At the end of 2011, I spent a month traveling overland through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia with G Adventures. This was definitely one of the best trips of my life: experiencing the backcountry of Southern Africa, camping out in the wild, meeting lifelong friends – all of which I would have missed if I’d traveled independently. While amazing sights were aplenty (like Sossusvlei in Namibia and Okavango Delta in Botswana), it was the overlanding journey that made the trip stand out from other experiences I’ve had. For those who plan to travel overland in Africa, here’s a detailed review of my experience that will hopefully give you a better idea of overlanding in Africa.

Camping in Namibia

Why Overland through Africa?

In Africa, overland expeditions are quite a popular way of traveling from one country to the next as they are often cheaper and more time-efficient than independent travel (which can be quite costly with pricy game drives, airfares and national park entrance fees). Many adventure tour operators organize overland expeditions that often bring you across a few African countries in one trip, with the journey lasting from three to five weeks.

What is an overland expedition?

Overland expeditions usually involve traveling in bulky multi-purpose trucks that pack in cooking facilities, storage space, camping tents and seating capacity for 10 to 30 passengers. While the degree of comfort usually varies according to the price of the tour, don’t expect to be indulging in 5-star luxury as most of these overland expeditions involve camping and participation from travelers.

Why should I take an overland expedition through Africa? 

Independent travel through Africa can be costly and time-consuming. Due to the lack of tourism infrastructure, it’s often difficult to get from one point to another especially since public transport is often unreliable. Although I have traveled independently in East Africa previously and didn’t encounter too much difficulty, I opted to travel on an overland expedition this time to save both time and money. While traveling independently usually gives deeper insights than an overland expedition, I was really glad to have gone on this overland journey as I managed to see the highlights of the region within a rather short timeframe. Besides, an overland expedition often involves more than just traveling – it requires a lot of team effort and general social skills, as you’re traveling with a big group of people for weeks on end. I arrived in South Africa with nothing in mind except to travel, but I left with a group of lifelong friends and a string of beautiful memories.

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Advantages of Overlanding:

  • The itinerary is planned out for you – there are also optional activities that you can opt to join or not
  • Major sights of a country or region are included in the itinerary, so you’re sure to see the highlights of the area
  • You can travel through the backcountry of Africa, which most people would miss when flying from one point to the next
  • Optional activities include walks with bushmen and township tours – which also allow you to interact with locals
  • It’s cheaper and takes less time than traveling independently
  • You get to meet fun and interesting travelers in the group

Disadvantages of Overlanding:

  • Following a fixed itinerary can be quite restricting
  • Time spent on truck can be very long – the longest day of driving for us was 10 hours (with short stops in between)
  • Camping might be fun, but putting up and taking down a tent on a daily basis can be tiring (although there are a few nights of sleeping in hotels/hostels)
  • Participation is mandatory: we were divided into groups of four, and each assigned with daily chores of cooking, washing dishes, cleaning the truck and packing
  • Immersion in local culture and language is minimal as you are always with your group and cooking your own meals instead of trying local cuisine
  • If you’re not a sociable person, group expeditions might not be suitable for you – as you’re faced with a big group of people for a long period of time, with most nights spent chatting over a campfire.

Sitting at camp

Choosing an Overland Expedition Company

There are plenty of overland expeditions to choose from, ranging from duration to itineraries. Adventure tour operators that are reputed for organizing such overland expeditions include G Adventures, Intrepid, Gecko Adventures and On the Go Tours. Before you decide on which company to choose to travel with, ask yourself these questions:

  • Which countries do you want to visit?
  • How long do you want to travel?
  • How much is your budget?
  • What is your main focus – wildlife, trekking or culture?

For Africa alone, there are hundreds of different itineraries. Even for the same itinerary, there may be different durations. If you can afford the time, I would recommend taking the slower option as you would appreciate having the opportunity to slowly experience the destination when you’re there. But you wouldn’t want to be overlanding for more than two months as you would probably hate camping and trucks by the end of it. Prices of tours can vary according to comfort level (size of truck, type of tents, and cooking facilities – be sure to check all these before cooking).

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Cost: I traveled on the 21-day Dunes, Deltas and Falls tour (DCF), followed by the 9-day Victoria Falls to Johannesburg Overland trip (DLLJ). Total cost of the trip was $2,199 + $859 = $3,059. If I had traveled independently, it would have cost at least double of this price and taken me a lot more time to travel through these four countries. The prices of Africa overland expeditions usually range from $1,500 to $4,500 depending on duration and itinerary.

Truck facilities: The G Adventures truck was relatively comfortable – the truck was brand new, fully equipped with gas stoves for cooking, lockers at the bottom of each seat and a small safe in the truck for passports. But within each seat, there wasn’t a lot of space for backpacks and personal items. Seats were not reclining chairs but I still managed to get some sleep during the long rides – there was nothing much to do besides napping or chatting with my travel mates as the drives were often bumpy. There were also electric plugs and outlets on the truck that can be used during the drive and at the campsites when plugged to generators.

Camping facilities: Our tents were brand new (I might have been lucky), spacious and easy to put up and take down. They were two-men tents that fitted two mattresses and our backpacks (my tentmate’s luggage was huge) – we could even fully stand up within the tents. You don’t really need to be an expert in camping – a few of my group mates had never camped before and had no problems learning how to do it. Almost all of the campsites we stayed at were clean and equipped with large restrooms and showers, and some even had a bar and swimming pool. We only bush camped for two days in the Okavango Delta where there were no facilities at all.

Packing for an Africa Overland Expedition

I’ve written an essential packing list for Africa before, but to summarize, important items include:

    • a sleeping bag for both warm and cold weather (around –3 to 7 degrees Celsius)
    • a head torch is essential for the night
    • a pair of hiking boots
    • binoculars for game drives
    • mosquito repellant
    • rain jacket

 

If I’ve missed out anything, please let me know under the comments field below or feel free to ask if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to help!

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My trip was made possible by G Adventures as a part of their Wanderers In Residence program. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own. Read more about my travels in Southern Africa here.


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