African Safari Accommodation Types
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Beneath the serenity of moonlight comes a lion roar. Elephants wander past, their silhouettes piercing the horizon. Sounds continue through the night; unidentified grazers are just meters away from the canvas. Safari isn't restricted to safari activities. In a world of wilderness, the wildlife continues well into the night, mammals surrounding a lodge or tented camp. Wake each morning and there's something saying hello, from distant herds already on the move to evocative evidence of an elusive sight. Sights seen from safari accommodation come with a certain tranquility. You're not looking for anything. You're just relaxing, and a flurry of wildlife wanders past.
Accommodation is the great unexpected treat of African safari tours. Most people imagine safari sights on a game drive. Few are anticipating the quality of safari accommodation or the continuing immersion and wildlife viewing. Across the continent, African safari accommodation tends to exceed expectations. It's not just a place to sleep before the safari activities continue. There's a rugged indelible charm, epitomized by the sundry of nearby wildlife and the unbroken panoramas across Africa's wilderness. It's rarely flashy or ostentatious. But you'll be surprised at just how comfortable and luxurious accommodation can be in the bush. And like the mammals that grace the abundant landscapes, there's always something memorable and distinctive about each place you stay. While you're staying in rural and remote Africa, the accommodation is of quality that makes safari accessible to even the most discerning of visitors.
What to Expect from Safari Accommodation
In such monumental landscapes always expect space. Both with individual rooms and the layout of a camp or lodge. Space and seclusion come naturally here as lodges are carefully situated miles away from each other. Also, expect inimitability. There is no homogenized blueprint to follow, and all accommodation looks to work with the environment to offer something unique in both style and design. And expect to find accommodation that exceeds expectations. There's a continual smile of surprise as you arrive at camps that shatter any apprehension about uncomfortable bathrooms or roughing it. Safari accommodation is both the compliment and the antidote to a day of exploring; maintaining your immersion in the wild and providing a luxury that gently pulls you down from the day's adventure.
Definitions blur, and names are often used interchangeably, but African safari accommodation can be broadly split into half a dozen categories: lodges, luxury tented camps, mobile camps, public campsites, hotels and guesthouses. Some countries are dominated by one of these, in others, a safari itinerary could feature the full range of accommodation styles. Within these categories, there's a spread of quality reflected in the price and, sometimes, by star ratings. Most safari itineraries will combine different styles of accommodation, utilizing the best options dependent on the destination. Head further into the wild larger national parks and you often stay in intimate camps. Return from a long safari and the extra comfort of a hotel is savored.
As a very broad summary, lodges are a localized version of a hotel or guesthouse, with private bathrooms, spacious restaurants, and extras like swimming pools. They're permanent structures that are usually larger than camps. Luxury tented camps are situated in areas rich with wildlife, permanent or semi-permanent operations catering for an intimate number of guests. They use canvas tents on solid bases with large beds and private bathrooms. Mobile tented camps are erected deep in the wilderness, surrounded by wildlife and catering for a small group of guests. They're simpler but still spacious and with good amenities, generally geared towards exclusivity and privacy. Within national parks, budget safaris use public campsites with facilities that vary in quality. Some African countries have cultivated a star rating system for accommodation, the leading light being the Tourist Grading Council of South Africa, but standards are not consistent across the continent.
Safari lodges are classic places to stay, elevating the landscapes' beauty with eternal panoramas and high levels of comfort. They're permanent structures, carefully built within an environment, usually in lofty positions with commanding views. Being permanent, this is where you encounter many traditionally sumptuous extras, like infinity pools with a view or elegant bar areas and restaurant terraces. From budget to five star luxury, safari lodges are a combination of Western hotel amenities and a gentle immersion in the wild. In general, they're larger and cater for more guests than other accommodation types, but you should still expect space and personal touches.
