Our safari travel guide takes a broad overview of safaris in Africa and has been designed to help you, the responsible traveller, learn more about this exciting holiday option. Read on to discover a brief history of safaris and find out what we rate and what we don’t when it comes to African safaris.
Bush camp safaris travel guide
Camping in the African wilderness, with no fence separating you from the wildlife and only a tent to shelter you might sound foolhardy, but that’s the unique and thrilling buzz of a bush camp safari. Get over any knee-jerk ‘is it safe?’ reactions (yes it is) and instead focus on the possibilities.
Safaris are so often associated with luxury lodges, sundowners and slick service alongside the wildlife, but there is another way: camping.
This is your chance to get supremely close to nature – elephants might stroll through the camp and hyenas will snaffle your shoes if you leave them outside your tent overnight – and to travel with a light touch between a host of parks, epic landscapes and historic sites, leaving no trace as you go. It’s an authentic, hands on experience, travelling in a small group, putting up tents and helping with cooking. If you want Africa up close and personal; if you want an immersive, occasionally goose bumps-down-the-arms experience, our bush camp safaris guide is for you.
Our Bush camp safaris Holidays
What do bush camp safaris entail?
As the name suggests, bush camp safaris combine going on safari with camping in the bush, for all or part of the holiday. This is not to be confused with a safari that uses tented, often semi permanent camps. While this kind of accommodation provides more intimacy with the natural world than a bricks and mortar lodge can, it’s not the same as a true bush camp safari which, at its simplest, involves camping in campsites and often in the wild, in locations with no fences and no facilities.
If this sounds tempting, but too demanding for a whole trip, seek out those trips that include a mix of lodge or guesthouse accommodation with a few nights of camping, either in the wild or at established campsites. This provides a good balance if you don’t fancy life under canvas for the entirety of your holiday.
Bush camp safaris are also, typically, mobile safaris, so you’ll be travelling from place to place, often taking in two or three countries in a fortnight. This gives a fascinating overview and the best chance to see a good variety of game. There is always plenty of wildlife to enjoy, but bush camp safaris also involve exploration of historical sites and wild landscapes: climb the sand dunes of the Namib desert, explore the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe or see the mighty Victoria Falls.
On some nights you may pitch tents at established campsites, where facilities can range from basic, with patchy hot water and little else, to comfortable, with a pool, Wifi, hot showers, a bar and restaurant. On the most keeping-it-real bush camp safaris, you’ll have the thrill of camping in the wild, too. This means rocking up at designated sites in the wilderness, where you pitch tent and live for a few days with nothing between you and the wildlife. There will be a long-drop toilet and sometimes the option of a bush shower, depending on availability of water, and much of the cooking and heating of water is done on an open fire.
Transport & logistics
Transport & logistics
Obviously, a bush camp safari – especially one that involves wild camping – requires a huge amount of planning, plus the right kind of vehicle and equipment to access the wilderness and adequate provisions once there. You’ll travel in a 4WD vehicle – and do game drives in it, too – driven by a seasoned driver-guide who knows how to negotiate rough, sandy tracks. Depending on how many people are travelling, there may also be a 4WD support vehicle that carries all the food, camping equipment and water. This level of support and expertise is not easily mustered by independent travellers, especially those new to Africa, so bush camp safaris are typically organised as small group adventures, with up to 12 people travelling together. There are often age restrictions, with most not suitable for young families and only open to children aged 12 and upwards.
Tents & equipment
Tents & equipment
Tents and comfortable sleeping mats are always included, but some holidays will also provide sleeping bags and linen, or have sleeping bags available for hire. Tents generally sleep two and solo travellers can opt to have their own tent, usually for a supplement. These are not your typical lightweight design that many campers use at home, but made from heavy material with a thick groundsheet, all clipped onto a sturdy X-shaped frame. On an exclusive, more expensive camping safari, tents are bigger, with beds not mats and with a flush toilet and safari shower at the back.
Participatory or not?
Participatory or not?
