A Short History of Glamping Tents

Three Camel Lodge in Mongolia image by Gan Ulzii

Glamping sounds new and snazzy, but in reality, glamping goes back, way back. Although not known by its current moniker, sleeping outdoors with some comforts is a tradition shared by kings and tribesmen of centuries past.

For thousands of years, nomadic people — Bedouins, Berbers, Arabs and Kurds — have basically lived outdoors with the shelter of some kind of tent.

Royalty used elaborate Persian and Turkish tents, with inlaid jewelry and intricate patterns. Elephants carried the large, heavy tapestries of the tents. In the 1100s, during the time of Genghis Khan, Mongolians started using yurts, circular tents made from felts or animal skins.

Native American Tipis painting by Geroge Catlin in the 1830s - Wikipedia Native American Tipis – painting by Geroge Catlin in the 1830s

The natives of the Plains of North America stayed in tipis, large, conincal-shaped tents made with heavy wooden poles and animal skins. Virtually all tribes in the Great Plains from Texas to southern Canada used tipis.

Abraham Lincoln and generals at Antietam - wikipediaAbraham Lincoln and generals at Antietam

The first European tents for military use were made of fabric or leather to protect them from the elements. But the tents for kings and queens were a bit more posh—often colorful and made with turrets and adornments.

The idea of camping for fun and recreation is a more recent phenomenon rising in popularity for a little more than 100 years now.

Honeymoon tent at The Resort at Paws Up in MontanaHoneymoon Tent at The Resort at Paws Up in Montana

But traditional camping could be wet, cold, and just uncomfortable. Enter glamping, which offers a closeness with nature, but with minimal of that ‘icky’ effect or impact on the traveler.

In the early 20th century, wealthy Europeans started going on safaris in Africa, but did not want to part with all the comforts of home that they took for granted. So, they stayed in tents that were still luxuriously furnished with antiques, Persian rugs, and real beds and were catered to by butlers and chefs. Nowadays, thanks to the proliferation of glamping camps, lodges, and properties all over the world, you don’t have to be a king or queen to enjoy these outdoor stays.

Image credits: Three Camel Lodge, Wikipedia, The Resort at Paws Up.

Safari to Kenya’s Ark

When you pass elephants, cheetahs, and colobus monkeys before you’ve even arrived to the safari lodge, you know you’ve picked the right place. The Ark is tucked deep into Kenya’s Aberdare National Park, a wildlife reserve spanning 300-square miles and three ecosystems. Starting in a tropical forest, ascending to the bamboo groves, then misty moorlands, we reached The Ark. Inspired by Noah’s legendary boatful of animals, its built like a ship with the liveliest watering hole at the helm. From full-service game drives to elephant watching from the sun-deck, The Ark knows how to Glamp.

Instead of just driving the main road and dashing past the gorgeous scenery, The Ark has a few creative ways to approach their lodge. We choose to meet at their sister property, The Aberdare Country Club, and set out on a safari and waterfall excursion for the most unforgettable commute.

98% of Aberdare National Park is covered by trees and bushes making for lush scenery and intense animal sightings. Just when you think all is calm in the woods, a leopard will dash across the road or a massive elephant like this will pop its head out of the trees a few feet from your vehicle. There are 2,000 Forest Elephants in the park each eating 250-300 kilos a day…good thing there are enough trees to go around!

Resembling something out of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, the Giant Forest Hog is as ugly as it is adorable. Everyone wants a piece of this big bacon but this 250+kilo beast will never run away from its predators–it charges! We were incredible lucky to spot this rare and threatened species and admire its quirky ways.

The park is said to have some of the best waterfalls in Kenya. The towering Chania falls was the first fabulous stop on our three-cascade excursion.

Next we went to the top of the three-tiered Karoo Falls for views that will make your stomach-drop and heart soar. Trees dripping in moss added to the surreal beauty.

07 Queen Falls-HoneyTrek.com
For the Queen of England to go on safari, the park better be top-notch–which is precisely why Elizabeth II headed to Aberdare. (Little known fact: She was a princess when she arrived in 1952 but her father passed away during her stay in the park, so she technically became Queen of England in Aberdare National Park). While here she stopped to picnic at Magura Falls and to take a peek at its mystical cave, now aptly called Queen Cave.