What is a Safari / Game Lodge
Lodges are permanent structures, a longstanding accommodation that occupies a prime spot in the landscape. Most are crafted from locally sourced materials, particularly wood; building in remote areas is far easier with what's found nearby. Walls and ceilings are permanent, as is the floor beneath your feet, the electricity, and the plumbing. It's this permanence that enables them to offer amenities more akin to a Western hotel or guesthouse. You could find an infinity pool overlooking the savannah, or perhaps an infinity pool that's been temporarily enjoyed by an elephant herd. Bar and restaurant areas are usually large and spacious, further places to savor the view. Bathrooms look and function like a bathroom you'd find anywhere in the world. There will be hot showers, western toilets, mirrors, and thick bathrobes. Electricity and hot water usually run all day, although lodges in very remote areas may limit this to a few hours in the morning and evening.
Game or safari lodges could have anywhere between ten to over 100 rooms. They generally have more rooms than a tented camp. Rooms will be generously sized and offer many similarities to a Western hotel room. While there's a telltale look across the continent – wooden framed restaurant, private terraces, central fireplace – each lodge excels in inimitability. Some lodges are separated from wildlife by discreet fences, usually thin electrified wires switched on after dark. This is especially the case for larger lodges with more guests, and lodges within private game reserves. Many lodges don't have this security feature, and local staff accompanies guests to their rooms.
Wildlife is always on show and relatively predictable (not for guests, but for the lodge). For example, a particular elephant herd comes to drink just after dusk each day, a monkey troop prowls in the dawn hours or a herd of waterbuck is known to favor the profuse grass beside a wing of rooms. Many erroneously think that a large lodge will scare away wildlife. It's true initially, mammals fearful of the noise of foreignness. Over months and years, the lodge becomes just another part of the landscape, animals adapting to live alongside it. But it's the panoramas that are most seductive, hours gently floating away as you gaze upon a landscape of treasures. Lodges excel in ensuring the vista is unbroken. Many have outdoor showers with a view. Bars and restaurant areas gaze over the landscape. Some rooms have floor to ceiling windows, the natural spell continuing while you're led to bed each night.
Where you find a Safari / Game Lodge
Open the curtains and a rhino wanders in the distance. Silhouettes become full color as you watch sunrise from an elevated terrace. Relax after a game drive and there's usually a multiplicity of mammals appearing then disappearing, their elegant movements available every time you look up from a book or drink. Safari and game lodges are usually positioned in prime locations above a landscape; on a crater rim, gazing down on a river or waterhole, on a slope above vast plains. They excel in providing continual panoramas, with most positioned in areas rich in wildlife throughout the year. Some have created artificial waterholes or provide evening floodlighting to elevate big game viewing.
The quality of a lodge often reflects its location. Lodges within national parks and reserves almost always fall into the high-end category. Only a small handful of permanent lodges are likely to be found in each national park, each providing exclusive experiences and accommodation. Building a permanent structure in the wilderness isn't easy, neither is the permission to construct anything in a national park or reserve. The expense to build and operate a lodge within a park is extremely high. So lodges don't scrimp on the little or luxurious touches, their high price tags are of good value considering the idiosyncrasy. Some lodges are converted colonial homesteads or historic farmhouses, places that have offered luxury in the bush for centuries.
Lodges located just outside the boundaries of protected areas are cheaper and typically less luxurious, although the quality remains high. National parks and reserves are predominantly unfenced, and wildlife doesn't always follow park boundaries, so you still get inquisitive visitors. Budget lodges can be found in towns and villages close to national parks, something that's used on budget safaris as a cheaper alternative to staying within a national park. A large consideration when staying outside national park boundaries is the distance to the park gate. Staying more than 30 minutes from the park entrance increases driving time and reduces localized natural encounters.
Game and safari lodges are found across Africa. They're the standard accommodation type in private game reserves and dotted across most national parks and national reserves. South Africa has the most of all African countries, something that's explained by its plethora of private reserves and larger luxury safari industry. Lodge style accommodation is also readily found outside of wildlife-rich areas. For example, most accommodation in Botswana is a lodge rather than a hotel, Namibia safari lodges fulfill the promise of harmoniously blending into the environment, and there's a variety of lodges found in major cities like Nairobi and Arusha.
Why Stay at a Safari Lodge
- Amenities that most closely resemble a Western-style hotel, particularly large bathrooms with piped hot showers and flushing toilets.
