A room with four walls and conventional plumbing or a canvas tent on the plains? Your safari accommodations impact everything from the wildlife you see to the food you eat to the people you surround yourself with.
There are pros and cons with every setup – some more straightforward than others. More than that, there’s some misinformation regarding safari amenities.
We’re going to dispel some myths and share the benefits and drawbacks for each type of accommodation.
Seasonal Mobile Camps
Seasonal mobile camps have no permanent structures. Canvas tents are moved to different locations depending on where the wildlife is during the year.
Thomson Safaris uses this type of accommodation – and for good reason.
No matter when you choose to travel or where the Great Migration is, there’s a camp that can get you close to the action. Most people, in our experience, go on safari to see the wildlife; seasonal mobile camps bring you to it.
Similarly, because seasonal mobile camps serve fewer people and rotate so as not to disturb the environment, the vegetation and wildlife is nearby and abundant. You’ll hear lions and hyenas in the distance when you go to bed, and you’ll often wake up and find animal tracks through camp. It’s a true safari experience.
+ Personal Service
Because they often cater to fewer travelers, seasonal mobile camps can offer more personalized service. This varies by how high-end the product is, so it’s important to research how many rooms an operator serves on average and how they have been rated.
With Thomson, the experience is very personalized because seasonal mobile camps serve about 15 rooms on average and only serves Thomson guests. Camp staff will know your name, your food preferences and your special requests before you even touch down in the country.
+ Private Spaces and Dining
Dining at mobile camps may vary. Kitchens are temporary, and food is difficult to preserve. Ingredients must be shipped across rugged terrain to ensure freshness frequently. That said, don’t expect sophisticated menus and wide selections.
Privacy varies as well. Some operations lease private locations in national parks or private locations outside of the parks. Others may use public areas with many other groups of travelers.
With Thomson, all camps are sited in areas exclusive to Thomson Guests, and some wildlife areas, like the Eastern Serengeti Nature Refuge, are exclusive to Thomson guests. This makes special experiences possible, like walking with wildlife and night drives to observe nocturnal species. Both activities are prohibited in national parks.
In terms of dining, camp staff include some truly talented chefs that fuse Tanzanian flavors with familiar Western-style dishes. Here’s how our guests describe the experience.
+/- Rustic Luxury
Seasonal mobile camps are designed to strike a balance with nature – pared down in some respects, lavish in others. You’ll sleep comfortably in warm, cozy beds and enjoy the relaxing and chic lounge areas. But don’t expect Wi-Fi, full-time electricity or permanent plumbing.
Thomson uses en suite bathrooms with pump-flush toilets and gravity fed showers. Solar LED lights brighten spaces after dark. Not only are these options eco-friendly, they’re higher-end amenities for mobile camps.
Seasonal mobile camps place you in the perfect location at a logistical expense. Prices range from moderate to expensive, but seasonality makes little impact.
Permanent Lodges and Hotels
While Tanzania is well-known for its high-quality tented camps, there are also a wide range of permanent lodges and hotels available to travelers. All permanent lodges or hotels offer the same conventional amenities you can expect in a western-style hotel. However, top-budget boutique lodges take luxury to another level.
The high-end properties run between $800 and $2,500 per person per night. Travelers interested in a more “connected” safari experience might be better served staying in more open accommodations.
+ Conventional Accommodations
You’ll have electricity and running water as well as a robust lounge area to relax in. Many hotels in the bush have pools. All in all, the experience is more familiar in a typical hotel sense.
– Fixed Location
If you’re looking to maximize your Great Migration viewing experience, you’ll need to pay close attention to the location of your lodge. Unlike more mobile accommodations, lodges can’t follow the wildlife. There will be long stretches of the year where permanent lodges might be poorly positioned.
Lodges and hotels aren’t luxurious by default. Accommodations range from relatively affordable to extremely expensive. The higher the cost, the greater the luxury – typically.
+ /- Varied Customer Service
Customer service depends on many factors – the reputation of the lodge, its size and the price just to name a few.
Many small, expensive lodges offer world-class service, complete with private butlers, incredible food and an impressive, responsive staff.
On the other side of the spectrum, less expensive lodges tend to prioritize capacity over quality. Many serve over 40 rooms, so you may find yourself competing for the attention of the staff.
When you put four walls between yourself and the outdoors, you lose a piece of the safari experience. Many of our itineraries move guests between camps and lodges. Guests often tell us they feel closer to nature at camp.
Permanent Tented Camps
Like permanent hotels and lodges, permanent tented camps offer many of the familiar comforts. They tend to be smaller and include some of the most luxurious arrangements.
+ Conventional Accommodations
You may have canvas walls, but you’ll also often have permanent plumbing, spacious lounge areas electricity and Wi-Fi.
Only a bit of canvas siding separates you from the flora and fauna outside, which can make the experience feel special and authentic.
– Fixed Location
As with hotels and lodges, the fixed nature of a permanent camp makes it difficult to see the Great Migration. The accommodations are a nice combination of comfortable, rustic and outdoorsy, but the drawback is a highly seasonal accommodation for prime wildlife viewing.
+/- Less Varied Customer Service
While they serve fewer people, permanent tented camps still operate on a spectrum. Some serve as few as 25 rooms, others serve 40. Likewise, your service and experience will vary.
Again, the smaller, more luxurious camps will include staff personally assigned to you, and some include outstanding luxuries like private plunge pools. Larger camps typically balance the needs of many travelers at once and include fewer special luxuries.
The typical permanent tented camp is more expensive than the typical hotel or lodge, but specific options run the gamut.
This is your standard camping experience – dome tents, cots or sleeping bags and bare necessities.
Similar to mobile camping, your tent can be moved with ease and placed close to the action year-round.
You’ll get an authentic experience –falling asleep under the stars to the sounds of the wildlife and waking up in the boundless, untouched wilderness.
+ Personalized Service
Adventure camping groups tend to be small, so you often have one-on-one access to your guide and staff.
– Little Privacy, Basic Dining
Your only private place may be your tent. The campground itself may welcome many different groups if it’s in a public park, so if privacy is of the utmost importance, request a campsite in a private area.
Kitchens are very simple, and all support must be driven out, so expect only basic food options.
– Rugged Accommodations
You’ll sleep on a cot or in a sleeping bag. Other options have lounge areas, but you may only have your tent to escape the elements. Campgrounds will not support electricity or Wi-Fi, and you’ll likely use a public restroom with a drop toilet.
Like mobile camping, situating campers in remote locations can come at a cost because all support (fresh food, water, etc.) must be driven to the campground regularly. Despite rugged accommodations, adventure camping can still cost a substantial amount, depending on where you’re staying and for how long.