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Before You Go: What to Know About Camping in South Africa

Before You Go: What to Know About Camping in South Africa

Published: 6. March 2020
By: Susan Finch

Have you ever asked an adventurous, avid camper about the very best spots for camping around the world? Camping in South Africa is likely high on their list with tales of glorious, scenic spots stretching from coast to desert where wildlife play and the sun sets in a fiery red show.

(Giraffe in Pilansberg National Park)

Come and see South Africa for yourself and all of its dazzling wonders. However, it's essential to come prepared. Camping in South Africa requires a little "in the know" before arriving with your best camera filters in tow. Here's where to get started.

Is Wild Camping Legal in South Africa?

Are you dreaming about camping out in the wilds of South Africa and waking up to a desert sunrise? Wild camping in South Africa may sound exotic but is almost always illegal. It's risky and potentially dangerous to figure out if you're trespassing on private land or a public area under the control of a legal municipality.

Safety is also a concern when it comes to wild camping. Although camping in South Africa on designated campsites and parks are considered safe, wild camping can attract unwanted attention and potential trouble.

Here's the deal. Your South African camping adventure isn't the time to update your Instagram feed with illegal, wild camping shots and stories. The safety of the area and political climate can change swiftly, and your goal is to be a good guest and soak up the South African hospitality and beauty. Your best bet for a safe, thrilling, and rewarding camping trip is staying in a spectacular and legal camping site.

(Stargazing is one of the most amazing experiences in South Africa)

South Africa's campsites are also plentiful and come in all shapes and sizes from expansive, glamping style spots to cozy and rustic. Take your pick and review the amenities, rules, and price points to find the best campsite for you.

If you get the chance, get advice from locals about their go-to spots. If you book a Happy Campers van, you already know at least 2 locals (Eric & Stephan) at our office who are willing and able to give you expert advice.

(Stephan putting his local knowledge and years of motorcycle touring to good use to help a first-time visitor)

Where Should I Go Camping in South Africa?

So we've established that wild camping in South Africa is out. But where do you go if you want to see wild elephants and lions are gloriously grazing within eyeshot of area parks and preserves? Those big name parks and safaris are typically situated in North Africa, with the infamous Kruger National Park more than a four-hour drive from South Africa.

(Whether you book a Safari or explore National Parks in your camper, be prepared to see some amazing wildlife)

However, you can make an adventure of it and wind your way up towards North Africa. Or, you can soak up South Africa's game reserves and wildlife sanctuaries that are waiting for your adventurous spirit.

Here are a few resources to help you get started:

If you're looking for a few tried and true, popular camping spots in South Africa, fire up the Happy Camper and head out to explore.

Mahai River Campsite, Royal Natal National Park - This oversized campground is situated in a gorgeous Drakensberg valley. Electric and non-electric campsites are available with access to spectacular hiking. You might even catch a baboon eyeing your tent for a snack.

Storms River Mouth Rest Camp, Garden Route - Tsitsikamma National Park is the kind of place where you're completely blown away by its beauty, only to notice playful dolphins darting along the dramatic coastline. The campgrounds offer laundry, kitchen, restaurant, store, and ample birding opportunities.

Mabibi Beach Camp, Elephant Coast - Nestled at Hulley Point on the Elephant Coast, this intimate campsite offers rustic campsite or self-catering units, snorkeling opportunities, and animal viewing in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park wilderness.

Nature's Valley Rest Camp, Garden Route - Head out to the banks of the Groot River at Nature's Valley Rest Camp in the Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park. Bird lovers will quickly abandon their travel companions to savor their feathered friends soaring above the hiking trails.

Skilpad Rest Camp, Namaqualand - Choose from self-catering accommodations or rustic camping along the coast at Skilpad Rest Camp, Namaqualand. Come during the spring for a seasonal luxury camp transformed with vibrant, fiery blossoms.

Tietiesbaai Beach Camp, West Coast - Beach campers rejoice at Tietiesbaai Beach Camp situated inside Cape Columbine Nature Reserve. Explore inlets along the rocky coastline where birds dot the landscape.

This isn't even close to covering the exhaustive list of where you can camp in South Africa. Check out this comprehensive view of South Africa's campsites and regions to choose from.

What Time of Year Should You Camp in South Africa?

Depending on where you hail from, you might overlook one crucial aspect of camping in South Africa: the seasons.

South Africa's stunning fall foliage kicks up in March and extends through May. South Africa's winter season continues from June through August, and although chillier, is relatively crowd-free and a gorgeous time to go camping. Temperatures generally don't dip below freezing and highs reach a comfortable mid-60s.

Despite a lovely winter season, May to September is generally regarded as the best time of year to visit South Africa. It also marks South Africa's dry season, where animals gather around watering holes for pristine wildlife viewing conditions.

After September, spring quickly gets underway and dizzies tourists with the volume of colorful blossoms covering the landscape. Have you ever seen zebras racing across a carpet of brilliant yellow wildflowers? It's the kind of scene that makes you wonder if you've stepped into someone's Instagram feed or if this place is for real.

(Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in all its glory as it starts blooming in September and October)

So what about summer? Is it too unbearably hot to go camping in South Africa? January is the hottest time of year in South Africa with highs in the low-80s. There's really no bad time to visit South Africa where temperatures are hospitable to camping enthusiasts all year long. However, you will encounter rain from November through to March, so bring layers and plan accordingly.

What Do I Need to Camp In South Africa?

Like anywhere you go in the world, you need all the essentials when camping in South Africa. Here's a round-up of what to bring:

  • Drinking water

  • Water purification tablets

  • Comfortable, hiking friendly shoes

  • Extra socks

  • First-aid kit

  • Extra batteries

  • Sunscreen

  • Layers for hot days and cold nights

  • Copies of your passport and driver's license

  • Camping-friendly food

You also need the basics like pots, pans, cups, and kitchen essentials. Or you can just rent a Happy Camper and let us deal with all the little details of keeping you fed. The campers come equipped with everything you need for cooking and sleeping, including gas canisters, cooler, sink with running water, linens, gas stove, and more. Unfortunately, they don't come equipped with a roaming chef to prepare your meals.

With nature in mind, Happy Campers are also fuel-efficient and equipped with solar panels to power your South African adventure. They also come outfitted with a GPS but offer 24/7 emergency service guarantees, so you're not stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Ready to Camp?

One of the most thrilling parts of camping in South Africa is the wonder, beauty, and ability to go somewhere new during every visit. Make it your mission in life to scratch the surface of South Africa's campsites and come home dreaming about the country's coastline, forests, and wildlife.

(Don't forget to bring your hiking gear - A simple hike to Lions Head Mountain)

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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