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Before we dive into the details of how to choose safari accommodation, let’s talk about the difference between a safari camp and a safari lodge. Think of it in terms of apples and pears, both hard fruits, but different flavours. Typically, a safari lodge will offer spacious suites, an on-suite pool and a restaurant-style dining area, Wi-Fi throughout the property, and various other amenities. On the other side of the spectrum, a safari camp is typically tented accommodation, often running on solar power, with fewer on-site amenities, but provides a more traditional, immersive safari experience. This is not to say that a safari camp is any less opulent – there are some exceptional luxury safari camps!

The real question then; how do you choose? Which safari accommodation is for you? There are several aspects to think about in terms of your African adventure, from the experiences you wish to have, the people coming with you – if any – and the type of place you want to stay. Don’t be afraid to include your wildlife bucket list too – perhaps seeing the Big 5 are top of the list, or witnessing the Great Migration with a mobile camp is the dream, there are options for every safari wish list.

Have a look at our top considerations before making your choice.

1. Game Viewing & Experiences

Lions at the water hole in Hwange National Park | Go2Africa
Lions in Hwange photographed by Marco Felix from G2A

Any of our Africa Safari Experts will tell you that the best place to start when planning your safari is to ask yourself one question; what do I want to get out of this experience? Whether it’s your dream to walk among safari giants, to witness the Big 5 in person, or perhaps to follow the Great Migration across the sprawling Serengeti plains.

Once you know what you want, it’s much easier to decide on where. Perhaps a combination safari spent traversing Tanzania before a seaside sojourn on the pearlescent beaches of Zanzibar, or an immersive experience crossing the Mara in a mobile tented camp while slackpacking during the day – the adventure all comes down to the adventurer. Each potential destination has its own draw cards from areas of dense wildlife and guaranteed sightings to more off-the-beaten track reserves where it’s easier to hear Africa’s wild heartbeat. Take into consideration other activities and experiences such as walking safaris, hot air balloon trips, river cruises, and even overnight camping – this is key as not every area and accommodation will offer the same.

2. Reserves & Sizes

Elephants pass a safari vehicle on a game drive in Africa | Go2Africa
Up close and personal with African giants

A key pairing to game viewing and experiences is the topic of reserves and their sizes. Much like the stripes on our beloved zebras, no two reserves are the same – this comes down to size, landscapes, accessibility, and most importantly, biodiversity. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the reserve, the greater the biodiversity, but also the crowds. Similarly, the more accessible the reserve, the more camps and lodges, the more guests.

A further consideration here is game drives and vehicle size – what is the ratio of game vehicles to guests and how many do they accommodate? Furthermore, how big is the party you are travelling with? If it’s a family or group affair, the option of a private game vehicle may feature in decision making processes. While there are always exceptions to the rule, typically, camps tend to be smaller than lodges and therefore have a less guests, and more room on vehicles. Less guests, or more vehicles, may also factor in when it comes to the amount, or frequency, of game drives you can go on. Something to consider with 9-seater vehicles is that you will likely end up sitting in the middle at some point during your stay, especially during peak season, so decide if this is something that will bother you.

3. Comfort Levels & Amenities

Two people sitting at a table with a safari camp in the background | Go2Africa
Sundowners served al fresco at Little Chem Chem in Tanzania

Not all camps and lodges offer the same level of luxury or the same facilities and amenities. For example, one property may feature basic amenities and perhaps a pool, where another may have everything from private pools and a boma to an on-site spa. What may be a necessity to one traveller may be unimportant to another, so ensure that the type of lodge or camp you choose will make the experience comfortable and memorable. As always, there are ample options which range from more affordable African safaris to the crème de la crème of safari opulence.

Some things to consider when looking at safari accommodation amenities:

  • Do you require a family orientated suite? As some camps and lodges have age restrictions, not all will offer this configuration.
  • Does having an outdoor shower or bath interest you? These often offer beautiful views and provide a unique experience, but it’s a matter of personal preference.
  • How important is Wi-Fi? Is going ‘off grid’ for a few days a bonus, or a nightmare? Many lodges have excellent Wi-Fi throughout, some offer it ‘in room’ only, and others are simply connected to nature. Camps typically err on the no network way of life due to their remote locations, but that’s not a hard and fast rule.
  • How essential is a pool? Would you prefer a small private plunge pool, a main lodge pool, or even both? While a pool is commonplace at a lodge, camps will vary, and mobile camps are an impossibility due to their nature.
  • Overnight treehouses and sky beds provide a unique way to connect with nature and experience the rumble of the African bush. This type of inclusion is usually an add-on and not a standard offering, so if this is a bucket list experience, be sure to mention it.
  • Is keeping fit and being mobile important during your stay? Gym facilities have become a more common addition to lodges, and many will rival the gym you frequent. It’s also important to note that some properties are fenced or in small, predator-free conservancies, making it possible to do self-guided walks, while others require a guide to accompany you on any off-property adventure.

