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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > January-March 2020 (89) > THE ANATOMY OF A BUSH CAMP

THE ANATOMY OF A BUSH CAMP

I made a calamitous mistake at Bilimungwe bush camp. Failing to close my chalet door firmly as I went for lunch, some mischievous baboons entered. They ripped the mosquito net, ate the soap and tossed a cushion into the lagoon, likely startling the elephants which were hosing themselves with murky water just metres away. Yet this is what I came for. Not baboons rummaging through my stuff, obviously, but thorough wildlife immersion.


Your choice of accommodation helps to shape your safari experience. The options may sound a little bamboozling: whether to select a lodge, tented camp, or bush camp? But it’s the latter that’s more likely to lead to the most visceral and exhilarating encounters and a sense of being submerged in nature.


In issue 80 Travel Africa featured an article differentiating options in Zambia, where Bilimungwe is located, in South Luangwa National Park. Lodges and tented camps were described as ‘hotels in the bush’: more permanent, often open all-year, with more rooms and constructed from modern building materials, with restaurant-style dining.


By contrast, bush camps were termed ‘intimate, low-impact hideaways’: often seasonal and built from natural materials with a sense of exclusivity hosting perhaps a dozen guests, and unfenced so animals may pass freely through — a quality I recall in Chad’s Zakouma National Park at an eight-tent bush camp, when a fellow guest discovered a lioness in her en-suite bathroom, presumably not there to use the bucket shower.

You can of course experience wonderful game drives at lodges and tented camps, but at a bush camp wildlife comes to you. “Bush camps are a thoroughfare for animals, while being stylish and comfortable, albeit without luxuries like aircon,” defines Alex Stewart, Bilimungwe’s Australian camp manager.

Ranging from indigenous-style woven huts (like those at Kafunta’s Island Bush Camp) to the innovative tree-nests of Chisa Busanga in Kafue, bush camps more typically feature a small number of canvas safari tents on platforms with a double bed and al-fresco en suite bush-shower.

They are sometimes satellites of a bigger facility. Bilimungwe, for example, is one of six exclusive camps operated by The Bushcamp Company, which also runs the 18-room Mfuwe Lodge. Each bush camp has a unique set-up and design. While Bilimungwe’s more robust chalets are open from mid-May to December, Kuyenda (with four thatched huts) and Chamilandu (three treehouses) open only from June to October.

“I’d recommend a lodge for beginners, but for old hands a bush camp is the best way to really experience nature intimately,” guide Masuzyo Zimba tells me.

I am curious to understand better how a bush camp operates and what makes it different to other accommodation options.

Bilimungwe is several hours’ drive from Mfuwe, but it took longer than anticipated to get there, stopping to view lions and playful painted dogs. The camp is camouflaged beneath a huge Natal mahogany tree flanked by three waterholes. Alex waits with her 10 members of staff to welcome me with a chilled drink and refreshing towel.


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Namibia's winning formula - why you should make it top of your travel plans for 2020 • Walking across Tsavo • Where to stay in Ngorongoro • On foot in the Okavango • South Africa's best private game reserves • The anatomy of a bush camp... and much more!