Africa Overland Tour Advice
Your No Nonsense Guide to the Best Overland Tour in Africa | Advice from a Tour Leader
Having worked as an overland tour leader for more than five years, I finally decided to put together this micro guide for choosing the best overland tour in Africa. To be honest, part of the reason for such was bourne from reading terrible advice elsewhere from pretty biased points of view. Anyway, I am going to give you everything straight up including the best overland company and even how to avoid everything that is likely to ruin your first experience in Africa. This happens a lot.
You will find advice on what to pack on an overland tour etc elsewhere on this site. But for the purpose of explaining how to choose the best overland tour in Africa, I am going to focus on the best places to see and how to avoid the most common pitfalls.
However, please know that this is merely a “guide” intended to point you in the right direction. After all, absolutely everyone is different and so too are the preferences of each person.
With that said, please also keep in mind that most online advice regarding overland tours Africa or the best safari operators are based on the experience of one person on one trip, as opposed to the extensive experience I have gained while working as a tour leader in Africa.
Disclaimer: Please note this post contains an affiliate link which means if you do follow my advice, I may receive a small commission.
Being a Leader and the best Overland Tour in Africa
Firstly, let me explain why my experience as an Overland Tour leader is so important.
Having worked for two different companies over the past six years, rest assured that I am providing this information on the back of feedback from more than five hundred different travelers. From mother and daughter combinations to best friends, young teens, energetic seventy-year-olds and just about any other demographic.
Simply put, there is no “one fits all” answer when it comes to choosing the best overland tour in Africa but at the same time, take it from me that there are great mistakes you can make when booking an overland tour in Africa.
With that out of the way, let me start with the question of where you should consider for your first overland adventure:
Where to go on an overland tour in Africa
What an incredibly broad question – “Where should I go in Africa?”
For the sake of defining your search for the best overland tour in Africa, focus on East and Southern Africa and here is what I believe to be the four most rewarding countries to experience on an overland tour in Africa:
Kenya – Wildlife, culture, and variety of experiences
Tanzania – Wildlife, Kilimanjaro, and beaches
Uganda – Gorilla Trekking, white water rafting, and local experiences
Namibia – Landscapes, camping in the desert and sunsets/sunrises
Malawi – Primitive live, friendly faces, great opportunities to meet locals
Although the destination for your first overland tour in Africa will also depend on how much time you have available. For example, if you have an unlimited amount of time (60 Days/2 Months) – the first thing I will say is to stop procrastinating and settle on joining a long distance and hugely epic expedition from Nairobi to Cape Town.
However, not everyone has this sort of time or money available to them. In which case, here is what I consider to be the most suitable sections on the best overland tour in Africa, based on the time you have available:
How much time do you have for your overland safari in Africa?
Let me keep this simple. You will find a separate post about the best tour options for less than ten days here, and the following is a list of the best overland tours in Africa according to the time you have available:
11 – 15 Days
20 – 24 Days
24 – 40 Days
40 – 54 days
But how to decide which of these is the best overland tour in Africa for you?
Interesting question! However, let me keep this simple once more and say that East Africa is a far more primitive experience than the south when it comes to overland tours. In this sense, I will always recommend that people take their first overland tour in East Africa.
And listen; forget about Tracey who just came back from the most sensational tour in Namibia or John who volunteered in Uganda for a month when he was five years old. Furthermore, realize that most game parks in South Africa are private and not very authentic while Cape Town is just a city – beautiful and fascinating yes – but not enough to decide the destination of your overland tour in Africa.
Again, my advice is based on first-hand experience of the best overland tour in Africa and feedback from literally hundreds of people I have guided around fourteen different countries in Africa. Also, rest assured, it was my job to ensure the expectations of these guests were always met and for this reason, I have spent many years crafting in my mind, what has now become the point of this guide.
NOTE – That being said, my friends, Namibia is indeed stunning and a place in which most photographers lose their minds. Furthermore, Etosha National Park is extremely good and so too is the opportunity to finish a trip in the city of Cape Town.
However, rather than confuse you, let me just re-affirm how I have most often found that East Africa as a region, is the Africa which most visitors had hoped to encounter. Where tribes and famous parks are interspersed with typical savannah landscapes and these are places where you also get to sleep in a tent.
You got it? I recommend visiting East Africa first and everywhere else on your next trip. Because you will return, trust me.
What to see on an overland tour in Africa
What will strike you on a long distance overland tour, in particular, is the incredible number of experiences. One day you might be mountain gorilla trekking in a jungle, while the next you would be standing with a hill tribe in Lake Bunyoni. Roll on a few days to when a pride of lion is starting hungrily into your safari vehicle and then a few more to when you might be relaxing on the white sands of Zanzibar.
