So you want to see Africa and all the wonderful things the continent has to offer, but the bank balance doesn’t quite stretch to that luxury safari! Solution – Overlanding. You get to experience this beautiful continent in a much more affordable (and fun) way. But, what is it, exactly, and how does it differ from a regular safari? Every year hundreds of overland trucks cross Africa between Kenya and South Africa (or vice versa) on what has become one of the most popular and well established overland routes in the world. Overland trucks are large, modified vehicles that seat 20 - 30 travellers and carry all the equipment necessary for camping and cooking on a trip that can last from one to eight weeks. By using these vehicles, which are capable of travelling long distances and by camping, costs are considerably cheaper than a luxury safari that utilises flights and luxury lodges. The wildlife experiences you will have in the game parks and reserves are no different than those you’d have on a luxury safari. (In fact, with 20 pairs of eyes peeled for a glimpse of the rare wild dog, you may have a far more rewarding wildlife experience from the back of an overland truck than on a regular smaller safari.) Then there is the added excitement of sleeping under the African sky with the far off roar of the lion. The beauty is that you can share all these travelling experiences with like-minded travellers, many of whom will leave as friends. Camping under the stars, cooking and washing up together, hiking, diving, abseiling, white-water rafting and sharing the odd cold beer or ten - it may not be a luxury holiday, but it’s undoubtedly a lot of fun.
If you’re the adventurous type who’d rather spend a night roughing it in a rain forest than luxuriating in a boutique hotel, then overlanding is for you. With overlanding you experience Africa first-hand - buying and cooking food from markets then sharing a drink with villagers in a local bar. It’s perfect for people travelling as a group of friends, a couple or alone. Most things are done as a group and chores are shared, so everyone works and plays together. If you’re a first-time traveller, joining an overland tour still gives you that sense of adventure, but a Trip Leader, Driver and Safari Cook and the companionship of the group, means you’ll always have backup. Finally thanks to the purpose built trucks, most trips get well away from the usual safari circuits and you get to see Africa away from the armies of pop-up minibuses seen in the more popular game parks. If you’re looking for a trip which goes beyond a mere holiday and gives you the opportunity to make a lot of new friends and see a lot of new places in a relatively short period of time, then overlanding is for you!
Each overland truck carries everything needed to be completely self-sufficient. It has a fully equipped kitchen, including food, cutlery, pots and pans and a gas stove. All the day to day chores such as cleaning, washing-up, checking security and helping the Safari Cook shop and prepare meals are shared amongst all the passengers. But, there’s still plenty of time for relaxation and sightseeing and itineraries build in chill out time, wildlife spotting and the various activities on offer. Along the way there are also opportunities to upgrade to a room for the night or eat out in a local restaurant as a treat.
Where once overland groups would camp in the bush each night, today there are a wide range of great campsites catering for overlanders and the vehicles, with activities, bars, restaurants and excellent facilities. Our trips spend the night in a secure campsite every night. There are a handful of campsites that may not have a shower or a beer available, though most have running water - whether it is hot or cold, respectively, is another matter! Sometimes conditions can be challenging – it may be dusty or rainy, it can get exceedingly hot or very cold – come prepared for the respective season you’re travelling in and you’ll have little to worry about. Africa is a vast continent and distances between the highlights we visit can be far apart. Some of the drives will be long and there are a few patches where the roads range from lightly bumpy to almost impassable. Long driving distances usually require an early start, so expect to marvel at an array of breathtaking African sunrises during your journey. There may be a few hiccups in the itinerary when a bridge is washed away or there’s a mechanical emergency. But, none of these will spoil your trip if you approach them with the flexible attitude and a good sense of humour.
On our trips we use two man dome tents with mosquito nets over the door and window areas, a sewn in ground sheet and a separate flysheet, which you share with a fellow traveller. If you’re a camping novice, rest assured, the tents are very easy to put up and your trip leader will give you a demonstration. You will have to provide your own sleeping bag and remember a small pillow is always great for extra comfort! There is also the option to camp under the stars instead of in your tent on some occasions, just check with your Trip Leader to see when it is possible to do so. There are a few opportunities to upgrade to a dorm bed or single/double room along the way. Your Trip Leader will let you know where these opportunities are available and can advise you of the costs involved as you will have to pay the difference between the camping price and the price of the dorm/room. Tents have a rain cover that is designed to aid the flow of rain water from the tent sides to the ground. These are really effective, but please keep in mind that when camping in the rain one can still expect some dampness and the occasional leak. Our tents are maintained regularly to avoid leaks and each vehicle is equipped with a couple of spares to swap out any tents that may be damaged.
