Well, first of all, they’re much more affordable than lodge safaris enabling a longer safari. Camping safaris also make travel affordable to many more people. Africa doesn’t have to remain a pipe dream. If you are willing to sleep in a tent, you will see the most fantastic sights and have the most incredible experiences which you will remember for the rest of your life.
However, the most compelling reason for doing a camping safari is for the sheer romance of it all. A trip to Africa for many people is almost a spiritual experience, a chance to reconnect with nature and a life we left behind. Many people have forgotten what peace sounds like. There is always the buzz of the traffic, the aircon, or the fridge in the background. When you’re camping, there isn’t any of this white noise to lull you to sleep. Instead, you will be lulled to sleep by the sound of hyenas whooping, jackals laughing, or lions roaring.
It’s also the best possible way to do a tech detox as there are many places in Africa which don’t have cellphone signal or wifi. These days, it seems like people are more scared of being disconnected from their friends for one day than they are of the lion roaring outside their tent. If you want a true break from work and from friends, and want to be assured that your boss will have no way of contacting you when you are on holiday, then a camping safari is the best way to achieve it. If you are lucky, the lion might even eat your cell phone.
Camping is good for your physical health. You’re outside in the fresh air, rising at sunrise with the birdsong rather than with the anxiety-inducing screech of your alarm clock. Plus you are more active. As well as doing some exploring on foot, if you choose to do a semi-participation camping safari, you will also help with the setting up and taking down of your tents.
But won’t it be itchy and uncomfortable and hard work?
There are different levels of camping safaris, depending on how much comfort you want. The first way to differentiate is between participation semi-participation, and non-participation safaris. On participation safaris, you are expected to help set up your tent and to chip in with the cooking and cleaning. on a semi, you help put up your tent , and on non-participation safaris, the guides will do everything for you. When you arrive at a camp site, everything will already be set up for you and you can just sit back and enjoy a cold beer or gin and tonic, or both.
There are also different types of tents. The most basic tent is a 2m x 2m x 2m dome tent, which is big enough for most people to stand up and lie down in. These are usually furnished with low stretchers and high density foam mattresses which are capable of providing a good night’s sleep. A level up from this is a Meru style tent, which is a larger rectangular shaped tent, around 4 metres long by 3 metres wide by 2.5 metres high. These Meru style tents are often furnished with proper beds and en-suite bathrooms. Dome tents will be found on all participation camping safaris, while Meru style tents are used more often for non-participation camping safaris and particularly for fly-in camping safaris.
Bathroom facilities vary and that is part of the adventure and a sure fire way to get you out of your comfort zone, if the honey badger sniffing at your tent hasn’t accomplished that already. Sometimes you will stay in established campsites with proper communal ablutions. Other times, you will be out in the middle of the bush, far away from any semblance of plumbing infrastructure. The shower will be a bucket shower, which is a actually lot nicer than it sounds. The bucket has a proper shower head at the bottom and the water will be warmed on the fire before you stand underneath it.
Toilets will either be a long drop hole with a proper toilet seat placed over it, or a chemical toilet. The scenery in the bush toilets is fabulous, although not always for the shy, as passing animals will stop and stare. Best hit the gym before your camping safari.
Where should I go?
The most popular countries for camping safaris are Namibia and Botswana. We offer a number of camping safaris in both countries, which you can find here and here. In Namibia, you will be camping in the desert underneath the stars seemingly in the middle of nowhere. You will also get to see sights such as Sossusvlei, Fish River Canyon, the Skeleton Coast and Etosha National Park.
In Botswana, it is all about the animals. Camping on the island in the middle of the Okavango Delta will get you as close to African wildlife as you could hope to get. Most of the campsites are unfenced, so you might even have an animal wonder in to say hello. Add on the bush walks, mokoro rides, boat cruises and game drives and you have the makings of an exciting and fulfilling holiday. In addition to the wilderness, you can also camp in the Kalahari Desert where you can meet the Bushmen, or in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.
You may be in places without wifi or cell phone signal, but this doesn’t mean you won’t have electricity. You will be able to charge your cameras and other devices in the cars. But if this is too much for you and you truly want to escape from any semblance of civilisation and consumer culture, then look no further than the Wilderness Primitive Trail, operating in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. This trail is aimed at the outdoors enthusiast who would like to combine a wilderness experience with backpacking and sleeping out under the stars. The trail provides the ultimate basic living experience, with a minimum of equipment but with adequate water and food. Water is collected from springs or rivers in the wilderness area, and bathing is done in the river wherever possible. A very important part of the trail is spending time alone on watch at the fire at night. In this way one gets to embrace silence and solitude, qualities that are difficult to find in today's world. Trailists are required to leave their watches and cellular phones in their cars in order to experience greater freedom from time constraints and deadlines which rule our lives today.
But I don’t like other people
Camping safaris don’t necessarily mean group safaris. We can run the Primitive Trail on a private basis and also offer this Botswana camping safari on a private basis. In addition, any camping safari which you see on our Namibia pages can be turned into a private safari with our local guide, Tulimo.
Come to Africa and do a camping safari. You will experience something you have never experienced before and you will return home feeling more refreshed and invigorated than if you had just done a spa weekend in Budapest. And you will also return home with savings in your account because there is nothing to spend money on in the middle of the African bush.
Photographer, conservationist, dive and field guide, teller of bad jokes.