So you’re planning your safari to Africa and you’ve picked the places you want to see, the vehicle you’d prefer to travel in, your flights there and back… Now the big decision: what accommodation to choose, and what you can expect from it. From tents to budget lodges; backpacker dorms to extreme luxury, Africa has something for everyone!
Most trips are made up of a combination of accommodations.
When one thinks of an African safari, one automatically thinks of camping and tents. No bricks and mortar separating you from everything that makes Africa so incredible – its sights, sounds and smells. Even tents, though, have come a long way from the cramped khaki, triangular versions of Boy Scout camps. The range is huge: from 2-people dome tents to luxurious tented camps.
Lightweight, easy to assemble, dome tents are the main accommodation used on our budget camping safaris. In general, they sleep two people, and have a ground sheet and mosquito net. Depending on the tour, you will need to bring your own sleeping bag and, on some tours, your own sleeping mat.
On these safaris, where participation is expected, the tents will be erected by you. The first time you put it up, you may need a little help from the guide, but by the end of the safari you’ll be able to do it blindfolded!
Campsites can range from large, well-equipped (hot water, flushing toilets, kitchen facilities) sites to wild camping in the middle of nowhere, with no facilities at all.
While these trips often use the same kind of tents as the budget camping trips, on an exclusive camping safari, in general, your tents will be set up for you, leaving you free to enjoy everything the African bush has to offer.
Depending on the tour, bedding may be provided.
The campsites chosen for these safaris also tend to be smaller, more exclusive, offering greater privacy. There’s nothing quite like having the bush to oneself!
Tented camps are campsites which have permanently erected tents, either completely canvas or with some fixed walls. They’re the camping option for the more discerning traveller. While offering a true African experience, in the wild, they also provide the creature comforts that many people don’t wish to do without.
In general, these tents are fully furnished – with beds – and you need bring nothing with you in terms of sleeping equipment. This is the option for those wanting to camp, but not interested in uncomfortable nights on hard ground or thin bed mats.
Luxury tented camps come in all shapes and sizes, and levels of luxury, so check which ones you’ll be staying at when booking. They range from basic, bedroom only structures to ones with en-suite bathrooms, lounges and decks! Some have electricity, some have solar power, and some come ‘au natural’ i.e. candles, gas, and the occasional generator.
Fly camping is especially popular in Tanzania. What it entails is a walking safari with nights spent in the bush under a light tent or mosquito net. The location of the tent changes each day.
Most fly camping safaris are relatively luxurious and rely on the ‘less is more’ idea. All equipment is light, but comfortable, and generally groups are small and entail two people, with a guide/cook. The guide sets up camp once you find a suitable spot (i.e. no toilets or showers, this is the bush!) while you enjoy a sun downer and listen to Africa settling in for the night.
Fly camping is a great option for people wanting to experience the enormity and splendour of the African bush – its sights, sounds and smells – but who can’t do without a little bit of luxury.
Sleeping under the stars is an unbeatable experience and the African night sky in the middle of nowhere is a breath-taking vision!
In many places, we make the use of budget lodges, which usually offer basic, furnished accommodation – either in double or single (single supplement added) rooms, and occasionally triple rooms.
We choose lodges that are clean and comfortable. Depending on the lodge, bathrooms may be en suite or shared. Bedding is provided, so sleeping bags are not necessary in the lodges.
Some lodges offer self-catering facilities, while others have in-house dining rooms or restaurants.
Island & River Lodges
While the first thoughts of African landscape tend to be vast tracts of arid landscape, Africa has many parts with incredible beaches and powerful rivers. Think Zambezi, Okavango, Mozambique, to name a few.
Many lodges and other types of accommodation have been built on the water’s edge, giving incredible views. There is nothing like going to sleep to the sound of waves or flowing water (often punctuated with hippo grunts – this is Africa!)
These lodges range from simple, comfortable and affordable all the way through to high-end luxury. Regardless of their luxury levels, though, they are all designed and arranged in a way that the makes the most of being on the water’s edge.
Most river- and seaside lodges have a central building, which houses reception, lounges, dining rooms and swimming pools. The living accommodations are generally separate buildings/permanent tents, sleeping two to four people, with en-suite bathrooms. Most of them have a deck on which to sit and watch the African day progress.
If water is your thing, a stay on a houseboat is a must. Found on the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers, amongst other places, these floating houses bring you as close to nature as is possible. Float gently down the river by day, seeing a huge variety of wildlife coming down to drink on the banks, enjoy sundowners on the deck (or in the pool, on some houseboats), before being gently rocked to sleep to the sound of flowing water and grunting hippos…
Houseboats come in various sizes that sleep from eight up to over twenty guests, usually in double cabins. They, too, differ in levels of luxury, some coming with private decks attached to the cabin. Most rooms have en-suite bathrooms and the boat has a main, shared area with bar/dining room, pool and/or jacuzzi and viewing deck.
Generally they are fully staffed and serviced. Meals while on the boat are catered.
Again, hotels range from cheap and simple to expensive and luxurious, so in most main urban centres throughout Africa, there is something for every taste. In South Africa, the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa have a grading system of hotels, lodges and B&Bs which ranges from 1-star (basic) to 5-star (high-end luxury.) It is not, however, compulsory to be accredited.
On our tours, hotels are used mainly only as the starting or ending point of a tour, or if we stopo ver in a city during a tour. Rooms in hotels are generally single (single supplement applies), double, or sometimes triple, and are serviced daily. Bathrooms may be en-suite or shared.
Meals are generally served in a communal hotel dining room or restaurant in the hotel (if meals are required) and are not usually included in the price.
For those on a tight budget, backpacker’s lodges are the way to go. Backpackers are found in most cities and smaller towns on the tourist routes. Ranging from single rooms, to dorm-style rooms, they offer a bed to sleep in and an environment conducive to making friends and meeting other travellers.
Depending on the establishment, they may provide bedding or you may need to bring your own. Bathrooms are generally shared and there is normally a communal kitchen. Again, depending on the establishment, meals may be provided – usually at extra cost – or facilities may be on a self-catering basis.