A luxury, mobile, private safari is, in my opinion, unsurpassed in terms of capturing the true adventure and spirit of the original safaris taken by Hemingway and Finch-Hatton in the early 20th century.
There are experiences that one can only have when staying in a luxury, mobile tented camp. To be able to sleep at night with the wind wafting through the gauze windows; to listen to the lions roaring in the distance, marking their territories; to sleep to the sound of zebra grazing next to your tent or a leopard rasping closeby; to wake to the dawn chorus of bird song greeting you together with the smell of wild sage on the morning dew.
It is these, with a myriad of other experiences that make a private mobile so very memorable and irreplaceable. Karen Blixen famously wrote: “Camping places fix themselves in your mind as if you had spent long periods of your life in them. You will remember a curve of your wagon track in the grass of the plain, like the features of a friend”... this is a great truism!
Another aspect is being able to sit around the fire at night, catching up with the day, asking questions about what you have seen and discussing the answers and possibilities together. One also learns all about one’s guide and their own experiences and cultural differences. You build and develop an amazing rapport with them. Then you sit out together around an open fire at night, looking out at the stars and discussing the solar system and the night sky in the southern hemisphere, is simply wonderful.
A private mobile safari allows one complete flexibility, privacy and exclusivity. It is the perfect way of undertaking a family safari in Africa, cementing and bonding existing relationships, which are affected by the day to day ebb and flow of normal work or study life.
Most importantly. mobile camps can be set up in regions that most suit your interests, whether that be viewing the Great Migration, seeing herds of elephant, or walking in the most remote and tourist-free regions of stunning wildlife areas. They allow you to get off the beaten track to explore areas usually not reached by other safari-goers.
Unlike a normal lodge or camp experience, where one is either forced to share a vehicle with others, or a table for breakfast/lunch or dinner, and subject oneself to small talk, private safari camps remove all of that and allow one to focus on quality time with one’s own family or friends.
Unlike a normal camp or lodge where there are rigid timetables to adhere to – breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, game drives, etc., a private safari is done on your terms! This is your holiday, you deserve it! You spend your workdays having to work to tight schedules, why do so on holiday?
If you don’t feel like getting up early one morning – so be it! If you would like a personal, expert yoga instructor – perfect! Your safari can be tailored around you and your friends’ or family’s hobbies and interests!
Let’s go back after an hour of game viewing – fine! I’m more interested in walking – perfect! I enjoy canoeing, horse riding, fishing, cycling – you name it – let’s make sure your day has it included! Oh, but I quite like painting and my partner is keen on photography… Great! Let’s bring in a private guide who is a watercolourist or a professional wildlife photographer! Are you getting the picture? (No pun intended!). You love cooking – fantastic! There are some amazing chefs who would be happy to do a cookery demonstration or two with you!
Of course, the beauty of mobile safaris is the flexibility, and this goes for location too - the range of locations they could be set up in is vast. Here are some of my favourite and most highly recommended locations for a fantastic, luxury, private mobile safari!
Zakouma is a National Park revitalised after years of restorative conservation and community action by NGO African Parks. Here I have seen the skies darkened by a swirling murmuration of birds and heard lions roaring at night on the plains surrounding our camp. This is one of the most extraordinary safaris I have had the pleasure of experiencing. Camp Nomade is set up in the dry season between mid-December and mid-April and is placed in the prime wildlife areas, affording guests the most spectacular wildlife viewing.
Kenya offers a wealth of private mobile safari options. For an elevated safari experience, travel with a private guide who will open your eyes to the many wonders of Kenya.
As well as all the expected safari experiences, one can track wildlife on foot, take helicopter flights over vast landscapes to explore remote lakes and mountains, or to visit ancient hominid fossil sites. You can hang-glide or paraglide over the Great Rift Valley or drift silently over the herds of wildebeest and zebra of the Great Migration in the Maasai Mara. These and so many more experiences can be arranged when you have a totally private safari!
There are various fantastic and off the beaten track locations to take a private safari in Tanzania. One could stay in a private concession through which the Great Migration passes, allowing you to walk amongst the migration. This is the best way to see this wildlife spectacle! No tourist vans crowding the wildlife, just your party and your guide.
