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Overlanding in Africa with G Adventures
Africa is a continent that begs to be explored. It’s landscapes are diverse, it has some of the most incredible wildlife, it feels like the ultimate adventure and it is just an incredible place. But, is it the easiest to travel around? Probably not. If this part of the world is calling you but you are not sure how to make it work, overlanding in Africa is the answer! If you have never travelled Africa before, or have no one to go with and don’t want to go solo, or are looking for some lifelong friendships – then an overland tour of Africa might be the trip for you!
I have taken two trips overlanding in Africa with G Adventures, both 18-30 something camping tours. So I have put this post together to share what to expect, how it works, and why should you go!
My first was a 12 day trip to Kenya and Uganda, with the main highlight being Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impentrable Forest in Uganda. This tour now also includes a visit to the Masi Mara (can I go back and do it again?), so definitely one for the bucketlist.
My second was a two week tour through Botswana, Zimbabwe and Kruger in South Africa. As far as bucketlist adventures go, I cannot recommend this trip enough!
What is an overlanding in Africa tour?
First things first, what does overlanding in Africa really entail? A group travel tour, which involves journeying through the continent on a custom built overland vehicle. It does involve long travel days, but it is a very convenient way to travel. Everything you need for the trip is thought of. It doesn’t necessarily mean it is easy however. What you need to bring with most of all, is a sense of adventure!
The Basics – Overlanding in Africa
Picking a tour – Overlanding in Africa
How do you begin? There are so many things to consider when thinking about booking an trip overlanding in Africa.
Firstly, if you think camping isn’t for you be aware that G Adventures offers many travel styles! 18-thirty something tours are more basic, and the accommodation is tents.
The classic tours have smaller groups, private mini vans and less nights camping.
If you want even greater luxury, and to get even more exploration, then there are National Geographic tours which might be the tour for you!
BUT if you are up for an adventure, I cannot recommend the 18-thirty somethings tours enough.
When deciding what is right for you consider the following:
- Length. Day 1 of the tours start at 6pm, with a welcome meeting. The last day is always depart at anytime. Because of this I look at tours that are up to 15 day, so I can fit with annual leave.
- Destinations. G Adventures cover many countries on their overlanding in Africa adventures, so do your research and find out which countries are the one for you.
- Experience. Some tours are focused on the wildlife, some on the experiences and all have an element of interatcing with the local communities. Take a look at which experience feels right for you.
Who are your guides? Overlanding in Africa
With all G Adventures overlanding tours, you have two amazing guides with you for the length of the tour. Known as ‘CEO’s’ (Chief Experience Officers), and on both tours I have been on, they have been beyond fantastic.
They act as lead guides, drivers, chefs, camping support, political advisors, knowledge gurus, entertainment, and, most importantly, friends throughout. The dedication to the tour, and the patience they show throughout is remarkable. Quite simply, G tours wouldn’t be G tours without them.
They will be in charge of getting you to and from each destination, each day and on time! They have all the advice and knowledge when it comes to border crossings. Advice on what snacks, food, drinks to buy and where to get the beers from. Picking up and shopping for everything for meals, group briefings on the first day and each day on the tour, solving any problems, handling accommodation or tour bookings, local tips, teaching you key words, keeping the spirit up and, any other question you could possible think to ask! As well as the most incredible amount of local knowledge. G guides are locally employed; mine were from Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
How you travel around – overlanding in Africa
There is no way around it, overlanding in Africa is going to involve many long travel days. Some days involve up to 8 hours driving. There is just no other way to cover this kind of distance unless you want to spend a lot of money or be on the road for months.
The good news though! Firstly, it is absolutely worth it. And long travel days have a beauty to them. Secondly, with G Adventures you are in a purpose built vehicle, especially designed for you and your group. They are big, they are purple, and they are the best type of vehicle you want to be in when handling those African roads. A lot of the journeys you will hear the words ‘African massage’. If you know, you know.
The big purple lando
‘It’s a Lando, not a bus! ‘
Basically a mantra of the tour. And if anything is going to upset your CEO, it is calling their beloved lando a bus. It is so much more than a bus. If there was ever a sign of how much the lando’s mean to them, one of my CEO’s had one tattooed on his arm!
