necessary documents to enter / exit the countries they visit.
Ready to head out into the Great African Outdoors? Why not choose a budget camping safari that will take you close to Africa’s wilderness and unspoiled nature without burning holes in your pocket.