Living in a Tent, but Not ‘Roughing It’

We arrived at Ngala Tented Camp yesterday and have seen a lot of magnificent wildlife since our arrival, from a two-ton rhino to a pack of hyenas with their young. (Who could have guessed that baby hyenas could be so adorable?)

I’m in the process of posting pictures and video from our Ngala game drives to Flickr and YouTube, so be sure to check those out. For this post, I wanted to focus on Ngala Tented Camp itself.

For most people, the word “tent” doesn’t immediately evoke comfort and luxury. But the tents of Ngala are a different kind of tent. Erected on a wooden platform with a permanent wood frame, these tents have most of the fixings of modern life, including electricity, plumbing, and furniture. What distinguishes them from a cabin or cottage are their  canvas walls and roofs, which allows you to clearly hear the sounds of the bush. Last night, for instance, the sounds of chirping frogs and roaring lions lulled us to sleep. (You wouldn’t think a lion roar would be relaxing, but it can be when it comes from far away.)

Here’s the inside of a tented room at Ngala:

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This place is nicer than my home!

(This post was written by Kathryn Kingsbury, Ujuzi’s communications coordinator, who is spending two weeks in South Africa and Victoria Falls with a group from Dickerson Park Zoo, Springfield, Missouri.)

Featured Lodge: Serengeti Pioneer Camp

Pioneer CampView from the lounge. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Located in the hill-dotted Moru Kopjes area of Tanzania’s southcentral Serengeti, Pioneer Camp offers superlative access to the annual migration and the ‘Big Five.’ A large elevated lounge has sweeping views overlooking knobby granite outcroppings and the endless plains. Get an even better view of the surrounding landscape and its inhabitants through the lounge’s spotting scope.

Pioneer Camp

Guests can enjoy drinks and look through telescopes at the viewing lounge.

Each of the ten private tents pay homage to the mobile camps of the 1930s with solid wooden furniture and trunks, classic canvas chairs, throw rugs and gleaming copper wash basins. All have en-suite facilities that include a flush toilet, sink with oiled bronze fixtures, and rain showerhead. A digital safe and writing desk with stationery complete each room. Electric lighting is available in the rooms 24 hours a day, while cellphones and other equipment can be charged at the camp’s charging station adjacent to the dining room.

Pioneer Camp

Double rooms feature two queen beds on solid wood frames.

Serengeti Pioneer Camp  strives to have a low ecological footprint. Solar power heats the water and provides much of the camp’s electricity, and the dining tent features local seasonal produce prepared to the highest standards. The character of the area is preserved as tents are connected to the main area by natural stone paths that formed over the eons.

Pioneer Camp

The dining room offers very attentive service.

Comfort is also key here. Service is exemplary, and attention is paid to the smallest details. If you need to recharge after a long day at safari, relax in the plunge pool or use the camp’s stargazing scope to gaze at the southern sky. Another nod toward comfort: Pioneer Camp is a convenient 50-minute drive from the Seronera airstrip, allowing visitors to minimize time on bumpy roads by flying in and out of the Serengeti.

Tanzania Day 2: Tarangire National Park

It’s our second full day in Tanzania. We awoke this morning at the Kibo Palace Hotel to a huge breakfast buffet featuring European, Indian, American and Tanzanian foods. If you ever stay here, be sure to try the African yam and fried cassava root. They were delicious bite of local flavor.

The Kibo Palace Hotel is a 77-room luxury hotel near downtown Arusha. Guests may enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi, a health club, swimming pool, and steam and sauna rooms. Named after Mount Kilimanjaro’s highest peak, the Kibo Palace Hotel strives to deliver the highest quality of service to its guests from near and far.

Kibo Palace Hotel, Arusha

We then left for Tarangire, one of Tanzania’s most beloved national parks. Before arriving at the main gate, we stopped at Kirurumu Under Canvas, a permanent 10-tent camp in the bush. As in most of Tarangire, elephants are common in this area and residents can often watch them from their tents’ verandas.

Kirurumu Under Canvas

We also visited Tarangire River Camp, a 21-tent camp that includes four roomy family tents and a beautiful, roomy swimming pool for refreshing dips after a long day of safari. The Tarangire River is dry for about 9 months of the year, but even when there’s no water the river bed is quite stunning. The Tarangire River Camp is on a peak that overlooks the winding river. Guests can look down to watch elephants and other animals come to the river to drink. When the river is dry, animals dig in the bed to bring water that lies just below the ground up to the surface.

Tarangire River Camp

On to Tarangire National Park! We stopped at the visitor’s center at the main gate, which had many informative signs about the local flora and fauna, some stunning stained glass pieces portraying scenes from the park, and a high platform where visitors can oversee most of the park.

