SAFARIS UNDER CANVAS
The Magic of Luxury Safari Camps
Many people have a powerful, and understandable, aversion to camping; but they have evidently never experienced luxury safari camps.
Camping is always an adventure, but it’s not always the most pleasant experience. You have to carry all your gear to some remote destination, praying it doesn’t rain and that you can find a level, stone-free patch of ground upon which to lay your temporary home. You crawl under your diminutive canopy, clamber into a sleeping bag and spend the night trying to contort your body around the sticks and rocks that incessantly invade your personal space.
It is an image instilled, even scarred, into our psyche since childhood and reinforced in parenthood, but one that is as far removed from a luxury safari camp experience as you can only wish those protruding sticks and rocks were from your weary limbs.
Luxury safari camps are tents in little more than name. Sweeping canvas ceilings allow you more than ample standing room, opulent furnishings are worthy of any premier establishment, and staff provide everything you could wish for, from gourmet cuisine to indulgent bubble baths. The walls and roof may be fabric, but the experience is pure first class.
Yet more than that, luxury safari camps infuse the very best elements of a more rustic camping vacation: the connection to nature, the solitude and serenity, and that wonderful sense that you are on an adventure, despite your venue leaving absolutely nothing to be desired.
Safari lodges often bring many of these aspects to a more established accommodation. Their locations are still wonderfully isolated, their panoramic windows drawing in the exquisite landscapes, wildlife graces your doorstep and, in almost every sense, you feel every bit as if you are completely immersed in nature… until you close the door.
No matter how wonderful a safari lodge – and many of our partners and affiliates are truly, jaw-droppingly wonderful – there remains a certain separation between you and your safari experience. You go on a game drive, you return home, you may sip sundowners on the pool deck, watching elephant amble by in the golden glow of sunset as distant lion emit their rumbling serenade. Yet a divide will always exist where walls of rock and glass occur.
The sounds and smells of Africa permeate canvas walls, the soothing warmth of the sun greets you in the early hours of dawn and, regardless of how lavish and well-appointed your tented camp may be, you will always feel that you are very much in the bush and immersed in nature.
Though you may stay for a number of days, when you return from safari, you are never brought back to ‘the real world’ of the human realm. You remain, for all intents and purposes, on safari, on the adventure, in the mindset of the early colonial explorers as they ventured out across the plains. No matter the lodge, however, it will always be a permanent building, bringing with it a sense of establishment.
Each has its benefits, of course, but when we consider a safari experience, it is under the folds of canvas that our minds wander.
The exhilaration of a luxury safari camp is inimitable. It is so quintessentially the Africa of romantic imaginings and is intoxicating in its absolute, relentless captivation of one’s senses. Whether for one night or one month, we urge all of our clients to incorporate some tented time into their safari itinerary.
Here are some of our favourite luxury safari camps:
Cottar’s 1920s Camp, Maasai Mara
As the name suggests, Cottar’s premier flagship camp evokes the times of early exploration, an era of almost bourgeoise travel when no expense, or inconvenience, was spared. English nobility would venture across the continent with the most absurd paraphernalia, from gramophones blaring Brahms across the plains to copper baths and crystal champagne glasses. Fortunately, Cottar’s award-winning 1920s camp isn’t going to be migrating anytime soon, and its exquisite, old-world atmosphere places you on the periphery of the Maasai Mara in unparalleled luxury.
One of the most iconic of all luxury safari camps, Cottar’s 1920s Camp is at once intimately romantic and spacious enough for larger parties and families. 1920s camp embraces the Maasai culture of Kenya, with walking safaris and expert guides giving you an incredible connection to the landscapes, wilderness and peoples of the Mara.
Jack’s Camp, Makgadikgadi Pans
Also reminiscent of bygone days, Jack’s Camp has recently been completely redeveloped, its luxury and 1940s nuances meticulously preserved and enhanced.
The nine expansive guest tents of the camp surround a central living area, its billowing canvases drifting in the gentle breezes of the Makgadikgadi. Featuring a vintage pool table and even its own natural history museum, alongside gourmet cuisine, a fully stocked cocktail bar, sumptuous leather lounge suites and a private plunge pool for each guest tent, but for the fabric walls and roofs, you could barely call it camping.
Horse riding, game drives, cultural connections with the San bushpeople and a host of more unique wildlife, including aardvarks, honey badgers, porcupines, oryx and meerkats, make Jack’s Camp one of our most celebrated venues of choice.
Olakira Migration Camp, Serengeti
Olakira provides, in some regards, a more conventional camping experience. While capacious and impeccably furnished, the tents are more akin to those seen in the average summer camp our boy scout excursion. Here, however, is where every semblance of similarity both begins and ends.
Located in the Serengeti, Olakira is the truest of our favourite camps as it is continually on the move, following the herds of the Great Migration on its annual perambulations from south to north. Though a completely mobile venue, it does not forgo luxury, and yet instils the sense of camping in its truest form. Much of the unfalteringly reliable power supply is solar-generated, the wonderful hot-water showers are filled by hand, and a fly-netted gazebo on each tent provides the perfect vantage point from which to enjoy an unadulterated view of the nocturnal sky.
Olakira is camping, but without a single iota of the discomfort and inconvenience one might usually associate with life in the great outdoors.
Abu Camp, Okavango Delta
The flood plains of Botswana’s Okavango Delta may not seem like the most accessible, nor the most sensible, of locations to pitch a tented luxury safari camp, but Abu Camp defies convention in almost every way conceivable. Blending the classic and the contemporary, the aesthetically-angled sails of the camp’s roof are juxtaposed with tangled bushland and tranquil waters, it’s striking white-wooden framework contrasting the verdant region without conflicting it.
The expansive accommodation comprises a sufficiently appointed gymnasium, library and study, and larger communal pool, with each residence also having a private plunge pool, indoor-outdoor shower and copper bath from which one can sip a Johnny Walker as elephant slurp from the delta.
With only six suites, Abu Camp remains serenely intimate, even when fully attended. Much of the property feels somewhat more established than one might expect a camp to be, but when you retire to your private quarters, that sense of natural immersion washes over you once more as you reconnect with the bush, drifting into an exquisite sleep to the sounds of hippo and zebra.
Zannier Sonop, Namibia
We have mentioned Sonop in several of our blogs and keep returning to it as one of the most exemplary exhibitions of premier luxury safari camps. With the dramatic Namibian wilderness cascading from wrap-around balconies and terraces, Sonop perches on a rocky outcrop, a large, timber-skirted pool central to the property, with games room, library and dining areas dotted amongst the boulders.
Each secluded tent has demountable walls, allowing you to bask in this most incredible of landscapes.
With menus worthy of the most excellent of gourmet restaurants, and a view far exceeding them, cuisine at Sonop is second to none, but to truly experience first-class camp dining, one must venture out onto the plains.
Polished silver cutlery, fine china, a glistening champagne bucket and crystal glasses await you at your own private table for two under the skeletal limbs of a desert tree, attentive staff at your beck and call.
Though a camp by definition, any semblance of camping is utterly removed from every aspect of your experience, but for the flowing shroud of your accommodation.
The combination of camping – that is, dwelling beneath canvas – and a luxury safari experience is irreplicable. Africa embraces you in every waking breath and whispers lullabies to take you off to sleep. You never leave the safari experience behind and it engulfs you consummately. And yet, at any moment, you can sink into a comfortable arm chair, take a dip or soak under a hot shower. You can order a champagne breakfast or massage to your room and, in every moment, your every whim is catered to.
Would it were that every camping experience could be as comfortable, pleasant and utterly indulgent as an African luxury safari camp…