By Donovan Pacholl
Traveling and camping through Africa can be great fun. The chance to hear the sounds of animals on safari, a mosque broadcasting the morning prayer, or local women singing as the sun comes can be moving experience. In wilderness areas where there are animals, you will never forget the first time an animal is breathing next to your tent or an elephants just happens to walk by at night. It’s the beauty of Africa and is what makes it unique is so many ways.
For adventurous travelers coming to Africa for the first time, a number of people are curious about camping, whether they should pack a tent, camping regulations, safety and proximity to animals. Much of this depends upon which country, the type of terrain, and how long you plan to be living in a tent.
However, to dispel your fears, in general (and that’s a very broad statement) there is no rule of thumb for how and where it can be done. Thousands traveler tour across Africa never spending any money on camping and have wonderful experiences, connecting wit the locals and finding mind-blowing landscapes that make a great places for having beers at sunset or tea as the sunrises. Of course, there are certain regulations in National Parks, cities and certain regions, like Dogon Country in Mali, but overall camping can be done close anywhere.
Often the question comes to whether or not you should pack a tent. If you’re planning a big trip through remote parts of Africa, where you will find no or little accommodations, it’s good to pack a tent. In tourist countries, like South Africa, Tanzania, Morocco, Egypt, you can easily find guesthouses or small hotels in most villages. If you’re going on safari, most tour companies provide the tents, although you should inquire about their conditions first.
If you want to camp throughout Africa, here is the rule of thumb.
In big cities, it’s best to find a designated camping area that has a caretaker or someone to watch your kit, if you plan to leave. Most major cities, especially in East Africa (and not so much in part of West Africa), have camping areas, although they are not always easy to find and are often on the outskirts of the city. If the camping area doesn’t feel safe, you can usually find cheap hostels, but these too, need to be considered for safety. If you want to camp and can’t find a spot, the farther you get away from the central part of the city the better. The next best rule of thumb is to approach someone’s house, knock on the door, and ask if you put up you tent on their property. While this does sound awkward, I have known many people who have done this throughout Africa and the greater part of the world and never had any problems.
If you’re traveling in remote areas and spot a settlement, the best thing is to ask for the local chief, or leader of the area, and ask him or her if you can sleep in the area, and where is the best spot to pitch your tent. Again, this may sound strange, but usually the chief will make sure you’re well taken care of, and often invite you for dinner and conversations (or attempt at) at their home.
There are a number of rules for camping in National Parks and you should research this before you enter. Often there are fees for entering, camping and the number of days you spend inside the parks. This usually pertains to more populate National Parks like the Serengeti, Kruger, and a host of other ones throughout East Africa. Inquire with the game warden before you enter.
In much of Africa, you can basically drive off the main road (if there is one), look for somewhere that is not in a field harvesting food, which is sometimes difficult to find, and plop down your tent for the night.