- Catering for larger numbers of guests helps them to provide unique luxury touches like infinity pools or opulent bars.
- Lodges typically have sublime views and regular visits from wildlife.
- Much like a hotel, visitors often have the choice of a variety of rooms, with deluxe or honeymoon options.
- Lodges are found all over Africa, in national parks, wilderness areas, cities, and private reserves. They're the most ubiquitous of the continent's accommodation options.
An iconic and traditional place to stay, especially in large national parks, these permanent or semi-permanent tented camps offer comfort and luxury with little interruption to the natural environment that wanders past. This is not camping. While these camps use canvas for walls, the quality and amenities are akin to hotels and guesthouses, with the canvas built around a permanent base and luxurious bed. The sounds of the wild perforate through, accompanied by regular visits from a park's wildlife. Luxury tented camps tend to be small and intimate, exuding the feeling of safari exploration from yesteryear.
What is a Luxury Tented Camp
Tented camps are often confused with more traditional notions of camping. While the rooms are crafted from canvas, there are few other similarities. This is permanent or semi-permanent accommodation, with large canvas tents erected on solid bases, often a wooden deck. This permanent base often stretches out to a private terrace. Tents are high enough to stand comfortably in and are equipped like a hotel room, with large beds, lights, furniture, and decoration. They're spacious, although on average they will be smaller than the rooms found at lodges. Most have private bathrooms, with hot showers and western toilets that may or may not be the flushing variety. Anxiety over the quality of a bathroom can preoccupy many potential visitors to Africa; tented camps use innovative means to ensure they're spacious, clean, and comfortable. Water is pumped from nearby tanks and heated by fire whenever requested.
These camps are off the grid and powered by solar, with just enough electricity for lighting and charging appliances. Some may stick to simply lanterns. Things like fridges or air-conditioning are very rare, although some permanent tented camps blur the comparative distinction to a lodge. Evenings can be cool, and the camp provides ample coatings of blankets, plus the constantly crackling fire.
Canvas tents are less intrusive and easier to erect than large permanent structures. They also have a less permanent impact on an environment, making them preferable in national parks and reserves. The thin walls provide an unerring immersion. Through the night come the sounds of nature, everything from distant lion roars to a zebra grazing just the other side of the canvas. It can be stunningly silent before a flurry of sporadic noises interrupts the tranquility; a herd marching, a hippo grunting, a hyena calling. Wake up, open the tent, and there's often something viewed at remarkable proximity. It's extremely rare for these camps to have fences. Wildlife wanders through the camp, feeding on the grass that surrounds the tents. After a day on safari, this can provide an indelible compliment, comfortable and calm yet maintaining the impression of the wild.
Camps cater for a limited number of guests, usually having somewhere between four and 20 individual tents. Tents will be exceptionally spaced and located to offer uninterrupted views. At the heart of the camp is a central dining and meeting area, often with an outdoor fire pit where guests congregate into the evening. There is both intimacy and seclusion here, with guards quickly learning guests' names and many personal touches. Just walking from restaurant to the tent is an adventure, a guard listening and shining a torch to check for wildlife. Even in high season, there's never a feeling of being crowded or congested; how could there be when such an interrupted landscape extends in every direction?
Where you find Luxury Tented Camps
Luxury tented camps elevate the wildlife experience, located in pristine areas of wilderness and national parks. The emphasis is on seclusion and maximizing the immersion in an environment. This might be overlooking a permanent water source, hidden in a valley, or tucked on the edge of a forest. In most cases, the camp will be away from traditional trails through the park and other camps. It's unlikely a safari truck will interrupt the panorama; it's also unlikely that you'll spot a tented camp while out on safari.
These permanent and semi-permanent tented camps are found in most national parks and reserves. They benefit from space and an uninterrupted location, allowing guests to sleep deep within a park. This makes them ideal when on multi-day journeys in large national parks. Smaller reserves also use luxury tented camps to offer guests a more intimate and exclusive experience. Private game reserves often have a tented camp option as a more remote and exclusive alternative to the main lodge
Increasingly, luxury tented camps are being erected on the boundaries of protected areas, providing affordable accommodation for visitors who aren't keen on traditional camping. They're found in all the traditional safaris, especially Tanzania safari and Botswana safari. Note that there has been a surge in the number of cheap tented camps found in East Africa. These are being built in villages and towns close to parks and have a distinct lack of quality. They feature on budget safaris as an alternative to public camping.
