About Camping in Africa
There are an infinite number of magnificent places to pitch a tent on the African continent. If you set off on a self-drive vacation with no time limits, you’d probably never run out of campsites – both designated and wild. But what gear do you really need: the essentials, without the clutter? And what should you know about safety, related to wildlife and the weather, specifically? Read on for the first instalment of our African camping guide.
So, first off – what is a pitch-perfect spot? Well, you could choose a designated campsite, where guidelines will be given as to where you can set up your tent and other accouterments; or you could go for a vastly more remote area, where you’ll need to take a great deal more into consideration when it comes to passing traffic (vehicles or wildlife) and terrain.
The experts recommend that you choose flat ground or, if you end up on a slight slope, that your head is at the top and your feet at the bottom; that you clear the surface of debris to avoid damage to your ground sheet; and that you set up close to a hedge of trees or rocky outcrop to ensure your party has some protection against wind and sun, depending on the weather conditions.
Are you a spur of the moment person, who keeps their camping kit in the garage, dusts it off and tosses it into the back of the bakkie just prior to setting off? Or do you spend at least a week planning where you’re going and what you’ll need, preferring a more luxurious approach called “glamping” (i.e. glam camping with all the frills, folded neatly into the depths of a 5-star camping trailer). There is also the middle road, which involves a fair amount of preparation – perhaps an evening or two – but embraces the wonderment of the great outdoors with more abandon than the glampers. Camping is certainly a case of each to his or her own.
If you’re new to this kind of holiday but are keenly reading up about places to go and the facilities those campsites will offer, you’ll see mention of things like: number of stands for tents and what shade is available, what the ground cover is like, whether there’s electricity or not, if braai facilities are provided, whether pets can come along, what activities you can enjoy in the surrounds, how accessible the site is with a normal car (or whether there’s only 4×4 access), how to make a booking and what costs you can expect per person per day.
With the above in mind, it’s time to see what gear you can source from friends and family, and what you’ll need to go out and buy. It’s wise to first try out this holiday style and, once you’re hooked, to go and buy all your own highly tailored kit. See our essentials checklist below:
• ground sheet
• sleeping bag
• head lamp + batteries
• gas lamp + spare gas canister
• mosquito repellant
• camping stove
• cooler box for drinks/water
• multi-use pot
• fold-up chair
• solar device-charger
The above list excludes food, drinks, toiletries, first aid kit and clothing – which all depend on personal needs and preference, whether you’re going to braai or cook on a gas camping stove and, of course, the season.
When it comes to that first and most essential item on your list, the tent, be aware that there are many different styles available on the market. Whether you choose a dome, ridge, geodesign, A-frame, pyramid or tunnel will depend on budget, number of campers and several other factors. You could also go for a pop-up tent that attaches seamlessly to a car or trailer. Give it some thought before you make your purchase.
Next up, let’s tackle those safety concerns. It pays to keep your spot in the tent as neat as possible, and to zip up your sleeping bag and the tent itself when you head off on an excursion. This will make it easier to spot any creepy crawlies when you return, but should also keep most of them from venturing into your tent in the first place. Note: Before getting into your sleeping bag at night, it’s always a good idea to do a quick torch-lit recce and to shake out your sleeping bag. Food items should also be stored, when you’ve finished a meal, in a hard-shelled cooler box with a clip-down lid; this can also double as another seat in your camping area.
Aim not to leave valuables in your tent, but rather to stow them in your car – or carry them on you if possible. Better safe than sorry, especially when it comes to money, passports and the like. And another expert recommendation is to padlock your tent when you go out on a game drive or hike; even losing a sleeping bag or mattress to a would-be thief might make your entire trip a bit trying.
Fortunately, there is a code of conduct at wilder campsites and in bush camps so, if you’re unsure of the done thing, be sure to get chatting to a friendly and helpful camper who seems to know what they’re doing. For obvious reasons, it’s advisable never to set up camp near animal tracks or waterholes. Rather stick to designated camping areas when you set up, and also be sure to cook in the accompanying fire pit which will most likely have been selected so as not to result in a fire during the night if the wind comes up. When it comes to garbage, you may be required to take this all back with you but, if bins are provided, be sure to stow your rubbish in extra-strong bags.
At first, once arriving at your campsite, you may be focused on the practicalities of setting up and getting supper cooked for your party – but, before long, the magic of the whole experience is likely to overcome you. It’s wonderful to be (safely) immersed in nature; to watch the sun rising in the morning while breakfast sizzles on the wok; and to enjoy the sight of it setting each evening, from your camping chair, while sipping beverages and swopping game-viewing stories/photos with members of your party while the braai fire gets going.
If you’ve chosen an escorted or guided tour rather than a self-drive experience, things may be a bit easier for you than described above; it is a good option for tourists who are unlikely to have the time and inclination to sort out all the bells and whistles ahead of time. Firstly, you probably won’t need all of the camping kit that a self-drive camper would, meals will be provided, game drives will be laid on and your safety will be a top priority to the guides at all times. In fact, some folk going on guided tours opt to spend a few nights in more luxurious forms of accommodation than the traditional pitch tent, such as a luxury tent or chalet. But it’s worth remembering when you book your trip that these luxuries come at a price over and above what you pay for them – camping offers greater flexibility and the chance to immerse yourself fully in nature, so that you are guaranteed to experience the sounds and sights of the bush throughout the day and night, too.
What can work nicely is to start and end your camping holiday in facilities that are a little less rough, though – such as those with existing tents, a restaurant and even a shop nearby (so you can stock up on those last-minute necessities). In Namibia’s capital city of Windhoek, where you could choose to start your self-drive vacation, Arebbusch Travel Lodge offers the option of a stay in luxury-tented accommodation among its wide variety of other accommodation options. These meru-styed tents are shaded, air-conditioned and provide a fridge and kettle for the overnight traveller. You’ll probably want to take the opportunity to charge all your devices (especially your smartphone and camera), and also to send a few WhatsApp messages using the free Wi-Fi provided. Beds have high-quality linen and a bedside table with reading lamp; en-suite bathrooms offer a shower and basin, hot and cold water, toilet, mirror and fluffy bath towels for supreme comfort. Take advantage of these little luxuries before you head off into the wilder parts of Africa!