Africa’s far-flung camps bring you closer to nature and offer the most authentic tented accommodation from the golden era of safari travel. The experience is comfortable, rugged, surprising and thrilling, but before you take a tour on the wild side, find out what you need to be prepared for and why we love these camps.
Under Canvas camps
What you need to know: Most tented camps don’t actually accommodate you in a tent. You stay in a canvas and wood structure with doors, windows and all the usual lodge amenities, from electricity to hotel-style bathrooms. In other words, the canvas is purely for ambience.
If you choose an ‘under canvas’ camp, your accommodation is in an actual tent, usually a spacious and classic East African meru. Expect zip up doorways and windows with roll up canvas flaps (which can be a bother to open and close). You’ll also have a little less privacy in your en suite bathroom, which is separated by thin canvas walls.
Why we love it: Canvas allows you to hear the wilderness around you. There is nothing quite as wonderful as snuggling up safe and comfortable in bed, listening to the deep rumble of a passing elephant or catching the sweet scent of wild basil. You wake to the chatter of pheasants followed promptly by your tent attendant announcing the delivery of your morning coffee with a polite 'kho-kho!' in place of a knock at the door.
What you need to know: The term ‘bucket shower’ means that a tent attendant delivers 20 to 30 litres (five to 10 gallons) of hot water to your en suite bathroom, filling up your shower bucket, which hangs overhead. You’ll have a blissful shower but the amount of hot water is finite. The best way to make it last is to turn the water off while soaping and shampooing, turning it back on to rinse off. Spontaneous ablutions require some patience - each time you shower, your attendant needs to heat the water and deliver it.
Bucket shower or not, we believe that certain comforts are sacrosanct, which means we only recommend camps with running water at the washbasin and flush loos.
Why we love it: There is something very charming about a bucket shower. It makes you feel like a kid again, transporting you back to when the daily ritual of washing was something you gave time to, rather than a necessity to be checked off as quickly and efficiently as possible.
What you need to know: Usually, these camps run a generator during the day (while you’re out exploring) to charge up batteries and cool down fridges, switching it off before you return (generators are fairly noisy and 'eau de diesel' isn't a scent anyone enjoys in the wilderness). How this affects you is that you’ll probably need to charge your electronics in the central mess tent, there won’t be air conditioning or Wi-Fi, and the solar lights after dark will be ideal to see by but a little dim for lengthy bedtime reading. It's a great idea to pack a headlamp if you're staying somewhere with limited power.
Why we love it: Taking away electricity adds an extra dimension to your journey, often making it extraordinary. The resulting digital detox sets you free from the electronics that dominate your normal daily routines and reconnects you with the rhythm of the natural world. Many guests report the quality of their sleep improved along with an increased sense of well-being and decreased sense of anxiety.
What you need to know: Fly camping gives you an overnight taste of staying in a remote under canvas camp. Luxury lodges in private concessions usually offer it as a special excursion. The lodge staff erect a comfortable temporary camp complete with compact, walk-in tents and ablutions, taking you close to the wilderness without sacrificing too many essential comforts.
Why we love it: It’s a wonderful taste of rugged camping without being so far from the main lodge that you can’t change your mind. For many guests, the night spent fly camping becomes a highlight of their journey. It really grounds your senses in the wilderness – you fall asleep to the sounds of the African bush and wake to bird song at sunrise. It is immensely peaceful and unsurpassed for making you feel one with nature.
Who does it best?
If going off-the-beaten-track sounds heavenly to you, you’ll love these camps - handpicked by our experts based on their personal travels.
In Kenya, our Africa Safari Expert Lauren Johansson recommends Saruni Wild: 'Located in a peaceful valley in Mara north conservancy, Saruni Wild is a classic and exclusive camp. Some highlights are the guided bush walks with Masai and night game drives. Relaxing around the campfire after a delicious dinner served under the African night sky is exactly how it should be!'
Our Product Manager, Liesel van Zyl, recommends Porini Mara: 'Expect privacy, authenticity and a unique personal touch at this simple wilderness camp, where much thought has gone into giving you a memorable holiday.'
In Tanzania, our Africa Safari Expert Emma Hill recommends Sayari Camp: 'I felt so at home staying here – it’s just perfect in June and July for the Great Migration! Great food, hospitality and a gorgeous pool to cool off in after lovely long game drives. The tent was heaven to return to every night!'
Our Africa Safari Expert Lauren Johansson recommends Serengeti Under Canvas: 'To wake up with hundreds of wildebeest around camp was a complete highlight. It's also so true to the nature of safari - perfect for the Migration with some of the best guides around. A firm favourite!'
In Botswana we recommend Savuti Under Canvas. Why? It offers one of the best types of travel: genuine and personalised. There are freshly prepared meals on open fires and butlers take care of your every need. This is camping at its best!
Africa Safari Expert Tracy Payne recommends Chobe Under Canvas: 'This is a real safari; you feel so close to nature in the spacious tents. Truly amazing to enjoy a meal under the stars that's prepared solely on a fire.'
Ready to take a tour on the wild side?
Going off the beaten track in safety, style and comfort doesn’t need to be intimidating. We are the tailor-made experts, which means we’ll craft your journey with the right balance of rugged and luxury ingredients to suit your appetite. There is definitely no one-size-fits-all when it comes to this type of travel so connect with an expert today or find out more about Africa's Top Tented Camps and the most authentic and romantic camping of all, a mobile safari.