This collaboration of magical camping spots has taken an embarrassingly long time to put together, but I can't help but feel proud of the result. With some of my traveller idols, friends and even family involved, it's hard to decide if I'm more excited by the contributors or the places they have written about. If this doesn't persuade you that you don't always want to sleep with a roof over your head, then I'm happy to keep the wilderness for myself.
Eastern Cape, South Africa
There are over 700 formal camping grounds in South Africa and with so much natural beauty across all nine provinces it is difficult to choose only one. The camping sites of South African National Parks are my go-to when I need to spend time in nature, unwind and have a bit of a digital detox and every park is filled with opportunities like game drives, hiking trails, learning about nature conservation and just enjoying the river and/or beach. It is truly magical! My favourite camp sites in my province are Addo Elephant National Park and Storms River Mouth in the Tsitsikamma.
Addo is all about listening to the night sounds, camp fires under the stars, viewing the animals (the big 7) in their natural habitat and if you want to spend a bit extra you can go glamping in the middle of the national park in a small fenced off area, away from everything, while the animals (almost) roam around your tent. Storms River Mouth boast a rugged coastline, adventure activities and hiking trails leading you to caves, suspensions bridges, waterfalls and magnificent views.
A camp site at Addo National Park starts at R285 p/night and Storms River Mouth starts at R370 p/night for no power, no view and goes up to R430 for a site with a view and power. All SAN Parks accommodation can be booked through their website and visitors should pay a conservation fee (day visitors' fee) p/night as well. If you are planning a long trip to South Africa and a lot of camping in SAN Parks it would be wise to get yourself a Wild Card. The Wild Card is valid for one year and eliminates the conservation fee of not only SAN Parks, but also possibly of all the other regional reserves as well if you choose the all-in-one option.
Anje is an (often cycling) solo traveller from South Africa. She has a thing for coffee, loves street art and often writes about sustainable, wildlife and cultural tourism on www.goingsomewhereslowly.com. You can also find her on facebook, twitter, and pinterest.
Grasslands National park, Saskatchewan, Canada
Suspended somewhere in-between the rolling prairies and the expansive ceiling of glittering stars is Grasslands National park. I say ‘somewhere between’ because the night sky is often so bold it feels like you can reach out and touch it.
By day we hiked into the badlands finding dinosaur fossils, quicksand and being equally careful not to step on either a rattlesnake nor a prairie dogs home. There’s something about the silence, the sight of asteroid matter that wiped out the dinosaurs, the shape of ancient teepee rings that makes the Grasslands feel like the only place on Earth once you are within it. The dash of a Prairie dog and leaping antelope bring you to your senses, providing the only distinct movements from the thousands of grass stalks paying obedience to the wind. It was sound but it was barely a whisper.
By night we sat out by our teepee watching the Aurora Borealis dance around while listening to the howling calls of coyotes. Then we’d tuck ourselves up tight against the minus temperatures coming our way and fall asleep to the snores of bison, their sound had travelled miles across the grasses to make us think the huge beasts were just next door.
It is a magical place and for this reason the Grasslands National Park is our magical camping spot.
Prue and Becky, from Australia and Britain, had been travelling solo and working as diving instructors until they fell in love in Thailand in 2012 and carried on exploring together. Now they are the masterminds behind http://straightondetour.com/. You can also find them on facebook, twitter and instagram.
Chile, all of it!
This country in South America is a land of extremes. From the coast to the Andes mountains, the Atacama desert to the forests of Patagonia and the metropolis of Santiago to the fishing villages and deserted roads, Chile is full of wild camping spots ready to be tried out by the adventurous-minded. This also explains why Chileans are very outdoorsy people and almost everyone owns a carpa (tent), mostly to camp out at the coast during summer.
I've been hitchhiking in Chile for a few months and I'm happily surprised at that activities like hacer dedo and campar are very regular concepts that everyone understands and are never punished by the authorities. Wild camping heaven! Some of my favorite places for pitching my tent so far are in Lauca National Park, close to Putre, and Parque Nacional de las Vicuñas, both in the Arica y Parinacota region. I'm currently headed to the deep south, like Chiloé Island and Magallanes Region where the immense forests finally commence.
