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A Beginner’s Guide to Camping in the African Bush

Views of the savannah from N/a’an ku sê (Naankuse) Wildlife Sanctuary in Namibia, Africa

Camping in the African wilderness is a once in a bucket-list experience. There’s nothing but you and raw, beautiful nature. Camping here feels like you are in another word. There’s no light pollution so the stars are spectacular and you can fall asleep to the sound of lions roaring in the distance or hippos bellowing in the river. When I camped in Zambia, I loved every minute of it and I would do it again, hands down.

It was my first time wild camping anywhere in the world and as a result there was a lot of new information for me to absorb, not only on how to stay safe whilst camping in the wilderness but also how to be respectful to wildlife and the wilderness on which you set foot.

Here is my beginner’s guide to wild camping in Africa.

Where Can You Camp in Africa?

Campsites are dotted throughout Africa, some managed and others not so much. You will find there is a real range of campsites to choose from from sites containing luxury permanent tents (which are more impressive than my house inside!) to empty sites where you can pitch up your own ground tent or vehicle with a roof-top-tent. To be honest, the luxury tents do not really feel like camping so if you want an authentic camping experience in Africa be prepared to roll out your sleeping bag on the floor of a ground tent or roof-top-tent.

Whilst it’s entirely possible to organise your own trip and book yourself into various campsites either in advance or on arrival, you may also want to book an organised tour through a local company as these offer opportunities to wild camp in which you set-up your tent completely in the wilds of Africa. I have tried both options (booking campsites myself and an organised tour) and each option offers a completely unique experience.

It isn’t a good idea to just pitch your tent up anywhere in Africa. Each African country has its own regulations about where you can and can’t pitch up. Also, rules and regulations aside, it simply wouldn’t be safe for you to pitch-up anywhere you pleased.

Oryx in Namib Desert, Namibia, Africa

Is It Safe to Camp in Africa?

Whilst most camping experiences in Africa are trouble-free, incidents can and do occur.

There are numerous factors that can affect your safety whilst camping, for example a managed campsite will be safer than an unmanaged one as there are pairs of eyes keeping watch of the site at all times. Some campsites are actually fenced meaning that animals that may pose a threat to campers cannot get into the campsite. This is not true of every campsite, however. Furthermore, if you are travelling with a guide this will also increase your safety levels.

Camping in Africa is undoubtably an amazing experience. However, there is a risk involved. There have been incidents where campers have got into trouble with wildlife. I, myself, had a rather hairy encounter with a hippo one night when I left my tent to use the bathroom.

Tips on Keeping Safe Whilst Camping in Africa

Here are some general tips which should help you keep safe whilst camping in Africa.

1. Camp at a Managed Campsite or With a Guide

Having a pair of eyes keeping watch of the campsite is perhaps the number 1 way to keep safe whilst camping. They are experienced at camping in remote areas and are knowledgable about local wildlife and so know exactly what to keep watch for. They also carry riffles so are able to intervene if a sketchy situation occurs.

2. Avoid Going to the Toilet in the Night

I know this isn’t always easy to do – I always need to pee at night! However, if you can help it then don’t. To minimise the need of going to the toilet in the night, make sure you empty your bladder just before you go to bed and avoid consuming too much liquid in the evenings.

If you really cannot avoid a bathroom break in the night, make your trip with someone else (or at least let someone know your whereabouts), wear a head-torch and go as close to your tent as possible.

Namib Desert self-drive road-trip in Namibia, Africa

3. Don’t Keep Any Food in Your Tent

Believe it or not animals aren’t that interested in campsites, not unless there’s food around. Having food in your tent is the best way to attract unwanted attention from passing animals so it’s best not to have any. Without food in your tent, there is little of interest for them.

4. Use a Head-Torch When Walking After Dark

Head-torches are a must when camping in Africa. They light up the way so that you can clearly see your surroundings and they are also off-putting for wildlife.

5. Keep the Campsite Tidy

If you leave litter or scraps of food around the campsite then you are essentially asking for animals to invade the site in the night. Not only is it polite and respectful to the reserve or campsite that you are staying at to keep it tidy, it is also better for safety too.

6. Make Sure Your Tent is Fully Zipped-Up

It is essentially that there are no openings to your tent in the night. Whilst animals aren’t typically interested in tents, you don’t want to go asking for trouble by peaking their interest in a new unexplored hole. There have been incidents of hyenas taking advantage of open tents.

Even in the day it is best to keep your tent fully closed. An unwelcome snake may see your open tent as a nice place to escape from the sun.

Leopard at N/a’an ku sê (Naankuse) Wildlife Sanctuary in Namibia, Africa

7. Respect the Wildlife

Animals rarely pose a threat if you treat them with the respect that they deserve, therefore don’t get too close to any wildlife that wanders near your campsite and certainly don’t try to antagonise them. If you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.

8. Always Listen to Your Guide

Guides are extremely knowledgeable about camping in the bush and so if they have advice for you or advise you against doing something, it’s essential that you listen.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it! I hope this guide comes in handy if you ever decide to go camping in the African wilderness. If you take note of the points above and follow the advice of your guides, you should have a great camping experience.

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