It becomes your home, and you will find yourself incredibly attached to it. And afterwards you will think of the lando with such a sense of nostalgia.
These vehicles have been designed to house everything you need for the tour. From space for luggage, charging points, fridges, storage underneath for the kitchen and tents, a place on the roof for mattresses – everything has been thought of. As you spend so much time on the lando, it becomes your home. As well as getting you from destination to destination.
How to keep yourself entertained
The travel days are long, so come prepared with entertainment.
Even those who maintain they cannot nap, find themselves being lulled to sleep by the travel days on the lando. However, naps only pass a certain amount of time.
Download films, shows and music on to your phone before you arrive, wifi is patchy at best. Bring books, or at least one large one like I do – Lord of the Rings! And bring a journal to write on the move. While your writing might not be the best, it is part of the fun to guess what you wrote when you get home!
Personally, I do often suffer from travel sickness, but somehow find it fine to read on the lando.
However you choose to entertain yourself, there are long travel days – sometimes 8+ hours, so it is best to come prepared.
The other incredible way to pass the time? Look out of the window! You are here to see Africa after all, and there is no better way to see it than from the window of a lando.
How to stay comfy
Roomy, airy clothes are definitely the way forward. Even on hotter days, I actually found loose trousers to be the most comfortable. Depending on the time of year you are travelling, Africa can get cold. I was widely unprepared for this, so make sure you have a scarf and jumper handy on travel days.
Store things in the over head shelves, so that your feet area is kept free.
The seats do recline, but having a travel pillow with you will make napping a whole lot easier.
There is aircon, although this isn’t often used – usually it is ‘African air-con’. Basically, the windows are open.
What to pack for travel days
Your main ‘big’ bags are stored in the back of the lando, and are all but inaccessible during the day. Therefore, make sure you have everything you need with you in your day bag. The lando has an overhead shelves to store stuff you want to have access to. As well as pockets in the backs of each seat.
I would recommend keeping the following with you in the lando at all times:
- Travel pillow
- Books, journal, headphones
- Jumper and warm clothes
- Spare pair of socks
- Binoculars, camera and lens (in case you head straight from lando to an activity)
- All chargers
Tents and camping – overlanding in Africa
As mentioned, overlanding in Africa with G Adventures, involves camping. So what to expect?
Unless you have chosen to pay more, you will be sharing a tent with someone. This means you have a buddy to put your tent up with! You’ll both be responsible for putting it up each night, and taking it down each morning. It takes no more than ten minutes to put up and take down, and by the end of the tour you might have this down to five.
The mattresses are unloaded from the top of the lando, and fit easily into the tent. With space in the middle to store bags. I was initially a little worried about how I would sleep, but they are surprisingly comfy and I had to be kicked awake most mornings!
What you need to bring vs what you are provided with
As above, G Adventures provides you with the tent and the mattress. You need to bring your own pillow and sleeping bag. A sleeping bag liner is also incredibly handy if the nights get a little chilly. And the most useful thing you can bring? A headt orch! Makes finding things in the tent, and going to the loo in the dark, a whole lot easier.
Ear plugs are also a useful addition, if you are a lighter sleeper. I would say an eye mask, except nearly every morning it is dark when you wake up anyway…
The campsites do vary in quality and facilities. Some have Wifi, some have pools, some have fancy bars. But most will, at the very least, be able to provide you with a beer!
But they have been picked for a reason, whether it is the best place to break up two long drives, it is close to an activity, is run by the loveliest people or it happens to be in the middle of a beautiful area! One of the first campsites was in the middle of Kalahari desert, in a rhino sanctuary.
There are some campsites where you can choose to upgrade for a night. Sometimes to a permanent tent and sometimes to a cabin or hotel room. I wouldn’t suggest doing this every night, camping is part of the fun! But if you just need a break for a night, it is a possibility. Your CEO will be able to let you which sites offer this, and how much.
Every campsite had showers, although the water wasn’t always hot. If you are travelling when it is incredibly hot, this might not be the worst thing. If you aren’t, then you might not fancy a shower every night.
