10 of the Wildest Campsites in Africa

Wild campsites have the ability to make you
feel a million miles away from the tedium of your daily routine, but
they’re not for the faint-hearted. Often they’re at the end of
treacherous roads with few facilities, and when the fire dies down
there’s no stopping visitors of the four-legged kind from slinking in to
investigate. Satisfy your wild side at these 10 campsites.

Lesholoago Pan
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Botswana

GPS: S24.94049°, E22.03115°

Mabuasehube
is a little block on the eastern tip of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
and consists of a series of pans, along the edge of which most of the
game-viewing in this region takes place. Each pan is surrounded by a
number of unfenced campsites. Currently water is being pumped for
animals at only two pans, Mpayathutlwa and Lesholoago.

There are
two campsites at Lesholoago, on opposite sides of the pan. No. 2 is most
popular, because it’s located just a few hundred metres from a
waterhole, which attracts large numbers of game throughout the day. It
also has a working tap in the campsite itself; as a result you’ll have
to put up with other visitors stopping by to fill up with water.

I
prefer to camp at Lesholoago No. 1. It’s a bit more isolated, but still
only five minutes’ drive from the waterhole. Each campsite has a wooden
A-frame that provides welcome shade during the heat of the day (and
sometimes serves as a jungle gym for rambunctious lion cubs) and a neat
long-drop toilet and shower cubicle where you can hang your own bucket
shower. The resident lion pride makes a habit of keeping Lesholoago’s
campers awake, so look twice before answering nature’s call at night –
the king of the Kalahari might just be waiting in the doorway of your
tent.

Do this:
Park next to the pan’s
waterhole early in the morning and late in the afternoon and watch as
brown hyenas, bateleurs and other creatures come down to drink.

Cost and contact:
Entrance costs from R23 a person and R5 a vehicle a day. Camping is from R34 a person a night. Tel +267-318-0774, email dwnp@gov.bw.

Tip:
If
you want to avoid the occasional interruption of other visitors looking
for water, book site No. 1. The water from No. 2’s tap is undrinkable,
but ideal for showering and washing dishes.

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Mahurushele No. 3
Khutse Game Reserve, Botswana

GPS: S23.28445°, E24.38987°

Of
Khutse’s five camping areas (each with three to 10 private stands),
Mahurushele No. 3 is the most comfortable and secluded. It has a neat
and clean long-drop toilet, bucket shower and braai area, as well as a
huge camelthorn tree under which to pitch your tent.

It’s
impossible not to keep an extra close eye on the golden Kalahari grasses
that line the campsite, especially if you hear lions roaring close by
during the night (three roads lead in different directions from
Mahurushele No. 3, so you have a good chance of picking up the pride on
an early-morning game drive if you know where they were calling from).
Quiet and very isolated, it’s quintessential Kalahari camping – the kind
of place where you can switch off easily.

Do this:
Drive
down to Molose Waterhole, about 24 kilometres southwest of Mahurushele
Pan, to spot the local lion pride that comes down to drink fairly
frequently, especially early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

Cost and contact:
Entrance from R139 a person and R58 a vehicle a day (pay to Botswana Parks before arrival, tel +267-318-0774, email dwnp@gov.bw).
Camping costs from R194 a person a night (max. eight). Book through
Bigfoot Tours, tel +267-395-3360 or +267-391- 0927, email reservations@bigfoottours.co.bw, www.bigfoottours.co.bw.

Tip:
Take along an ultraviolet black light to search for scorpions at night. They’re common in the campsite, especially after rain.

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Masuma Dam
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

GPS: S18.73057°, E26.28093°

In
the heart of Hwange National Park, Masuma is a picnic site by day and a
very popular exclusive campsite by night. Complete with flush toilets
and donkey boiler shower, the comfortable thatched hide overlooks a
shallow dam and manmade trough, which attract large numbers of game
between June and October when the surrounding mopane veld is a dusty
wasteland. Sitting inside the hide, it feels as if you’re in an arena,
watching a late-afternoon procession of elephants come down to quench
their thirst, often walking within touching distance of you, before they
lull you to sleep at night with their deep rumbles.

Do this:
Although
there’s a good network of roads around Masuma, you’ll probably see more
game by staying in the hide during the early morning and later
afternoon. Remember to take comfortable camping chairs.

Cost and contact:
Entrance
costs US$15 a person and US$15 a vehicle (valid for seven days).
Camping is from US$150 a site a night for six people and US$25 an extra
person a night (max. 12). Report to Sinamatella Camp before heading to
Masuma Dam. Email bookings@zimparks.co.zw, www.zimparks.org.

Tip:
To
stay at Masuma during the busy dry season, you’ll need to book a year
in advance. For an extra-special experience, organise your trip over
full moon, when you can see animals at night without a spotlight – with a
good pair of binoculars it’s almost like daylight game-viewing!

