What’s in a Perfect Campsite? Plus 7 African Favorites

Following the previous article on the benefits of camping for a person’s physical and mental health, it only fits that I also share considerations of a good campsite as well as some of my favorites.

Assuming you’ve gotten yourself quality camping gear to set you up for a comfortable camping expedition, what’s next? Picking a destination is, by far, the most crucial bit. It can make or break your trip. You can have the best gear that money can buy, but that alone doesn’t guarantee a memorable outdoor experience.

A successful camping trip is a combination of two core things: proper quality gear, and a superb location. Whatever place you chose will be your home for a couple of days or weeks, depending on the length of your trip; therefore, you want a place that’s comfortable and secure.

Below are key elements to put into consideration when looking for the perfect camping grounds.

1. Safety

Above all, safety should always be your number one priority. An ideal campsite is safe in three aspects: safe from physical harm and material security i.e. crime or political instability, safe as it relates to weather patterns, and safe in regards to the type of wildlife or critters you’re likely to encounter. You do not want a situation where you’ve set up in a gorgeous location that’s prone to natural disasters such as flash floods or cyclones or one that’s popular with unpredictable and dangerous wildlife. An excellent way to ensure a level of safety is to set up at established locations. They have better insights and have likely put in measures to eliminate or reduce risks. But if you’re more venturesome and prefer off the beaten tracks, make sure to extensively research the surroundings before your travel to mitigate any potential hazards or dangers. Taking these measures prepares you better and provides some reassurance.

Safety of a camp site: two campers sitting outside their tent at night

2. Easy Accessibility

Road trip adventures are great and all, but there’s nothing worse than driving around in circles for hours or in the dark trying to find a location because you either didn’t do due research, or it lacks proper infrastructure or has inadequate signage. It’s particularly frustrating if you have kids on board. Prior preparation is essential. Research the region in advance, make use of Google maps while on the road and consider investing in a hard copy map, which comes in handy in remote areas with poor network coverage. And for already established sites, it’s always wise to be in contact with the host to get proper directions beforehand. Doing so saves you time and gives you the option of arriving early to set up your mobile home.

Road in Southern Africa.

3. Privacy

The very essence of camping is to get away from all the noise, be in a new environment, and spend time with your thoughts or with loved ones so you’ll likely want at least a minimal amount of privacy. Sure, having company around makes you feel safer, and it can be enjoyable to socialize, but you don’t want neighbors too physically close. There’s nothing fun about lying awake, unable to fall asleep because of a neighbor’s snoring, or not being able to have private conversations in your own tent. A few ways to achieve a sense of privacy and serenity is by camping at large encampments, camping off-season, or going off the well-trodden paths.

A tent-ready set up for camping in Nanyuki, Kenya.

4. Shade

Just as important as the overall location is the actual place to station your temporary base. Ideally, you want a flat, clear surface, away from water sources, but above all, one with plenty of shade from the sun. Most short-term campers prefer to use nylon dome tents because they’re not only cheap but lightweight, therefore, easily portable. However, because nylon is a synthetic material, the tents tend to have poor insulation, leading to extreme temperatures. So when it’s hot and sunny outside, inside the tent can feel like a sauna. To prevent this, pick an area with sufficient shade, preferably from trees and vegetation. In arid or desert environments, invest in a portable sun shade sail or gazebo.

Nelly posing smiling at the camera standing on a concrete path surrounded by green vegetation and tree at the Victoria Falls Waterfront in Livingstone, Zambia.
Smile and peace signs at the Waterfront accommodation grounds in Livingstone, Zambia.

5. Activities

It’s quite all right to sit idle, engage in playful banter with family, or indulge in some reading while on your vacation, so this isn’t necessarily a crucial facet. But it’s good to have options to switch things up, especially if you have kids or if you’re camping for an extended period. A campsite that offers sights to see, tours to landmarks, hikes, team building sessions, etc. is a welcome delight as it helps breaks up your days and brings in a little bit more adventure. It’s always worthwhile to immerse yourself with the surroundings and engage in funtivities. And bonus points to your physical health if they involve physical movement.

Nelly standing at a section of the Mau Mau Cave in Nayuki, Kenya.
A hike to a Mau Mau Cave near a campsite in Nanyuki, Kenya.

