What to Expect When Going on a Camping Safari
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As the sun sets, imagine pitching your tent in the vast African bush surrounded by a blanket of starry skies and the sounds of wild animals.
In a nutshell, this basically captures what an African camping safari is all about! While you may have to trade in some comforts in order to completely immerse yourself in the experience, it surely will be a memorable trip!
That said, note that camping safaris in Africa come in many shapes and forms.
From budget to luxury, mobile camps, and permanent camps, choosing the right camping safari for your trip to Africa may be a bit challenging.
That’s why, in this article, we’re sharing useful information that will help plan a camping safari in Africa.
You’ll find insights on:
- Types of camping safaris.
- The differences between national park campsites and campsites in private conservancies.
- What participation safaris entail.
- Information on private and group safaris.
- What a day on a camping safari looks like.
Types of Camping Safaris
While the camping jargon can be quite confusing, in reality, things are quite simple.
Here is a list of types of camping safaris you may come across when searching for a trip to Africa.
Adventure camping / wild camp
Photo credit: Selous Ngalawa Camp
This type of excursion is what most people would refer to as “camping” from our younger years.
A tent is pitched in the middle of nowhere. The campsite needs to be left in the same state as it was when you arrived so there is a lot of emphasis on conservation and sustainability.
The tents are big enough for two people and they have built-in nets to keep the bugs away. You will be able to stow two bags in the tent, too.
Make sure to ask your safari operator if the foam and sleeping bag are supplied by them (or you need to bring/rent your own). You will very likely need to bring your travel pillow and a sleeping bag liner.
It is advisable to bring a headlamp, too (the lamps in the tent may not be enough when you need to go through your backpack or want to read at night). And remember to zip the tent closed!
The facilities are basic: a bush toilet surrounded by a roofless tent and a shower bucket tent. The water is heated on the campfire (at your request). You may have an open-air bathroom near your tent which has a basin and a jug. Toiletries may be provided but you are advised to bring bio-degradable ones.
There is no running water, but the jugs are filled by the staff.
If you’ve always loved camping as a child, you are likely to enjoy this experience in the African bush, too. And in case you ask, no, there’s no Wi-Fi or cell reception.
Designated camping sites
Photo credit: Travel Africa Safari Agency
These combine the best of two worlds. You can have an adventure-style camping experience but within the confines of a camping ground. More so, if you prefer to sleep protected by four solid walls, camping groups also offer lodges, permanent tents, and even chalets.
There are usually showers and flushing toilets available even if you choose to pitch an adventure tent in a camping ground. Often there’ll be a restaurant on-site and some camping grounds come with swimming pools, too. And there may be Wi-Fi signal at least in the common areas.
You can expect mobile camps to be packed and moved from place to place. They are very common during a Migration Safari or they are erected for a walking safari or canoe safari.
They are often described as a real wilderness experience. Imagine that as you sit and have lunch or dinner, just feet away from you, wildebeest go about their day and graze the fertile lands.
The accommodation is basic but comfortable. You will get an en-suite chemical toilet. The showers may be en-suite or the staff will build a bucket shower tent.
When it comes to “roughing” it, a mobile camp is similar to the adventure camp / wild camp in terms of amenities (no, there’s no swimming pool, wi-fi, or cell signal).
Normally, there will be a cook with you to prepare all the meals.
Just as the name suggests, these are semi-permanent and are erected in a place for some months. Then they are packed and moved somewhere else.
They are popular in Tanzania and are used to follow the movement of wildlife.
Typically, the tents are larger than the mobile safari tents and can offer various levels of amenities (from basic to luxury). However, you will still be immersed in nature but there are often running water and flushing toilets. Generally, there’s a tent where you’ll eat meals.
Photo credit: Safari With Us
Permanent tents are basically lodges that are made up of tents set up on permanent structures. They can range from basic to ultra-luxurious (which come with a butler) and offer a variety of amenities including a restaurant and a pool.
The views are typically breathtaking, and the tents come with their own observation decks. There’s running cold & hot water and you have access to an en-suite bathroom with a toilet and shower. Most often common areas have Wi-Fi.
»Unsure if staying in a tent is for you? Check out our detailed article about the type of safari accommodations you can choose from!
Participation Safaris or Not?
Just like the name suggests, going on a participation safari requires you to help out with camp chores. The amount of work you have to do depends on the organizer and type of safari, so make sure to ask in advance what you are expected to do.
At the very least, you’ll have to pitch and take down the tent you sleep in. There will be help available so don’t worry if you need to ask questions when you first set the tent up.
On other safaris, you may also help with preparing the food, doing the dishes, packing, etc. Each task will have 3-4 travelers assigned on rotation (so you won’t be doing the same chore the entire time you’ll be on a safari).
Some of the chores require minimal time (like preparing the meals or cleaning the campsite) but some chores may be quite daunting (like doing the dishes or packing the tents).
