When you first get a quote for a wildlife safari, you will typically choose whether you prefer a budget, camping safari or a safari which includes permanent tented camps and lodges. At first, I always went for the budget safaris. It seemed to make more sense. If my goal is to view wildlife, I should put my money into viewing wildlife, not into where I was sleeping. For the price of a five day "mid-range" safari, I could go "budget camping" for nine or ten days! I did six safaris that way and always thought it best. After all, we all see the same animals. The safari cars are pretty much all the same (as long as it is a reputable company). I used to even feel proud when watching the other tourists, thinking, "Hah! We are both getting the same pictures and I paid half as much for the experience than you did!"
Now, of course there is a time in one's life that comfort and luxury are valued over adventure, but at the ripe old age of 34, I still love to rough it. I just don't think that wildlife safaris is the time to do it. Here's why:
Permanent/Mobile Tented Camps and Lodges are premium sights for wildlife viewing. The sights are even called "special" by the National Parks Association. They are chosen by the companies that run them for their beautiful surroundings, excellent views and proximity to wildlife. The public campsites where the budget campers go are chosen for their ease of accessibility - good roads, access to water, close to the park headquarters, etc.
Safety in the public campsites when there are animals crossing through is in the form of staying quiet in your tent and hoping the buffalo don't trample you (something that happened to my co-campers on my last budget safari) or running to the mess hall. Private camps or lodges make you feel so much more comfortable. When you do have an opportunity to see animals after your game drives, it is from a well placed restaurant or tent on stilts (you can actually watch animals walk UNDER your tent! I'm not saying that many people get hurt on budget safaris, I'm just pointing out that the psychological comfort of feeling safe can enhance the entire experience.
3. Viewing Time
As I mentioned, the private camps are located in the more prime locations. Therefore, when you leave accommodations, your wildlife viewing begins immediately. Coming from a public campsite typically ads 25-100km of transfer time (distance) each day to get to the game drives area. These times (early morning and dusk) can be the best viewing times, especially for watching predators because they tend to relax mid-day
4. A Good Night's Rest
Refreshing your body refreshes your mind. Eye candy is not as delicious when you are distracted by that knot in your shoulder from sleeping on a camping mattress. Even the lower end private camps ensure comfortable beds and hot showers. I find that when I know I will sleep comfortably that evening, I am able to relax and enjoy my game viewing more. Even my pictures are better, as I am more patient and focused when I feel like I am on vacation.
5. Your Guide
This, for me, is the make or break element of any safari. A clever, well rested and happy guide will be more willing to (literally) go the extra mile to get you the best sights. Guides have a simpler accommodation at the private camps and lodges than the guests, but it still beats public camping for them. Without the stress of making camp on their mind, they can relax and enjoy themselves. Their evenings will be spent socializing with other guides and the lodge staff who will have invaluable information about recent sights, where the herds / prides are, and in which direction to start off tomorrow.
Most people go on an African wildlife safari once in their lives. I am lucky enough to go a few times a year. If you only go once, make it count and bring back the best memories possible.
I saw an episode of "Orange is the New Black" last night where a sarcastic, no-nonsense woman described "adventure" as "hardship with an inflated sense of self". A bit nihilistic for my taste, but the statement is not without its sharpened point. A little less "adventure" can make the whole experience, including your pictures and memories much better.