Camping safely in the bush

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Camping safely in the bush

by Laura van Dijk

Advice to take at heart for a safe camping trip on your Roadtrip in Africa

Camping is a great way to de-stress and reconnect with nature, but you are not camping at the Costa del Sol or Beekse Bergen…The campgrounds inside the National Parks are not fenced, so animals, large and small, WILL wander through. But that is what we’re going for, right? Even if you camp outside a game reserve, you should be aware of animals, as the parks are not fenced and continue in a protected transition reserve, where the grass is also juicy for the Hippo’s…

So listen carefully and take the appropriate precautions if you are camping in the bush:

  • When you have a long day of driving ahead of you, leave early to allow for the unexpected (flat tire, getting lost, or enjoying a longer picnic at a scenic spot) and make sure you arrive at your destination with plenty of daylight left to set up your camp.
  • When you arrive at a camp next to a river, look for any animal paths from the river. These are most probably hippo trails. Hippos leave the river at night along these paths to graze and are the most dangerous animals in Africa, being responsible for the highest number of humans killed by wildlife. Make sure not to get in between the hippos and the water: when hippos get scared they run for water.
  • Don’t set up your tent under a thorn tree, they don’t go well with airbeds..
  • Hard to believe, but keep in mind that animals, yes even lions, elephants and hippo’s, are as afraid of you, as you are of them. They will never do you any harm or even get near to you, if you just let them be. 
  • Keep your tent close at all times and you will be safe. Never stick out a leg because it’s such a warm, tropical night.
  • To avoid attracting animals make sure that you do not leave food lying around and NEVER leave food in your tent. Also, do not throw your leftover food in the bush, thinking that you are doing the local animal population a favour. You are not. Any rubbish should be placed in bins provided or if there are no bins in the area where you are camping, you should pack the rubbish and take it away with you in the car.
  • Leave all your valuables like passports, cameras etc. out of sight in your locked vehicle for protection against theft. Hyena’s love to come in and chew on anything that remotely smells of food. And lock your doors, some monkeys are getting quite good at opening car doors!
  • Keep close to your camp fire; do not wander away from your fire at night. But build your fire well away from your flammable tent, any dry grass, twigs and nearby bushes - the last thing you want to start is an out of control wild fire. Enquire at the park entrance about the bush fire regulations.
  • When you go out on a game drive, stay inside your vehicle. You now probably think, well duh. But after some days in the bush, some people start to feel at ease and forget the wild animals, are, well, wild.  Do not sit on top of the roof or stick your arms out of windows.
  • Be aware of lone buffalo. They wander into camp at any time of the day and can be extremely dangerous. Stay away as far as possible.
  • If you do encounter an elephant or lion, don’t run. Rather stand still and then very slowly backtrack in your steps. If an elephant approaches you whilst sitting in camp, resist your instinct to flee. Just stay put.
  • Elephant are extremely protective of their young. When you encounter elephant with young ones in the group, stay away as far as possible. Reverse your vehicle very slowly to give them enough space if they need to cross the road.
  • Lastly, abstain from taking apples and citrus fruit into a park where there are elephants. They will do anything possible to get those delicacies.

Bush camping inside a Wildlife National Park is not for the faint-hearted. Yet it is safe and an incredible experience. There’s something amazing about hearing hippo grazing right up to your tent, missing all of the pegs and guy lines. It's amazing how nimble they can be. It can become quite scary in a ground tent when you have lions and hyena sniffling around It still amazes me that you are safe in your tent as long as you keep it firmly zipped up. It is as if though the animals don’t realise how thin the tent is. But that’s the thrill of a night you will never forget!

Going for it? We're happy to share our favourite camping spots in Africa

Campsites do not require any advance arrangements - most of them can't even be booked in advance. Refer to Roadtrip Africa's accommodation pages, for a list of our favourite campsites in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Madagascar. Also, the Bradt Travel Guide and Lonely Planet that comes with your Roadtrip Africa rental car has detailed and updated information about most campsites. 

Do drop us a line, in case you have discovered a new jewel! 

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