Camping in the Serengeti is an unforgettable experience. There’s not much that can compare to hearing a lion roar from the (relative) safety of your canvas tent!
If you’re planning a trip in the near future, make sure you register for travel insurance before you go.
You can also check out my list of essential items for backpackers!
While there are private camps and lodges within the boundaries of the Serengeti, this post is about staying in a public campground. This means no fences, no guards, and (most likely) no toilet paper.
Before I dive into the nitty gritty section, a quick word about safety and animals in the park.
Visitors are advised to remain inside their vehicles at all times while on game drives. Remember that for every predator you see, there are a hundred more hiding in the brush.
If at all possible, avoid leaving your tent once you’ve settled in for the night. There is relative safety in numbers, and during the day it is unlikely animals will venture into the camp due to the noise and smells made by a group of humans.
Night time in the Serengeti is a different story. Our first night, campers heard the roars of lions and were very excited to talk about it at breakfast. Our guide informed us that a lion’s roar can be heard up to eight kilometers away, and it was unlikely that they were very close by.
On our last night in the Serengeti, I was forced to break my own rules. I woke up in the middle of the night and was VERY sick. Knowing I was about to throw up, I decided to grab my flash light and run to the bathroom.
I briefly considered unzipping the tent door and sticking my head out, but I thought that a fresh pile of puke might attract hyenas or something.
Ironically, as I burst out of the tent and turned toward the toilets, I nearly tripped over a hyena who was canvassing the camp with a few of his friends. If I hadn’t been so anxious to get to the bathroom, I probably would have freaked out!
One last reminder: Do not risk life or limb in an attempt to snag a quick video or that perfect selfie.
Just last year a man was killed near our campsite. We were told that he and a few other campers decided to go for a walk along a nearby river. They came across a hippo outside of the water (a VERY dangerous situation). Everyone except for one man high-tailed it back to camp. The man supposedly lingered to take a video. They found him in two pieces the next morning.
While camping in the Serengeti (or any other game park) has its risks, for the most part there are very few incidents. Use your best judgment, practice safety precautions, and get ready to make some amazing memories.
Here’s what you need to know before your first time camping in the Serengeti: what to expect, what to pack, and what to remember!
What to Expect
- First, let me recommend that you book a budget camping trip with a safari operator. While you might consider renting your own vehicle and camping along the way, once you tally up the expenses you’ll see that booking with a tour operator is actually a very good deal. They will take care of all the driving, spot animals, set-up and tear-down camp, take care of the cooking, and provide priceless information about the animals and local customs. There seem to be hundreds of companies operating out of Arusha — we booked with Kiliholidays and had an exceptional experience.
- When you book with a tour operator, they provide the essentials such as a tent, sleeping bags, a pillow, and a mattress pad. I have sensitive hips, so if I were to do it all over again I’d arrange for an extra mattress pad for myself. See below for a list of items you should bring along.
- If you are on a group tour, your schedule will likely be set ahead of time (meals at specific times, pre-arranged game drives, etc.). We booked a private tour because we wanted the vehicle to ourselves and prefer more flexibility. Our guide and cook (who came with us for the whole trip!) were very flexible about when we wanted to wake up, what time we wanted to take our meals, and where we wanted to go within the parks.
- The Serengeti campsite we stayed at (the public Simba campsite) had no gates, fences, or barriers. While it is unusual for animals to wander in to the camp, it does happen from time to time. Try to avoid leaving your tent at night if at all possible.
- A large covered area was available for meal preparation, as well as a second covered area for dining. Bathroom facilities were located at the other side of the camp. There were four showers and six toilets, two of which were squat-style. There was no hot water, soap, or toilet paper at our site.
- The ground was still covered in green grass in the middle of May, but I imagine there would be plenty of dust during the dry season.
- The campgrounds can be noisy as people are arriving and departing at different times. If you’ve camped at a public site pretty much anywhere, you know how it goes. We didn’t run into too many drunk people, but I’m sure it happens from time to time.
- Don’t drink the water. Your guide should provide enough bottled water for your trip.
What to Pack
- Toilet Paper – As I mentioned, there was none available at the campground. It’s a good idea to have a few rolls handy as availability is unpredictable just about everywhere you go in Northern Tanzania.
- Ear Plugs – There are loud animals and even louder humans.
- Box Wine – Not a necessity, but if you like a drink at the end of a long day, be prepared to pack your own. Your guide can stop on the way out of Arusha. Bottled wine is pricey, but we found a 5-liter box of South African red for about $30. I had originally thought about gin and tonics, but then I remembered ice. Cold beer is also out of the question. Bring your own re-usable plastic cups for optimum box-wine-drinking efficiency.
- Head Lamp – Great for emergency trips to the toilet, reading in your tent, etc.
- Hand Sanitizer – I read that 60% of travelers to Tanzania get sick (I was sick THREE times).
- Immodium – Ahem, see previous item.
- Boots – If you are visiting during the wet season, be prepared for flash floods.
- Insect Repellent – To be used in conjunction with anti-malarial medication.
- Sunscreen – A wide-brim hat is also a good idea.
- A silk sleep sack – For warm nights.
- Nylon Clothing – This material breathes, dries quickly, and is easy to keep clean.
- Entertainment – Bring a good book or two, or a small hand-held game to keep you busy while you wait for dinner.
What to Remember
- Vehicles must register themselves when they enter and exit the Serengeti park. You can pay your camping fees along with your entrance fee (by credit card!) when you arrive at the park. If you’ve booked with an operator, these fees should be included in your total payment.
- While many people do not reserve the sites ahead of time, those visiting during the high season may want to head directly to a public campsite to claim a spot. I visited the week before the start of high season and there were about twenty other campers at our site.
- Most of all, remember to relax, have fun, and enjoy your once-in-a-lifetime experience of camping in the Serengeti!
For more safari-advice, check out my post on everything you need to know before your first African safari!