Many people worry when they hear the word “tent” because they envision backpacking tents and “roughing it.” We interviewed travel designer Melanie Pahl to get the real scoop about tented accommodations.

We’re talking about tented camps on African safari today, but before we start could you tell us what types of camps are available for people going on safari?

Tented camps have a canvas walled tent instead of the more traditional lodge type, hard sided chalet. Depending on which country and which destination you go within that country will usually dictate what type of accommodations are more prevalent, or even more appealing. It’s very site specific about which type of accommodation will be best.

I know you recently stayed at a number of tented camps. What did you love?

The access to game. Tented camps tend to be quite small, with only a few tents on the property- the number are usually six to 10 in contrast with a lodge type property where you might have 10, 12, 15 different units. You’re also connected more to the land. You walk out of your tent and there’s nothing between you and the wildlife, nature, the environment… I think there’s something special about experiencing Africa that way. It’s personal preference and what people’s comfort level is. I think tented camps are one of the most authentic experiences in Africa.

You mentioned access to game. Could you give an example of some of the animals you saw?

It’s not necessarily that you see game differently at a tented camp than someone in a lodge; it’s more that you are very aware of what’s around you. You are out in the middle of nowhere, and the animals are existing in their natural environment right outside your door, without any thought of you. And there’s something a bit disconcerting but also exciting when an elephant is grazing outside your door. But you are not in any danger from that. You can just be part of that experience without any fear, and enjoy the adrenaline rush to see that there’s hippo poop right outside your front door, the morning after you heard a hippo crash the night before. There’s just something really special about that. I really like that connectivity to nature.

Who would be the ideal person to stay at a tented camp?

I think anybody. The idea of tented camps may conjure up the idea of pup tents on a backpacking trip, or you may think no luxury or amenities- but it’s not that way at all. You’ve got your own suite, proper mattresses, your own bed and all of that. You can get that rustic experience without giving up your comforts! People looking for a purely traditional African experience the way people have been doing safari in Africa for decades, with the vision of Hemingway out on the Africa plains, should think of tented camps. I think anyone would enjoy staying in a tented camp at some point. As long as they aren’t too fearful of “Oh my gosh, I hear stuff outside, a lion is going to come eat me!”

On the flip side, are there any travelers that you don’t think would enjoy the tented camps as much?

Sometimes there are some fears or concerns that people have. People with small children are sometimes concerned that a tented camp may not be the most appropriate accommodation for them. Some people really prefer to be at a Five Star luxury environment, in which case they might not appreciate what tented camps have to offer. That’s why we ask questions and determine what will make our clients happy!

Is there anything you should keep in mind if you stay at a tented camp? Are there special rules?

Some people feel nervous being so close to the wild. Everybody’s safety is top priority. It’s important to remember that you aren’t out there on your own. Guards walk the property, and you are escorted back to your tents if you are coming back after dark. There are plenty of safety precautions. You’ve got radios, you can call if you do need to leave the tent. Go there for the experience and know that they’ve done this a million times before and you are safe. But you do need to know that you are in the wilderness, out in the bush. There are wild animals around, so don’t just walk out of your tent in the middle of the night.

Like all of our safari specialists at Rothschild Safaris, you have stayed at a number of tented camps. Do you have a favorite?

There are two different types of tented experience in my opinion. You’ve got the luxury tented camps which are going to have your flush toilets, proper showers, regular sink basins, and a nice big double bed. Then there is the mobile tented camp experience, which is going to have eco-flush toilets, bucket showers, and that type of thing with a smaller eco-footprint environmentally. So I think folks need to understand there are differences, with the mobile camp being the most rustic. The mobile camps are probably my personal most favorite, because I like hiking and backpacking and being outside. That’s the most rustic, adventurous way that I can get myself in the bush without feeling like I am surrounded by all the comforts of home. I felt like I was in a very, very nice backpacking type environment. I guess if I had to pick I would pick a mobile tented camp experience, of which there are many. If it was a traditional luxury experience… gosh, I know my co-workers here at Rothschild Safaris love Tanda Tula. Me personally, I loved Governor’s Camp in Kenya and I loved the Serengeti Safari Camp in Tanzania. There are so many different areas, and it just depends on what country you are in and how to tailor it to be the right experience for you. That’s why we have safari specialists!

Anything you want to add?

Go to Africa. You will not be disappointed.