You might be wondering why on earth we’ve written a blog article on the best libraries in Africa when there’s all that David Attenborough-esque excitement happening right outside your Land Rover window. Well, it’s certainly true that there’s always something to marvel at on safari but sometimes a bit of quiet time is the perfect antidote to all the excitement and we’ve discovered some rather spectacular libraries hiding away in camps and lodges across the continent. So, if books are your thing or you’re looking for a pretty spot to pop your feet up and brush up on your bush knowledge, read on for our list of the best safari libraries in Africa.
Masai Mara, Kenya
Suspended in mid-air (almost!), high above the Mara Triangle, the guest areas at Angama Mara are startlingly beautiful and all designed to make the most of the incredible views of the magic carpet below. But if you can bear to tear your eyes away from the landscape, head into the library for an hour or two and you won’t be disappointed. Located in a handsome, brick-clad tower that spirals up to the clouds, it’s one of our favourite libraries in Africa. Curated by Philip Blackwell of the Ultimate Library Company in London, the collection will take you from the earliest human life in the Great Rift Valley through the continent’s rich colonial heritage, all the way to the present-day via a selection of contemporary fiction by both African and international authors. Furthermore, there’s a fabulous film library if you find yourself with a free evening, complete with a copy (or several!) of Out of Africa, of course.
With its exclusive game viewing and spectacular location, Angama Mara can be added to just about any Kenya route: try Classic Kenya for a good introduction to the country, or The Wilds of Northern Kenya for something more adventurous.
Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana
As you might expect from one of the most legendary camps in safari history, Jack’s Camp is home to one of the most spectacular (in our eyes) libraries in Africa. In fact, we’re not really sure we can use the word library to describe what’s on offer here, for alongside a unique selection of family books and research handbooks, handed down through generations of the Bousfield family, sit an assortment of weird and wonderful curiosities. We’re talking pickled snakes to beautiful objets d’art, pre-historic artefacts collected from the surrounding desert, and artwork from Peter Beard and French taxidermist, Deyrolle. Housed in the now iconic red, muslin-draped tents in the heart of camp, the salt-baked expanse of the Makgadikgadi Pans stretching into infinity outside makes for the perfect backdrop. This is the kind of place we’d be quite happy to while away an afternoon in…
Add Jack’s Camp to our route, Adventurous Botswana, and discover the magic of the incredible country (and camp!) for yourself.
Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
Strewn with boulders, fat baobabs and tangles of wildflowers and shrubs, it’s probably safe to say that Ruaha National Park isn’t the easiest place to build a lodge, but somehow, the clever team of architects and designers behind Jabali Ridge managed it. The result is an earthy, soothing and almost entirely natural creation that blends perfectly into the landscape, so much so that it’s a complete surprise when you arrive at the chunky wooden doors at the entrance. Step inside and straight into the main area, where the library is situated. Now, this isn’t a dramatic library, full-to-bursting with impressive tomes; instead, it’s an intimate, pleasingly-aesthetic nook off the main area, where smooth boulders form the walls and leafy foliage gives privacy and intimacy. Squashy cushions and large sofas are laidback and relaxed, and ahead is the craggy landscape of Ruaha, complete with wandering giraffe and elephant. Where better to settle down with a good read?
Time + Tide Chinzombo
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Overlooking a sweeping bend of the magnificent Luangwa River, the famous South Luangwa National Park just on the other side of the water, there’s a fabulous view waiting for you in just about every spot at Chinzombo, be it your bedroom, the swimming pool, or the ‘loo with a view’ – and the library is no different. Cleverly combined with the main dining, living and bar areas, the open-air space is filled with sleek sofas, embroidered bean bags, lounge chairs and even a delicate swing, all ideal choices to settle down in with a good book and not miss out on the vistas. As for reading material, the enormous wooden shelves are home to up-to-date wildlife and bird guides, plenty of current fiction and some more unusual history books. Most exciting, however, are the several copies of the late Norman Carr’s beautifully-crafted tales, including the White Impala and Return to the Wild, both of which are now near impossible to get hold of.
KZN, South Africa
Established by David and Nicky Rattray, Fugitive’s Drift is dedicated to sharing the history of the Zulu wars of 1879, fought on the very lands the lodge is situated. The guides are passionate and expressive, each one a master of storytelling, and in their company on the battlefields, history really does come alive. Back at the lodge, the Harford Library (named after Henry ‘Charlie’ Harford, David’s favourite character in the tales of the battles), is the perfect complement to the trips and excursions and probably one of the most comprehensive libraries in Africa. It’s a tranquil space, decorated to the same impeccable standard as the guest rooms, with breathtakingly beautiful views over the Buffalo River Gorge, Isandlwana glinting in the distance. What’s more, the shelves and cabinets are packed to the rafters with Zulu War memorabilia, books and artefacts. Retreat here after an emotionally-charged day, pull up a chair, and reflect on the incredible history that’s never far away in this incredible part of South Africa.
Embark on our route, South Africa for culture vultures, and spend some time at the Battlefields in the middle. We recommend staying at least three nights to soak up the atmosphere and of course, make the most of the library!