Below are some of my favorite camping grounds.

1. Barefoot Beach Camp – Mambrui, Kenya. US$8pp

Located North of Malindi Town in Mambrui is Barefoot Beach Camp. It lies on a breathtaking, endless stretch of shimmering gold sand that is Mambrui North Beach. Here, you get to enjoy the full sun, sea, sand escape beachfront with glorious ocean vistas in a remote location. This place has this remarkable ability of making someone feel safe yet still giving off a “wild beach” vibe. In addition to its already impressive offering is a relaxed and cheerful ambiance, thanks to the wonderful owners and staff who have embodied a friendly, helpful, and welcoming culture without being intrusive. As well, you don’t have to worry about overcrowding as they only accept four campers at a time. Amenities include free parking, a beach bar, bathrooms, access to clean water, electricity plugs, and a decent restaurant for days you don’t feel like cooking. The camp also sets itself apart as a kite-surfing and windsurfing paradise for its strong wind conditions at a bargain.

Gustav the dog and Nelly seated facing the camera next to their campsite at Barefoot Beach Camp in Mambrui, Malindi.
My dog Gustav and I at what was our home for 11 days at Barefoot Beach Camp in Northern Mambrui, Malindi.
Nelly's hand covered in glittery sand from Mambrui North Beach.
Glittery Sand at Mambrui North Beach at Barefoot Beach Camp

2. Samburu Public Campsite – Samburu, Kenya. US$5pp

Any safari lover or an animal enthusiast would appreciate this site. Not only is it economical, but it’s also the ideal setting for adventure as it’s located in the Samburu National Reserve, which is renowned for its dense wildlife population, second only to the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The bivouac is right next to the Ewaso Nyiro River, a superb location for game spotting at the comfort of your own “home.” Further, self-drive safaris are permitted at any time of day. However, if you’d like to see a better range of animals, it’s best to hire an experienced guide. You’re also likely to be part of the wilderness action as you continuously try to fend off baboons on a mission to steal your food or equipment. And trust me, no one can take them on except a local with a catapult, so you might have to hire one during the day – highly recommended. If you’re looking for privacy, you’re better off visiting offseason. The camping space is rather small and can get crowded. Pack heavy as this is more of a primitive camping spot. The only available facilities are basic toilets and a makeshift shower.

Nelly sitting on a tree by the Ewaso Nyiro River in Samburu Public Campsite with a background of elephants at the other end of the river.
Elephants around the Ewaso Nyiro River at the Samburu Public Campsite
Nick seated on a chair by the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River reading a book.
Chilling by the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River in the Samburu Public Campsite section of the Samburu National Reserve.

3. Mushroom Farm – Livingstonia, Malawi. US$4-$5pp

The Mushroom Farm is simply a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively. Tucked away atop leafy, green Mount Livingstonia, this eco-lodge offers a magical setting full of natural, visual splendor. As an off-the-grid location, the journey there is challenging. No public transport is readily available. You either have to hitchhike, usually on a pickup or a truck, and possibly get stuck in the middle of the road (it happened to me), hike 4km uphill, or to the lucky, get to test your 4×4’s ability to take on this bumpy, hilly ascend. But, hey, it’s worth it because awaiting you is this enchanting green space, complete with fresh, mountainous air and a mind-blowing panorama of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Malawi. The eco-lodge has a clean eco-bathrooms, a yoga deck, and a scenic, homely restaurant that serves fresh, organic food from its permaculture garden. Moreover, for the coffee lovers who prefer their coffee fresh and flavourful, they roast their own coffee beans. Primarily focused on environmental conservation and sustainable living, they’ve beautifully managed to strike a balance between consumption of nature and modern-day needs; water comes from the mountain spring, they recycle waste for use in their gardens, and they harness solar power.

A view of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Malawi from atop the Mushroom Farm in Malawi.
A breathtaking view of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Malawi from atop the Mushroon Farm in Malawi.