Participation is another typical feature of a camping safari. Unless you’re joining a tailor made trip, during which service staff do all the camp work, mucking in is usually required and is an integral part of the adventure. You may be expected to put up your tent and take it down (often in the dark of early morning or evening), and to help prep food, wash up and load the truck before moving on. The smooth running of the trip relies on everyone putting in a little effort. Each holiday varies, though, so do look into this. Some tours have a camp assistant as well as a tour guide and driver, who will set up camp for you, and occasionally you’ll stop at sites that have already erected dome tents – perfect if you fancy taking things a tad easier.
Far from being a chore, though, participating with camp life builds camaraderie and is the reason bush camp safaris feel authentic, down to earth and fun. It’s a crucial point of difference between a bush camp safari and a more upmarket accommodated one, and a key attraction, for people who prefer a hands on experience over something more catered and cushioned. Crucially, it’s also a relatively affordable way to explore Africa, with bush camp safaris in even expensive destinations such as Botswana hitting price points that lodge safaris and permanent camps can’t.
Eating is hearty and fun on a camping safari. Your camp cook or the guide responsible for rustling up meals will conjure tasty stews and sizzling barbecues from supplies cleverly stowed in the support vehicle, often with a side vegetable dish, sometimes with dessert, too. He will have shopped until he dropped to make sure every last scrap of food or water is on board prior to heading into the bush, so that even lengthy periods of five days or more in the wilderness are fully provisioned – quite a feat. You can then enjoy tucking in around the campfire, as the night sky bursts into twinkling life and animal noises float in on the cool breeze.
Unlike the cut glass and cordon bleu of an upmarket lodge, this kind of informal camping and campfire experience is one of the best ways to get close to wildlife. While most national parks impose a dusk curfew, causing safari vehicles to race for the park gates at sundown, a camping safari can stay put in the wilderness, as the lions stir and roar, the moon illuminates the bush and the campfire beckons. Sleeping with only a tent between you and hyenas, lions and elephants, all of which have been known to wander through wild campsites, is thrilling and intimate. It also begs this question – is it safe?
The simple answer is – yes, so long as you listen to your guides. These guys are highly trained and highly professional, with years of experience of camping safely in wild areas. They will give safety briefings at each location and among their invaluable advice is the instruction to scan the bushes around the ‘bushy bushy’ toilet with your torch at night – if you see eyes shining back, it’s safer to cross your legs!
Guides do a perimeter check in the morning before the group gets up and keep a constant eye out for animals. It’s your job to take their advice, and also to let them know if you want to move beyond camp perimeters. Be reassured though that most wildlife is scared of human noises and smells and will keep away from camp. Once you’re on board with that, you can start to enjoy those 3am wake-up roars from the local lions without a racing heartbeat and your life flashing before your eyes.
Mobile bush camp safaris are also environmentally responsible, operating a ‘leave no trace’ policy at wild sites. Specific camping areas are used, designated by the park or reserve authorities – you can’t camp just anywhere – and the camp moves every few days, with nothing left behind; even fire ashes are buried. In Botswana, for instance, safari operators are heavily fined if waste is found on wilderness campsites, and this sum is often deducted from the chief guide’s pay packet. He will comb the site for the tiniest scrap of rubbish before moving on –environmentally conscious campers should do likewise, both to support him and the environment.
Our top Bush camp safaris Holiday
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Best time to go on a camping safari
Southern Africa is a camping safari hotspot, accessible throughout the year – just be aware of temperature peaks and rainy periods.
Most bush camp safaris take place in Southern Africa and run all year round, but camping makes it harder to escape extremes of temperature or wet conditions, so think carefully about when you travel. Throughout the region, Dec-May is the rainy season so be ready to camp in wet conditions, while the dry winter from May- Nov is the best time to come for wildlife, when animals cluster around water holes, but it can get incredibly hot towards the end of this period. June-Aug are generally driest throughout Southern Africa, but while daytime temperatures can hit the high 20°Cs, nights can drop well below 10°C.
Kruger Weather Chart
Bush camp safaris, month by month
More about Bush camp safaris
Our interactive map reveals the best countries to visit on a camping safari, where a mix of abundant wildlife, beautiful landscapes and ancient sites can all be enjoyed in holiday of just two weeks. Then scroll down for some invaluable advice on bush camp safaris from our friends in the field and from fellow travelers, too.