Put quite simply, bush camping in Africa is not for the faint of heart. That said, all you have to do is show up, pay a fee, and be willing to spend the night in a flimsy tent surrounded by some of the most ferocious predators the world has to offer. Yet even though it sounds daunting, in reality it’s one of the most enjoyable and relaxing activities you can do in Uganda’s National Parks.
In this instance, we tried bush camping in Murchison Falls National Park. We camped on both the south and north side of the park. In the Red Chili’s Campground on the south side, you will have access to basic facilities such as shower and bathrooms. Here you are likely to run into warthogs, hippos, baboons, an array of birds and different types of antelopes. Lions are on the other side of the river so no need to worry about them. However leopards have been spotted nearby.
Since it is a national park there are no fences. This means that it’s quite likely that as you lay in your tent, an animal or two might walk near you. We heard some creature of unknown origin sniffing near the tent, (if this happens, do not get out and look. Stay in the tent and remain quiet and calm). Even if you don’t get anything nearby, rest assured you can always hear hippos snorting and chortling off in the not-too-far distance.
Take a game drive on the north side of the park, and then time to look around, because this area of the par is where the camping gets real. You must let reception know that you plan on camping here because an armed guard is required to escort you. You can pick one up from the entrance or there are outposts you can drive to where one will be waiting for you.
We drove with our guard and settled into our designated campsite. High trees surrounded us and a fire pit sat in the middle. The first thing I heard as we piled out of the vehicle was the cocking our guard’s rifle. Within five minutes we had a roaring fire. Just behind the forest line we could hear the hippos snorting and grunting. “Hear that sound” he laughed, “they are scared of the fire and cannot pass through the camp. That is why they are so loud.”
“What should I do if a hippo or lion comes into camp?” I asked.
“You do nothing. You don’t move and I take care of it.” He pointed to his gun, “I will chase them out. But don’t worry, with the fire they will stay out. All animals are instinctually scared of fire.”
Got it, the fire was my safety net. We drank some beers, watched the stars (which were their own spectacular show) and listened to the sounds of the park. You really can get an idea of what life would have been like before the rise of cities. That for all of our technology and advancement, if you put a human in the middle of the wilderness, everything is faster, stronger, and better adapted than you. Well, better adapted than us, our guide fit right into the surroundings, trudging into the bush with little fear to collect firewood and secure the campsite throughout the night.
Wake up at dawn and you have the park entirely to yourself for almost an hour. Even those staying in lodges on the north side of the Nile have a 45-minute drive to the delta. It is a spectacular place to sit and watch the sun rise, as hippos return to the river for the day. This is the best time to spot those lions you’ve likely heard roaring throughout the night.
Camping this close to nature might not be for the faint of heart, but it’s an experience not to be missed. It is from this level that you can truly immerse yourself in the beauty and wilderness of Uganda. For those really looking to get back to nature, it’s an experience that can’t be beat.
To get to Murchison Falls you can hire a car or drive yourself up to Kafu and then go west towards Masindi. After Masindi follow the signs and turn right, which takes you to a long dirt road and into the park. Entrance is 35USD a day for a tourist, 20USD for a resident and 5,000UGX a night for an East African.
Camping in Red Chili’s Campground will run 10,000 UGX a night. They also have a full bar nearby where you can grab a bite to eat and gain your liquid courage for camping.
Camping on the North side of the Nile requires an armed guard and will run much higher at 40USD per head each night. Even then it is advisable you tip your guard 10-20% as they don’t actually see the majority of that fee. There are no facilities on the North side and you must pack out everything you pack in. So make sure you bring plenty of water and food for your stay. Happy camping!