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Namuskluft
Rosh Pinah, Namibia

GPS: S27.86714°, E16.86666°

Tucked
away in a narrow valley and surrounded by mountains, you’ll find this
tidy little campsite. The four spacious stands, each with green grass
and a shady tree, are maintained with the kind of personal touch you
often see on the privately owned farms on Namibia’s quiet back roads.

The
attention to detail is obvious in well-designed, sheltered braai areas;
immaculate communal ablutions (with flush toilets and hot showers) and
the meticulously packed rocks that line the pathways and mark out the
campsites. A generator provides power in the early mornings and
evenings. It’s the perfect little kuier camp, where groups of friends
can enjoy one another’s company around a roaring campfire.

Do this:
Within
walking distance of the campsite is a swimming pool surrounded by shade
cloth-covered benches – the perfect place to spend hot summer’s
afternoons in southern Namibia, where temperatures often go above the
40° Celsius mark. A little further afield, look for quiver trees on the
mountain slopes of |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, about 13
kilometres away and just south of Rosh Pinah.

Cost and contact:
Camping costs R60 a person and R20 a vehicle a day. Tel +264-881-223-543, email kluft@iway.na.

Tip:
Keep your camera ready to catch the very relaxed bokmakieries (a type of bush-shrike) hopping around the campsite at dawn.

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Ruaha Public Campsite
Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

GPS: S7.67826°, E34.94073°

The
public campsite at Ruaha National Park in central Tanzania is simply a
small, open patch of earth on the banks of the scenic Great Ruaha River.
It has a tiny ablution block with flush toilets and cold showers, but
there’s no fence or electricity and you’ll have to share a single shady
tree with the local wildlife. The first time I camped here, a lioness
was sleeping under it upon our arrival. By nightfall that day, we’d seen
40 lions – and this was during a lush summer, which isn’t as good for
game-viewing as the dry winter months (June to October), when the
riverbeds teem with animals. You can find a similar sense of isolation
elsewhere, but what makes this campsite so special is the thrill of not
just knowing the animals are around, but being able to see them on your
doorstep.

Do this:
Explore the Mwagusi River,
north of the campsite. Roads on either side of its banks provide views
over the riverbed, known as a favourite hangout of leopards.

Cost and contact:
Entrance
is US$30 a person and US$40 a vehicle a day. Camping is from US$30 a
person a night. Report to Msembe Headquarters before pitching your tent.
www.tanzaniaparks.com/ruaha.html.

Tip:
To
keep marauding hyenas and curious lions out of your campsite, erect a
makeshift alarm system on the perimeter. Fill empty cooldrink cans with
pebbles and fasten to heavy-duty fishing line stretched between a series
of storm pegs about 15 centimetres off the ground. It works like a
bomb!

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Chipinda Pools
Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe

GPS: S21.28441°, E31.91429°

There
may be no such thing as the perfect campsite, but stand No. 9 at
Chipinda Pools in the northern sector of Gonarezhou is about as close as
you can get. It not only has a spectacular view over the Runde River,
but it’s also located far from the other eight unfenced stands, making
it very private. The stand is large, flat and predominantly in the
shade, with two braai areas (one raised and one on the ground) and it’s
just a few steps away from one of three communal ablution blocks with
hot water and flush toilets. But the best thing about it is the small
thatched lapa with a table in the middle and comfortable cement seating.
To top it all off, a friendly attendant comes to clean it every day.

Do this:
Drive
down to the base of the Chilojo Cliffs and watch elephant bulls quench
their thirst in the riverbed. There’s a picnic site here, so pack some
sarmies.

Need to know:
Although you can reach
Chipinda Pools throughout the year, the reserve’s scenic central parts
are often inaccessible during the rainy season (November to March).

Cost and contact:
Entrance
is US$4 a person a day and US$15 a vehicle once off. Camping costs from
US$15 a person a night. Campsite No. 9 has the best location and view
of the Runde River, but is relatively small. No. 7 is ideal for larger
groups. Email bookings@zimparks.co.zw or gonarezhoureservations@gmail.com.

Tip:
Drive
slowly through the Runde River – if you hit the water too hard you may
damage the radiator. I know this from first-hand experience.

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Kapishya Hot Springs
Northeastern Zambia

GPS: S11.17137°, E31.60101°

Kapishya
Hot Springs is a welcome oasis on the treacherous, pothole-covered
Great North Road in northern Zambia. The retreat has a rustic campsite
on the banks of the Manshya River, complete with flush toilets, donkey
showers with hot water and braai facilities, but no power.

After a
long day on the road, dip your feet in the main hot spring, which is
about the size of a squash court – chances are you’re not going to want
to get out. In fact, you’ll undoubtedly end up submerged in the crystal
clear water, which stays at a constant 40° Celsius throughout the year,
so be prepared to play hippo for a day or two longer than anticipated.
The campsite is very basic, but comfortable thanks to a couple of
thatched gazebos and cement braai spots. It’s located in a riverine
forest and thus very shady.

