In the last few years, there has been an explosion of glamping resorts in the United States and Europe, and this logistics proved to be a perfect oasis for pandemic travel during the COVID-19 eruption. The most sought after items during the coronavirus outbreak were single accommodation with privacy, no lobbies, elevators or common areas and easy access to the outdoors. Glamping – a combination of glamorous and camping – are both offered in a turnkey way.
Last year I wrote about how “Glamping is 2020’s Hottest Travel Trend” showing some new top options and then followed up with “More amazing glamping resorts for your travels.” But now that the widespread availability of vaccine has allowed people (at least vaccinated people) to start traveling again, one of the hottest vacations of all will be the original glamping trip, the African safari (Read “Best Forest List Travel in your lifetime: African Safaris, ”here on Forbes).
After all, almost every domestic glamping operator, including brands with multiple locations like Under Canvas, and more luxurious one-time properties like Colorado’s Dunton River Camp and Missouri Camp Long Creek, have basically brought African safari tents to this country. But while we only have a handful of these, there are dozens and dozens of tent camps throughout eastern and southern Africa, and at least the luxury tents found in the best cabins, full bathrooms and real furniture, include several hotel rooms with canvas walls and plumbing on platforms other than camping tents.
But even the finest glamping here cannot begin to compare to the many ultra-luxurious camps in Africa, which are usually luxury all-inclusive with good food, wine on the top shelf and spirits and have increasingly added huge “suite” tents and many others innovations. At one of my favorites all the time, Zarafa Camp in Botswana, the “tents” are each the size of a beautiful lovely house that sits on above ground decks with pools, indoor and outdoor showers, outdoor furniture and pretty much any luxury you could Wish you. There is even the tent version of air conditioning, a high tech loser / cooler. While most luxury safari cabins include booze, Zarafa takes this a step further and equips each tent with a full bar built into an antique chest filled with things like full-size bottles of 18-year-old Glenfiddich single malt as well as a regular ice cooler full of beer and soda. There are a thousand dollars plus Swarovski loan binoculars, high-powered tripod-mounted spotting scope. painting set to free up your inner artist and delivery of coffee in the morning.
Because many lodges and top safari tour operators lost most of 2020 and much of the 2021 season, cancellations plus the sudden strong post-pandemic trend toward more Bucket List trips have made safaris hotter than ever, and it’s not too early. to think about booking as far as 2023 (read about “Why right now is the best time to plan your travel book list” here on Forbes).
“We saw a sharp increase in bookings from March 2021 onwards when people started getting vaccinated. This summer we are sold out, partly due to postponements from last year combined with new bookings, including many families celebrating late dimensions, anniversaries, big birthdays, etc. We see very strong demand for 2022. From the end of June 2021 is reservations for 2022 more than three times larger than 2020 bookings were at the end of June 2019, ”said Dennis Pinto, CEO of Micato Safaris, widely regarded as the industry’s leading luxury operator.
“Safari is basically an engagement with the big and beautiful Africans outside doors. The camps we use are designed for privacy and airiness and provide the perfect combination of solitude and great service. In these times or others, I can think of no better opportunity for people to really get away from it all than at our carefully selected, luxurious safari camps amidst the most breathtaking landscapes in the world. “
There are safari huts and resorts that run like normal hotels or have wings of low-rise rooms, but having been to many luxury safari camps throughout Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana, I can say that most of the outstanding ones are luxury tent camps embrace the Hemingway / Roosevelt inspired glamping theme (though a notable exception is Sir Richard Branson’s Ulusaba Lodge in South Africa, which goes with a luxury wooden house approach and swinging airlifts instead!). These are also typically quite small, with as few or three or four tents and almost always less than twenty. This scarcity further drives demand.
A record 9-hour winner wins Travel + leisure The award for number one in the world’s best Safari outfitter, Micato also won five Conde Nast Traveler World Savers Awards, T + Ls Trip of a Lifetime, World Tourism Award presented by New York Times, Virtuos Best escorted tour operator (in any type of trip), Porthole Cruise Magazine’s Best African Safari tour operator and National Geographic Traveler / National Geographic Adventure’s Best Outfitters on Earth and 50 trips in a lifetime. I have personally traveled with Micato to both Africa and India, the second destination they specialize in, a total of half a dozen times, and in my extremely well-informed opinion, they are not only the best luxury safari, but the best tour company of any kind , I have experienced (and I have traveled with many of the most recognized tour operators). They are in the process of making dreams come true, with incredible access, open doors, no one else has the keys to, and a highly trained staff (of which 100% have been vaccinated), none of the unpredictable subcontracts many other companies routinely use , plus on-site several regional offices around the world headquartered in New York and Nairobi. Pinto knows what he’s talking about, probably more than anyone else in the travel industry, so I asked him to pick some of his favorite tent camps.
Many years ago, South Africa set the limit of the finest luxury camps, but other regions have run to catch up, and East Africa has opened a slate of wonderful new properties. Pinto just stepped back from a month-long safari in Kenya with his parents, wife and children and told me that “The East African camps have clearly taken glamping to a new level. The new Loisaba Lodo Springs Camp is beautiful-your-socks-off. Taken at the top of a slope, each of the nine tents has spectacular views of Africa stretching hundreds of miles into the distance. Loisaba is a 57,000-hectare concession owned by The Nature Conservancy and home to the rarest of leopards – the elusive black leopard! Each 900 square meter tent is tastefully decorated with safari-style antiques, and once you check in, you will never leave the room! And the cuisine is truly the best we have had on any safari. Loisaba Lodo Springs is in Kenya and part of the ultra-high-end Elewana Collection of luxury safari camps.
“Sirikoi is part of the Lewa-Borana-Sirikoi concession, which covers 100,000 hectares. The four tents – complete with fireplaces! – overlook a water hole. A cheetah walked past the dining table as we enjoyed lunch the first day. “Sirikoi is also in Kenya.
“We were among the first to stay in the new two-bedroom Jahazi suite on the Mara Plains. The suite is two huge tents connected by a living room. The game was the best we have seen, abundant leopard, cheetah, lions, elephants, etc. The camp has only seven tents, including the secluded honeymoon tent on an island connected by a rope bridge. The new Mara Nyika Camp opened just before COVID, closed shortly thereafter and then reopened a month ago. This is a great camp and the two family tents with 2 bedrooms are perfect for families. “Both camps are in the famous Masai Mara region of Kenya and are run by the esteemed Great Plains Conservation, the same extremely environmentally conscious company behind my favorite, Zarafa Camp. Cottar’s camp in the Maasai Mara celebrated its 100thth anniversary recently. The tents, filled with canvas bathtubs (just like the early explorers used) are beautiful. Tents also have oriental rugs and chandeliers, and Cottars Camp has previously been named the world’s best tent camp.
In Southern Africa, some of my other favorite tent camps include the flagship original of the world-renowned lodge brand Singita, Ebony Lodge in Sabi Sands, outside South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The 12 luxury suites are hybrid tents / cabins with glass and canvas walls with expansive private decks with pools. All Singita cabins are wonderful and many have tent homes, including several in East Africa, especially Tanzania. Another top camp operator is & Beyond, which has several luxury tent camps in the ultra-desirable Okavango Delta region of Botswana with arguably the best nature experience of any place.
Africa is largely reopened to tourism, but some travelers are not yet comfortable taking the trip. It hardly matters, for it is unlikely that you will soon be able to get into any of the many wonderful “original glamping” camps, but it is worth starting to plan and book, because when you can go, it will be real a trip of a lifetime.