If you have booked a budget safari in Tanzania, you will probably be staying overnight in public camps, in the middle of the National Parks. As someone who hasn’t camped that much in her life, I didn’t really know what to expect from camping in Serengeti National Park, where I would spend two nights on my safari. I was thoroughly looking forward to the experience because I was about to sleep in one of the greatest wilderness areas in the world.
Accommodation Options in Serengeti National Park
Depending on what type of safari you are booking, there will be different accommodation options: public camps, private camps, and lodges which can be budget, medium range or luxury. The difference between the safari packages is huge, as the accommodation takes a big chunk of the budget. A 3-day luxury safari can easily cost a few thousand pounds, even more if you add private air transport to Serengeti National Park. On the other end, a three-day budget safari in a full jeep will start at around £700-£800. The less people there are in the jeep, the more expensive the safari will be.
The most luxurious lodges have swimming pools and hot tubs, offering candle lit dinners on the side of the savannah, sunrise balloon rides, scenic helicopter flights and bush walks. They are great for an unforgettable honeymoon, but they also cost an arm and a leg. I would probably have to work an entire year to afford three days there. If like me you are on a budget, you need to know that you can still have a fantastic safari experience in Serengeti National Park, even if you stay in a public campsite.
Budget Camping in Serengeti National Park
Camping in Serengeti National Park is a wonderful experience, especially when night arrives, and nature comes to life. Whilst I don’t know what’s it’s like to stay in a lodge, I can imagine that you wouldn’t experience Serengeti in the same way as you would when you sleep in the middle of it, with just a thin piece of cloth between you and nature.
Whilst it was not a luxurious oasis with swimming pools where elephants come to drink water, the campsite I stayed at during my three days in Serengeti National Park was still charming and comfortable.
Each safari company pitches their tents together, in a different part of the site. We arrived late and got a spot towards the end of the camp, which was nice as we had our own “dining room” and a couple of tables and chairs just outside the tents.
The campsite was of medium size, with a large kitchen, a toilet block and a smaller dining area, which we had to ourselves.
Each company has different tents and facilities for their guests. I noticed that some of the tents in the camp had proper beds. We had mattresses and very warm sleeping bags, which was a blessing during the cold, rainy night in Ngorongoro. Out tents were spacious and tall enough that we could easily stand up inside. They had windows that we could close from the inside, and a rain cover. On a budget safari, if you are traveling on your own, you will have to share the tent with another lone traveller. I got along very well with my roomie, Nina.
The bathroom in our camp had two showers, one squatty toilet and three Western toilets. Whilst the facilities were basic, they were spotless, even if there were quite a few people in the camp. I haven’t seen anyone going in and cleaning them, but every time I went to the toilet it felt like it had just been cleaned.
I camped in Serengeti during the rainy season, which meant plenty of mud and wet shoes. Even so, when going to the bathroom, the floors were always clean.
You don’t need to bring your own toilet paper, as the bathrooms are always stocked up with plenty. I noticed that every bathroom in Serengeti National Park was extremely clean, even the ones at lunch spots, where plenty of jeeps stop around the same time. Even when it’s quiet, these bathrooms are attended by an employee whose job is to clean it after each visitor. It’s quite impressive!
Some camps, like the one I stayed at in Ngorongoro, have hot water in the showers.
Electricity in the camp is very sporadic. Most of it comes from solar panels and it’s used to light up the camp and the kitchen. I wouldn’t say it’s very reliable when it comes to charging your devices. Sometimes there might not be enough electricity to share between the guests.
My advice would be to bring a strong power bank with you which you can charge in the jeep during the day and use in the night to charge your devices. This was my strategy to keep all my electronics charged and ready for photos.
I was so impressed with the food in the safari camp. Even though the facilities are limited and cooks are making food on gas stoves and over wood fires, the dishes we were served for each meal were so delicious.
In the morning the cooks wake up one hour before everyone else and prepare a large breakfast including eggs, pancakes, toast, tea and coffee. They also prepare the lunch boxes, which we usually had at a resting stop in the National Park. We usually had roast chicken, beef stew, sandwiches, boiled eggs, juice, fruits and something sweet for dessert, like a small cake or muffin. The lunch is usually packed in thermic pots, so it keeps warm until it’s time to eat.
For dinner we were served at least four different courses. One evening we even had pizza! Dinner was usually a mix of traditional Tanzanian dishes and western foods such as fries or spaghetti. Fresh salad was always served as well. Dinner always started with soup and ended with dessert, tea and coffee.
Sleeping Among Wild Animals
Camping in Serengeti National Park is a unique experience, especially after night comes and everyone goes back to their tents. Whilst the cooks are finishing cleaning and securing the garbage bins inside the kitchen, the first guests can he heard around the campsite. Firstly, at a distance, then closer and closer, I could hear the hyenas, following the smell of the bins into our campsite. The bins are locked inside the kitchen because the hyenas are extraordinary scavengers and will spread the rubbish everywhere.
Soon, the quietness takes over the campsite and you can start hearing the savannah waking up around you. First, there are the insects. Then, the nocturnal animals. At 2am I woke up to the sound of a hyena right outside the tent. Soon after, I could hear lion roars. It felt like they were so close, just outside the camp. In the morning I asked our guide how far away they were, and he said about 2 miles. That’s how quiet the camp is during the night!
Each morning we had zebras and antelopes grazing between the tents. I could actually hear them grazing, ripping the grass and chewing it.
Spending the night among wild animals, in a camp in Serengeti National Park, is magical!
How to Go to the Loo in the Middle of the Night?
Now this is a very important question because wild animals do come in the camp during the night. As our tents were at the opposite end from the toilets, it was quite a walk to reach them. Even if you don’t ask, the guide will tell you what to do before you go to bed on your first day in the safari.
Firstly, you should turn your flashlight on. Then, open the tent slowly and only put your hand which is holding the flashlight outside. Point it in all directions for a couple of times, then step out. The logic behind this is that wild animals don’t like flashing lights and will run away.
Once you do this, you can make your way to the toilet.
My recommendation? Don’t drink too many liquids in the evening and go to the loo just before going to bed, whilst there is still noise, and the lights are on in the camp.
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Disclaimer: Please note that I received a discount for my safari experience from African Scenic Safaris, as a Christmas trip with the volunteers from Hostel Hoff, under no contract to write about it. All the opinions in this article are my own and I would not recommend anything that I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself doing or think it was a great place to visit.