Do this:
Visitors
can pre-arrange a number of outdoor activities at Kapishya, including
game drives, mountain biking, river rafting and birdwatching walks. Spot
the rare Ross’s turaco in the raffia palm forests surrounding the hot
springs. Look out for the flash of its crimson wings and listen for
loud, guttural cawing.

Cost and contact:
Camping is from US$14 a person a night. Tel +260-97-697- 0444 (Mark Harvey), email kapishya@shiwasafaris.com, www.shiwasafaris.com.

Tip:
The
gravel entrance road to Kapishya Hot Springs can become extremely muddy
after rain; don’t attempt to drive it without a 4×4 when it’s wet.

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Simba A Public Campsite
Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

GPS: S3.22799°, E35.49027°

Simba
A is a hub for overlanders visiting Tanzania’s popular northern safari
circuit and has two communal ablution blocks with flush toilets and warm
water. There are no demarcated stands on the unfenced lawn and it’s
usually covered with row upon row of dome tents, making your chances of
camping in private about as good as driving into the Ngorongoro Crater
free of charge … but that doesn’t mean it isn’t wild. During the day,
relaxed elephant bulls pop in for a drink from the plastic reservoirs
and wily yellow-billed kites steal snacks from your hands. At night,
buffalo bulls and bush pigs mow the lawns, while you dream of the crater
floor so clearly visible from the edge of the campsite.

Do this:
Spend
a day exploring the base of the world-renowned Ngorongoro Crater. Early
mornings are the most productive for game-viewing along the crater
floor, but late afternoons when the traffic subsides make for quieter
and more pleasant drives.

Cost and contact:
Entrance
costs US$50 a person and US$40 a vehicle a day, plus an additional
US$200 a vehicle to drive into the Ngorongoro Crater. Camping is from
US$30 a person a night (pay at the entrance gate to the Ngorongoro
Conservation Area). Simba A is operated on a first come, first served
basis, but rumour has it you’ll never be shown away – they just squeeze
you in. www.ngorongorocrater.org.

Tip:
Pack
warm clothes for evenings. Since the rim of the crater is more than 2
000 metres above sea level, it’s always cold at Simba A.

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umThombe Kei River Lodge
Wild Coast, South Africa

GPS: S32.63304°, E28.35115°

With
its large lawns and plenty of shade, this jungle-like campsite on the
banks of the Kei River has a Garden of Eden feel to it, making it easy
for you to forget about tar roads and shopping malls. Since there are no
demarcated stands, campers simply choose their favourite spot under a
tree. The communal bathrooms have two flush toilets and hot showers (one
of each for men and women) and the campsite has no power. umThombe is
set in a lush valley only a ferry ride away from the southern tip of the
Wild Coast, making it the perfect place from which to explore the
rolling hills of one of South Africa’s most underdeveloped stretches of
coastline. A 4×4 is essential if you want to tackle the eight-kilometre
dirt road to the lodge during the rainy season from September to March.

Do this:
Row
one of the camp’s kayaks down the Kei River (free of charge) or tackle
one of five hiking trails (500 metres to four kilometres) and search for
rare birds such as Knysna woodpeckers and brown scrub-robins.

Cost and contact:
Camping rates are seasonal and start from R50 a person a night. Tel 082-570-6000, email reservations@umthombekei.co.za, www.umthombekei.co.za.

Tip:
If
you plan to explore the Wild Coast’s back roads, make sure you have
Slingsby’s Wild Coast map in the car (about R85 at Outdoor Warehouse).
It’s incredibly detailed and shows every little dirt track and back
road, as well as filling stations, clinics, viewing points.

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Nyamepi Camp
Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe

GPS: S15.71988°, E29.36666°

With
poorly marked, overgrown stands and somewhat dilapidated communal
ablutions, Nyamepi can hardly be called neat, but that’s not why you
come here.Indeed, you’ll quickly forget the shoddy facilities as you
watch hippos come into the campsite to graze. Senses are heightened and
you’re almost guaranteed to go home with stories of close encounters of
the wild kind. The showers are hot, the toilets flush, and it’s almost
impossible not to camp in the shade since the campsite lies in the dense
riparian vegetation of the Zambezi River. Nyamepi attracts plenty of
game, especially in winter (May to October) when animals from far and
wide descend on the Zambezi. Elephants, hippos, lions and even wild dogs
amble through camp as if you’re not even there. You’re allowed to get
out of your car anywhere in Mana Pools and may wander on foot wherever
you like, without a guide. The freedom is phenomenal, but it’s worth
remembering your place in the food chain: respect the animals’ space.

Do this:
Buy a fishing permit at reception (US$20 a day) and reel in a few tigers from the banks of the Zambezi River.

Cost and contact:
Entrance is from US$15 a person and US$15 a vehicle. Camping costs from US$100 a stand. Email bookings@zimparks.co.zw, www.zimparks.org.

Tip:
Don’t
wander around the campsite alone at night – people have been killed by
wild animals here. Use a torch to scan the surroundings and get into
your tent or car when any dangerous creatures come too close.

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By Villiers Steyn

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