Baby wipes are your friend, and one of the most useful things you can travel with. Some members of the group like to shower every day, I often couldn’t be bothered. Between baby wipes, cleanish clothes and a shower (nearly) every other day, you are more than lando ready.
A lot of the meals on your overlanding tour are going to be cooked by the amazing CEO; who whips out a kitchen from the bottom of the lando. Food will vary from CEO to CEO, but I am still impressed that after a long travel day they suddenly produce a meal for 24 people. All dietary requirements are taken into account; we had veggies, vegan, dairy free and gluten free on our tour. Plus, there is always plenty of food, so seconds were the norm.
Breakfast is included every day. For really early starts it is more basic, but on the slower paced day there were eggs, sausages, bacon and beans.
Early starts become the norm
Let’s not sugar coat this, early starts are the order of the day. At one point, being told we weren’t leaving until 7.30am (which meant a 6am alarm) earned a cheer. Mornings follow the same pattern: pack up the tent, load the lando, breakfast, wash up and pack and roll out! I am not the best in the morning, but trust me when I say you do get used to them.
They are also early for a reason. It might be trying to get ahead of the crowds to get through a border crossing quicker, because there is a really long day of travel ahead or because the activity requires it. Early mornings are so so worth it when you get to see a pride of lions or a herd of elephants at dawn. You have no choice, so get used to them!
Team work makes the dream work
And how does a lot of the above happen? How do a large group get up, packed, breakfasted, loaded and out before 6am? Team work! Most G Adventures tours overlanding in Africa have a chore rota. The group is split into groups of 4 or 5, and tasks that need to be done are split out. These included packing / unpacking the lando, helping with food prep, washing up, and cleaning the lando.
It might feel that you have come away to not do these kind of things! But it is no more than 10-20 minutes of the day. The tasks might take some getting used to, but they aren’t difficult and massively contribute to group moral and bonding. Don’t be that person who tries to shirk off each time. It is noticed, and it is definitely noted…
Practicalities – overlanding in Africa
Safety and Security
For this kind of trip, you are going to have valuables on you. Cash, passports, camera equipment etc. And you are going to want to make sure it is safe!
Firstly, do not leave anything in your tent when you are not in it. Often you will set up the tent nearby the lando and not be far away at all times. But there are a lot of times when you go off for dinner or activities and your tent isn’t being watched. No insurance policy will cover you for anything taken from your tent.
The best place to leave things of value, is in the lando. It is locked up each time everyone is away from camp, and also overnight once the CEO and driver has gone to sleep. No one has access to it after this time, until the next day.
Visa requirements vary from country to country, and country of passport issue. It can also change depending on when a country has updated it’s requirements.
For Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda I got my visa in advance, and an East Africa one, which meant I could pass between the borders without needing to get additional. For South Africa and Botswana I got them on the border. For Zimbabwe, I bought an e-visa online, and wish I hadn’t It actually took longer to issue than those who bought there’s then and there.
The best advice is to do your research ahead of time. The G Adventures notes do give advice, but check local guidance as well. G recommended to get the Zim visa in advance, for example. But make sure to have cash with you – visa costs are not included in your tour price.
Currency and money
Africa, being Africa, means that you can’t always rely on finding an ATM and it working, or not to charge you huge fees. I have always been able to get money out, but not necessarily as soon as I arrived.
Always make sure to travel with a good supply of US Dollars. This is the easiest currency to exchange at bureau de change. It is also the preferred currency in some countries, such as Zimbabwe. Equally a lot of the campsites accept it, and it can be used as tips. The only places you might struggle are small local shops and markets, which is when it is good to have a stash of small local currency notes.
When travelling with large amounts of cash, have some that is easy to access. But divide the rest up and put it in different places in your belongings. I have some in my backpack, some in my day bag and across different purses and wallets.
Your CEO will be on hand to advise how much activities and food cost in each place, and also the best place to withdraw or exchange cash. Make sure to have a currency conversion app downloaded to your phone, and update it just before you leave home. It is the easiest way to work out the approx. cost of something. The G Adventures app even has this feature.
Finally make sure to travel with more than one debit card. I use Monzo, as it doesn’t charge for oversea use.
