You’ve decided you want to make your next holiday a safari in Africa. You want to head out on a wildlife extravaganza in search of the majestic elephant, the speedy cheetah and the elusive leopard. What you haven’t yet decided is which style of safari to do over there. Well, to help you make that decision, here’s our detailed guide to overland camping vs lodge-accommodated safaris in Africa.
Perhaps the biggest difference between overland camping and lodge-accommodated safaris in Africa is the accommodation you’ll be staying in. For many travellers, this is what ultimately sways their decision.
Overland camping safaris
The name tells you all you need to know. On an overland camping safari, you’ll be camping. No surprises there! Your accommodation will be a tent of the two-person dome variety with mosquito nets over the door and window areas, a sewn in ground sheet and a separate flysheet. These tents are sturdy enough to keep you largely protected from the elements and roomy enough to accommodate two people and their bags.
You’ll be provided with a roll mat that’s comfortably padded though you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag. And for extra comfort, a small pillow wouldn’t go amiss. The best thing about camping in Africa is the opportunity to camp inside national parks with the occasional chance to ditch the tent and sleep out under the stars.
You could be camping in national parks, bush camping with no facilities or camping at campsites that offer swimming pools, bars and a sheltered dining area. Each night is a new adventure. You’ll be responsible for setting up your tent each night and packing it up again the next morning. But don’t worry – you’ll be a pro at this in no time.
Again, it’s all in the name. On a lodge-accommodated safari you’ll be staying in mid-range lodges, chalets and permanent tented camps. Don’t worry – it’s nothing like camping. In permanent tented camps you have the comforts of an en suite bathroom, hot water, proper beds and furniture. But you also enjoy the experience of being close to nature with large netted windows to allow in the breeze and the sounds of the local wildlife.
For the most part you’ll be using lodges situated in national parks, on the banks of a river or other place of interest. You can expect en suite rooms, air-conditioning, a mini fridge and often a safe. Plus the property will usually boast an outdoor swimming pool and bar where you can enjoy a sundowner after a long day of game drives.
The main difference here is simply the size of the truck. Both types of safari require 4×4 vehicles that have been specially fitted out for covering long distances on less than perfect roads.
Overland camping safaris
On overland camping safaris, trucks are big. They need to be in order to accommodate the crew, up to 30 passengers, all their luggage plus camping and cooking gear. On board the truck the cushioned seats are in a variety of positions. Some face forward while others face inwards around a table – perfect for card games when you’re in need of a distraction.
The windows are big too – ideal for spotting wildlife and soaking up the views. And they open wide enough to hold your camera outside of the truck. There are speakers through which music can be played (assuming every one in the group agrees on what music to play!). And there’s ample space to store your day bag and camera while on the road.
You’ll be taking the majority of your game drives in this truck. Being higher up, you’ll get a good view out across the African plains and the windows can be easily opened for better manoeuvring of your camera. On rare occasions, you may take game drives in dedicated vehicles provided by national parks where smaller vehicles are better suited to the terrain.
As lodge-accommodated safaris are much smaller in group size, the vehicles used to get from A to B are smaller too. Generally speaking you’ll be travelling in 12 seater 4×4 safari vehicles with forward-facing cushioned seats positioned in pairs, singles and a set of four at the back. The good-sized windows have slide openings and are perfectly suited for game viewing. The pop-up roof is also great for this.
There’s a fridge on board where you can store bottles of water and snacks plus air-conditioning to keep you cool. Your luggage and the cooking equipment is all stored in a separate compartment at the back of the truck.
The vehicle type does vary according to destination, itinerary and group size. Another type of vehicle used is a 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser that seats up to 10 passengers. These smaller vehicles have even bigger windows, though as the vehicles themselves are smaller, luggage is stored on the roof rack.
Similarily to an overland camping safari, most of your game drives will be aboard this truck. And again, the vehicles have been designed with this in mind. The windows allow ample space through which to hang your camera and you’ll be at a raised height from which to survey the land. In some national parks, game drives will be undertaken in open safari vehicles.
How you have your meals is another key difference when comparing overland camping and lodge-accommodated safaris. One requires daily participation while the other gives you the chance to go crazy at the buffet table.
Overland camping safaris
Pretty much all of your three-daily meals are provided on an overland camping safari, and cooked by your dedicated cook. The group gets involved with the preparation of meals – cutting up vegetables, washing dishes and anything else that’s needed. You may also have the opportunity to join a shopping trip to a local market as the food is purchased every few days. This ensures there’s always a supply of fresh meat, fruit and veg.
