What is a bush camp?
If you’re researching safaris in Zambia you’ll come across many references to bush camps and bush camp safaris. But with little hard information about exactly what one of these lodgings is, you can be left wondering… What is a bush camp? What will a bush camp safari be like? And is it right for me?
In this article we explain what a Zambian bush camp is, and what you can expect from a stay at one of these wonderful little camps.
The term ‘bush’ is used throughout Africa to describe wild places that haven’t yet been given over to farming. A bush camp can describe any small camp found in the bush.
Elsewhere in the world, these camps might also be called wilderness camps, nature camps, trail camps, backcountry camps, outback camps, or hinterland camps. These terms all describe a similar idea: a small, simple camp, in a place of incredible natural beauty.
Zambia’s bush camping tradition
Zambia’s bush camping tradition goes back many years.
The country’s early safari pioneers often started out as wildlife control officers. These intrepid men would travel into Zambia’s remote places with not much more than a bell tent, a tin mug and a rifle. This was bush camping at its most basic with very few creature comforts!
In the 1960s and 1970s, the first safari bush camps operated by safari companies opened. These were linked closely with the walking safaris that the South Luangwa National Park has become famous for. Guests would stay for a few days at a remote camp and explore the area on foot, often walking between camps over the course of a day.
These early bush camps were very simple, usually tented, and had all the romance of an African safari under canvas.
Today, Zambia’s bush camps vary widely from the simple and inexpensive, to the eye-wateringly luxurious, with price tags to match! This can make it even harder to explain what a bush camp is, because many modern camps stretch the definition to its limit.
Nevertheless, we have highlighted 5 features that are common to almost all bush camps we know, wherever in Zambia you may happen to find them.
Bush camps are operated by safari companies
The Zambian Wildlife Authority does not allow people to camp inside Zambia’s national parks using their own tents. So there are no campsites inside the national parks.
Zambia’s bush camps, which are usually located inside the parks, are operated by licensed safari companies. Your accommodation is provided by the company that runs the camp – you won’t be expected to pitch your own tent, or cook your own meals, don’t worry!
Bush camps are small
Zambia’s bush camps have a maximum of 8 beds. Any camp larger than this is officially a safari camp or a safari lodge .
So staying at a bush camp means you will always be part of a small group. And you’ll always receive a lot of personal attention from the staff, hosts and safari guides.
Bush camps are seasonal
Because bush camps are often in remote areas, they are usually only open during Zambia’s dry season, June-November. In the wet season, most sites are cut off by swollen rivers or flood waters.
Today, some safari companies have built all-weather roads to their bush camps, meaning they can stay open for longer. But even so, most will still close during the wettest months of the year, February-May.
Bush camps usually offer tented accommodation
Canvas tented camps were Zambia’s original bush camps. Most camps today are still tented to some degree. For example, at Nkonzi Camp we have walk-in safari tents with thatched open-air bathrooms attached.
Other camps may have larger rooms or suites constructed from canvas, or canvas walls with thatched roofs.
Because bush camps are seasonal, they need to be dismantled and re-erected every year. So it’s common for safari companies to choose building materials like canvas, thatch, woven bamboo and reeds to create structures. It’s quite unusual to find brick structures at these camps, although poured concrete floors are common.
Bush camps are remote
Bush camps aim to offer guests the ultimate remote wilderness experience. They are usually located deep inside the national parks, away from the busier areas and in places that are great for walking safaris.
Camps will often be off-grid and will rely on solar power or generators for electricity. It’s unlikely that these camps will have wifi.
This remoteness does mean that a bush camp’s operating costs are usually quite high. Just transporting all the equipment and food in to the camp is expensive!
Add to this the fact that operators inside Zambia’s national parks pay on average, 4x more per person per night in fees to the wildlife authorities than companies operating outside the park, and you can see why their rates are higher.
It’s important to note that most bush camp operators have to create their own roads and game loops. The park authorities often can’t offer this service to such remote areas.
Of course the huge benefit of a remote location is the privilege of having a wilderness area almost completely to yourself. The tranquillity is impossible to match, and the experience of staying deep in the bush, in your own piece of safari paradise, is really priceless.
So if you were ever a boy scout or a girl guide, if you love exploring, or if you simply love the natural world and being in wild outdoor places, a Zambian bush camp safari is for you.
As Zambia’s great Norman Carr said, “You see more wildlife on a game drive, but you can only really experience Africa on foot”.
And the same could be said of a bush camp safari.