Despite their permanency, tented camps don't interrupt a landscape. Wildlife is intrigued, curious, happy to inspect the camp and rarely fazed by what they find. Traditional techniques are used to keep away predators, notably an evening fire. Even so, it's not unusual for big cats and the biggest mammals to roam by. Local guards accompany guests whenever they're walking around the camp, and they're quick to keep tabs on any potential dangers. Remember, many tribal communities have always lived like this, amongst landscapes filled with large mammals. They know how to keep people safe. So when a lion roar emerges from the gloomy distance, the guards will be quick to tell you where and when the same lion has been spotted throughout the day.
Why Stay at a Luxury Tented Camp?
- Intimate accommodation that caters for a small number of guests, usually situated in prime wildlife areas.
- Continued immersion in the wild, exemplified by regular wildlife encounters and an evocative soundtrack.
- Space and seclusion that's favored by couples and those seeking a more exclusive experience.
- Spacious canvas tents are furnished like a hotel room, with private bathrooms, large beds, and decoration.
- Found in many safari destinations, in particular, large national parks or safari circuits that offer multi-day trips.
Mobile tented camps provide the ultimate immersion in the wild, temporary structures catering for just a single group of guests. There's a seductive intimacy, just a couple of large tents amongst miles of abundant landscape. Some move with the seasons, pitching up in new locations dependent on the rains. Others move every few days, providing extremely exclusive experiences and incumbent thrills. Like luxury tented camps, this is not camping in its traditional sense. Space, comfortable beds, great food, and warm showers are provided deep in the wilderness.
What is a Mobile Tented Camp
Delightfully intimate and wonderfully exclusive, mobile tented camps epitomize the wild immersion of an African safari. Spacious canvas tents are erected in remote areas, then comfortably fitted out with beds, chairs, and dining tables. They cater to a high-end market and provide the comfort demanded by discerning guests. It's more than luxury camping in the wild; these are furnished rooms with canvas walls that are surrounded by Africa's great mammals and wilderness. For many, they're the highlight of an African safari, and they come with a price tag that reflects the exclusivity.
The quality of amenities varies. Some camps will have western toilets and hot showers. Others will be more rudimentary, particularly those used on multi-day walking safaris. Electricity may be supplied by solar but sometimes isn't; there's an added romance to a camp illuminated by lanterns and moonlight. Sometimes there's a dining tent; other mobile camps offer an outdoor dining table deep in the savannah. As you might expect, a higher quality of amenities comes with higher costs. Luxury mobile outfits erect stunning tents with king-sized beds, flowing hot water, and silver-service dining surrounded by elephant silhouettes. Other tented camps are more basic, a bed, a tent, and a hot bucket shower. Any lack of comfort is compensated by the recurrent feeling of adventure. Like luxury tented camps, they predominantly feature walk-in tents more than high enough to comfortably stand in.
The location easily compensates for lowered expectations of quality. This isn't a lodge or a plush hotel, nor should it be when you're deep in a savannah that's miles from four-wheel drive trails. Look around and there's nothing but the revered impressions of Africa, unbroken mystique cascading beyond the horizon, accompanied by the distant echo of mammals' calls. It also feels more authentic for a camp to lean towards simplicity. At the same time, most guests are surprised by the invention and ingenuity of these camps. There's a delightful surprise when wandering into a lavish bathroom after spending an hour watching buffalo herds rumble past.
These camps are predominantly reserved for one group of guests, making them very popular with honeymooners and couples. Service is attentive yet discreet, allowing a group to savor their environment with limited human interaction. Escapism is usually associated with beaches and tropical islands, but a camp in the heart of a national park is equally resplendent in its notions of getaway. There's nothing around but the silence is never absolute; an eland herd munches in the distance, hippos honk from a nearby river, birds flutter past in the dawn light. Sit back, watch the wilderness roll by, and indulge in the escape.
