Overlanding through Africa, or parts of Africa, is an exciting way to experience this vast, beautiful and varied continent. It is an immersive experience and is perfect for those with an adventurous soul who really want to get stuck in to travelling.
From a week to 8 weeks; trips through Southern Africa or East Africa (or both!); tented or accommodated, different operators offer different experiences. There is something to suit every taste, every budget, and every age. Overlanding is no longer only the territory of the 20 somethings!
In this blog we will go through the basics of overlanding, our favourite routes, and answer the most commonly asked questions we get. Feel free to contact one of our knowledgeable consultants if you have any more questions and, of course, when you’re ready to book your dream African overlanding trip.
What is overlanding?
Overlanding entails travelling through Africa with a group of people (usually around 20) in a specially-designed overland truck. It is NOT a coach trip. Far from it. There is plenty of participation required – you put up your own tents, help with shopping/cooking/cleaning etc.
While there are ‘accommodated’ overlanding tours, traditionally, they’re camping tours, in tents, sometimes with ablutions, sometimes wild (and oh, the stars at night!); sometimes with hot water, sometimes not.
Overlanding is perfect for the fit, adventurous traveller on a budget.
Overland trucks, while carefully designed for functionality and safety on long distance travels, are not luxury vehicles. They don’t have air con and they don’t have on-board toilets. They are, basically, not luxury coaches. They’re not meant to be. They’re the luxury coaches’, younger, more intrepid, adventuring sister, with mud on her boots and plenty of stories to tell.
There are also ‘overland-type’ trips in smaller, 12-seater busses. Most traditional overland trucks seat 20 to 29 people. For an in-depth look into the different types of overland safaris, check out our blog, Size Up Africa Overland Safaris - Small vs Big.
One of the biggest advantages of overland trucks is that they are built for negotiating the rough terrain that is encountered through much of Africa and are high off the ground, giving a great view of the spectacular scenery throughout Africa.
Overlanding trips involve participation from everyone on the trip. While there is always a driver and a trip leader, every person on the trip is expected to pull their weight. It’s half the fun, really, being involved in the ‘nuts and bolts’ of travelling (and it’s also why overlanding is more affordable).
You’ll be putting up your own tent, helping with shopping and cooking and keeping everything clean. We’ve had people meet their future wives over the washing up!
What are the best destinations on an overlanding tour?
The million dollar question and not one with an easy answer because southern and East Africa have so many incredible things to see, activities to experience, places to visit, people to meet and wild and fabulous animals to ogle at!
Picking which trip to take (if you can’t afford the full Cape Town to Nairobi or vice-versa trip) needs some thought, taking a number of factors into consideration:
- ‘Bucket list’ destinations e.g. Vic Falls, Cape Town, Serengeti
- ‘Bucket list’ activities e.g. white water rafting, bungee jumping, seeing the gorillas
Most popular routes for overlanding
There are hundreds of routes to take, all of them incredible. Also remember that, if you’re time- and/or budget-limited, you can join for sections of the longer trip. Just remember: once you’ve joined, you’re going to love it, and not want to leave! Here are some of our favourite routes.
Cape Town to Vic Falls
Experience the beauty of Cape Town, with its fabulous beaches, award-winning wine farms, buzzing Long Street nightlife and the iconic Table Mountain (we recommend spending a good few days here to experience it fully, before heading off north), then meet up with you overlanding mates and head off up the West Coast.
This route is usually about 20 day’s’ long – see our Cape Town to Victoria Falls Overland Camping Safari – and includes spectacular Namibia, with its beautiful sand dunes, breath-taking Fish River Canyon, desert landscapes and world-renowned Etosha Game Reserve.
From Namibia, we cross over into Botswana, with the waterways of the Okavango Delta and game-rich Chobe, before heading up to Vic Falls, Africa’s adventure capital.
Johannesburg to Vic Falls
A slightly shorter trip, usually ten days, like our Botswana Wildlife, Okavango Delta & Victoria Falls Safari. This one departs from the bustling city of Johannesburg and heads up through beautiful Botswana.