4. Explorers River Camp– Jinja, Uganda. US$7pp

If an enchanting view of the African sunset over the horizon of the world’s longest river sounds appealing to you, then this gem has got you covered. A popular stop for adventurers and backpackers for its budget accommodation and high adrenaline sports, Explorers River Camp lies on a lush and expansive property by the banks of River Nile. Due to the tropical vibe, there’s plenty of monkeys swinging and birds chirping, making it a fantastic place to relax and be in tune with nature. Facilities include solar-powered hot showers, including a waterfall, outdoor shower overlooking the lake, clean toilets, and an affordable restaurant with a view. As its already an established lodge and campsite, it’s relatively safe and secure. It’s ideal for a solo venture or a group of friends looking to bond over crazy sports or people looking to mingle with a diverse crowd.

A stunning blue water view of the River Nile from the restaurant at Explorers River Camp in Jinja, Uganda.
A stunning view from the restaurant at Explorers River Camp in Jinja, Uganda.
A concrete water slide leading into the River Nile at the Explorers River Camp in Jinja, Uganda.
A concrete slide into the River Nile, perfect for a refreshing dip.

5. Elephant Sands – Nata, Botswana. US$10pp

What’s not to love about a place that has free-roaming wild elephants? As the name suggests, Elephant Sands is an elephant haven. The eco-lodge is an unfenced conservancy strategically built around a natural waterhole, with a restaurant and lounge a mere few meters from the constant activity of these majestic beasts. Popular with tourists, the atmosphere is cosmopolitan and electric. As with most popular attractions, it can get overcrowded; hence, careful planning and prior research for low seasons is valuable if you’re looking for a bit of seclusion. The landscape is what you would expect of hot semi-arid climate: small shrubbery, sandy soil, and minimal shade. Therefore, you might want to invest in a tarp for shade. It’s relatively easy to get to as its accessible via a straightforward, sandy road off the Nata-Kasane highway.

Two African elephants playing at a natural waterhole at Elephant Sands in Nata, Botswana
Elephants being elephants at the natural waterhole.
Tents set up in the Elephant Sands campsite in Nata, Botswana.
A section of the campsite at Elephant Sands in Nata, Botswana.

6. The Victoria Falls Waterfront – Livingstone, Zambia. US$10pp

The Victoria Falls Waterfront offers campers a chance to camp close to River Zambezi, Africa’s fourth longest river. Centrally located in Livingstone town, it’s quick access to the town’s center as well as the mighty Victoria Falls. The grounds sit on a private and secure section, shaded with large whimsical trees and paved with well-manicured green grass. It’s a reasonably large campsite, thus, able to accommodate large groups of up to 100 people. Amenities include several hot water ablution blocks, a swimming pool, and a vibrant riverside restaurant. Out of all the places on this list, this has the most extensive collection of outdoor activities for animal lovers and thrill-seekers alike. Apart from the sunset cruises on the River Zambezi, most recreations happen outside the lodge, but bookings are via the lodge’s office. They range from bungee jumping, micro-lite over Victoria Falls, daredevils swim on the edge of the waterfalls, and walking safaris.

A medium-sized swimming pool by two ripstop canvas tents erected on concrete ground at the Waterfront in Zambia.
The swimming pool at the Waterfront in Zambia.
Three tents set up in Victoria Falls Waterfront campground in Zambia.
Tents set up in Victoria Falls Waterfront, Zambia

7. Twiga Lodge and Campingsite – Tiwi Beach, Kenya. US$4pp

If you’re looking to snooze under the stars on a tropical beach surrounded by swaying palm trees, Tiwi Beach is your ticket to that dream. This stunning campsite lays on a pristine, white sandy in South Coast, Kenya. The clearwater beach is terrific for swimming, wind sports, snorkeling, and kayaking. They have showers and toilets, electricity hook-ups, and a basic restaurant. The food in the restaurant isn’t necessarily good value, and the menu choice is minimal so it’s advisable to bring your own meals or cook on site.

Palm trees, clear blue water, and white sandy beach campsite at Tiwi Beach in South Coast, Kenya.
Campsite at Tiwi Beach.

Conclusion

There you have it, my top considerations when choosing a camping site along with my favorites around Kenya and neighboring African countries, all of which are affordable and have unique characteristics to them.

Deciding where to camp is a special and exciting activity, especially when you’re doing it with friends or family. The debates, the plethora of choices available, the discoveries of new lands, it’s all a beautiful process and a wonderful way to connect.

In the words of the phenomenal Albert Einstein, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” And there’s no better way to do that than being outside, sleeping under the stars, and waking up to nature.

Happy Camping.

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