By Mary Lyons
When I first heard the word “glamping” it didn’t take long to figure out what it meant. As someone who was used to carrying her own backpack, stocked only with essentials, for several miles and then setting up camp in the wilderness, I think I had a different perspective on glamping than most people. To me it meant car camping, having someone else build a fire, and eating at an actual picnic table. A wooden hut at a campground with showers and a store to buy candy? Wow! Now that’s some serious luxury camping! There’s a pool? At a campground? Awesome! We’re glamping!
After two trips to Africa, I now fully understand that none of the above is glamping. I always thought I could never afford to stay at the beautiful campsites I saw in the coffee table books about Africa. And while I still can’t afford many of them, teaching overseas at least meant I could earn enough money to have a genuine glamping experience in Africa. Actually, I had two.
GETTING MY GLAMP ON – THE SERENGETI IN TANZANIA
My first safari in Africa was a year and a half ago in Tanzania. I wanted my first safari experience to be on the Serengeti. Wasn’t it Toto that sang “I miss the rains down in Africa”? That’s what I wanted my first safari experience to be like. I knew that the tents would be semi-permanent structures, but I didn’t realize that my meager 500 USD a day had bought me a glamping experience until I actually arrived.
Make no mistake, a safari is expensive. Even a cheap safari experience is expensive. At 500 USD a day, that’s a relatively inexpensive safari. I spent my first night in Tanzania in a stunning hotel at the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater. (Say that three times fast!) Technically, this night wasn’t glamping because I was in a gorgeous hotel. It was so gorgeous, I’m going to post pictures anyway even though it doesn’t qualify as camping in any way!
My next two nights were where glamping got really interesting. My campsite in the middle of the Serengeti could accommodate up to 10 people, and there were six total, so three of the five tents were in use. There was a kitchen tent, which we didn’t get to see, and a huge dining tent, as well as a spacious tent for relaxing and having drinks at the end of a long day of safari-ing.
We were welcomed with freshly squeezed juices and a cool towel, and then we were given a tour of the camp while porters took our bags to our tent. There are certain rules in a safari camp, one being that you never go out alone without an escort when it’s dark, for obvious reasons. Another rule in this camp was that if you wanted hot water for your shower, you just had to tell them what time you wanted to take a shower, they would bring hot water to fill your tank outside, sing a little song as they walked away, and you hop in the shower in your tent where the water was so hot, you had to turn on the cold water as well.
Yep. Hot shower. In my tent. In the middle of the Serengeti. Awesome. There was also a flush toilet and two sinks. This bathroom was nicer than most of the bathrooms in apartments I’ve rented.
What really made this experience luxurious was the service. The people working at the camp were just amazing. We received 5 Star service. These young men were so charming, funny, and gracious. The dining experience was just that – an experience! Breakfast and dinner were each served in three courses on linen tablecloths, and by candlelight at night. The presentation was beautiful and the food was delicious. In fact, the food at our camp was the best food I had the entire two weeks I was in Tanzania.
I could hear lions outside the first night. Their low, throaty rumbles were intimidating at first, but eventually I fell asleep. Turns out two female lions would often get quite curious about the camp almost every evening. And J.J. the elephant sometimes slept between the sleeping and dining tents, flattening a huge swath of grass! We saw the evidence our second morning in camp.
WANNA GO GLAMPING IN BOTSWANA?
I loved every minute of this glamping experience in Tanzania on the Serengeti. It wasn’t long before I started thinking about doing it again, this time in Botswana. So just a year later, I made my way to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. What’s with these African names being so much fun to pronounce? Ngorongoro. Serengeti. Okavango. They sound so exotic. Oh wait! That’s because they are such exotic places!
The Okavango Delta is actually drier, with fairly low water levels, during the rainy season when I was there. It’s the rains that fill the rivers in Central Africa that actually flood the Delta. I visited the Okavango Delta region in January 2017. My friend John, from Philadelphia, joined me, and he’d never been glamping. Actually, I’m not sure he’d ever been camping. So, when I showed him pictures of the tent – with a claw foot tub in the middle! – he was pretty damned excited to come to Botswana, and so was I.
We stayed at Little Kwara Camp which can host 12 people, and when we were there, five of the six tents were rented. I thought I knew what to expect since I had glamped in Tanzania, but I was blown away by these luxurious digs. I had to tell myself to close my mouth, and then I had to tell John. After a flight in a tiny six-seater Cessna, we arrived at Kwara and were met by our guide, Wago, and our spotter, Mike. Wago drove the short distance from the “airport”, and I use the term airport very loosely, to our camp.
When we arrived, we were met by Charles, the camp manager, and some lovely ladies who work there. We had fresh guava juice and hot towels to refresh us before going on a tour of the camp.
Holy Schnikey! It was so beautiful! These structures are actually permanent and have underground plumbing. The living room area and dining area were huge, and constructed out of local wood, but open to the elements. There was even a small pool and a shop. But more importantly, there was an open bar, and anything you wanted to drink, you could help yourself after 11:00AM. The fridge had a special baboon-proof lock on it that the rather pesky baboons hadn’t figured out yet. There was also a seating area around a fire pit, and a view of a huge pond, stocked with hippos!
John and I were shown to our tent, and we couldn’t wait to see the bathtub! Our tent was spacious, beautifully decorated, and had a big back porch with a view of the pond, the hippos, and impala. But the bathtub? Well, isn’t a claw foot tub in the middle of the room just the epitome of glamping? It was to me! John didn’t say a word. He was still in shock, but I don’t know if it was because of the luxury digs or the open bar.
This luxury experience did not include losing any weight. We had breakfast at 5:00AM every day. Muffins, porridge with all the fixins, fruit, coffee, tea. At 6:00 we left for our first safari of the day, returning at 11:00 for brunch. Then the afternoon was free until 4:00 when we had afternoon tea of homemade cakes, cheese and olives, fruit, scones, quiche, all made right there at camp by the lovely ladies in the kitchen. After another safari in the evenings, which included a sundowner with drinks and snacks at 7:00PM in the midst of the Delta, we returned to camp for a three-course dinner with all you could drink by candlelight.
The people who worked at the camp in Botswana were so warm and welcoming. I became quite fond of them, especially our guide, Wago and our super spotter, Mike. Glamping in Africa is an addictive experience. The people you meet and the sights you see will make you want to go back again and again. The glamping? Well, that’s just a giant bonus.