The cook will do his best to accommodate particular dietary requirements. And as travellers help out with the cooking, it means those with allergies or a food intolerance can have greater control over their meals. On the first night of your overland camping safari, you’ll generally be staying in a big city so this will be one of your few opportunities to dine out.
On a lodge-accommodated safari, most of your meals are taken at the lodges you stay in. Breakfast is a buffet affair, as are some dinners. For some evening meals you will also have a choice of A La Carte menu. Some dinners are included in the accommodation rate while others need to be budgeted for on top of what you’ve paid for the tour.
Lunches are prepared by your driver-guide. Depending on the day’s schedule, lunch might be taken at a picnic spot beside the road or at the camp grounds of the lodge. Lunch will typically be sandwiches with a side salad and fruit or a filling pasta or rice salad.
Travellers are not expected to help out – your guide is experienced in quickly setting up the picnic table and chairs, and preparing lunch. However, you’ll find that the group is more than happy to lend a helping hand, whether it’s cutting up veg, laying the table or washing dishes.
Regardless of whether you’re on an overland camping safari of lodge safari, the crew will be essential to the enjoyment and day-to-day running of your trip.
Overland camping safaris
You’ll be travelling with an experienced crew of three – a driver, guide and cook. The driver is responsible for getting you from one place to the next and traversing the African plains while you’re out on game drives. They know the vehicle inside and out, with a basic understanding of mechanics in case anything goes wrong.
Your guide is first and foremost responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly. They can help you book optional activities and will assist with border crossings. Your guide will also have a broad knowledge of all things safari-related. They’ll know enough about the wildlife, the flora and the history of Africa to give your trip context, though they are not experts in any of these fields.
Your cook will prepare all three daily meals. They’ll also be responsible for setting up the picnic table and clearing away the dishes once the meal is over (with the help of the group, of course).
Lodge safaris are led by an experienced guide who also acts as the driver. Not only does the guide ensure the smooth running of your day-to-day activities, they also assist with border formalities, serve as a wildlife guide while out on safari and prepare your lunch each day. As the driver, they also look after the maintenance of the vehicle.
Your guide will be on hand pretty much 24 hours a day and you’ll be amazed at how much expertise they bring to their multi-faceted role. For groups of 10-12, you may be travelling with two crew members. Duties will be shared between the two.
The cost difference between these two styles of safari is a make or break for many travellers.
Overland camping safaris
An overland camping safari is one of the most cost-effective ways to travel around Africa. Travelling in a larger group means tour prices are more affordable and camping has to be one of the cheapest accommodation options going. Plus almost all your food is included in the tour cost.
With an overland camping safari you’ll pay an upfront price for the tour. You’ll also pay a local payment when you arrive in Africa. This varies according to the tour you’ve chosen but does mean you’ll be carrying a decent amount of cash on you at the very beginning of your trip.
When you’re looking at overland camping safaris, budget for any optional activities available. There’ll usually be a few, whether it’s hot air ballooning over the Masai Mara or bungee jumping at Victoria Falls. This all adds up so do your calculations before you go.
It should come as no surprise that lodge-accommodated safaris are much more pricey than their camping counterparts. After all, you’re travelling in a much smaller group and staying in hotels and lodges of a 3-4 star standard.
However, if you work it out as a daily cost and think about what’s included, you’ll see it’s actually better decent value. You’re getting all your transportation, accommodation, many meals, game drives and the services of a full-time guide.
The majority of the tour cost is paid prior to departure though there could be a minimal local payment that needs to be paid in cash when you start your trip.
And your choice is?
There you have it – a complete side-by-side analysis of each style of safari in Africa. So, which one is for you? If you enjoy camping, being out in the wild, don’t mind rolling up your sleeves and mucking in, an overland camping safari is your perfect choice. This is also your best bet if you’re on a budget.
On the other hand, if you prefer bedding down on a proper mattress, like the idea of dining at hotel buffets and travelling with a smaller group then a lodge-accommodated safari is the one for you. They’re not cheap but are well worth the spend.
If you’re looking for something in between, you’re in luck! We’ve just launched a range of overland accommodated safaris, striking the perfect balance between the two. Enjoy the adventure and camaraderie of an overland trip with the comfort of a lodge holiday. They’re great value with no local payments and plenty of inclusions.