4. An African Safari with Kids or Without?

3 children and a guide on a game vehicle looking at 2 giraffe | Go2Africa
Kids on a safari at &Beyond Phinda Mountain Lodge

Family safaris are a fantastic way to create lasting memories for everyone, no matter how big or small, how old, or how young. While exceptionally exciting, it’s important to find the right setup, especially with small children. Age limits are standard to ensure the safety of all guests and capabilities of the team at hand. Many lodges and camps employ a no under 12’s rule, while others offer accommodation and activities for children as young as six.

For the best chance of catering to the entire family, consider an exclusive-use lodge or camp, which often allow children of any age. Over the last few years, more and more accommodations are offering child-friendly activities such as ‘Junior Rangers’ clubs, guided walks geared to young minds, and even predator-free, shorter game drives. Whatever your preference, there are several fantastic places to enjoy an African safari with kids.

Conversely, there are also ample options for child-free accommodation geared towards honeymooners, couples, and those looking to enjoy adult-only company. Mobile camps and lodges in wilder reserves are often the perfect example of this as it’s considered a risk for children. However, there are also plenty of luxury lodges around, perfect for a grown-up getaway.

5. Cost

A woman relaxing while overlooking a waterhole at Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge | Go2Africa
An observation deck overlooking a waterhole at Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge

While an incredible safari is a priceless experience and provides a bank of unforgettable memories, an idea of available budget is always an imperative part of planning. Even the very best Africa Safari Expert cannot plan the perfect expedition without knowing their parameters – there’s no point in booking the top remote camp in the Mara if it exceeds the budget. Unless, of course, the limit does not exist!

Start by thinking about the ideal trip – think location, time of year, duration, number of guests, and desired experiences to start. Thankfully, there are a range of options available when it comes to accommodation and activities so there is always a plan to be made. Certain times of year will automatically be more expensive than others due to peak safari season, so if budget is limited, it may be worth considering a less popular time of year or a Green Season experience. Although there are some lodges that truly epitomise opulence, there are others that provide a luxury experience without the crème de la crème price tag – where to stay comes down to preference and cost. The same can be said for camps to some extent, but a greater number err on the more affordable side given their more basic, yet comfortable, setup.

A cautionary tale: for first time visitors, it’s often better to enlist an expert who can recommend places to stay based on experience, organise the logistics, and ensure safe travel from the moment you land to the moment you leave.

6. Food & Culture

A poolside dining table set for two at Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp | Go2Africa
Dine by the swimming pool at andBeyond Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp

Calling all foodies! While you may be on safari and in some of Africa’s wildest reserves, the quality of the food, and expertise of the chefs, rivals or even exceeds that of popular city restaurants. Enjoy the opportunity to try local fare, either in the more traditional sense or perhaps an elevated version at the more luxury accommodation options.

The real question is, does more classic, simple fare tickle your tastebuds, or do you delight in the finesse of fine dining? In some lodges, cooking is an art form and part of the overall experience where the kitchen is open-plan and interaction with the culinary team is encouraged, where others offer a quiet dining space in which the food appears seemingly out of nowhere. Typically, if a lodge or camp are happy to welcome children, there will be a special menu or suitable options for them to enjoy.

Other factors to consider include:

  • Is dining al fresco an option or are all meals taken inside?
  • Is there an opportunity to take a picnic out on a game drive?
  • Is the food a la carte or buffet style?
  • Is it possible to dine privately or are all meals in a dining room setting?

Then consider which, if any, of the above are a deal-breaker or bucket-list experience for you.

7. Safari Guides

Female guide from Dunia Camp behind the wheel of a game vehicle | Go2Africa
Zawadi, one of the passionate guides that will lead you through Africa at Dunia Camp

Guests often return from their safari sojourn with more tales about their safari guides and trackers than the wildlife. During your stay, the guides are your primary connection to the world around you, they tap into the rhythm of nature and explain its song in a way only a local expert could. Spend time asking questions and engaging with them, their wealth of knowledge is extensive and can truly make your experience.

