Camping in Africa

Our campsite in Chobe, Botswana.

Camping in Africa

I am not a camper, nor I do I claim to be. I don’t get along with the outdoors, I hate bugs, and I am not exactly one for roughing it. The last times I camped were back in elementary and high school, for girl scouts and music festivals, and after those experiences, I retired from sleeping in a tent.

In fact, last year, when my travel doctor asked me if I would be camping during my time in South East Asia, I almost laughed in her face, and said, Lady, I don’t even camp around here, what makes you think I’m camping in another country?

Fast forward to six months later, after my excursion to South East Asia. I began looking up trips to Africa, finally deciding I was ready to visit the magical continent of my dreams. I booked a tour with Gecko’s Adventures, not entirely realizing I’d be camping for sixteen out of twenty-one days. This came as quite a shock when I read over my trip itinerary one last time, after I had already paid for it.

I considered backing out, but, I figured I’d be fine. Having camped in the past, how different could this really be?



This was camping in Africa.

Yes, the Africa I had spent years dreaming about, a place I was fascinated with. The number one place I had desired to visit since the beginning of my existence. The place of vast landscapes, rich culture, tribal people, big smiles, wildlife safaris, wide-open savannas, sunsets over the African plains…I could go on for days.

But, in speaking with friends, family members, and even strangers, I began to hear all kinds of opinions as I explained my dream trip to them. Immediately, their faces began to turn. You’re going to Africa? Alone? And, camping? Ugh, why would you want to do that?

To a lot of people, this was Africa, the continent of rebel soldiers, civil war, mosquitoes, blood diamonds, tsetse flies, malaria, terrorist attacks, Ebola, political instability, famine, poverty, the HIV & AIDS epidemic, Somalian pirates, genocide, and dangerous animals, to name a few. Let’s be honest, Africa, doesn’t have a great rep.

Sure, prior to booking my trip, and visiting the travel doctor, these were the exact opposite of my African thoughts. However, after listening to the worries of some of the people around me, who thought I was crazy for going to Africa, and going alone, I have to admit that some of their opinions began to stir around in my mind.

What if I did pick up a deadly disease?

What if I got attacked by a wild animal?

What if I was captured by rebels, like that episode on Locked Up Abroad?

I’m not proud of these thoughts and moments; they are not my own. But, after hearing multiple people, who feel this way, speak their mind and make faces about your decisions, it’s almost impossible not to begin having fears.

Instead of completely panicking, which I almost did once or twice, okay maybe more than that, I tried to ignore what others had to say. This was easy to do since the most important people in my life were the ones who reminded me why I was taking this trip in the first place.

Then, while getting ready for my trip, I prepared for the worst, and hoped for the best. And, the best is exactly what I got. To start, I thought I’d be bush camping the entire trip, and when I arrived at our camp in Vic Falls, I found quite the opposite.

Camping in Africa

Sure, it wasn’t the Four Seasons, but I didn’t want it to be, and more importantly, it didn’t have to be. It was simple, and there were showers and toilets, and even though the water was ice cold and time in the shower was spent swatting away mosquitoes, I was happy to at least have these facilities.

In fact, aside from one night in the Delta and a night in the mountains of Namibia, we had facilities such as these in every camp site.

Camping in Africa

The further down the continent we moved, the better the facilities got. But, no matter what the conditions of the bathroom, I could take a shower every day, and even though the dirt would just stick back on my wet feet as I made my way back to my tent, at least I was somewhat clean.

To be honest, we weren’t all that clean the entire trip. The bus was dirty, our tents were dirty, and our clothes were dirty. Towards the end, we didn’t even bother to care. The samples of dirt collected from each campsite seemed to grow in our tent, clothes, truck, and shoes. Even now, the shoes I took with me occasionally pour out dirt and sand from somewhere in Africa, not that I mind.

Camping in Africa

But, it was moments like these, that I actually felt more in touch with Africa. Those and the nights where jackals would gather outside the tents and howl at each other; the lions growling in the background. Not knowing what would be outside the tents in the morning when we’d wake up. The general feeling of not knowing what to expect with each new day.