Where to Find a Mobile Camp
Mobile camps are about location: stood alone in the heart of untrammeled grassland; hidden beside a small river in the forest; tucked into a desert oasis. They are part of the landscape, a hidden sight that inquisitive wildlife comes to inspect. There are no fences or boundaries; you're sleeping in the heart of untamed Africa, far from a park's vehicle trails. It's wonderfully intimate, calls continuing through the night and herds not considering the camp to be a threat. Animals get very close, and camps are carefully situated to minimize the threat from dangerous mammals. It's not uncommon for camps to suddenly move because a pride of predators has been hanging around in the distance. The threat from wildlife is significant, meaning a change of plan if leopard prints are discovered in the original plot. Staff and guards are experts in monitoring localized wildlife behavior, listening to shouts of testosterone or aggression and understanding potential danger nearby.
By definition, mobile camps move. Some change location with the seasons, tracking migrations or following the rains, much like hyenas constantly seeking out the most abundant landscapes. This could mean moving every few months or even just twice a year. This semi-nomadic style allows camps to bring in increased facilities and amenities, developing larger and finer-appointed camps. Other mobile camps are truly on the move, packing up and relocating every few days or weeks. This is often in response to the needs of guests on handcrafted multi-day safaris. They provide accommodation for one or two groups then switch to a new location. Mobile tented camps are also regularly used on multi-day walking or horse riding safaris, a basic but comfortable accommodation that's many miles from the nearest vehicle trail.
You'll find these camps all over Africa although they're best suited to areas receiving relatively few visitors. Private concessions and reserves offer these camps as an intimate alternative to their man camp or lodge while a select handful of outfits obtain permission to erect mobile camps in large national parks. The emphasis is on staying away from standard tourist trails, so they're often found in the lesser visited sections of a park or reserve, away from the main gate and a park's day visitors.
Why Stay at a Mobile Tented Camp
- Ultimate immersion in the wild landscapes of Africa including intimate encounters with a whole sundry of wildlife.
- Exclusive and secluded, they usually cater to just one group of guests, making them idolized by couples and honeymooners.
- This could be the only available accommodation on multi-day wilderness safaris, particularly walking and horse riding safaris.
- Surprisingly high levels of comfort considering the remote location, complimented by a sense of adventure.
- Unique locations far from the regular tourist trail, offering a very personal version of the African landscape.
While traditionally associated with budget safaris, camping at public campsites is not always the exceptionally rugged experience most people are imagining. National parks set aside prime areas for public camping which mid-range safari companies elevate with increasing layers of comfort. In some destinations, these public campsites offer exclusive and intimate locations to spend the night engulfed in the wild, and it's this immersion that allows many to ease into notions of camping.
What are Public Campsites?
Almost all national parks and reserves set aside areas for public camping. Campsites often occupy prime positions, hanging above a landscape or enveloped by wildlife. Facilities vary, but in general, they are the most primitive and limited of safari's accommodation options. Even at large public campsites, there will probably only be a concrete dining area, toilet block, and cold running water. Tents are pitched in a designated space; a grassy hill, a slice of savannah, a clearing in the forest. This is camping in its traditional sense, with your own safari company supplying the tents and equipment. There is no bar or restaurant. On these safaris, the driver or guide also doubles as a chef, cooking up breakfast and evening meals. This can't be understated. The quality of food is basic and the best that can be cooked up on a small stove with ingredients carried from the city. Which is very different to a professional kitchen at a lodge or camp.
Public campsites are predominantly used by those on budget safaris or self-drive safaris. National parks and reserves have set camping rates, and these are usually just a fraction of the cost of a lodge or mobile camp. Some operators will travel with all the camping equipment, erecting it when you arrive at a camp. Others may be permitted to keep their tents erected semi-permanently. Quality depends on the safari company. Budget operators, especially the backpacker-focused companies in East Africa, use all manner of discarded tents and sleeping bags, with no sleeping mats or blankets. Others are far more professional, including sleeping mats or mattresses, and even walk-in tents. Combined with long dusty journeys, staying at public campsites can be tiresome, especially after three days or more on the road with a budget safari company. Even including the odd night in a camp or lodge helps keep energy levels high and ensure the safari doesn't veer towards being a drag.
