“I want to see a cheetah make a kill in the middle of the camp.”
“I want to go to the toilet at 2am and come face-to-face with a hyena”.
“I want to be too scared to leave my tent”.
Our leader laughed and looked around the group as if we couldn’t be serious. But we all just nodded at each other in agreement.
When Erellah asked what we hoped for on our trip through Kenya and Tanzania, it seems like we all had the same idea: camping in East Africa would be wild, dangerous and full of up-close animal encounters. The reality wasn’t exactly what we pictured, but it was filled with incredible memories.
Lodges might be a more comfortable way, but I wanted to feel close to the ground on my first experience of Africa. To watch the shadows of clouds prowl across the plains on long truck journeys. To get dusty and dirty and collapse in a tent at the end of a day, straining my eyes over the stretching horizon trying to pick out elusive game. To know that all that was between me and the wilderness was a strip of canvas.
That’s why I chose Intrepid’s eight-day Basix-style trip, Serengeti Trail. Five nights of camping – ranging from the shores of Lake Victoria to the heart of the Serengeti National Park and a spot overlooking the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater – felt like the perfect introduction to the region.
To get to the Serengeti National Park, we wound our way through the green and grey boulder-dashed Tanzanian landscape. Big stretches of plains gave way to hilly, scrubby woodland as we reached the park gates, which were guarded by the huge horns of sun-bleached water buffalo skulls.
Here’s everything you need to know about what it’s like to camp in the middle of the Serengeti.
The facilities: what are they *really* like?
Before the trip, one regular question about camping in the middle of the Serengeti had been “But what about the toilets?”. ‘Limited or basic facilities’ conjured up images of a shovel, a hole and a homemade bidet. Or even some kind of take-it-with-you plastic bag situation. (The news that plastic bags are banned in Kenya flushed those plans). But those concerns were misguided. There are designated camping areas in the heart of the park. Our location featured a structure used as the kitchen, a bathroom block with drop and western-style toilets, and showers. Some even featured toilet paper and soap (though these are still essential packing list items).
The tents: how easy/hard are they to get up?
The tents used on Intrepid Basix trips in East Africa are dome structured and made of thick green canvas. They’re simple enough to put up alone – four metal poles fix into a central point, flex down to the ground and clip onto the material – but help from the group always means they’re put up and taken down in a flash. The tents fit two people on supplied sleeping mats, but it’s important to remember to pack some sort of pillow. A bag filled with clothes doesn’t cut it – trust me.
The tents are hard-wearing and stand up to the extreme Serengeti conditions; our first night in the Serengeti proved that. We could see the storm coming over the horizon. Soon the wind was battering the walls of the tent and fat rain drops slapped against the sides. But with all the flaps zipped up, nothing inside was touched by rains of the coming wet season.
The food: how good is it, on a scale of 1-10?
Alongside the leader and driver, overland trips in Tanzania have a dedicated cook. What these magicians can whip up hundreds of kilometres from the nearest market or kitted-out kitchen is a miracle. Using gear all stored in the bowels of the truck, our cook Silas would set up a production line and we’d all pile in to help prepare vegetables or cut up meat. The group would then head off for an afternoon game drive, coming back to a stunning spread. We feasted around the fire on dishes like pasta, roast lamb, soups, fried chicken, fresh fish, handmade mandazi (a type of fried bread), and even a cake for someone’s birthday. In the morning we’d wake up to the smell of pancakes or scrambled eggs. There’s nothing basic about the food on offer here. 10/10.
The animals: who you can expect to see, and when.
A lion lounging on a ledge, an endless line of zebras, an elephant herd shading under an acacia tree… A pride digesting just below the truck, a leopard up a marked tree, cheetahs surveying the landscape from an outcrop. Wildlife sightings are extensive through the day in the Serengeti, but they don’t stop when the sun goes down. While animals are likely to be warned away from the campsite by the fire and sounds of humans, this is the Serengeti and anything can happen. The site is totally open to allow animals to roam unobstructed, and our leader told us of how a lion had once chased prey between the tents.
Late night bathroom calls are not to be answered alone, and if your torch flashes off red eyes (the sign of a predator) then a slow retreat to the tent is recommended. Our animal encounters during the hours of darkness were limited to a brief nearby wildebeest charge after dinner, and some skulking hyenas.
The sound of these scavengers whooping was the loudest of the animal night chorus. Lying in the darkness and listening to the sounds of Tanzania is one of the trip’s greatest experiences.
Are you ready to camp in the Serengeti and have your own wild experiences? Check out our Tanzania trips now.