One of the best nights of my life was spent in a comfortable bed in Ruzizi Tented Lodge in Rwanda. It was intriguing and frightening at the same time. Before your mind runs wild with possibilities, let me set the scene. We (my wife, Lisa, and I) had just settled in under a light blanket after a long day of training guides at Akagera National Park. We watched vervet monkeys bounding through the trees in front of our tent and could see hippos outlined in the gathering dusk as they lumbered out of the lake to start their nightly feeding foray on the grassy banks. Darkness fell quickly as clouds rolled in and obscured the moon. And then it started. Rolling thunder that shook the concrete slab under the tent accompanied by unrelenting lightning strikes. It was like being in the wildest lightshow in the world, almost surreal as the rain pounded down and the ground shook amid lightning flashes so bright it hurt the eyes. Yet, with all the excitement outside, we remained calm and cozy in our queen-size bed, watching the spectacle and wondering where the monkeys and hippos would be able to get out of the storm or if they even wanted to.
I’ve written about glamping (glamour camping) in this blog before (Feb. 2013), usually with reference to recent experience in one of the many great tent camps in Eastern Africa. Glamping has morphed the past few years from being a rare opportunity at some of the world’s most remote parks or a novelty overnight at a roadside “tipi motel” in the American West to being a common and highly valued experience in nations all over the world.
When I searched on the term for the first time about five years ago, I found websites for some of the unique places considered to be “glamping” sites. Now there are many websites that organize the glamping opportunities into categories such as tipis, yurts, huts, tents, pods, treehouses, safari lodges, domes, and cabins.
Glamping.com offers itself as “a discerning guide to experiential travel.” It explains the glamping phenomenon and helps you find the sites that best suit your travel needs all over the world. Glampinghub.com offers a choice of more than 7,000 unique glamping rooms. Goglamping.net is a British-based directory with prices in pounds sterling. Fodors.com offers “the beginner’s guide to glamping.” Each directory is a little different and a lot more fun to search than the usual hotel websites. These emphasize the glamping experience and related activities that could be a part of your trip.
We have stayed in hotels in all 50 of the United States and in dozens of other countries. I can only think of two or three hotels that offer an experience that I must have again. For the most part, hotels are simply places to stay overnight. Unless the food, service or ambience is somehow out of the ordinary, hotels tend to be forgettable. Yet I can name a dozen glamping destinations that I really want to visit again, largely because the glamping experience includes more than just a room that could be in any city anywhere. Glamping has a way of connecting you to the countryside by putting you directly in touch with the natural, cultural, or historical resources that surround and maybe even pervade the room.
Glamping experiences vary in price from $30 to $2,500 so it is not necessarily a less expensive option for staying somewhere. At the better locations, the experiences offered and the lodging are thematically linked, though admittedly sometimes they are a bit contrived. Oddly, Native American tipis are offered at glamping sites in France, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, and the United Kingdom. Sometimes the stay includes meeting a Native American and seeing a typical dance. This out of context experience would not be my preference, but for those who crave some exposure to a cultural scenario they may not otherwise have access to, I can understand the appeal.
In my view, the best glamping places have naturalists or guides on staff and can set you up with a locally appropriate experience. For those of us who work in natural and cultural heritage interpretation, glamping is a great opportunity. If no such facility exists near your unique natural or cultural area, you could create and
operate your own glamping site. Or you might find a concessionaire as a partner. You provide the programming and they provide facilities and customer care. If you are traveling for your own enjoyment, look at the glamping directories and tripadvisor.com before you select that place to stay near a wildlife park or by a remote wilderness. It may cost more but usually it’s worth the difference in cost.
If you get to Rwanda, visit Akagera National Park and Ruzizi Tented Lodge to take advantage of the best glamping experience I’ve ever had. The friendly, well-trained staff members are quick to grab a light and show you a hippo or crocodile in the darkness that you might miss otherwise. The food is wonderful. They can arrange a night game drive, a boat trip or a safari guide for you. The setting on Lake Ihema is unparalleled with weaver finches, fish eagles, monkeys, hippos, crocs and much more. You will be camped by the lake named for the explorer Stanley’s tentsite when he visited Rwanda in search for of the Nile. It’s simply unforgettable.
- Tim Merriman
P.S. Join us for some great glamping opportunities January 22nd to Feb. 1 in Tanzania.