Public campsites can sometimes be blissfully quiet, just a handful of tents generously spaced. Others can be noisy and crowded, hundreds crowding into a dining room meant for a dozen. Daily limits to control numbers are not universal. Some national parks have smaller campsites, often referred to as “special campsites.” These are more private, preferred by mid-range safari companies offering a better standard of tent and facilities. It's these that are the unexpected highlight of camping, providing an unforgettable intimacy and notions of exclusivity. Particularly in South Africa, some national parks campsites have evolved to provide more than just rudimentary camping space. They now offer basic chalets and simple hut accommodation, a popular and affordable alternative to better-appointed lodges.
Where to Find Public Campsites
Almost all national parks and national reserves have designated campsites. These tend to be situated close to popular tourist routes, providing easy access from a park's main trails. Public campsites are very uncommon in private concessions and reserves. Most camps have been designated since a park was gazetted and have excellent wildlife viewing locations. While the high volume of traffic keeps many animals away, you're still likely to hear nighttime calls and spot the odd herd of ungulates. Park rangers ensure dangerous wildlife veers away from the camp. As might be expected, certain national parks are better than others at offering a good campground and immersion in the wilderness.
Why Stay at a Public Campsite
- Cost - Public campsites are favored by budget safaris and provide the cheapest available safari accommodation.
- Public campsites are located within national parks and reserves, meaning there's no morning drive to the park gate and wildlife calls accompany the evening.
- In some destinations, safari operators can provide passable levels of comfort at secluded campsites.
Africa delights in its inimitability, from buffalo herds fighting at dawn to millions of wildebeest rampaging across grass plains. Just like the wildlife that graces the continent, accommodation can be wonderfully distinctive. Open rooms beneath the stars, tree houses perched above a waterhole, a bed for the night on a shimmering salt pan...a multiplicity of unique and wonderful options provide indelible highlights and continual memoirs to the beauty of African Safari.
About Africa's Exotic and Wonderful Accommodation
Africa's accommodation sometimes seems to be competing on the inimitability scale, ever-unusual camps garnering recognition for their exclusive experiences. Tree houses are probably the most common, a playground of wooden walkways and huts situated high in the trees. They gaze down onto waterholes or rivers, a natural procession of wonder constantly beneath your feet. Compare that to a night on a salt pan, where you roll out sleeping mats and gaze towards the stars, a night of primitive beauty and adventure that's hundreds of miles from a road. How about a star bed, a lavish tented room without a roof or walls? Just lie back on a luxury king-sized bed and watch the natural show.
Often tailored towards romance, Africa's quirky accommodation can form a part although rarely all, of a safari itinerary. There could be a mobile camp specially erected on a grass island in a river swelled with mammals. Maybe an intimate hide that provides a nonstop evening parade of elephants. How about a night in a tribe's traditional hut or a lantern-illuminated bed in the heart of towering sand dunes? It's a choice for those seeking a mystical and memorable night or two of unusual intimacy deep in the African landscape. Head to the coast and beach villas lull beside Indian Ocean waves. Explore the forest and cute wooden huts are hidden behind elephant trails. Zicasso works with boutique tour operators who are experts at seeking out the best and most exclusive accommodation Africa can offer. Allow them to suggest some ideas for your African safari.
Africa's blossoming tourist infrastructure is reflected in the huge array of good quality hotels and guesthouses. Excellent accommodation is found in the most remote of areas, not just towns that form the base point for an African safari. Boutique by nature and excelling in idiosyncrasy, these hotels and guesthouses ensure that comfort and luxury can be found away from traditional safari lodges and camps. Most people are surprised as their expectations are exceeded.