On the coast: many Chileans go glamping on the weekend at one of the wild camping allowed beaches close to the cities. Often they bring generators and entire barbecues, but pitching your tent next to a family is a good way to feel safe at night. When hitchhiking I often found good and quiet spots between the road and the sea where no soul was about. My best experience was a beach near Playa Urcos on the road to Tocopilla, where there's the occasional penguin colony stopping by and the magical morning light goes well with a cup of instant. Chile's position at the Pacific ocean makes it an amazing place to watch the sunset from your tent.
At the mountains/altiplano: everywhere is a potential camping spot, so keep looking left and right for what floats your boat! In the volcanically active mountains there's many hot springs, so you can both camp out in the wild and have a warm bath at your disposal. It might get very cold at night due to altitude, so take the necessary equipment to stay warm and healthy.
Iris Veldwijk is a pretty hardcore solo hitchhiker, originally from the Netherlands, but never spending much time there. You can find her adventures on www.mindofahitchhiker.com, facebook, twitter and instagram.
Cabo Blanco, Peru
Like all my favourite places, we came across Cabo Blanco by accident. Tired after a dispiriting day of hitchhiking, Dan and I headed towards the sea in the hopes of finding a quiet beach to sleep on. It wasn't as secluded as we'd thought, a sleepy fishing village strung out along the shore, but within half an hour we were befriended by a local family and invited to pitch up on the sand in front of their bamboo porch.
Unable to afford the flight out to the Galapagos, Cabo Blanco proved to be our poor man's alternative. With sea-lions, blue footed boobies and battalions of scuttling red crabs, I felt like I'd stepped into something with Sir David Attenborough. If only our pegs has stuck into the sand...
You can read more about Cabo Blanco here.
Bannister Island, Belize
Staying on paradise Island Atolls is not just for the rich and famous, as I discovered when sailing from Caye Caulker to Placencia in Belize. The trip took 3 days, when we enjoyed sunbathing, snorkelling, and sailing. The 2 nights were spent drinking, chatting, eating freshly caught fish, and camping on beautiful Island Atolls.
We camped on Bannister island, a tiny place where only a caretaker lived, keeping the island beautiful for the twice weekly chaotic visits from cruise ships. There was no one else there when we visited however, and the tiny island took only 1 minute to walk across. I pitched my tent in a quiet spot, carefully planned so I could watch the sunrise. The only downside was the wind, and camping on the beach meant pegging/tying my tent down wasn't easy. I didn't sleep well thanks to the tent walls flapping and worrying if it would blow down, but I was rewarded with an amazing sunrise.
The second night was spent on Tobacco Caye, equally tiny, but it had a few wooden cabins for tourists wanting a quiet retreat for a few days. We spent the evening drinking with other backpackers, and marvelled at the bio-luminescence of the sea. Camping on Island atolls was an amazing experience, and I definitely recommend it!
There is no doubt that Kyrgyzstan is a heaven of magic camping spots. In fact it requires a lot of imagination to think of a place with a higher concentration of wonderful places to pitch a tent. From the green slopes of Tian Shan to the rugged snowy peaks of the Pamirs and from the flowery shores of lake Issyk Kul to the fertile soils of Fergana valley, along dusty roads and rolling hills, the landscapes abound in fairy-tale plots and continuously invite the traveller to spend a night under the stars. So it is absolutely no surprise that long before the dawn of the backpacker the Kyrgyz had been wandering the country and looking for the best spots to set their yurts, their traditional home-tents made of wool. All over the country, in any mountains or hills it is easy to wander off the beaten track and meet the actual camping experts of Kyrgyzstan who spend a big chunk of the year in their jailoos, summer pastures, with their horses and sheep. With simple social skills (and a bit of Kyrgyz or Russian language) one can easily spend the evening drinking tea, kumiz (fermented mare’s milk) or vodka with people that may casually let you peep through every day semi-nomads life. Camping in Kyrgyzstan somehow feels like the natural way to travel.
It is wise to come well equipped, since evenings can be chilly even during summer. And pay attention to the weather and the advices from locals, moreover while trekking. Camping in winter is certainly possible, but with very good gear, clothes and both experience and willingness to spend the night outdoors despite the freezing cold. The conventional way to travel from place to place is by minibus (marshrutka) but if you are searching for a simple travel and good places to camp it may be better to make your way with other means of transport… you will cross ways with quite a few cyclists, it is easy to hitchhike, and of course up the trekking paths or from village to village the best thing one can do is to walk. Finding drinking water is not hard, but a filter is always useful, and especially for vegetarians it is wise to buy enough food in any market of bigger towns, since the choice of vegetables in small village shops and even more along the treks is pretty limited, although one can almost always find dairy products in villages and jailoos.
