Safari Purist at Heart: Africa's Most Authentic Camps

By Julian 04 September 2018

I am a self-confessed safari purist. I appreciate the sheer opulence on offer in Africa’s most luxurious properties, but it’s the adventurous, high-quality camps that I would go for on my own safaris. There are a few camps across the continent that are run by the owners, with excellent guides whose priority is the safari experience and the appreciation of wilderness. These camps have a tangible character and an understanding of what I believe is the very essence of safari. For me, safari does not get better than in this style of property.

I’ll focus on good-value properties that many might consider simple, yet these are the camps that have some of the best safari operations in the business. Here, high-quality guiding comes as standard – something I value very highly – while the owners are often in camp either guiding, hosting, or simply keeping an incredibly close eye on their operations as a whole. Think camps that feel like a ‘home from home’, chats with experienced guides around camp fires in the middle of nowhere, days spent in the bush rather than inside a luxury lodge. That’s what this blog is all about – camps with character and passion!

Botswana

Botswana, home to Africa’s most luxurious and expensive properties, is a very difficult country in which to find a genuinely good-value experience that does not sacrifice the quality of safari on offer. Obviously the top-end camps are all rather special - places like Zarafa, Sandibe and Mombo will always attract clients with no expense spared on their safari - but Selinda Explorers Camp in the Selinda Reserve in northern Botswana is the camp I am going to single out – this wonderful little camp is a truly special place.

Selinda Explorers comes in at just under $1,000pppn in peak season, but you can be clever and travel here during its shoulder season – when prices are $680pppn. That peak season rate might seem like a lot to most people, but it’s unbelievably good value for a private reserve in Botswana when you consider the quality of the operation behind the scenes.

Owned by Great plains Conservation & National Geographic photographers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, the camp combines quality, passion and conservation to create a wonderful product I would travel to tomorrow. I’ve also always loved the Selinda Reserve – before it was owned by Great Plains, it was home to the best walking operation in the country, a tradition that carries on to this day. The Selinda Adventure Canoe Trail is also well worth a mention – more economical than Explorers, this is a truly wild canoe-and-walking-focused four-night safari that’s run by some superb guides.

Zambia

Zambia has a few little gems – this is the country for small, passionate, high-quality safari camps that can offer a diverse range of activities for a great price.

John Coppinger’s Remote Africa is one of the most experienced Zambia specialists – and, in my opinion, the finest walking safari operation in Africa. Located in the Luangwa Valley, Remote Africa has four camps, including the wonderful walking-focused Chikoko Trails in the South Luangwa and Mwaleshi in the North Luangwa. The camps are simple but stylish and exactly what I want from an adventurous safari that’s centred on big game walking. If the walking camps seem too simple, then spending a couple of nights in John’s flagship camp Tafika offers a higher level of comfort yet still retains that air of authenticity. Home to an unbelievably experienced team of guides as well as John himself and his wife Carol, Tafika and the Remote Africa operation as a whole is one of the very best safari outfitters in the business!

Tafika is $870pppn in peak season (August and September), but the price drops to $705pppn in the shoulder seasons around this peak period. There is a 10% saving for stays of over 7 nights, while the walking camps are $590pppn (less when included in the 7-night rate with Tafika). That really is great value for this much knowledge and experience in one camp!

Moving on to one of Zambia’s lesser known parks, we have Musekese in the Kafue. This cracking little camp offers great value and gets it spot on in all the right places, but it is certainly not over the top! Kafue is off the beaten track and often overlooked due to the more commercial options in the Luangwa Valley or the Lower Zambezi. However, Musekese guarantees a great diversity of activities and authentic safari at a great price. The owners guide the safaris here – that’s a serious rarity in itself! They’ve guided in the Kafue for years and they’re people I regard as two of the best guides in the park. Musekese itself is located on the Kafue River, while the team also offer mobile trips to the stunning Busanga Plains – a wonderful place that’s packed with game!

Musekese is $520pppn, while their mobile camp is around $600pppn. There is an unbelievably good-value safari here – it’s 7 nights long and splits time between the camps for $3,800pppn.

The final Zambian camp I’ll mention is Old Mondoro, another of my favourite camps in Africa. This camp, located on the banks of the Zambezi itself, is probably where I would go on safari tomorrow if I could choose one camp – though Explorers in Botswana comes close too! Set up by Grant Cummings – who is a major reason why the Lower Zambezi today is such an amazing destination –, Old Mondoro offers walking, boating, fishing, canoeing and game driving by day and by night. I love that diversity of safari activities – it’s one of the things that makes the best camps.

Old Mondoro is not the most affordable property, but 5-nights-for-4 and 7-for-5 offers are available at various times of the year, making an expensive property a great place to stay for a week or so! I’ve always believed this camp is a destination in itself - a place I would happily keep clients here for their whole safari. The camp is $1,120pppn in peak season, but the offers – or combinations with its sister property, the more luxurious Chiawa – see a 7-night stay between the camps at around $5,800 plus park fees of $630… so it’s around £4,434 for a 7-night stay. That might sound expensive, but I cannot rave about Old Mondoro enough – it’s a classy operation I will always love. And low season is certainly worth considering, especially from 1st November, when that same safari drops to £3,064 per person plus flights...you just have to be prepared for fairly high temperatures as Zambia in November is one of the hottest places we know.

Zimbabwe

Across the river from Old Mondoro is Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools and Goliath Safaris. Run by Stretch Ferreira, this is a rustic, adventurous set-up. Big game is the focus here – big old bull elephants, old buffalo, large lion prides! Goliath is a less luxurious option to Old Mondoro, but if ever there was a place that offers a big-game experience to knock you sideways then this is it. The camp is $780pppn, with longer stays being negotiated on a case-by-case basis. I have to admit to never having stayed at Goliath – it’s a property I am saving for a safari in a few years. Stretch's reputation speaks for itself...and I have to save a few of these places or I will have nowhere left!

Tanzania

Moving up to Tanzania, we come to Alex Walker’s Serian Serengeti. This is the best of the Serengeti’s mobile camps and Alex is a guy who is determined to keep his clients away from the tourist crowds that the Serengeti is getting more and more famous for! I’d visit this mobile camp in January to March – during these months, it is in the southern plains and offers the very best of the Serengeti’s game viewing as well as the dramatic scenery of Lake Eyasi and the Rift Valley Escarpment. Alex has won Guide of the Year a few times, so to have a guide of this calibre in camp is well worth the small amount more than you’d pay for other Serengeti mobiles. Again, long-stay deals apply, but this is no cheap camp – it’s approximately the same price as Old Mondoro.

Honourable Mentions

Finally, here are some other properties that deserve a mention and would probably make the list if I made this blog longer!

So I hope that gives you purists a few ideas for future trips! Please do feel free to contact me if you want to look into a trip to any of these properties on +44 (0)20 8547 2305 or send me an email at [email protected]