It is easier to stay charged up than you think! All of the seats in the lando have a USB charging point underneath the seat in front. I also took a USB C to USB adapter with me to make sure I could charge everything. I also recently bought a charger for my camera that also runs on USB, rather than the three pronged plug. However, there is a set of plugs at the back for devices that need this – the lando just needs to be running.
WiFi and staying connected
Don’t get your hopes up. There is some wifi, in some campsites. But it is not fast or reliable.
In some countries, G can provide you a data allowance on the lando, but it is just about enough to check your instagram feed, but not play stories. It doesn’t work in all African countries.
Some of the campsites have wifi, but again it is not fast. It is also not always free, and at least half the time, there just isn’t any.
Best advice? Embrace it! It felt amazing to be that disconnected, and enjoy the moment.
What is included in your G tour in terms of activities, does vary from tour to tour, make sure to check the itinerary before you book. As a rule, Classic tours include more than 18 – thirty something ones.
Most tours are based around one amazing experience, and this will be included. On my Botswana, Zimbabwe and Kruger trip – the Okavango delta was included in Botswana, Matobo National Park in Zim and a safari in the lando in Kruger. In Kenya and Uganda the gorilla trekking was included in the cost of the tour.
What is included in each tour is all your travel, all your accommodation and an amount of meals. On a tour that is overlanding in Africa, all breakfasts will be included and the majority of evening meals.
Optional activities – Overlanding in Africa
There are a huge amount of optional activities that you can choose to take part in, to enhance your experience. My advice, is to go for it. They might seem expensive, but I don’t think I will ever regret the river cruise down the Nile in Jinja, Uganda or seeing Victoria Falls from a helicopter in Zimbabwe.
Before you head to Africa, take a look at the activities on offer to take note of the price. You can book these before you go, if you want to pay less when you are away. However, if you aren’t sure most of them can be booked while you are there and your CEO will help you book onto them. Just make sure you have enough cash to cover what you want to do.
You definitely don’t have to do all the activities, sometimes it is just nice to have a bit of downtime.
Downtime – Overlanding in Africa
As just mentioned, if you choose to do all or a lot of the activities, there isn’t a huge amount of downtime. These tours are full on. But it does make the odd afternoon by the pool so much more special. There are some days when an early start means you get to campsite early afternoon, and the chill time feels extra valuable. Make sure to have a pack of cards and some cash for beers, and you are all set.
G Adventures overland tours are for a maximum of 22 people – a seat each on the lando! If you travel off peak season, there might be less – there were 14 of us in Uganda. But, as your CEO will keep saying, these group of people become your family for the duration of your trip. It is an intense experience and period of time to spend with a group of people you have never met before. But this comes with it’s own special feeling. Within days, you will feel like you have known these people forever, will be sharing everything and it is quite a bond. I have made friends for life through these tours.
Sometimes your tour will be made up of a few different tours, which means you might join when some people have already been travelling together. Or you might lose some tour mates along the way, and then gain new ones. It is always a weird day when the people change. But be accepting and friendly, and soon it will feel like the family again!
Regardless of the tipping etiquette of your country, it is generally expected that you tip on these tours, and within the African Tourism community in general. Tips are not included in the cost of the tour, so make sure to have some cash available. Make sure to factor tips into your budget.
For day trips and activities, your CEO can advise on how much to tip individuals.Your CEO and driver will also be deserving of a tip at the end. Again, G can advise on this but somewhere between $5-$10 per day, per person would be a good guideline.
Beautiful Africa – Overlanding in Africa
You need patience and a sense of humour to travel Africa, but it will be so worth it. G Adventures make this incredible continent accessible, and you will leave with memories of a lifetime.
Sunsets over the Zambezi, standing metres from a giraffe, party boats on the nile, torch light bush toilet breaks, laughing over beers, elephants crossing the road in front of you, scorpions by a campfire, bush walks with rhinos, gorillas climbing down trees, muddy horse rides, waterfalls from the air, hearing chimps calling, walking through tea plantations, finally seeing the big five, fighting over binoculars, early nights, early mornings, border crossings, card games, eating caterpillars, chilling by the pool.
I wouldn’t change any of it for anything.
Beautiful Africa. I shall never forget beautiful Africa.
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