Any reputable camp or lodge will have well-trained, personable guides who can provide guests with unforgettable game drives and safari walks when offered. While they cannot guarantee wildlife sightings, guides are the most familiar with their patterns and favoured hiding spots. Unfortunately, guides can truly make or break an experience so it’s important to do your research and go somewhere with a highly trained team who go the extra mile. Women have begun breaking into the safari guiding space and some lodges and camps now feature female guides while others have a full team of them, such as the Chobe Angels in Botswana’s Chobe Lodge. The same is now also true of rangers tasked with the protection and conservation of Africa’s wildlife.

8. Sustainable Safari Lodges & Camps

A pier and boma extending into the river at Thorntree River Lodge | Go2Africa
Thorntree River Lodge pier at sunset

In line with the global shift to sustainability, there has been an increase in the number of travellers who believe there is a level of responsibility to ensure their money goes towards local causes and conservation. If supporting these projects and furthering the eco-tourism movement is important to you, ensure you select a property that has set up funding accounts and partnerships. There are some incredible sustainable safari lodges and camps as well as eco lodges that make a concerted effort and marked contribution to their community and the preservation of the space they call home.

3 Fantastic Examples of This:

Porini Mara Camp

This camp was founded in 2005 and was a trailblazer in the then-new conservancy model to increase the buffer zone for wildlife protection alongside the Mara to reduce the level of conflict between humans and wildlife. Porini Mara Camp also covets the highest rating in Kenya with an Ecotourism Gold Standard.

Thorntree River Lodge

Found just upstream of the legendary Victoria Falls on the edge of the mighty Zambezi River, Thorntree River Lodge blends seamlessly into its surroundings. Its eco-conscious design features local timber, stone, and reclaimed railway sleeper wood that blurs the line between nature and modernity. The Lodge also makes contributions to the local Maunga Village, specifically with the Mauna Primary School and improved access to health care.

Shawa Luangwa Camp

Located in wildlife rich Nsefu sector of Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, Shawa Luangwa Camp is 100% solar powered. The camp is built off the ground ensuring a low environmental impact. Their solar power extends from the camp to their vehicles and boats – the lack of noise pollution enables some truly incredible wildlife sightings. Shawa Luangwa also have a Pro Guide at the helm, Jacob Shawa, who is also the namesake of the camp. A firm grounding in sustainability, conservation and community development has led Shawa Luangwa to support local projects such as the Zambian Carnivore Programme, Conservation South Luangwa, and Project Luangwa.

 

It’s never too late to start travelling sustainably and making a concerted contribution while travelling through Positive Impact Safaris.

9. Why use an Africa Safari Expert?

Man with a camera looks through the lens to photograph an elephant in Timbavati | Go2Africa
Go2Africa Safari Expert, Justin Chapman, with the Timbavati elephants

Planning any trip can be a stressful and overwhelming experience, especially when it’s to a new country, and is primarily made up of a specific itinerary, namely safaris. As with any holiday, there is always insider information and local knowledge visitors are not privy to until arrival. Be it the best way to travel from country to country, and reserve to reserve, or simply knowing which areas have what you’re looking for. For example, when and where to see the Big 5 and what areas to combine for the ultimate experience.

This is the exact purpose of an Africa Safari Expert (ASE) who can take all your preferences into account and create the perfect custom itinerary. Whether it’s a solo trip, family excursion, or a romantic escape for honeymooners and couples, allow an ASE to take the reins and plan everything on your behalf. From the moment you land, to the moment you take off to return home, each transfer, activity, accommodation booking, and park fee will be taken care of with the greatest attention to detail. They are also the best positioned to advise on where to go, what to do, and where to stay as each are experts in their specific areas and don’t dabble in broad, unresearched advice. This is especially important for first-time safari goers who may find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available and how to figure out where to go for what they’re looking for.

10. Preferred Suppliers

3 people enjoying a sunset gin and tonic in the African bush | Go2Africa
Sundowners at Singita Boulders Lodge

As mentioned with guides and accommodation options, it’s imperative to know what you’re getting into. While a place may not be bad, it may not be quite what you’re looking for. Fortunately, Go2Africa has a process in place to ensure that doesn’t happen to our travellers. Every one of our partners and suppliers has been thoroughly vetted and their reputation typically precedes them. We also like to embody our motto “we know because we go” and would never send a guest to a property we are unsure of. You, our clients, are the top priority and ensuring a safe, comfortable journey is paramount to our team.

Read to Start Planning Your Safari?

If you’re ready to make a choice between camp or lodge, our Africa Safari Experts are ready to help you plan the safari of a lifetime. All you need to do is get in touch:

Emma Thomson
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Emma Thomson

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