Further south, embark upon a walking safari in the vast and largely-unvisited Ruaha National Park. There are fantastic predator populations here and Ruaha is home to10% of the lion population of Africa. Another option is to spend time tracking elephant herds in Tarangire or walk and cycle amongst breath-taking views in the Ngorongoro Highlands.
Zambia is, of course, the home of the mobile walking safari, and the Lower Zambezi National Park is one of the best locations to undertake an extraordinary, privately guided safari exploring the diversity of this ecosystem. You walk, drive or canoe (tailored to your preferences) between camps each day, game viewing along the way - you see wildlife so differently when you are moving silently!
For the active traveller, why not try something new and take a canoeing safari on the Zambezi in Zimbabwe? Paddle downstream travelling around 20km per day and stay in a mobile camp that is set up ready for your arrival. This is such a peaceful way to travel, with no emissions and no noise to scare off the wildlife! You can also get quite close to wildlife without them becoming alarmed. There are other options too if you do not wish to canoe.
At Huab Under Canvas in Damaraland, one can explore the fascinating desert-adapted wildlife of Namibia in the beautiful and varied landscapes of Damaraland. Track one of only two populations of desert-adapted elephant and some of the last free-roaming black rhino on foot, spending time with expert trackers and learning about the conservation work being done by Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia.
In the Okavango Delta spend a few days between mobile camps and even spend a night out under the stars in a sleepout. Explore the Delta on foot or by boat and safari vehicle. One can also immerse oneself in the African bush by taking a totally private safari in the Kalahari Desert, walk with the Kalahari Bushmen, learn about their way of life, track wildlife on foot and sweep over the landscape in a private helicopter.
Kaafila is a royal tented camp which can be set up in the ideal location to allow you to follow your interests. Off-the-beaten-track culture and wildlife of Madhya Pradesh is a favourite, or you can have the camp set up just for you and your party in beautiful Ladakh.
Some people worry about the technicalities of private mobile camps and whether they will truly enjoy them. Allow me to allay your fears!:
I’m worried about the toilet facilities! Explain them to me!
It all depends upon the level of private mobile you choose. Most have en suite bathrooms with proper flush toilets and showers with hot water and all the amenities. If you decide to go somewhere really off-piste and there is very little water, the camp may have short-drop or long-drop toilets. These have a proper wooden throne for you to sit on, but they don’t flush. Instead, there is sand or charcoal, which is odourless, and one throws a trowel full of that into the loo.
Very romantic are the open-air showers where one can shower beneath the stars at night. This is a fantastic experience, and one can listen to the night sounds around you whilst you are in the comfort and safety of your tent!).
How comfortable is the accommodation in tented mobile safari camps?
Again, at the top end which (which I always recommend) there are proper beds with good mattresses and quality linen. You have Persian rugs and cushions and candelabra at the dinner table. Meals are tailored around you and are sumptuous affairs. Tents are large – just like a bedroom, but with canvas on the walls.
But, then if you go somewhere truly remote, or you wish to, for a night or three go fly camping, this is just as it sounds. You camp on the fly. One normally walks here with one’s guide, (either by oneself, or camel or mule assisted), and a camp is erected for you somewhere different each night.
This is a true journey in the most authentic sense of the word. Here there will be a separate toilet and shower facility, bucket shower beneath the stars and the loo will be a long or short drop as described above. This is exciting, fun and adventurous! This is also how you do a night or so on some horseback safaris and canoe safaris (although these too can be as luxurious as you like!).
The joy, though, is that nothing is too much trouble, and everything is entirely flexible!
What about laundry?
This is all done for you on a regular basis. You should see how they produce your clothes – absolutely incredible! Often it is through an old fashioned cast- iron iron, filled with water, as heavy as lead, which produces the most amazing creases!
What if I have special dietary requirements?
These can all be catered for, together with drinks requirements, providing you can give sufficient notice!
Can I charge my camera and device batteries?
These days, no problem at all!
Is it safe?
Absolutely! There is a camp crew, a fire and askaris (guards) to ward off any creatures. In any event, the fire is a sufficient deterrent to wildlife!
Images used by kind courtesy of :
Legendary Serengeti, Kichaka Expeditions, Wild Horizons, Tusk and Mane, Huab Under Canvas, Jason Nott, Africa Born Safaris, Maureen Kirk, Kaafila, Feline Fields, Uncharted Expeditions. Tanzania footage courtesy of 255 Uncharted.