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10 Things No One Tells You About Camping on a South Africa Vacation

10 Things No One Tells You About Camping on a South Africa Vacation

Published: 25. April 2020
By: Susan Finch

A South Africa vacation is full of surprises that keep visitors mystified. Did you know South Africa has the longest continuous wine route on earth? Or that the resident Table Mountain is one of the oldest on the planet?

Camping in South Africa is also no stranger to its own unique brand of surprises and secrets. You may already know that South Africa is a camper’s paradise with nearly 1,000 camping and caravanning sites scattered across nature reserves, wildlife parks, private campgrounds, and more. But there’s plenty of things no one tells you about camping in South Africa that can enhance, or ruin, your experience without a heads up on how to plan.

1. Camping in South Africa Offers More than Just the Big 5

Sure, any camper with some experience under their rucksack knows that there’s wildlife beyond the Big 5 of lion, elephant, leopard, rhino and buffalo. After all, what would a South Africa vacation be without some jackals and spotted hyenas roaming nearby. However, there's more unique wildlife around South Africa to behold.

Humpback whales, Bryde's whales, sperm whales, orca and more can be seen around the coast. Birding is also a popular pastime while camping in South Africa, including the Western Cape's Karoo and migrant kingfishers. The adorable Cape Grysbok resembles an antelope, and African penguins can be seen both on the Western and Eastern Cape. We’re in love with how wonderfully awkward these penguins navigate dry land and until they dive into the water like graceful pros.

Pro tips: Every campsite and region around South Africa is celebrated for different wildlife. To see your wishlist, ask your campgrounds about a recommended, expert guide to take you around the area.

2. The Weather Isn’t That Hot (and Can Get Downright Chilly)

A South Africa vacation can look dramatically different depending on what time of year you go. Summer and fall months stretch from January through June where the high reaches about 26 C/79 F in January. Winter kicks off around July and temperatures reach 18 C/65 F. Keep in mind these temperatures are reflective of Cape Town, and South Africa is a huge country at 470,900 mi². You may encounter frigid nights during winter when the sun sets at your desert campsite.

Pro tip: Bring lots of layers to make the most of the weather and plan accordingly.

3. South Africa Puts the Glam in “Glamping”

The rugged landscape and wild wonders of South Africa are complemented by its unbelievable glamping sites. Pick from luxury tented sites with electricity, plumbing, real beds, and on-site, award-winning amenities. Or pick a slightly upscale campground with an on-site restaurant and comfortable tent site for a glamorous South Africa vacation.

Pro tip: Make sure you find out exactly what’s included in a glamping or safari experience. All-inclusive may not actually mean alcohol, and can quickly run up your bill.

4. But You Can Also Get Rustic

South Africa’s reputation for upscale camping and catering to luxury travelers doesn’t mean you can’t get rustic. Super basic, off-the-grid campsites are also available that are as eco-friendly as they are remote. You might even see the Big 5 along the way, or South Africa’s resident springbok, gemsbok, buffalo and giraffe.

Pro tip: Botsalano Game Reserve offers four rustic camps where blue and violet-eared waxbills are just some of your colorful neighbors.

5. Wild Camping in South Africa is a Terrible Idea

Every adventurer loves the idea of sleeping in the wilds of South Africa beyond the boundaries of any civilization or regulations. In reality, this isn’t a thing, is almost always illegal, and dangerous. It’s one thing to sleep under the stars where the Big 5 roam nearby and it’s another to just accidentally sleep in their migrating area or on someone’s private property.

Pro tip: Read more about planning a South Africa vacation and camping.

6. Kruger National Park Isn’t the Only National Park in Town

There's no arguing that Kruger National Park is a goldmine for campers looking for that quintessential South Africa campaign experience in all its glory and Big 5. However, there are other national parks to choose from like Addo National Park with hundreds of elephants or Tsitsikamma National Park with the renown Otter Trail, migrating birds, and a glorious marine reserve. You may even decide you like these parks better.

Pro tip: When you arrive for your South Africa vacation may be more important than where you go camping. Peak safai season usually runs from July to October, but call ahead to your campsite of choice to find out their recommendation for seeing your favorite animals.

7. Camping is a Way of Life for Locals

When you live in such a stunning place like South Africa, it’s only normal to fall in love with camping and spending time outdoors. South Africans embrace camping as a way of life and are happy to caravan, travel, and camp their way through the country or the rest of Africa. Some of the best campgrounds are also family-owned and run, giving you a home away from home feel on your next camping adventure.

Pro tip: There are seriously too many campsites to possibly mention in a single article, but the Mosetlha Bush Camp and Eco Lodge offers a rustic and intimate experience with traditional bush meals, daily game drives, and options for comfortable beds in elevated, wooden cabins.

8. Renting a Happy Camper Maximizes Your Experience

Tackling a South Africa vacation is an undertaking to plan. The country is insanely big and traveling from Capetown to Kruger National Park is 1,681 km, or 1,044 miles away. You can’t see and do it all in one tidy holiday, but you can maximize the experience with a Happy Camper.

We also outfit you with everything you need like sheets, pillows, blankets, sink with running water, cookware, insurance, gas stove, roof rack,gas canisters, cooler, and other perks. They're also easy to drive and you can pick 4x4 options for rugging it, so you don't have to lose precious sleep over how you'll maneuver a giant caravan out of the parking lot.

Pro tip: If you're looking to explore beyond South Africa, add on our Border Crossing option so you're covered and have the appropriate paperwork to take your Happy Camper out on an adventure.

9. Flower Season Will Blow Your Minds

Although most people are obsessed with seeing the wildlife around South Africa, there's also something else to covet from August to October. Flower season in South Africa officially kicks off the first day of September, although the blooms can come early or later, depending on the weather. Plan your South Africa vacation during Flower Season for an explosion of color among the carpet of aloes, lilies, daisies.

Pro tip: Namaqualand National Park in the Northern Cape is regarded as one of the best places to see spring flowers in South Africa with more than 1,000 unique plants and flowers.

10. The Low Season May Not Be the Low Season After All

South Africa’s high season stretches from November through March, and the low season from April to September when weather proves cooler with frigid nights. However, here’s the thing. Campers aren’t traditional tourists flocking exclusively to Capetown to soak up the nightlife and culture. Camping tourists know that September is usually the best time to see wildlife in popular hotspots like Kruger National Park.

Pro tip: If you can wait until October to head out for your South Africa vacation, you're likely to find cheaper rates, fewer crowds, and possibly the tail end of the glorious flower season.

Wherever you go on your South Africa vacation, come ready with a camera and an open-mind to capture the spirit of the country. Just like the Big 5, camping in South Africa isn’t always predictable. Arriving in your Happy Camper and ready to embrace what the country has to offer is your best way to truly indulge in this unbelievable camper’s paradise.

Susan Finch
Susan Finch is an experienced travel writer living in Atlanta, USA with work published around the world. She can't stop talking about South Africa and loves writing about the country's best destinations, food and hidden gems so everyone else knows what the big deal is about.

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