Tarangire National Park: Can you spot the elephants?

Inside the park we had a delectable Indian buffet for lunch at Tarangire Safari Lodge, a camp with 35 tents and 5 bungalows, many with views of the Tarangire River. Rooms feature beautiful linens from Tribal Textiles, a women’s cooperative in Zambia. Special activities include morning walking safaris and nighttime game drives.

Tarangire Safari Lodge

Our next stop was the exclusive Oliver’s Camp, near the park’s Boundary Gate (about 30 kilometers from the main gate). We had a wonderful game drive on our way, stopping to watch a cheetah and two of her cubs shortly after a kill. They were very much enjoying their impala dinner.

Toward the center of the park is a large swamp, offering a shocking and welcome swathe of green amidst the arid savannah. The swamp was a popular spot for elephants, reedbucks, open-billed storks, egrets, Egyptian geese; in its vicinity we also saw zebras, Eastern race wildebeest, ostriches (including several babies!), waterbucks, warthogs and a multitude of other animals.

Impalas at Tarangire National Park

Oliver’s Camp is a 10-tent luxury camp on the eastern edge of the park, south of the swamp. Tents are well-spaced, offering plenty of privacy, and decor is a combination of traditional English safari with a modern flair. Private outdoor showers attached to the tents are a fun way to enjoy nature. The camp has an intimate feel, and visitors can get to know one another and the camp managers over family-style meals or request private meals. The camp offers walking safaris and night game drives. Each room has its own private safe.

Oliver’s Camp

We then headed off to Maisha Kikoti Safari Camp for dinner and overnight. The 18-cabin camp is on a reserve just outside the park and is named after Kikoti Rock, a stunning geographical landmark at the top of the hill. Our dinner was a delicious barbecue under the stars. An attractive fire pit at the center of the dining area brought light and warmth to the area.

Maisha Kikoti Safari Camp main lounge
Maisha Kikoti Safari Camp main lounge

We loved our cabins — spacious, and incorporating natural features such as tree branches and stone into the architecture. Large screen windows and wood-framed screen doors surrounded three sides of the cabin, allowing plenty of fresh air in. We awoke to a morning wake up call of fresh coffee, which we sipped while enjoying the view from our high veranda overlooking the valley and park.

Kikoti Rock

Tented Camps: A Luxurious Way to Experience the African Bush

Huge tents at Governor's CampA family tent at Governor’s Camp in Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Staying at a tented camp is a great way to experience the East African savannah and all it has to offer. Tented camps offer visitors fresh air and close access to wildlife without sacrificing comfort. Stargaze after nightfall, then fall asleep to the singing of frogs in a nearby watering hole; wake to the cooing of doves and the songs of starlings. Before breakfast, sit outside your tent with a hot coffee and a pair of binoculars to watch the sunrise and observe game as they head out for the day.

Enjoy watching the wildlife from Governor's CampView from a veranda at Governor’s Camp, Maasai Mara, Kenya.

DSC04419View of Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, from Larsen’s Tented Camp.

There are two main types of tented camps: mobile tented camps and permanent tented camps.

Mobile Tented Camps

Mobile tented camps are temporary. They may move locations every few weeks to follow game or bird migrations, or they may be set up on an as-needed basis for travelers whose safaris take them off the beaten path. Accommodations vary, but many are quite luxurious. It’s common for mobile camps to include spacious, comfortable tents with traditional beds and mattresses, rugs, chairs and tables. They often come equipped with solar-powered lights. Bathrooms may be adjacent to each tent or in a central location, and flush toilets are common. A few have sinks and showers with readily available running water; at others, attendants bring hot water for washing up in the morning, after game drive, and at other times that the guest specifies. To wash hands and face, the guest uses a Victorian-style wash basin; for bathing, the guest orders a bucket shower.

A bucket shower is just what it sounds like: an attendant fills a bucket or similar waterproof container with water, attaches it to a showerhead with a hose, and raises it up on a pulley so the water flows down through the shower head at the desired water pressure. The shower stall is in a private, enclosed space, and the individual taking the shower can refine the water flow with a knob or lever. You can read more about bucket showers here.

Masek Under Canvas Tented Camp
Dining tent at Masek Under Canvas Mobile Tented Camp, Tanzania
Masek Under Canvas Tented Camp 2
Masek Under Canvas Mobile Tented Camp, Tanzania
Naipenda mobile camp 2
Private bathroom at Naipenda Mobile Camp, Tanzania

Permanent Tented Camps

Permanent tented camps are more akin to lodges; they remain in one location year-round. Tents are similar to small cottages or bungalows, but with canvas walls rather than ones built of wood or brick. They usually have wooden or stone floors that are raised off the ground; attached, fully plumbed bathrooms with showers, sinks and flush toilets; and outlets for charging cell phones and camera batteries.

