Africa overland travel guide


A trip to Africa is always going to be exciting but imagine clambering aboard a purpose built truck and getting to cross borders, camp out overnight and experience wildlife, landscapes and those all-encompassing sunsets along the way. These overland tours aren’t totally uncomfortable, fabulously luxurious or done on a shoestring budget; they offer a combination of adventure, exploration and optional extras with plenty of free time in between traveling to help you learn and discover as well as having fun and getting to know fellow passengers and local guides. Pitch in around the camp kitchen chopping veggies or stirring the stew pot; sup a few sun downers on the veranda of your safari lodge; compare photos of Victoria Falls or gorilla encounters in Uganda; whatever you do, don’t be fooled into thinking that an Africa overland tour isn’t for you.
Find out more in our Africa overland travel guide.

Is an Africa overland vacation for you?


Experiencing Africa overland means you rise with the sun and make the most of daylight hours until the smell of camp cooking fills the air and the chatter of traveling companions is eclipsed by the African night. An overland tour is different to a regular safari or vacation as you’ll spend entire days covering long distances, in between free days to discover towns and villages, or undertake optional activities like walking with San Bushmen, desert treks, sand surfing or quad biking.

Some of the custom built overland vehicles – ranging from 4WD to purpose built trucks – are designed to accommodate camping and dining equipment, and luggage stowed in lockers, but not onboard toilets nor air-con. Passenger seating is elevated to maximise game watching and to take in vast swathes of desert and flat savannah plains that pass by your window on a seemingly continuous loop.

Overnight accommodation ranges from guesthouses, safari lodges, chalets, tents and traditional African huts with more than enough home comforts to make an overland trip feel just as relaxing as exciting. The job of your tour leader is to show you the magnificence of Africa without rushing the experience and a minimum of three weeks is probably just long enough to get to grips with the enormity of the continent and whet your appetite for many more overland adventures to come.

Things to do on an Africa overland vacation


Things to do...

Pitching up a dome tent in one of Africa’s national parks is bound to fill at least a couple of diary pages, and as that zipper fastens for the night all that’s left to do is lie awake and listen to the sounds of the bush or stick in your ear plugs and dream until sunrise. Although camping in Africa may sound a little rough it’s actually surprisingly comfy with many camping tours offering fold-up beds, mattresses, linen and even bedside tables, with lanterns, adding to the romance and adventure of a night outdoors in Africa.

The thick rainforests and bamboo covered slopes of Uganda, Rwanda and the DR Congo contain the entirety of the world’s mountain gorillas with Volcanoes and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks offering organised encounters within protected forests. Early starts and treks lasting from two to eight hours, sometimes at high altitude, demand good levels of fitness, sturdy hiking boots and fully charged camera batteries – rewarded with a close encounter with one of our closest cousins in their natural habitat.

A Maasai welcome is the best feeling in the world; like a genuinely warm hug after you’ve been lost far from home, with nothing put on for show and smiles that invite you to come and sit down and learn what it means to live and laugh amongst the plains of the Serengeti and the Mara. Spending time at a Maasai village with a local guide lets you observe traditional lifestyles as you discover the cultural heritage of East Africa.

Things not to do…

Underestimate a bit of luxury. Although there are numerous overland tours where joining in and roughing it is all part of the adventure it has to be said that a little bit of luxury can never be underestimated. Cocktails at sunset, comfy beds, spacious vehicles, your very own chef, and a couple of extra days to enjoy Cape Town or Zanzibar; don’t forget that this is your vacation and including a little bit of luxury can really go a long way.

Visit with a ‘must see’ tick list. One piece of advice that you’ll be given on an Africa overland tour is to be flexible and patient and try not to visit with a preordained check list of wildlife you ‘actually have to see.’ Animals are fickle creatures and if they don’t want to be seen then there’s no point getting all hot under the collar about it. Come with an open mind and remember that this is Africa and not everything always goes according to plan.

Only pack shorts, sandals and shades. Even though you might be climbing the world’s highest sand dunes and basking in warm sunshine, it’s worth remembering that overland Africa isn’t a day at the beach. Temperatures drop considerably at night so layers are extremely important; long sleeves and trousers will help to keep annoying bugs at bay; head torches can be invaluable; and don’t even think about not packing walking boots in favour of your li-lo.

Best time for an Africa overland tour


Although temperatures are milder, especially at night and early morning, the dry season is also one of the best times to spot wildlife thanks to less vegetation allowing for clearer, unimpeded, views, especially around reduced watering holes and river banks. The Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania takes place from July to October making this another best time to go to Africa overland as wildebeest, zebras and gazelles cross from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara National Reserve whilst trying their utmost to evade waiting predators (not cameras) in the process.
Southern Africa: July to October are cooler and drier with more abundant game, as wildlife migrates to the waterholes. The green season is generally from November to March – and slightly later in Namibia. Cape Town’s seasons are reversed, with the rain falling in the southern winter.

Zambia and Malawi: Generally dry from late May to November, with the best game viewing and warmer temperatures towards the end of this period. March to early May are particularly wet.

East Africa: Game is present year round, but the Great Wildebeest migration occurs in Tanzania and Kenya from July to October. Soggy April and May can cause travel disruption, especially in more remote areas.

Gorilla tracking: This takes place all year, but may be tougher in the wet months of November and March-May. However, discounted permits are sometimes available during these months – so check with your tour operator.
Photo Credits: [Top box, overland truck: Stig Nygaard] [Wilderbeest migration: Michiel Van Balen] [Helpdesk box: John Y. Can]
Written by Chris Owen
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Photo credits: [Page banner: DAVID HOLT]
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