Africa for most people is an elusive travel destination – no-one you really know has experienced it, so it tends to get overlooked for the usual suspects… think European summer or a ski season in Canada.
However, for me and my boyfriend, who had done Europe and were looking for a hot, adventurous holiday, it was right up our alley. We decided on two weeks in Egypt and three weeks on an East African safari – the perfect five-week adventure.
The typical reply we got when explaining our travel idea to family and friends was “oh god please come back alive.” It’s no secret that Africa isn’t the safest destination on the map – in fact smart-traveller advised us to reconsider our need to travel there. But we were set, and for anyone that knows me, once my mind is made up there is no stopping me. Plus, we figured that at this stage there was risk in travelling anywhere. We did decide to book group tours which I would definitely recommend, as while I felt safe 99% of the time it was mostly due to the presence of our local guides. We booked both our tours through On The Go, and were set to leave in early December.
Our time in East Africa was spent on the Wildlife Express tour by On The Go (See full itinerary HERE). The tour took us through six incredible countries – Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Twenty-two days getting around in an overland truck and sleeping mostly in a tent. This is the part that isn’t for everyone. Actually, I’m sure I said it wasn’t for me at least 70 times before we booked it (and again after). I’m definitely not a princess, but at a certain point in your life you learn the true value of a good night’s sleep in a decent bed.
Despite my preliminary concerns I actually took quite well to tent-life and would have no hesitation in booking another tour with tent accommodation. Overland safaris aren’t a relaxing holiday – they are an adventure and we embraced it. Of course, you can find tours which include five-star accommodation at lodges across Africa, just don’t expect it to be quite so cost effective.
Our first few days in East Africa were spent in Nairobi, Kenya. We arrived with a full day before our tour started, so On The Go organised for us to go to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Centre, and the Giraffe Centre. Both are not for profit organisations which help and protect the iconic local wildlife. We got to interact with orphaned elephants, watch them feed, and learn about the amazing projects the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has established.
At the Giraffe Centre we got to feed the Rothschild Giraffes, which were once endangered. As a result of the breeding initiatives of the Giraffe Centre, the species status has improved to ‘near threatened’ and continues to improve. The day was an amazing introduction to East Africa, and an important reminder of the work that needs to be done to protect our wildlife.
When most of us think of an African holiday we think game drives! And game drive we did! The morning of our first game drive there was an air of excitement pulsing through the group. We were in AFRICA! about to see some ANIMALS!
We spent the morning in the Ngorongoro crater and the evening in the Serengeti spotting every character out of the Lion King – and soon had spotted 4 of the big 5. A pride of lions walked right in front of our vehicle, coming within touching distance. This was a rare experience, as usually lions sleep during the day.
The night of our first game drive we camped in the Serengeti amongst the wildlife. This meant no leaving our tent during the night, and no food in our tents as the animals could sniff it out. What an experience! We had hyenas sniffing and scratching around our tent and heard the roar of a lion at dawn (this might sound insane to some people, but we honestly loved this experience and being so close to the animals).
We visited four game parks over the 22 days and had more than one game drive at every location – and one river cruise. This allowed us to see so many different animals including hippos, dung beetles (pushing dung balls up a hill), leopards, giraffes, lions and so much more.
On our final game drive we saw a kill. When you’re on safari you quickly realise that this is a ‘bucket list’ experience. It’s rare to see because most animals hunt at night, so it’s usually missed. We witnessed a pride of lions hunt a buffalo, and I doubt I’ll ever forget the sound of ripping flesh as the lions attacked. Definitely not an experience for the weak stomached, but a real part of the natural world that was truly astonishing to see firsthand.
Zanzibar was the beach escape we needed after a few long drives and our first week in tents. The ferry over was PACKED – get on board asap or you’ll be standing (or sitting outside in the searing sun). Luckily our tour guide knew this and herded us all on quickly, so we had seats inside where there was aircon.