We stop in to see the endangered rhino at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, marvel at the feeling that the world goes on forever at Makgadikgadi pans, explore the Okavango Delta in traditional mokoros, go game viewing in Chobe and end at spectacular Vic Falls.
Vic Falls to Nairobi
Heading further up Africa, there are various routes to take from Vic Falls to Nairobi. The first, like our Vic Falls to Zanzibar & Kenya Overland Camping Safari, usually takes around three weeks and includes Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Zanzibar, ending in Nairobi, Kenya.
These routes are more ‘wild’ than the routes through South Africa and Botswana, where the roads are in a relatively good condition. The route is also more tropical, being between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Equator.
Starting at spectacular Vic Falls, the route goes through the South Luangwa National Park with its prolific wildlife, the palm-fringed shores of friendly Lake Malawi and into Tanzania.
A couple of days on the island paradise of Zanzibar, coupled with optional (longer or shorter) trips to the Serengeti and to see the wondrous Ngorongoro Crater, before heading to Nairobi gives a true African wild experience.
The second, longer route, taking around 35 days, includes all these, plus the iconic Masai Mara National Park and adds on a visit to the endangered Mountain gorillas in Uganda. See our Vic Falls to Kenya & Gorillas Overland Camping Safari.
Johannesburg to Nairobi
This one, too, has a shorter route (32 days), like the Johannesburg to Nairobi Overland Camping Safari, and longer route (46 days), see our Joburg to Nairobi & Gorillas Overland Camping Safari. Starting from buzzing ‘Jozi,’ both routes include a few days in the world-renowned Kruger National Park before heading through magnificent Botswana, including Okavango and Chobe, then up to Vic Falls.
From there, the routes cover as above, the longer route incorporating time with the mountain gorillas in Uganda and more exploring in beautiful Kenya.
Mozambique, Swaziland and Kruger
For those with a shorter time, the route through magical Mozambique, with its white, sandy beaches on the warm Indian Ocean, green and wild Swaziland and some time game viewing in the iconic Kruger National Park is just the ticket.
Our Swaziland, Mozambique & Kruger Overland Camping Safari takes two weeks: one in South Africa, with a day in the Kingdom of Swaziland, and one experiencing the beauty of Mozambique’s idyllic beaches. Think bush and beach bonanza.
Johannesburg to Cape Town
South Africa has it all, from game reserves teaming with wildlife to soaring mountains, beautiful beaches and desert landscapes. A trip through this country offers travellers a smorgasbord of scenery and things to do.
On our Kruger to Cape Camping Safari via Swaziland & Lesotho you'll start in Johannesburg, experience Kruger and then wind your way through the country (popping in to the emerald Kingdom of Swaziland and mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho on your travels) and experience everything the country has to offer. You end up in Cape Town, arguably one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
Kenya and Ugandan Gorillas
A bucket list one, this: seeing the highly endangered mountain gorillas in the rain forests of Uganda and experiencing the true African Safari experience in Kenya.
On our Masai Mara & Gorilla Trek Overland Camping Safari we visit the famous Masai Mara National Park, with its vast plains and prolific wildlife, before setting off to look for the gorillas in the rain forests of Uganda. This is a two week trip.
Okavango, Chobe and Vic Falls
Starting in Jozi and ending in Vic Falls, these comparatively shorter tours highlight some of the best Africa has to offer. Our 10-day Botswana Wildlife, Okavango Delta & Victoria Falls Safari starts with a day exploring vibrant Johannesburg, before heading up into Botswana, where we visit the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, paddle through the pristine waterways of the Okavango, marvel at Makgadikgadi and go game viewing in Chobe. Then it’s off to see the splendour of Vic Falls and enjoy all the activities in the ‘Adventure capital of Africa’!
Not interested in city exploring? Our 9-day Okavango, Chobe & Victoria Falls Overland Safari cuts out the day in Jozi and includes exploring the Kalahari, Okavango, Chobe and Vic Falls.
Our overland trips go through southern and East Africa. There are numerous routes, as mentioned above, the longest being Cape Town to Nairobi (and Nairobi to Cape Town, in the other direction), but the routes are divided into sections, so if you don’t have the time and/or budget for the whole ‘nine yards’, you can join for shorter periods.