Boris, Marta and Burma are two humans and one cat who hitchhiked from Bulgaria to India together. Their interests range between growing mountain herbs and mushrooms, creating craft projects and attacking beetles. You can read their stories on www.rovingsnails.com or follow them on facebook and twitter. They have recently written a book (which I helped edit!) and sell cards and cat masks here.
Oman- photos Gavin Willow
Arabic cultures are usually very tolerant of wild camping, but Omanis are especially so. Once while in the coastal town of Khasab we couldn't afford a hotel, so I walked down to the fishermen's wharf and asked a man if he could take us to a private beach. After negotiating a price, we loaded our packs into his boat. After 45 minutes spent sailing through rocky fjords, he left us at a small beach far from any other human abode. I'll always remember wading around the pristine coral reefs and watching the Leonid meteor shower with no light pollution. There was a lot of trash washed up on the beach; the next morning we gathered it all up and took it with us when our fisherman came back for pick-up.
Always leave a wild campsite better than you find it!
Gavin Willow is a desert camping addict. He loves North Africa and the challenges posed by mountains and languages. You can find him at www.gavincwillow.wordpress.com
The bike was nothing special an old Mustang with an awful seat cover and a wonky shifter. But it was my first time, and that made all the difference. I was still getting a feel for the bike as I left Tsetserleg, so I drove slowly. The gravel road led over a nearby hill and dropped into a vast valley, the emptiness of which foreshadowed the isolation to come.
Gravel turned to tarmac quickly, a perfect strip of it stretching to the horizon. Fluffy clouds skittered across the blue ocean of the sky, and the wind howled in my face as I flew. Amongst the vastness that is the Mongolian steppe are hidden pockets of civilization. Small villages, single gers surrounded by milling herds of livestock, the occasional tree adorned in fluttering prayer scarves.
Tariat is a nondescript place, and the entrance to the national park was hard to find. A final obstacle presented itself in the form of a large stream my crossing was bumpy, but successful. At last, a cluster of gers came into view.
“Why are you here?” the proprietor asked, his boots crunching on the layer of permafrost which covered the ground. “Tourist season doesn’t start until June.”
“I won’t be here in June,” I replied, then asked him if I could stay with him for a few evenings.
He didn't hesitate in consenting. That night, I had a home-cooked dinner of tsuivan with Mr. Bald and his family in the cozy comfort of their home.
As light faded, I sat in the picnic area and looked out over Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park. A volcano cone crouched on a desolate plain, with the mountains behind it. Over the opposite ridge was the frozen expanse of a lake, but all of that could wait until morning.
I was exhausted, and was soon snuggled beneath my wool blankets as the fire crackled in the middle of the ger. Sleep came quickly, and it was dreamless.
Originally from the USA, Nathan Anderson has been living a life on the road since 2011. From teaching in South Korea to his adventures elsewhere he has a great sense of humour and mostly writes about people he meets and the great outdoors. You can join me in following him through www.openroadbeforeme.com, on facebook, twitter or instagram.
It wasn't my first camping experience, and I have since been there by kayak and explored the islands beyond, including the fabulous Mingulay, but our trip to Sandray in 1969 remains a seminal influence. One of the Barra group in the Outer Hebrides, and uninhabited since the 1920's, Sandray was a paradise for three young men who had been cooped up too long in cities. We explored, fished, stalked rabbits and roamed at dusk around long deserted homesteads, eerily echoing with the howls of seals in nearby bays. Occasionally the night skies were amazing (when it didn't rain), and once we thought we caught a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
I have been back three times; the last was over 30 years ago: must be due for a fourth!
The invention of the selfie-stick
I have always taken delight in exploring wild places whilst also being very close to civilisation:- crossing parts of London via parks, woods and waste ground; kayaking half a mile off Bournemouth unseen by the Saturday night revellers, etc. This wild bivvying spot is (or perhaps was- it kept changing) on a land-slip beneath cliffs at Durlston, Swanage, with luxury flats perched close above it. We found it by accident during a mini-epic involving the tide race over Durlston Ledge, and a capsized kayak. There was a minute beach, and never enough room for a tent; you just had to curl around the lumps and bumps as best you could, and it was uncomfortable enough to wake you up several times a night so you could watch the progression of a full moon across the sky.
