Somalisa Camp consists of just six elegant canvas tents positioned in a grove of acacia trees.
Somalisa Camp: Our full report
Situated on the eastern side of Hwange National Park, Somalisa Camp is a small, authentic bushcamp which lies amongst a grove of camelthorn acacias. An ancient, dried-up watercourse known as the Sumamalisa Vlei stretches across the face of the camp and provides a great place to view the large herds of elephant for which Hwange National Park has become famous.
Somalisa consists of six large tents all spaced out in a horseshoe formation, with bush between each. Far from the boy-scout image of a ‘tent’, these are solidly built on low teak decking, with a rigid A-frame structure supporting a well-made canvas roof and walls, and large mesh windows. At each end of the tent is a gauze-mesh wall which allows a through breeze and provides at least something of a boundary from wildlife and the elements at night. These ends can be closed completely by canvas flaps, if required. Two of the tents have double beds while the others offer twins. Dark teak furniture, including a writing desk and varnished floors, lend a solid and also timeless atmosphere. The kikoi provided for each guest provides a comfortable garment for the heat of the day.
All of the tents have their own open-air, en-suite bathroom with flush toilet and a large bucket shower, which is filled with hot water on request; the chance to shower under the stars is not to be missed! Cold water for the washbasin is stored in a large calabash and ladled into the sink when needed; hot water is supplied in a flask and regularly refilled. These simple touches really add to the authenticity of Somalisa but also help to manage water consumption in an area with no natural fresh water channels.
On our last visit to Somalisa, in November 2011, we felt that the vertical wooden poles that formed the wall of the bathroom offered little privacy for anyone in the bathroom from people walking past to their tents. Ours was the tent nearest the main area, so it may be worth requesting a tent further away from the main area.
Guest tents at Somalisa Camp are connected to the open-sided lounge and dining area by wide paths which are lit at night by paraffin lamps. Indeed, much of the camp is lit by paraffin lanterns, their distinctive smell and ambient light evocative of the early explorers. More conveniently, the rooms also have lamps with battery-powered low-energy bulbs. The lounge has plenty of comfortable chairs and there is also a small library with a selection of reference books and fiction.
Dining at Somalisa is a communal affair, although those wishing for a private dining experience need only ask. The dining table is sheltered under the canvas roof of the main area and, while technically ‘indoors’, has open views all the way down to the pan and beyond.
The camelthorn trees around camp are a favourite with giraffes, and their ear-shaped pods provide sustenance for a variety of other herbivores, so wildlife encounters in and around camp are a real likelihood. Somalisa’s erstwhile ‘plunge pool’ is less a place to cool off these days and more an opportunity to watch the local elephants, who have claimed it as their own, come down to drink. (To get a real sense of what we’re talking about take a look at the slide show on the right of this page!).
Our last visit to Somalisa was a couple of weeks after the first rains had arrived, so the game had scattered somewhat. Yet we had a great lion sighting late one afternoon as a pride relaxed near a herd of buffalo, and we still saw many elephant, though they weren’t in the huge herds that had been seen just a few weeks earlier. The subsequent rains of 2011/12 were not heavy at all and we have reports of a very harsh dry season ahead – which will probably manifest itself in concentrated game densities as the animals vie for the limited water available at the pumped pans in Hwange National Park.
Activities from Somalisa Camp include game drives and walking safaris, especially around the Kennedy Vlei. These are supervised by knowledgeable and highly qualified ‘Zim-pro’ guides (guiding in Zimbabwe is some of the best in Africa), who are enthusiastic about the area’s flora and fauna. The camp also has a raised platform away from the main camp which is used for sleep-outs, although on our last visit to Somalisa we didn’t visit this. We did however particularly enjoy a game drive early one morning when we were lucky enough to spot a small group of relatively rare roan antelope emerging onto a plain.
Somalisa is a classic camp where the simple things that give it its ambience are done to a very high standard. We love the fact that there’s no electricity at night, because the paraffin lanterns work so well and the bedside battery-powered light gives enough light to read by, leaving only the sounds of the bush. Not having running cold and hot water really adds to the authenticity of Somalisa, with minimal loss of comfort as the bucket showers are huge and there’s always plenty of water to fill the wash-basin. It’s because these simple features are so well managed that Somalisa is such a top-notch camp.
Ideal length of stay: A three or four-night stay at Somalisa is ideal for most visitors, and this combines well with a stay in Victoria Falls. Some visitors combine Somalisa with its sister camps, which include Kanga Bushcamp in Mana Pools, and both Linyanti Tented Camp and Khwai Tented Camp in Botswana.
Directions: Travellers usually transfer to Somalisa Camp by 4WD from either Victoria Falls airport (about 180 minutes’ drive), or the tarred airstrip near Hwange Safari Lodge (about 90 minutes’ drive).
Owner: African Bush Camps
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: When we last stayed at Somalisa, in November 2011, the food was very good.
A typical day begins with tea and coffee before sunrise and a continental breakfast by the fire before the morning game drive. During the drive the guide will find a suitable place to stop and serve tea and coffee, usually with fresh muffins.
On returning from the game drive, lunch is served. We enjoyed eggs Benedict with mushrooms, tomato wrapped in bacon, roasted butternut and chicken Caesar salad, fresh bread and a fruit platter.
After such a large brunch many people like to retire for an afternoon siesta. You don’t go long between meals on safari, however, and by mid to late afternoon it’s time for high tea, comprising a selection of sweet and savoury snacks. Then, during your game drive, sundowners and savoury snacks are offered.
On return to camp there is a full three-course dinner. We had spicy butternut soup to start; roast beef fillet with French potatoes, roast vegetables and side salad for the main course; and pink grapefruit soufflé for dessert – all accompanied by a selection of local beers and spirits, or your choice of South African wine.
Bottled water is supplied in each tent, as is a tea tray, complete with tea bags and ground coffee.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: All drinks included – including beers, South African wines and soft drinks – although note that there are no drinks imported from outside Africa (eg: champagnes) available.
Walking safaris: Somalisa’s walking guides are fully qualified Zimbabwean professional guides. The exams for this qualification are tough, and the guides who qualify usually have excellent bushcraft – so are great walking guides. On a previous visit, the resident guide here, Alex, took us on a very well-organised walking safari, and we were impressed by his knowledge and care.See more ideas for Walking safaris in Zimbabwe
Wildlife safaris: Somalisa’s focal point is an old plunge pool which attracts elephants to drink at all hours of the day and night. Away from camp, Hwange National Park is home to healthy populations of buffalo and giraffe. Lion and leopard are seen regularly; cheetah are scarce but present; and there is a good population of wild dogs.See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Zimbabwe
Attitude towards children: Somalisa Camp welcomes children aged 10 years and over.
Generally recommended for children: Although Somalisa will accept older children – ages 10-16, Expert Africa doesn't recommend it for children under about 16.
Notes: It's a very open safari camp, deep in the bush, with dangerous big game passing through regularly. All children must be under a parent's supervision at all times.
Power supply: Generator
Communications: There is no cellphone signal at Somalisa, but the camp can communicate by satellite phone in case of emergency.
TV & radio: No
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: There is a basic first-aid kit on site with both managers and guides trained to use it. The nearest doctor is in Hwange Town, about two hours’ drive away. A medical air rescue service (MARS) covering Hwange is available in the event of serious illness/injury.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Guests are accompanied to and from their tents after dark by an armed guide.
Fire safety: There is a fire extinguisher outside the kitchen.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: There is a complimentary laundry service included, although for cultural reasons, women's underwear isn't accepted. Washing powder is provided for guests who wish to do this themselves.