One point that everybody going on an overlanding trip must be aware of, is that distances are vast in Africa and much time will be spent travelling, often on roads that are in bad condition, so speeds are slow, temperatures can be uncomfortably hot and there can be lots of dust.
Remember the old adage that what matters is the trip, not the destination? In overlanding you get a double whammy: it’s BOTH the trip and the destination. This is the real deal travel through Africa.
Fret not, though, if there’s are particularly arduous section of the trip – while desert is excruciatingly beautiful, after 800 km of it, it can get a bit much – we’ve got a great blog filled with tips on keeping boredom at bay when the travelling starts feeling a little tedious
Traditionally overlanding was done by the younger set, fresh from studying and ready for adventure. Over the years, this has changed. Who in their 40’s doesn’t also love a bit of an adventure?
While some operators have age restrictions (usually 18 to 39), most are happy to include travellers of all ages, provided they are clear about the participatory nature of overlanding.
You’re looking for a safari where your bed is made for you and the crackling fire is waiting when you get back from your game drive? We’ve got lots of options for you, speak to one of our consultants, but overlanding isn’t one of them!
On the topic of different ages, it’s one of the great things about overlanding: meeting, and getting to know, people of different ages, cultures and nationalities. And making lifelong friends!
The deciding factor: how much? This is often a difficult question to answer, as it’s impossible to give a blanket amount, considering that everyone has different spending/eating/drinking habits and, while many of the meals on an overlanding trip are included, some aren’t. Same goes for activities and, of course, personal needs, drinks and gifts/curios.
What we can say for sure, is that large overland, camping trips will get you the most bang for your buck.
From the cost of the actual trip point-of-view: there is a set amount for the trip. There is also an optional ‘Activity Package’ which includes – fantastic – optional activities that you will want to do, so we recommend that you factor this in to your budgeting. An overlanding trip is generally something you’ll do only once (although we know people who’ve done multiple trips because they have such fun), so make the most of it!
For an overland, camping trip, including the activity package, the cost per day can range between USD110 and USD150 (using xe.com on 30/06/2018). This excludes day-to-day costs and meals not included in the trip (all on the itinerary).
Many, though not all, safaris have a Kitty or Local Payment amount which is given to the tour leader at the beginning of the trip. This payment is usually made in US dollars. Be sure to ask your consultant if there is one, and how much it is, to include it in your budget.
Don’t forget to also factor in visa costs for the countries you’ll be visiting.
*Please note that, if you’re going trekking for mountain gorillas, there is a permit fee that you have to pay, which is not included in the above costs. See our blog on gorilla trekking for more detailed info..
How to budget well
We’ve got some handy hints on how to budget for your safari on our blog Budgeting for a Safari 101, but here are our three main tips:
- Pick your season for travelling carefully. Off-season rates are often lower than high season rates
- Book early to take advantage of specials. Like our current 15% off overlanding special
- Compare airfares to/from the various route start and end points and find the most cost effective way to fly in and out. It may be cheaper to do a longer trip and fly out of somewhere with more economical flight prices!
Do you need visas?
For some countries, yes, others, no, depending on what passport you’re travelling on. They also cost, so need to be included in your budget. Please check with your local consulates to find out in plenty of time! Visa applications and processing can be slow and, without them, you’ll be stuck!
Another cost to factor in. Without insurance, you won't be allowed on the truck. Read all about it on our Travel Insurance page.
Is Overlanding safe?
Speaking of medical insurance, last, but not least, the safety question. Yes, overlanding is safe, in as far as you can be safe while travelling rough roads in Africa. There is a degree of unpredictability when travelling anywhere, especially Africa, and many things are out of our control.
However, we make every effort to ensure the safety of our clients – vehicles are regularly maintained, tour group leaders know how to handle an emergency, we keep abreast with local happenings in the places we visit and full medical insurance is non-negotiable on all of our trips.
Overlanding is a blast. Lifetime memories and friendships are made while exploring and seeing some of the most beautiful areas in Africa. If you’re the adventurous type, book your trip now, by contacting one of our fabulous consultants.