Camping in Africa

Sure, sleeping on the ground each night wasn’t my cup of tea. Especially when the mats were thin, and the ground was often hard and rocky. The nights we were in the desert and the temperatures dropped weren’t too fun either. Even three pairs of pants and six shirts (including thermals), a sleeping bag liner, and a down sleeping bag weren’t enough to keep me warm.

Camping in Africa

Sure, not leaving the tent in the middle of the night to use the bathroom for fear of what was waiting outside the tent is not something I miss. That and actually taking down and putting up the heavy canvas tents. To be honest, the only day that Jade and I were successfully able to do this completely on our own, was the very last day of camping before we headed to Cape Town.

It was on that morning, that I vowed never to camp again, cursing the muddy canvas of the tent we were forced to pack into its tiny canvas bag. Yet, now that I’m home, not watching everyone eat breakfast while I struggle to take down my tent, I find myself missing sleeping outside close to nature. I miss the simple routines of each day.

There’s something about fully immersing yourself in the outdoors and sleeping under the stars that draws you closer to the earth. I miss eating dinner huddled around a campfire each night, then lying out looking at the great African sky full of stars, more than I’ve ever seen. Then the simplicity of zippering myself into my tent, crawling into my sleeping bag, and falling asleep to the sounds of the African night, which often included the unwanted, but somehow comforting, sounds of snoring from those on my tour.

While my experience camping may have taken me completely out of my comfort zone, and was probably one of the more difficult activities I’ve chosen to do in my life, I truly believe that it was the best way to see Africa. Even when my group-mates and I were jealous of the luxurious rooms set on the waterhole at our campsite in Etosha National Park. Yes, it would be nice to see Africa that way, but I don’t think we would have fully experienced what Africa is.

By camping, we were able to fully experience the beauty of each country we visited, and by driving through each country, we were able to truly appreciate everything that is Africa. For that, I am truly grateful.

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Camping in Africa

*Special thanks to Rae, who took the picture of our Victoria Falls camp, since I neglected to take one…opps!

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Comments (40)

  1. Melissa - The Mellyboo Project

    woah your sleeping mats were MEGA thin! Ours weren’t that bad – ours were cushy enough that you couldnt feel the ground underneath.

    I didn’t know what to expect in regards to facilities but like you was pleasantly surprised. I spent 9 days camping along the Nullarbor Plain in Australia and we were literally sleeping in swags under the stars, sometimes on the side of a highway. I’d say I roughed it more there than I ever did in Africa.

    1. The World Wanderer

      Yea, those are actually the ones from the Delta, ours weren’t much thicker. There were some that were good, but the same people always made sure they got first pick.

      I was really nervous about the camping conditions. I actually thought we’d be bush camping the whole time – silly me! That camping trip sounds incredible! To sleep under the stars! One of the Australians on the tour was telling me he did the same thing a lot in Australia, so for him the trip to Africa was nothing too.

  2. Pola (@jettingaround)

    Wow, quite a list of reasons why some people would stay away from Africa… But that’s what you hear in the media, not about camping… And surely it’s not a glamorous experience, but one I’m sure you’ll remember for a long time! When I read your posts, I keep thinking what an incredible experience this whole trip must have been for you.

    1. The World Wanderer

      It was so great, Pola, and something I never would have expected myself to have done. I’m ready to go back though!

  3. Holly

    Wow – great post. A couple of friends of mine have nervously just set out on a holiday like this and I was all like ‘oh get over it, it’ll be FINE!’ but having read that, I think they are in for more thrills and spills that they expected!!

    1. The World Wanderer

      Thanks, Holly! It was the experience of a lifetime, even if I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I think that’s what made it even better. 🙂

  4. @mrsoaroundworld

    Not one for me, I went glamping once in Marrakesh and one night was more than enough. But I can see why this was such a great experience for you!

  5. D.J. - The World of Deej

    Well….you survived. Pretty unlikely I could do the same…

    1. The World Wanderer

      I bet you’d do better than you’d think! I have faith in you 😉

  6. the lazy travelers

    we love that you did this! it’s totally a once in a lifetime experience, and we can see how you’d come out feeling like this has to be the best way to experience africa.

  7. Traveling Ted

    Outstanding post. Glad to hear you enjoyed getting out of your comfort zone.

