South Africa is one of the continent’s most iconic countries, and camping in South Africa is an incredible way to see it. This nation that can boast stunning mountains and dreamy rivers, but also the extreme beauty of the Kalahari desert. It’s no wonder then that camping in South Africa is on many travelers’ bucket lists.
Truth is, camping is one of the best ways to see this once-in-a-lifetime destination. Whilst also being very cost-effective. It’s also easy to rent campervans in South Africa, as it’s something many locals do during their holidays.
The good news is that many camping options exist for nature-loving tourists here – as we outline below. In fact camping is a popular pastime of South Africans, so campsites exist throughout the country – many in breathtaking surroundings. In many ways camping is a core part of South African culture.
Wild camping in South Africa is generally not possible though (and often not safe), but there may be a few options available for those looking to find their ‘wild side’! We will detail that later in this article.
Below is our quick rundown of camping in South Africa and what to expect, safety issues, and how to make the most of this unmissable experience.
So read on, and let your adventure begin!
Camping in South Africa: Campsites
There are campsites up and down the country, and they are very popular with locals – especially during school holidays.
Therefore if you’re hoping for a super relaxed camping experience it may be best to avoid those times. Typically the holidays include a two-week period overlapping March and April; three weeks in June/July; a week near the end of September; and five to six weeks across December and January.
The choice of campsites in South Africa is very wide-ranging, with many government run ones, as well as private sites. Both tend to be highly secure, and it’s very rare that a tourist experiences personal items going missing.
Below we show you what choices are available for campsites. But regardless of whether you choose a government campsite or a private on, you must make sure you have a mosquito-proof tent! Without one and your holiday won’t be so relaxing – a tent like this one would work very well, and is great value for money.
Government-run campsites: An outdoor lover’s paradise!
The government-run campsites are usually set up in national parks, so tourists and locals alike can visit South Africa’s best outdoor destinations and stay the night. They make the perfect base if you like walking, hiking, outdoor swimming, bird-watching or cycling. So if you’re a nature freak you’re in for a real treat!
Check out the South African National Parks website to see where their camp sites are located. They are in charge of 19 parks throughout the country, many with campsites that range from basic facilities up to glamping. So there’s something for everyone.
If you’re holidaying mainly around Cape Province, then Cape Nature run several parks in the region. The parks have superb hiking routes and unrivaled fishing spots. They have a few campsites to choose from, but also offer chalets and lodges for anyone looking for a bit of luxury after a hard day’s hike! Their website – which includes accommodation options – can be visited here.
Another great option are campsites run by KZN Wildlife, who are entrusted with over 100 protected areas in South Africa. Whether you want to stay in the tropical savannahs of Zululand or beside coastal shores near stunning coral reefs, this organization has you covered.
Plus the money they make from their campsites and lodges directly helps important conservation efforts. Their website has many different accommodation options and can be visited by clicking here.
Private-run campsites: A special holiday experience
Private campsites might not be situated in national parks, but many of them are set in equally stunning surroundings.
There are many along South Africa’s coastline – allowing you to fall asleep to the sound of the waves. Others are set up near gushing waterfalls, or serene lakes.
One of the great advantages of these campsites is what’s on offer though. While some cater to just the basics, most offer far more. Along with the usual amenities (hot showers, shared kitchen facilities), many also have restaurants on site, and rent out kayaks, fishing gear, bikes and more to guests.
Expect to find an area for Braai too – a place to barbecue. This is arguably the most popular South African camping pastime, and is a great way to meat people (that pun had to be done……) and make new friends. However if you want to really impress your new friends with camping cooking skills then a portable solar powered cooker like this one would work. Plus, is there anything cooler than harnessing the power of the sun for your breakfast!
South African travel agency Travel Start has put together a great list of some of the best campsites (many that we at Wandering our World agree with), covering private and government-run options. You can check that out here.
SA Venues also has a handy search function which allows you to look for South African campsites by region – check that out by clicking here.
Wild camping in South Africa: Finding your ‘wild side’
You have to be a little wild to want to wild camp here! However while wild camping in South Africa isn’t really tolerated, and there are large parts of the country you cannot and should not camp in, there are some wild camping options available.
However it’s probably best to start with where you cannot camp.
Officially, you can’t camp on private land, such as in settlements and on cultivated land. Or game reserves – probably a good idea considering the animals that might crawl into your tent at night!
You also can’t camp on tribal land, or government owned land – like national parks, forestry areas, and heritage sites.
In reality, that leaves a wild camper with very little of the country left to find a place for the night.
The only real solution for a wild camper is to ask permission from a landowner. This has worked well in the past for wild campers in South Africa, with many landowners happy to let a camper stay a night on their land.
Therefore if you find a place you’d like to pitch your tent – and it’s not on government land or a game reserve – then seek out the owner. Only pitch your tent when you’ve been given permission. Occasionally, a landowner has asked for a small fee.
However crime exists in South Africa, and you wild camp at your own risk. Take precautions to ensure your own safety (camp discreetly and don’t cause a disturbance), and keep personal items on you at all times. A tent that pitches quickly, is discreet, and can be taken down fast would be recommended – one like this tent would be ideal.
Tips for wild camping in South Africa
- Set up your tent at dusk, and take it down at dawn. Stay no longer than one or two nights at most in the same place before moving on.
- Take any trash with you, and leave your camping spot the way you found it.
- Make sure your tent is mosquito proof.
- It’s best not to make a campfire as you will draw attention to yourself. For cooking, use a storm cooker. In our opinion, the Swedish made Trangia storm cooker are the best value on the market.
- When going to the toilet you should do it far from water sources, such as rivers and lakes. Make sure to use a trowel (like this folding one) to bury any human waste – don’t just leave it out in the open.
- Like many rugged and rural areas around the world, there are flora and fauna to be aware of in South Africa. So read up and make sure you know what to expect in the region or area you are planning to camp in.
Recommended reading for your South Africa trip
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