In my six or more years as an overland tour leader, I never tired of these amazing experiences and the immense value that comes with investing in an overland tour in Africa. Because my friends, this is truly an investment – today I am an experienced tour leader, travel writer and outdoor adventurer but it was my very first overland tour in Africa which kickstarted everything in the first place.
Here are some of the most recommended attractions/experiences according to my guests:
- Wildlife in the Masai Mara
- Cycling in Hells Gate National Park
- Taking a Serengeti / Ngorongoro Crater Safari
- Trekking Mountain Gorillas in Uganda
- North beaches in Zanzibar
- Meeting the locals in Malawi
- White water rafting in Victoria Falls
- Wildlife and landscapes in Etosha National Park
- Camping at Spitzkoppe in Namibia
- Desert Landscapes in Namibia
- Attractions in Cape Town
Which one tour would I recommend for your first overland tour?
Seriously, just book it. Without question, Nairobi to Cape Town is the most magical and memorable travel experience you will possibly ever encounter. When my passengers were leaving at the end of a section from this particular tour, it was always heartbreaking to say goodbye and for them to know that the rest of the group would continue without them. It is the absolute best overland tour in Africa. If you can make it happen, choose this epic adventure and look forward to an absolutely incredible journey with friends who will soon become family.
Second Place – Nairobi to Zanzibar
If the above just is not possible and you do not have enough time for Nairobi to Vic Falls, this is definitely another contender for the best overland tour in Africa which gets the best feedback. Likewise, I find that some passengers leave without traveling to Zanzibar with the group, but please avoid this if you can. Finish the tour with the group on this beautiful island – it is the best way to end a tour in East Africa and certainly better than watching your new friends getting their swimwear out as you get ready to go home.
Third Place – Nairobi to Nairobi (The Gorilla Loop)
Again, if time does not allow for the above – accept that you will still get to see the Masai Mara, locals in Uganda, white water rafting on the Nile River and possibly even the mountain gorillas. This is also the most cultural part of the tour and a stage to which most of the group will think back about when you arrive at the fancy shopping malls in South Africa.
Why do I not recommend Namibia?
I do – just not ahead of East Africa for your first overland tour.
Which is the best overland tour company in Africa?
Firstly, there is no such thing as a “bad overland company” and I say this honestly. At one time, there were a few to mention but they have since disappeared. However, the enjoyment of your trip will still come down to these four factors:
1. Your Crew
2. Equipment and Organization
3. Your Attitude
4. Your Group
In the above order of importance.
As already mentioned, I have worked with two different overland companies as a tour leader in Africa but also encountered every other tour operator on the road during this time. For the most part, you do not see what goes on as a tourist, but as a tour leader, you hear every last thing, about every last company. Furthermore, you notice what is happening with the tour guide next to you and for some bizarre reason – passengers always come to talk to the tour leaders of other companies about their trip.
And yes, this is usually for the purpose of complaining.
You Don’t get to choose your crew
While I take any such person with a pinch of salt and understand there is always another side to every story, I can tell you that the crew is usually the problem with tour companies in Africa. Furthermore, it is vital concerning any question of the best overland tour in Africa. When there is no organization from above or poor equipment/trucks on the road, the crew seem to lose interest.
On top of that, I find too many crew spend their time getting drunk rather than taking case of the guests or looking for another way to earn extra cash on the road instead of organizing the travel itinerary. It can be a disaster and the reason this happens, as mentioned above, is that they are not held accountable for their behavior or actions. In some case, they are just bored of the job and care not for the passenger’s experience but more regarding when they get to go home to family.
Anyway, this is why I feel the most important decision is often when choosing the tour operator – you may not get to choose your crew members but you do get to choose a company who makes this decision carefully. Of course, you can get lucky with a great tour leader, equipment, etc. for a lower price but when all is said and done, you most often get what you pay for in Africa.
Alas, here is my recommendation for the best overland tour in Africa and I say this because I know they will not let you down and in the event of this ever happening, they are right on top of whatever happened – with the customer’s feelings always the focus of the discussion.
PS. Two really good friends of mine work for this company so let me know if you book with them. I tried to get a job with them for more than three years. At first, I was denied because of my nationality (I know!) but more recently because I did not have the field qualification they now require of their guides.
When to book an overland tour in Africa?
If you intend to travel during high season or anywhere between May and September – book before Christmas or at the very least, early January. When I left Africa a few months ago, it was clear that the most popular dates for next year are already filling up. Either way, why wait – get it done.
How should you book the best overland tour in Africa?
Well, you can give your hard earned cash to a travel agent who did nothing to help with your decision, or you can click on any of the affiliate links in this post which will mean that I might receive a small kickback from the tour operator for sending you their way.
Either way, I appreciate you taking this time to read my post about the best overland tour in Africa, and if you have any questions, please feel free to message me on the instant chat button in the corner. Asante Sana (“Thank you” in Swahili)