  8. Raul (@ilivetotravel)

    Erin, I totally relate. I need A/C, no bugs, etc. But I have been able to survive not getting what I prefer because some destinations or trip types are best experienced as in the local setting, in this case Africa for you. It is neat to hear others discovering this!!

    1. The World Wanderer

      It’s a great discovery! I was always such a brat when it came to finding the right, clean hotel to stay. Honestly, now I could stay ANYWHERE!

  9. Leah Travels

    Three words: Not for me.

    I love reading about how you did it though! Haha!

  10. Peter Lee

    Camping is enjoying the peace and quiet of nature and breathing the fresh air. Getting out of the norm and away from the bustle of regular life is something relished by avid campers. After reading your post I realised Africa is secure and one of the best destinations for camping. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post.

  11. CreditDonkey

    Africa…a different world…You’re right about the impressions most people have about it. I’m also interested in seeing it but I think it would be last in my bucket list. I think you’re very brave to have experienced it as you did and I agree it was the best way. I could probably take it as well except for the toilets but you were also very lucky to have those facilities.

    1. The World Wanderer

      Thanks! A different world, but the very best place I have visited. 🙂 I hope you get there one day.

  12. lola

    YOU ARE SO BRAVE. no way, no how, am i doing this. i’m just too prissy. amazing!! i’m in awe of you.

    1. The World Wanderer

      Haha, thanks, Lola! I’m shocked that even I was able to do it. 🙂

  13. Tawny - Captain and Clark

    I absolutely loved camping in Africa. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I would LOVE to do it again. I’m so glad you had a great time. We should probably plan a trip back soon.

    1. The World Wanderer

      I actually couldn’t believe how much I liked it! Tell me when you guys want to go, and I’m there. Would love to see the rest of Africa!

  14. Craig Zabransky

    Smile, a BIG Smile… I love it when someone takes a step out of their comfort zone and loves it… and then once you see the world from that side, there is no going back. kudos to you for making the decision to follow a passion to see Africa and take that step….stay adventurous, Craig

    1. The World Wanderer

      Thanks, Craig! Was totally worth it all. I am dying to get back to Africa, I fell completely in love with the continent.

  15. Scarlett

    I love that you stepped out of your comfort zone! This looks like an amazing experience xxx

    1. The World Wanderer

      Thank you, Scarlett! I truly was unbelievable.

  16. John

    Great recap. I’m struggling to find my groove with camping now. I finally went and bought everything I need to do it, so hopefully that’ll encourage me to spend more time sleeping in a tent.

    1. The World Wanderer

      Thanks, John! It isn’t something easy to get used to. But, after a few days, it’s like nothing else. So relaxing and peaceful. Nothing like nature right outside your door. Never thought I’d say that!

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  18. Alex

    This is great! It looks like you had an amazing experience. I think it’s totally normal to be a little worried or scared of traveling in Africa. All we hear through main-stream media is bad news and sad reports. No one ever talks about the positives and beauty of Africa!

  19. Adam

    We had almost the same response from family when we camped around Africa. We ended up with a bit of a rubbish, bad quality tent, so I’ve written a little guide to choosing a tent for camping around Africa here

  20. Nickolas Tierney MD

    Just a little help please. My plan is to solo motorcycle Northen Tanzania down to Cape Town. Along the way pull off the main road and set up my tent, gather wood and tent it. My concern is do I have to worry about large predators bothering me thru the night. I will indeed ask around my local surroundings every time, but I am curious as to your thoughts. I really don’t want a pride circling my tent thru the night.

    1. The World Wanderer

      I am not sure how it will be traveling this way. I stayed at designated camping sites. Sometimes we’d have animals around us, but not often. We were told that if we camped on our own, just to make sure we were staying in different places each time so the predators wouldn’t watch us. Apparently, they will watch and observe you for a few days before attacking. A lot of it depends on where you will be. But, I am probably not the best person to ask – sorry!

  21. Shivya Nath

    Lovely! Your write-up makes me want to head out and camp more often 🙂

  22. Ivan

    Thanks for that post!
    It really inspired me to go wild as I used to do several years ago!
    Enjoyed reading!

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