What are Africa's Hotels and Guesthouses
Like anywhere in the world, Africa's accommodation market swings from the squalid to the opulent. You'll find major international chains and business hotels, but the market is dominated by small guesthouses and locally managed establishments. "Boutique" is a buzzword in the Western travel industry, yet it's something that many African hotels and guesthouses have been doing for decades, their proud inimitability and intimacy arriving far before the term boutique was popularized. Even large beach resorts have a certain idiosyncrasy, reminding you that a tropical getaway image can also be indelibly African.
There's a strong inclination to be as modern as possible. While the West often finds delight in things that are old, Africa is enjoying this recent opportunity to become modern. Homogenized styles are rare, especially at mid to high-end level. Like safari lodges, hotels and guesthouses seek to provide something distinct and memorable, often blending with their environment, from a wooden chassis besides a montane forest or a thatched palm roof near the beach.
Like Europe or America, quality varies significantly and is reflected in the cost. Many visitors think about Africa and expect the accommodation quality to be below what's found elsewhere in the world. This works on the standardized preconception that Africa is economically poor, bringing thoughts of squat toilets into the average hotel. The continent's tourist infrastructure has developed rapidly, and a mid-range hotel is comparable to a mid-range hotel elsewhere in the world, both in quality and cost.
Where you Find Africa's Hotels and Guesthouses
A blossoming tourist infrastructure is most keenly appreciated in the vast choice of new hotels and guesthouses. While lodges and upmarket hotels have always been a regular feature on the African tourist savannah, the wide-scale enhancement of services is reflected in the multiplicity of good accommodation that's cropping up across the continent. A few decades ago you could find good hotels in capital cities and good lodges in national parks. The rest of the continent was very much an unknown. Now you can explore far-flung corners and be confident of a good place to rest your head. This improvement in accommodation quality is one of the factors making Africa the fastest growing tourism continent on the planet.
Hotels and guesthouses are mostly used pre and post safari. There's a huge choice available in popular safari base towns, for example, Arusha in Tanzania or Maun in Botswana. As expected, they're also used in major cities and towns, especially for the first or last night of an itinerary when they're conveniently located close to international airports. Some itineraries also include nights in hotels during the safari, especially when there's a long drive between parks.
Why Stay at Hotels and Guesthouses
- Mid to high-end hotels and guesthouses are comparable in quality and cost to those found in Western countries.
- They offer good quality accommodation that's used pre and post safari, as well as when arriving in a country.
- The excellent amenities are often elevated after returning from a multi-day safari, the comfort of four walls helping you return from the natural world.
- Africa's guesthouses are boutique by nature, likely to provide an intimacy and idiosyncrasy to each night of an itinerary.
Star grading is often a reliable marker of quality, a consistent mark to look for when booking accommodation. Luxury travelers can readily spot the differences between four and five-star properties while lower starred accommodation still suggests a certain quality. This star rating system can be used indicatively in Africa but with a degree of caution. Five star certainly provides an idea of quality yet not having a starred rating doesn't infer a poor quality establishment.
Star grading has only been loosely implemented, and there is no single standard for the whole continent. Most countries have their own grading system, the shining example being the Tourist Grading Council of South Africa, which divides properties into distinct categories. Game lodges are judged differently from guesthouses or backpacker hostels. This enables a focus on amenities on a property; e.g. it would be unreasonable to expect a game lodge to have the valet parking or minibar required of a hotel. Namibia also uses these benchmarks. Botswana safari and Kenya safari accommodations have their own grading systems. Tanzania currently doesn't have a star grading system. As such, properties can only be accurately compared in relation to others in the same country.
Like in Europe or America, the differences between four and five-star properties can be vast, and anywhere rated as five stars will imbue a universally accepted notion of luxury quality. In Africa, five star reflects the elite of what's on offer with increased exclusivity and personal service. However, with star grading continuing to be implemented, it's not uncommon to find excellent properties that aren't part of the system. In particular, mobile camps and luxury tented camps don't seem to fit within existing parameters. Some without electricity would struggle to reach a one or two-star rating, yet provide the attentive luxury and exclusivity of a five-star boutique resort. As a result, some of the continent's premier accommodation prefers to focus on international recognition through membership of bodies like the Leading Hotels of the World or the Five Star Alliance. Competing and comparing against the world's best five-star hotels provides an additional affirmation of quality.