An unmissable part of the safari experience is bush dining – when you eat (and drink) out in the bush.
Whether it’s breakfast on the bonnet in the shade of a tree, or a gin and tonic in the last rays of sunshine, bush dining is something of an art form in Africa and a very special part of any safari experience.
Bush dinners are especially romantic providing the rare opportunity to dine under the African stars surrounded by lanterns and lit by the warm glow of a campfire. You can listen to the sounds of the African night and enjoy the added excitement of being out in the wilds of the bush.
In Ruaha in Tanzania, bush dining was a huge part of the camp experience. We had a picnic breakfast and sundowners out on safari every day while in other camps I’ve stayed at we did not do any so it really depends from camp to camp and a combination of factors including weather, wildlife, geography, guest preference and camp set-up.
What do you eat and drink?
Bush Breakfast: a picnic style breakfast which your driver/guide packs in the vehicle is fairly commonplace, while other camps have provision for a more sophisticated mobile ‘bush kitchen’ in order to cook a hot breakfast for you away from camp – these tend to be set up by the wider camp team while you enjoy the morning drive with a couple of vehicles converging in the same spot for breakfast. Some places offer both experiences.
With a picnic style breakfast, your guide will find a suitable shady location to pull up and unpack the picnic. This usually consists of fresh fruit, sometimes with yoghurt and cereal as well; tea/coffee/juice; a cooked option such as a toasted sandwich wrapped in wax paper, and sometimes something sweet like banana bread, a muffin or pastry – it varies from camp to camp. You stop and eat breakfast together before clearing up and continuing on your game drive.
Picnic Lunch: you may have the option to stay out all day on safari so you can cover a wider area, for example if following the wildebeest migration at certain times of year. When visiting the Ngorongoro Crater it is usual to descend to the crater floor at first light, stop for a light picnic lunch by the lagoon and then depart in the afternoon back to camp for tea and cake. The most basic lunch box will have a drink, some fruit and a sandwich while more exotic versions offer more variety with salads etc.
Afternoon Tea: some places have tree houses or hides you can visit, and sometimes it’s possible to arrange tea and cake while you birdwatch, relax by the hippo lagoon, or enjoy the elephant hide. This works really well if you are leaving camp late to include a night drive (offered by some camps).
Sundowners: sunset is a big deal in Africa and it’s a real pleasure to stop, get out of the vehicle and enjoy the show. The guides manage to pick some extraordinary vantage points. It’s not always possible to get out and stretch your legs – one time we had a lioness for company so we sat and had our drinks in the jeep – the coolbox is kept close at hand. Your team will get to know your favourite refreshment (mine is a gin and tonic) and there’s usually a savoury nibble to go with your drink. You make your way back to camp after sunset, usually arriving as night falls.
Bush Dinner: with these you will head off on your game drive in the afternoon and end up at the bush dinner site for sundowners and dinner. It may have been organised by the camp as a surprise. It is very magical when you pull up and see everything laid out for you. You are more likely to be able to enjoy a bush dinner if you’re staying a few nights in one place – a huge amount of effort goes into these events and so they are usually only organised once/twice a week (and are weather dependent).
My top three bush dining memories:
Breakfast with Giraffes, Chuylu Hills, Kenya
On a family safari trip we pulled up behind a huge rock a couple of hours into the morning drive to find a wonderful picnic breakfast all laid out ready for us. It was pure magic, with a tower of giraffe strutting their stuff on the horizon and the warm sun on our backs.
South Luangwa Sundowners, Zambia
We were out on an evening drive and turned the corner to see an extensive bar all laid up with beautiful crisp white linen, smiling staff and directors chairs lined up along the river bank. There was the most glorious view of the setting sun and the soundtrack of nature. Gin & tonic in hand, this was pure safari heaven.
Dinner by the Lake, Nyerere National Park, Tanzania
On an overnight fly-camp we sat at a table on the shores of Lake Tagalala under a bright full moon and sky full of stars. The chef prepared the most amazing three course meal by candlelight, from a bush kitchen comprising a cast iron stove and a campfire. Elephants were trumpeting in the distance, hippos grunting in the lake and hyenas also came to visit…
Do all camps offer bush dining?
Camps based in private conservancies (compared to national parks) tend to have more flexibility when it comes to bush dining opportunities but it varies from place to place. Camps in conservancies tend to be small with a more personalised service, and are therefore more likely to be able to offer these types of experiences compared to larger lodges/camps. In national parks you can usually only be out on safari between sunrise and sundown whereas in conservancies this is not the case.
What if I need the bush bathroom?
It’s always good to go when you stop as you have no idea how long the drive back to camp will be!
During the day on game drives, your guide will scout out the area and suggest somewhere suitable with some privacy for you to go to the ‘bush bathroom’ – usually behind a rock or shrub.
We stopped for a picnic breakfast on the Mara River in Kenya on one occasion and within minutes of leaving the breakfast site we found a huge clan of hyenas and about 50 vultures squabbling over a carcass – you never know what’s around the corner so remain alert and use your ears and eyes! Make sure you let someone know where you’re going. I always carry a hand sanitiser in my bag when I’m travelling but if not, you’ll find most vehicles have one, or fresh water for you to wash your hands.
At night, for more formal dining or when more people are involved, my experience is that the camp sets up a pop-up privacy tent with short-drop loo for you. The ‘loo with a view’ in the picture is after a balloon safari when everyone gathers for a champagne bush breakfast not far from the landing site.
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