Here I have shared a campfire with a friend, slept in a dustbin liner in the rain when I forgot my bivvy bag, and finally on the occasion of this photo I took my wife-to-be there. The picture shows the original selfie stick: you put your camera on a rock, and take the picture by poking it with a stick.
With a somewhat confusing accent, originally from somewhere up North, but spending a lot of his life in Dorset, Nick Featherstone is my Dad. He's been sea kayaking for the last 40 years, loves camping, playing in boats and trying to perfect his fire lighting methods. He's also interested in history and fixing things, pursuits he took to an extreme by moving to a derelict house on the Isle of Islay, Scotland.
The Garvellachs or Isles of the Sea form a small archipelago in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, they have been uninhabited since World War II.
In the last week in July 1988 we headed for Scotland with our sea kayaks and enough dry food for a week, which we stowed in the sealed bulkheads. All the boats were fibreglass in those days and I still think they look more sleek. We were a group of seven experienced sea paddlers, with Nick in charge of navigation.
On the way from Dorset to The Hebrides my car broke down, the big ends went at Stoke on Trent and we left it in a scrap yard and hired a van. Couldn't miss our holiday after all.
We launched from Seil Island, leaving a note in our cars to say we would be gone for a week.*
The picture is of a wonderful campsite on the uninhabited Garvellach islands. There was a lasting memory for me of peace and tranquillity, all you could hear was the gentle lapping of the sea, the breeze in your hair and the buzzing of insects. The views are outstanding and if you have been to the Hebrides you will understand, there is no limit to the sky and sea. We saw otters and Golden eagles, deer, seals and other marine life. Each day we would pack our boats and paddle for another camping spot, worked out from the charts and maps, sometimes we would have to try more than one, but we always ended up with a camp fire to cook on and dry our clothes, if it wasn't raining. This particular trip we went through the Gulf of Corryvrechen, between Jura and Scarba, on a slack tide. Through the Grey Dogs race, where Nick made a 180 degree mistake and the 8 knot tide was against us. We just stayed camped the night and went through the following day. I was terrified as there were whirlpools 8 feet across and was very grateful to Karl, the youngest member who rafted up with me. Very exhilarating in the end!
* This is not a good idea these days, as you can end up having lifeboats launched! Tell someone where you are going...it's best! [listen to my mum...]
The small, pink jumpered speck on the right of this photo is Mary-Ann, my mum! She loves to be outside, create things and teach people about wildlife. After rural Dorset proved too boring (or busy?) for her, she took the plunge and moved our family home up to the Hebrides. You can read about their trials and triumphs on www.dowerhouseislay.blogspot.co.uk or follow them on twitter.
England and Wales
Although it may be daunting at first, as with any new experience, wild camping gets easier with time. Eventually you’ll wonder why you ever paid to camp at all. By far the easiest way to start is to convince a willing or foolish friend to join you. For our first trip Beth and I spent the night in the New Forest and have since slept out in Yorkshire, the Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean. We’re yet to have a bad night. There’s something exciting and refreshing about waking up somewhere new in time with the natural rhythm of the day. Hearing a dawn chorus and wondering why the owl calling last night was any more frightening than a blackbird. Nothing will beat the shivers that ran along my spine when I heard a fox call for the first time, and it may be many years until I see a more beautiful sight than the sun rise over the River Severn. You don’t have to go to the other side of the world to see, feel and be a part of what it has to offer.
Luke and Beth are interested in permiculture, self-sufficiency and healthy living. After studying at Southampton (with me), they been on adventures in India and spent a lot of time discovering wilder parts of the UK. You can find their stories and advice on www.seedsandspokes.com or follow them on twitter and instagram (Luke/Beth).
Traveling in Norway was my wildest and best camping experience ever. During the time, I was on a 5-month bicycle-only trip in Europe, with very little money. Norway was one of the top countries I wanted to visit. It was kind of surreal how simple and quiet the mornings can be, waking up, removing the tent, preparing the bicycle, and eating breakfast, preparing for an 8-hour day of pedaling. It was in summer, and there was light everywhere in Norway those days, pretty much for 24 hours. Cycling around Norway was amazing! The waterfalls, lakes, fjords and incredible landscapes - all eye candy. After every all-day long of cycling, I looked for the right place to pitch my tent - in forests, near lakes, anywhere there was a possibility of camping. There were nights of heavy rain and strong wind during the trip so there was a need to look for cover every night. A cover could be any flat surface where I could get some good rest.