In our final stretch to The Ark, our expert guide spotted this beautiful young leopard crouched in the bushes (see opening photo). What a find! As if one cat sighting wasn’t enough for the day, ten minutes later we came across this beautiful beast. This leopard was like no other we (or even our guide) had ever seen. Its bright orange coat, piercing blue eyes, and enormous size had us frozen in our tracks. (For Napoleon Dynamite fans out there, it was definitely a Liger).

09 Ark Kenya -HoneyTrek.com
After one incredible day, we finally reached The Ark. Perched above the forest floor, the rustic and self-admittedly quirky lodge seems to float over the trees.

With expansive balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows, the hotel design is all about connecting guests with the great African outdoors. The watering hole that sits at the helm of the hotel attracts countless elephants, warthogs, zebra, buffalo, leopards and much more to its shores. Staring out the window from these cozy sofas was like being on the comfiest safari possible.

To get a glimpse at the kind of animal action and fun we had from the comforts of The Ark, watch this unbelievable elephant bath-time video.

12ark boar-HoneyTrek.com
Spotting wildlife from the hotel balconies, sun room, or ground-level observation bunker, you feel as if you are watching a National Geographic special play out right in front of you. The Ark was one of our most engaging hotel stays, with the journey to get there being half the fun.

Anne and Mike Howard are creators of the around-the-world honeymoon blog HoneyTrek.com and Long Term Travel Coaches for anyone looking to travel the world safely, affordably and off the beaten path. You can follow @HoneyTrek on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Roadside Americana: Tipi Encampment on Route 66

Have you slept in a wigwam lately? – reads the sign at the entrance of Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona.

It was the first time I had heard of a wigwam – a domed room dwelling formerly used by the Native Americans – the namesake for the property, and more so, for the Wigwam Motels, also known as the Wigwam Villages.

wigwam motel cars

Upon arrival, the tipis were shining brightly in the soft, sunset light. Contrary to any other motel I’ve stayed at, the layout of the village was a remarkable sight in itself. A total of 15 wigwams were displayed on three sides, the reception area closing it into a square. Restored vintage cars, one swankier than the prior, were cleverly placed in front of some of the units, while antique, green metal benches stamped with the words “Wigwam Village #6” were scattered throughout the compound.

The unique concept belongs to Frank Redford, a man whose infatuation with the Native American culture made headlines. Following the rage of the auto camping in the early 1920s, the notion of leisure further developed; cottage camps or the so-called proto motels started to pop up all over the country. Then, in 1933, Redford developed a tipi-shaped building, which would house his impressive collection of artifacts. The following year, he added a group of tipi-shaped cabins to entice visitors to stay the night, which is when the name of Wigwam Village came to existence. As unique as the retro motel concept was at the time, Redford applied for a Design Patent, which he was granted in 1937.


As a result, a total of seven Wigwam Villages were built between 1933 and 1949, of which three have survived. The lodgings for each additional village were thus built in the same format – in the shape of tipis – in what was to become a modern interpretation into the lifestyle of the Native Americans. Deemed as historic landmarks under the National Register of Historic Places, two of the three remaining motels are located on the iconic Route 66. Wigwam Village #6, in Holbrook, Arizona, where we had just stopped for the night is one of them. Arizona motel owner Chester Lewis built the village, fascinated by Redford’s original design. He purchased the rights from its rightful owner, by conceding to a novel agreement: the profits of the coin-operated radios installed in the Holbrook village would be sent to Redford as payment. Few decades later, the property is still operating.

inside wigwam

The units itself are fairly small – the size of any average hotel room. But this was no hotel room; it was a modern tipi of sorts, made out of solid materials on the outside, containing the original restored hickory furniture on the inside. Two double beds are included, cable TV and a window-mounted air conditioner. On the side, there is a desk with a mirror. Each unit includes a bathroom with a sink, toilet and shower. In keeping with the retro vibe, there are no telephones or Internet access.

And retro it is. Truly evoking the nostalgia of the 1930s American vacation, located on the historic Route 66, a stay inside the wigwam will take you back in time like few places of its kind will.

As for its surrounding attractions, once you hop back into your automobile to continue on your American West journey, the Petrified Forest National Park is nearby, as well as the monumental Grand Canyon, Arizona’s most celebrated site.

Photos provided by Monica Suma and Wigwam Motel/Credit Beth Lennon