While going on a participation safari may not put a damper on your experience, you may want to think twice whether you want to get involved or not.
National Park Campsites vs Private Conservancies Campsites
Photo credit: Tented Adventures
When choosing between a camping site in a national park or reserve and a private conservancy, you need to take into account the strict rules that are imposed in the national parks and how they affect your experience.
In national parks and reserves, it is forbidden to drive off-road. Night safaris and walking safaris are not permitted either.
And while staying in a public campsite will put you in the middle of the action at a rather affordable price, when it comes to game drives things are not private at all. Especially during the high season, the popular parks and reserves tend to be overcrowded, with many vehicles jostling for the best vantage point at a sighting.
In private conservancies, there are fewer vehicles and the rules are more relaxed. Your driver can (and will) go off-road to find the perfect vantage point. You’ll likely linger well into the night as night drives are permitted.
Since the private conservancies are adjacent to the public parks, the animals move freely from one place to another so you can spot the same wildlife. Note that only 2-3 vehicles are allowed at a sighting at one time.
Staying in a private conservancy is typically pricier though. And many of them can only be accessed via a small plane.
Private vs Group Campaign Safari
The major difference between a private and group safari is the level of personalization.
On a private safari:
- You choose what to do.
- You choose when you want to do/stop doing something.
- The schedule is completely flexible so if you want to linger longer to watch those lions, you certainly can ask the driver to do so.
- You won’t need to share the safari vehicles with anyone else.
- Private safaris are pricier than group safaris and are recommended for families or groups of friends.
On a group safari:
- The schedule and itinerary are set by the organizer.
- You don’t have a choice if you want to stay longer at a sighting.
- A window seat in the safari vehicle is not guaranteed.
- Group safaris are highly recommended to solo travelers and if you want to go on a budget safari.
What Does a Day on a Camping Safari Look Like?
Although the experience varies depending on your budget and type of camping accommodation, some elements remain constant.
Most safari days begin before dawn. Watching the sunrise over the African wilderness is a magical experience but you’ll be waking up early for another reason: to go on a game drive!
The first two hours of daylight are best for wildlife spotting. The animals are out and about, and you can still see some nocturnal species, too (i.e. hyenas).
Rest assured, if you hate the alarm clock you won’t need one as a camp attendant will wake you up.
Depending on the level of service, you may even get coffee or tea in the tent (yes, please!).
A light breakfast may be available.
Then you set off on the game drive. They can take at least two hours, but sometimes even twice as long, depending on the wildlife sightings. The guides and drivers are in constant contact with their colleagues and there will be live updates about where the wildlife can be found.
Should you require a “bush break”, don’t be embarrassed to ask the guide if it’s safe to duck behind a rock or a tree (although such breaks are pre-planned in the itinerary). Never leave anything behind so make sure to always carry a ziplock bag with you.
Brunch or lunch
Photo credit: Selous Ngalawa Camp
By late morning, you’ll be back in the camp. A large breakfast or brunch follows. Or the meal is served a little later as lunch.
After you eat, there will be free time to enjoy staying in the camp. You cannot do much during the heat of the day, so take the lead of the animals and snooze. It’s the perfect time to lounge by the pool, read a book, or catch up on sleep.
If you are in a mobile camp or wild camp, the pool won’t be available to keep you cool. So, make sure to drink plenty of water. To cool down further, you can take a cold shower; or wet a towel and rest it on the nape of your neck. Wet wipes are also excellent to remove the dust and cool you down.
Should you opt for a village visit or any other safari activity that doesn’t include animals, this is usually when it will occur.
Around mid-afternoon (3-4 pm), high tea (or afternoon tea) is served. This is a long-lasting safari tradition. The amount of food offered varies from camp to camp though.
Evening and night
Photo credit: Explorers Wild Adventures
By late afternoon / early evening, you’ll leave on your second game drive. It will last for a couple of hours and generally includes a stop for a “sundowner”. This is another old safari custom during which you nurse a drink while watching the sunset in a scenic place.
If you are staying in a national park you’d have to be in the camp before the sun sets.
But if you stay in a private conservancy, there are no restrictions and often you’ll return to the camp late, giving you the opportunity to spot some nocturnal creatures.
Also, if you stay in a private conservancy, the game drives might be swapped for walking safaris.
It’s now time for a multi-course dinner after you freshen up. If you stay in a luxury camp, you’ll be expected to dress up (although this requirement is more about wearing fresh & clean clothes).
Then, some time is allocated for you to relax around the open fire and get to know fellow travelers.
Chances are that you’ll be escorted by a camp attendant with a flashlight when you want to go to your tent.
If you stay in an unfenced area, you’ll not be allowed to go to the bathroom during the night. So, we would advise to watch your liquid intake at and after dinner.
Hero photo credit: Travel Africa Safari Agency
Ready to be immersed in nature? Then book a budget camping safari in Africa and let your senses be dazzled by the sounds and scents of the wilderness