Africa Overland Tour Advice
How to choose the right overland tour in Africa
Finding the choice a little overwhelming? Wondering how to choose the right overland tour in Africa? Well, this is common and I completely understand the reasons why.
As someone who has spent the better part of ten years travelling and leading overland tours in Africa, I can say that most of my clients have mentioned how they struggled when it came to picking out the best overland tour in Africa. In some cases this was because there were so many amazing routes to choose between and they didn’t want to miss out on anything but in others, it was simply a case that they just did not know what to expect on an overland tour in general.
For this reason, I have set out a simple guide to help you plan your trip to Africa and to answer that burning question regarding how to choose the right overland tour in Africa:
One thing to know about Overland Tours in Africa
Before we get started, let me explain something as I find that most travelers are confused when they arrive to start their tour only to realize that they are actually joining an existing group. What do I mean? In many cases, if you join a tour midway through Africa or sometimes in Nairobi, you will join a group of travelers who have started elsewhere and already familiar with each other.
This can be quite an uncomfortable feeling at first but you will soon settle in and in my own experience as an overland tour leader in Africa, the group will always make a huge effort to welcome the new guys and take them under their wing.
But wait, why does this happen?
Well, Overland tours in Africa run from Nairobi to Cape Town with an option to travel to Uganda or Rwanda before or in between. However, most travelers either cannot afford to take this entire journey for reasons of time or money so the operator allows different pickup points throughout the route.
Take for example a tour from Victoria Falls to Cape Town; it is most likely that you will be joining a group who have already spent many weeks travelling together from Nairobi to Vic Falls. Again, this is nothing to be concerned about – I just think it’s better to arrive knowing this will be the case.
How to choose the right overland tour in Africa
1.How long do you have for your overland tour in Africa?
Choosing the right overland tour in Africa will often depend on the amount of time you have available. If you quit your job and have a nice bit of savings put aside, the answer is a lot more straightforward whereas if you have two to three weeks, this is where things get tricky.
Unlimited time – If you happen to have an unlimited amount of time, then absolutely, you should embark on the most common route by joining an overland tour from Nairobi to Cape Town. This should also include “the Gorilla Loop” regardless of whether you intend on trekking the mountain gorilla. Yes, permits are extremely expensive for the privilege to see this primate in the wild but the section including Uganda offers a very different insight into East Africa which I highly recommend.
An overland tour from Nairobi to Cape Town will usually take between 55/60 days and trust me, you will not regret the investment which offers incredible value when you consider what is included.
2/3/4 Weeks – This is where you will have trouble deciding on the best overland tour in Africa, for you as there are likely to be many sections of the full tour in which there is something you really, really, really, want to see. I get it and the next section will be more helpful for you guys.
2.How to choose the right section of an overland tour in Africa
Listen, every part of an overland tour in Africa is different and in many cases, equally amazing, from campfires in the Namibian Desert and witnessing Victoria Falls to taking a safari in the Serengeti and meeting the friendly locals in Malawi. However, there are a few factors which will help you decide.
Obsessed with seeing the local wildlife?
If the local wildlife and taking a safari is your main reason for choosing an overland tour in Africa, you should absolutely decide upon a route through East Africa which takes in either the Masaai Mara or Serengeti National Park. Yes, there are many more beautiful parks in Africa such as Etosha, Chobe and South Luangwa but having taken travelers into all of these parks for so many years, I can tell you that nothing compares to the experience of visiting either of the first two mentioned parks.
More interested in local culture?
At the same time, I strongly believe that the best cultural and local experience on overland tours is also to be found in East Africa ie. Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Whether you join a township tour, visit an orphanage, spend time with a Batwa Tribe or take a cooking lesson in Kisoro; this is one of the easier places to meet locals and find less touristy experiences.
About choosing an overland tour in Southern Africa
Let me say something straight out – overland tours in Southern Africa are a whole lot different than further north. You will find they are a lot “easier” in a sense that the roads are near perfect but in general, it becomes harder to find local experiences and more expensive too. Expect to come across KFC and fancy coffee shops which might sound nice but really, these are not what most people expect or hope to find when they are planning a trip to Africa.
My reasoning for being so firm on this is simply because I do not want you to miss out on an experience in East Africa at the expense of taking an overland tour in the south – especially if this might be your one and only trip to Africa. That being said, there are incredible experiences in the south you should definitely do at a later stage.
3. Are you looking for a bit of everything and maybe some beach time?
Maybe it’s your first time to Africa or maybe you are trying to convince a friend or partner who is not really sold on the idea of an overland tour. I find this is quite common with couples in particular and a nice compromise is to choose a rugged part of the tour with a relaxing holiday afterward.
For example, if you want to visit the Masaai Mara and a little bit of culture but your partner prefers to spend their time lounging on the beach, you could always choose an itinerary which takes in the Masaai Mara, Serengeti and some “local experiences” before finishing on the white powdered sands of Zanzibar. In which case, taking an overland tour from Nairobi to Zanzibar would be ideal.
4. When is the best time to take an overland tour in Africa?
I am quite torn on this given that I personally think that anytime is a good time. It’s true that if you wish to see the Wildebeest Migration in Kenya then June and July is a wise decision but overall I find there are reasons which are just as good to travel outside of the high season.
For example, tours are often more affordable and destinations are certainly less crowded. Yes, your guide will tell you there is no guarantee you will see any animals on a safari but trust me, you will see them regardless of the time of year.
Anyway, I do not want to dwell on this point any longer because I genuinely believe that people overthink this one far too much. Take it from me, the best way to choose when you should join an overland tour in Africa is to decide when you will have enough money together and when is the best time to take a vacation…or quit your job.
5. How to choose an overland tour operator in Africa?
Having spent the best part of ten years in Africa and many of these as an overland tour leader, let me just say that your experience on an overland tour will depend on two things – Organization and people.
Yes, you simply must choose an operator which has their shit together and by this I refer to both pre-departure and the management of the tour itself. But how can you know any of this prior to taking a tour with them? Well, reviews on websites such as Tour Radar will certainly give you a good idea but secondly, please rest assured that I have seen all of these tour operators in action and am more than happy to help you steer clear of those who I feel are not up to standard.
Most importantly – People
Without a doubt, the people on a tour determine the success of an overland tour and while there is nothing you can do once the trip has started, there is certainly something you can do to avoid the worst case scenario.
You see if you are in your early to mid-20’s I am willing to guess that you do not wish to travel in a group where the average age is mid-50’s. And this can happen if you choose a tour operator who is known to cater specifically for an older age group.
Likewise, you may want to avoid joining a party bus where the main focus is on finding the next bar as opposed to sitting back to enjoy the sights and sounds of Africa. Yeah, this can definitely happen too. Put it this way, I know exactly which operators are known for this kind of vibe and if this is not your scene, you need to avoid it for the sake of everyone involved.
Safari Njema, my friends!