A bath with a viewPrivate attached bathroom at Serian Mara, Mara North Conservancy, Kenya

Bath at Mara IntrepidBath at Mara Intrepid Tented Camp in Maasai Mara, Kenya. The shower and toilet are in private rooms to the left and right of the sinks.

Permanent tented camps tend to be built in scenic areas with good views of wildlife. For example, they may be on a river bend or in a lush savannah, usually in or near a national park or nature conservancy. Most are too far from residential areas to connect to a local power grid, so they get electricity from generators, solar power, or both. To conserve energy, generators are usually shut off for a few hours during the day while guests are away on safari, and again during the night when guests are asleep. Have no fear if you wake up in the middle of the night, though; camps supply flashlights and lanterns for use when the generator isn’t operating.

Typical facilities at permanent tented camps include a dining room and bar, public lounge, and gift shop. Swimming pools and nature activity centers are also common.

Mara Intrepid gift shop - Almost every lodge has one!Gift shop at Mara Intrepid Tented Camp, Maasai Mara, Kenya

Elephant BedroomOutdoor lounge in the shade at Elephant Bedroom Tented Camp, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

Our breakfast at Serian MaraBreakfast patio at Serian Mara Tented Camp, Mara North Conservancy, Kenya

Pool at Larsens CampPool at Larsen’s Camp, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya


The level of service at tented camps matches and often exceeds what you would expect in a lodge.  For example, since tents aren’t equipped with alarm clocks, many camps offer a personal wake-up call with fresh tea or coffee and a small snack. You won’t be eating dull camp fare; four-course dinners featuring fresh, local ingredients are typical. Other common services include laundry and a la carte spa services. Staff are eager to make you as comfortable as possible on your stay, so speak up if you have any questions.

Bedroom at Elephant WatchElephant Bedroom Tented Camp, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

Mara Explorer - Does this look like a tent??Four-poster bed at Mara Explorer Tented Camp, Maasai Mara, Kenya

Tented camps offer a truly unique experience that enriches your travels. Contact me for more information about tented camping options in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania or Rwanda.

Featured Lodge: Mwagusi Safari Camp, Tanzania

Mwagusi Safari Camp offers its guests a unique and comfortable tented safari experience. Almost all of the camp is built from natural materials such as grass thatch, timber, drift wood, stones and reeds, allowing the camp to be in perfect balance and harmony with its surroundings. And what surroundings! Mwagusi Safari Camp is a gateway to the incomparable Ruaha National Park, which has been dubbed the undiscovered gem of Tanzania and is often called “Tanzania’s best kept secret.” Situated far off the beaten track, away from crazy camera clicking crowds, this rough tract of wilderness pulsates the real energy of an Africa long forgotten. Visitors come to Ruaha to enjoy the dramatic landscapes and abundance of wildlife, with well-maintained roads and few visitors, which all work to make Ruaha the perfect safari holiday destination.

While at Mwagusi Safari Camp, your “banda” (meaning “temporary shelter”) will consist of a large spacious tent sheltered by a cooling thatch roof and set on a polished red floor. Each banda has en-suite facilities with flushing toilet, an unlimited supply of hot water, shower, sink, shelving, a large mirror and good night-time lighting. Built using stones, driftwood and bones, the bathroom is an area of interesting, unique and original design. Thick, comfortable towels and locally-produced clove soap are provided.

An efficient same-day laundry service that is free of charge is offered. The tented living area includes dressing table and mirror, trunk for storage, comfortable beds with high-density mattresses, safari style chairs and bedside tables for nighttime reading. All the “bandas” are built into the sandy banks of the Mwagusi River providing their own private and secluded view. Each has large covered verandah, with a comfortable cushioned seating area and swinging hammock, making this the perfect place to relax and view the passing wildlife.

Flexibility is key at Mwagusi and you can choose the time and length of your game drives (from a 6 hour early morning drive, other shorter 2-3 hour drives or a full-day drive with picnic lunch). You will be accompanied by one of our excellent and knowledgeable guides and an experienced driver.

Our vehicles are specially adapted open sided 4WD vehicles each with comfortable seats and high shade awning to enable one to stand and still be in the shade whilst game viewing. Each vehicle is equipped with reference books, beanbags for photography, drinks and all the necessities for a day in the bush. All vehicles carry radios for communication with the camp.