It can sound hard (and it was), but it was nothing compared to the daily beauty that you will see.
I was cycling around Norway more than a month and I was doing wild camping the most of the time. My best experience during that time was pitching the tent near a river. In the middle of the night, my sleep was interrupted by reindeers. I got up and I stayed looking at them for hours. It was my first time to see reindeers in my whole life. They were drinking water in the river and sleeping next to me - next to the tent I was sleeping in. As it wasn't very dark, I can enjoy just look and take some pictures. The pictures don't give the memory enough justice, but that beautiful memory will always be with me.
If you are planning to do some wild camping in Norway yourself, you should know that it is for free and it's allowed everywhere. Norway even has free camping grounds for caravans where you can find bathrooms, toilets, water and place for eating.
Ruben Arribas has backpacked, hitchhiked, biked and travelled around 70+ countries over the last 7 years. You can find his stories and advice on www.gamintraveler.com. He's also on facebook, twitter and pinterest.
South Island, New Zealand
This was our perfect camping spot by the stunning Lake Pukaki on New Zealand's South Island. How amazing it was to unzip the tent every morning and have such an impressive view! On sunny days, Mount Cook appeared in the background and added to the dramatic scenery of the place. It was such a wonderful place; only a huge summer storm made us
leave when our tent was almost blown away.
Directions: The camping site is called The Pines and is located on the right side of the road just before the bridge, when coming from Lake Tekapo. If you travel to New Zealand, don't miss this incredible spot!
Veru & Petra are a mother-daughter travelling duo, travel writers, photographers, and nomads for the last three years. Having ventured to all continents except for Antarctica, they share a passion for different cultures and natural wonders of the world. You can find them at www.simplynomadiclife.com, on facebook, instagram and twitter.
North Island, New Zealand
Freedom camping is one of my favorite ways to discover what nature has to offer and during my New Zealand journey, I found extraordinary camping spots. One, in particular, blew up my mind. Can you imagine walking along a dirt road and discovering an abandoned trail which ends up on the edge of a 100m-cliff? That's the lucky surprise I had on a hiking trip a few weeks ago. No houses in proximity, just stunning cliffs, an absolute ocean view and a prime point to watch sunset. This is what I call "a million-dollar view".
This freedom camp spot is located on North Island's west coast a few kilometres north of Piha. Difficult to tell the exact location cause it's not in a designated area but I can give you as many explanations as possible if you ever decide to get there.
Donavan is the author of www.vagabondmoments.com, an outdoor adventure blog that started only a few months ago. He travels the world in an adventurous way in search of perfect locations and sceneries. You can find him on twitter, facebook and instagram.
Whitehaven Beach, Australia
The most amazing camping spot I recently stayed at was on Whitehaven Beach, which is part of the Whitsunday Islands in Queensland, Australia. These tropical islands are one of the jewels in Australia’s tourism crown and, scatted among the Great Barrier Reef, are famous for their paradise-perfect white sands and azure waters.
I paid only $5.50 to camp on Whitehaven Beach, which is probably the Whitsunday’s most famous destination and has been repeatedly voted one of the top beaches in the world. I couldn't resist enjoying a slice of this renowned paradise for peanuts! The best feeling was when all the organised boat trippers departed Whitehaven in the afternoon and I was left, almost totally alone, on this deserted tropical island to enjoy the stellar sunset for myself!
Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie Parker is now a strict budget traveller who's currently stuck in Australia blogging about life upside down! She is a self confessed travel addict and the author of www.bigworldsmallpockets.com. You can find her on facebook, instagram and pinterest.
More camping adventures:
- Hitchhiking Sydney to Melbourne.
- Falling down the rabbit hole- life in the woods at Espiral de Luz, Samaipata, Bolivia.
- Why you should never pay to see the Great Ocean Road, Australia
- El Vergel permaculture farm, camping and accommodation, Sorata.
- Weird and wonderful things to do if you find yourself in Exeter- part 3.
- Camping on Dartmoor (weird and wonderful things to do if you find yourself in Exeter- part 2)
- Hitchhiking, camping and other less advisable adventures on the island of Milos, Greece.