We camp in set campsites along our routes that specifically cater for overland passengers. Bear in mind many of the campsites in Africa can be very basic and have a great rustic “under African skies” feel. Campsites in Southern Africa generally have better facilities than their East African counterparts and almost all campsites have a facility to wash some laundry (hand washing). Some have flush toilets, some don't. Some have a vibey bar, some don’t. Most have electricity points to charge your camera’s batteries. Some nights we may bush camp - this means you are camping without ablution facilities and not at a built up campsite, but being out under the African skies surrounded by her sounds makes this all worthwhile.
Our overland vehicles are custom built converted Mercedes Benz or MAN trucks that have seating space for our passengers and a storage areas for luggage and all trip equipment. The trucks seat between 27-30 passengers. Most seats are forward facing, though some models have a combination of forward, backward and some inward facing seats with tables. Vehicles have sliding glass windows, and the seating area is raised providing a great advantage for game viewing and photography. Seats are cushioned and there is storage space for personal items like cameras, snacks and day packs in the seating area.
The storage sections are separate to the seating area and are located underneath the main passenger compartment. There is a specific kitchen area with slide out tables for food preparation, all the cutlery, crockery, cooled storage and supplies; and a separate area for storing chairs, tents and other equipment. The main luggage storage is located toward the back of the vehicle and as space is limited, we do request travellers to bring soft-pack luggage between 15-20kg to ease the packing process.
All the vehicles are equipped with water tanks, long range fuel tanks and are mechanically maintained at our 3 workshops at Cape Town, Victoria Falls and Nairobi. Additionally, our drivers are trained to attend to any minor mechanical problems that may be experienced along the way and as such it is rare for a trip to be delayed due to mechanical breakdown
Our trips have 3 crew members - a Driver, Trip Leader and overland Cook. Your driver & cook are generally Kenyan, Zimbabwean, Namibian or South African. They have a wealth of experience and are more than happy to share it with you. Your Trip Leader is generally African, European or Australasian. They have travelled through Africa, either independently or as a passenger. Most of our crew have been on the road for a number of years and have vast experience in running successful trips throughout the route we travel. NB: Your Trip Leader is not a “Tour Guide” in the normal sense. They are not experts in all aspects of the culture, history and wildlife of each area. They are employed to ensure the smooth running of your trip. That said, all of our crew have a passion for Africa and have acquired much knowledge of each area, which they’ll happily share. For more in-depth information there are usually books on board the truck for your use, but if you have a specific interest like bird watching for example, consider hiring one of the specialist guides. Please note that The Mount Kilimanjaro Climb & Best of Botswana are operated by local operators to which the above does not apply, please see the safari Go Guide for further details. Due to circumstances beyond our control, like impassable roads or group safety, it may be necessary to make alterations to the planned itinerary. If this is necessary, the Trip Leader will discuss the problem with the group and alter the itinerary accordingly. The Trip Leader will obviously consider the wishes of the group, but there may be occasions where they have to make an unpopular decision. In ALL matters relating to the trip’s running, the Trip Leader’s decision will be final.
There is no toilet or rest room aboard the truck. If we’re out on the road, we’ll make stops as and when the group require. Don’t expect tidy toilets or restrooms anywhere. Rest rooms are infrequently available. Gas station restrooms are a more common feature in Southern Africa, for example - Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. With no restroom in sight, it’s back to basics. Toilet paper is kept aboard the truck, along with a shovel. Also keep a personal supply of toilet paper in your daypack. Dispose of waste by digging a small hole and burying everything. At campsites, there will be an ablutions block with toilets and showers. Rural or remote campsites may only offer one or two facilities. Expect ‘longdrop’ toilets in remote locations. Water is a precious commodity in many, many parts of Africa. If showering, turn off the water whilst soaping up.
Pack all your gear in a rucksack/backpack for this type of trip. Bring also a daypack, to keep personal items such as your camera, water bottle, reading books and medication to hand. Your rucksack/backpack must not have an exterior frame. Only the soft, flexible variety is permitted. Leave your suitcase at home. Suitcases are a no go. They’re simply not practical.