When we landed on the island our passports had to be checked for Tanzania visas, which was a long process – make sure you’re not in a rush if you’re traveling during peak season. Once this process was over it was smooth sailing. We spent one night in Stone Town exploring, and two on the other side of the island in Nungwi/Kendwa, which are known for their beautiful beaches.
Stone Town had beautiful markets winding through the cobblestoned streets, which were amazing just to wander through. They also had a night food market on the beachfront where local acrobats and performers entertained. On the other side of the island we stayed in bungalows on the beach. We had the option to partake in a range of activities through On The Go but opted to have a few relaxing days doing our own thing and soaking up our time by the sea (we’re both water babies). It was lovely to experience both sides of Zanzibar – I would definitely recommend a few nights in Stone Town, and a few at the other end by the beach.
We were lucky enough to have New Year’s Eve fall on the second day we were in Zanzibar so had an awesome booze-cruise and beach party to bring in the new year! At this point in the trip we’d gotten to know everyone pretty well so we had a great night with the crew – truly cannot think of anything better.
I have to mention Malawi because of its beauty, but also because of the way the locals touched my heart. We camped right on the shore of Lake Malawi at Kande Beach. Whilst we were warned the lake was home to a certain parasite, and potentially crocodiles, we were told the likelihood of them being present in this part of the lake was low, so we took our chances at swimming. The local kids were splashing happily about, which we took as a positive sign (locals always know best).
A bunch of our tour group paid a local to take us out to Kande Island where we snorkelled, jumped off the cliffs and explored. Crocodiles and parasites weren’t stopping me once the sweltering sun was bearing down on us.
As part of our tour we were offered an optional Malawi village tour – however we chose to book through a local man for a slightly cheaper price (we ended up paying more because we wanted to tip him for his service as well). It was eye-opening seeing how some of the people in the village lived. Kande village had one well which they had to hand pump water from, and a one room hospital. It was shocking to see the lack of equipment and staff – they had ONE doctor for the whole village!
Before heading to the lakeside town, we made a pit-stop at a supermarket to stock up on toys and stationery. We gave them out to children and to the school for allowing us to come through their village. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa, so they rely on gifts from visitors to keep up school supplies and toys/equipment for the children. Despite being incredibly poverty stricken the locals all had smiles painted on their faces and the children were eager to hold our hands and show us around their school. It was so heart-warming!
Victoria Falls spans the border between Zanzibar and Zimbabwe and is the largest waterfall in the world based on the amount of water that flows from it. It’s incredible to witness such a vast amount of water – but bring an umbrella or poncho because the spray is hectic!
Zimbabwe is also considered the adrenaline capital of Africa. You can choose to fly over Victoria Falls, swim to the edge of Devil’s Pool, swing through the canyon or bungee off a bridge. We opted for the latter – something I won’t be doing again anytime soon. I can now say I’ve been pushed off a bridge though, so that’s a win, right?
I’d definitely recommend having a few days in Vic Falls, as there are so many activities on offer. Our tour finished in Zimbabwe and we wish we had booked an extra few days to explore.
Our African adventure was my favourite holiday to date for so many reasons. The people, the culture, the animals and the sheer difference from anything I have ever experienced. Africa is certainly an adventure, and not for everyone, but we found if you dive headfirst into the experience it is amazing. There’s a saying in Africa for when things go wrong – when the WIFI is down, when the truck is stopped for twenty minutes because of wildlife on the roads, or when there is no hot water for showers – “T.I.A.” This is Africa – a phrase which is used to shrug off all the inconveniences and surprises that come with the territory of a holiday in Africa. Once you accept that nothing is going to go just as planned it makes for one hell of an adventure.
Shayne is a recent law and finance graduate who loves to travel and write. She has travelled quite extensively during her time at uni and plans to continue. Africa is her favourite holiday destination to date. You can find her writing, including other travel blogs at www.thesodiaries.com.