Africa overland tours are truly unique experiences. Of course, group tours exist all over the world but few involve a huge overland truck where you spend hours of time traversing long distances, sleeping in a tent with a stranger (if you’re travelling solo!) and helping out with “chores” such as washing dishes, cleaning the truck etc. Most people recoiled in horror when I told them I’d be spending 9 weeks travelling from Cape Town to Nairobi with Intrepid on their “Africa Encompassed Northbound” overland tour, wondering why I hadn’t picked a relaxing holiday instead.
I’d never been on a group tour before, so I was super hesitant to make a booking given 9 weeks is a long time to travel with strangers, Intrepid tours aren’t cheap and Africa overland tours famously aren’t glamorous. I was wondering whether it would be worth it; so if you’re like me and wondering whether Intrepid’s overland Africa tours are worthwhile, you’re in the right place!
Please note that Intrepid react to their customer’s feedback regularly and are constantly changing/updating itineraries for maximum enjoyment – the below is correct for my tour (May to July 2023) but some elements of the tour may change.
Intrepid Travel is an Australian company which has been organising group travel tours for over 30 years across all 7 continents, focusing on responsible and sustainable travel, educating tourists and funding local initiatives.
You might have seen “tour groups” around the world – generally they’re an older crowd being herded around crowded destinations by an tour guide who’s powering ahead while waving a flag and hoping the slow group is still following them. It’s safe to say that an Intrepid Africa overland tour isn’t anything like that! Instead, you can expect adventure, off-the-beaten-track destinations and small group sizes filled with like-minded individuals.
Of course, Intrepid aren’t the only company offering Africa overland tours. There are plenty of others on the market. The main differences (that I am aware of) compared to Intrepid are:
G Adventures – Intrepid and G Adventures are the two “big hitters” when it comes to worldwide travel experiences. These were the two companies I researched the most when booking my trip (mostly because I had an extremely limited time frame to travel, and these companies have the most frequent departures, hence they were the only companies who’s dates worked for me). The main difference between the two is that G Adventures limits it’s Africa overland tours to those between the ages of 18 and 39. For a short trip, I’m sure that it’s great to be surrounded by (hopefully) likeminded individuals who are a similar age to you. However, I’m glad that there were a real range of ages on my 9 week tour. There were a number of travellers on my tour who were in their 60s – not only were they just as (or more!) capable than those of us who were in our 20s, part of the joy of travelling is meeting people that you wouldn’t necessarily socalise with in real life. The conversations and life stories shared within our group were always super interesting given the range of ages, nationalities and life experiences.
Acacia Africa – We bumped into the Acacia Africa truck a few times along our journey. They seemed like a great company but there were a few differences to Intrepid. I spent a few days in Zimbabwe (and had some incredible experiences which I wouldn’t want to have missed), whereas Acacia’s longest route doesn’t touch Zimbabwe. In addition to this, their tours are joint camping and accommodated (this means that some of the people on your tour will be camping and others will have paid extra to sleep in “proper” accommodation); as a result, some incredible opportunities (such as sleeping under the stars in Spitzkoppe) may not be included in your itinerary as these campsites don’t have available non-camping accommodation. It also could lead to the social aspect of the tour being slightly stunted – we noticed that the more people who upgraded to accommodation (an option if you are on an Intrepid camping tour), the less social our group became as people would relax in their rooms rather than socalise together in the campsite bar/social area. While Acacia used to be the biggest African overland tour company prior to COVID-19, they seemed to be struggling more so than Intrepid in 2023. For at least 4 weeks of the tour, the group that we kept bumping into was made up of one young solo female traveller (who was camping) and a 70 year old couple (who were accommodated). Hopefully this is a pre-COVID slump and their bookings will increase very soon!
Oasis Overland – The truck we saw most frequently was Oasis. We really enjoyed our time with the travellers on this truck, so I know I would have had a great experience with them. However, you’ll notice that Oasis’ tours are far cheaper than that of Intrepid or G Adventures and there’s a good reason for this. Intrepid trucks have 3 crew members (a guide, a chef and a driver) whereas Oasis trucks have 2 (a guide and a driver). The travellers are expected to go food shopping and prepare all meals (different travellers will have this duty each day). While this is great if you’re travelling on a budget or if you want more control about what you are eating during your trip, I personally wouldn’t want to waste that much time on shopping/cooking. Because of long driving days, you often arrive to a campsite late in the afternoon/evening, having time to set up your tents, get showered and relax for a short while can’t be underestimated. We also witnessed one case of the Intrepid guide being far superior to that of Oasis – a girl on the Oasis tour was stung by an unknown insect/wasp/bee, she was in a lot of pain and her arm was extremely swollen. The Oasis tour guide told her to rest and let it go away by itself whereas our Intrepid guide later heard of the incident and immediately took the first aid kit to her and helped her massively (despite the fact she wasn’t part of our tour group). However, if budget is your priority, Oasis seems like a great option. They also have the widest range of Africa itineraries including a 42 week option (a whopping 293 days!) travelling from Gibraltar down the West coast of Africa and back up the East Coast to Egypt!
Nomad – While we didn’t bump into any Nomad trucks along the way, my tent mate had just finished a Nomad tour in South Africa and only had good things to say about them, other than they share the same issue as Acacia Africa with regards to the joint camping / accommodated tours. I also love that Nomad is a South African company and therefore your money is hopefully staying within Africa rather than the big-wigs in Australia (Intrepid) or Canada (G Adventures) reaping the profits!
The short answer is “everyone”!
Unlike other Africa overland tour companies who limit the age range of their tours (I’m looking at you G Adventures), Intrepid attracts people of all ages which I personally loved. Our group changed slightly over the course of the 9 weeks but our youngest traveller was 23 and our eldest turned 69 whilst on the tour. We had a fair number of travellers between the ages of 23 and 33 and also between 55 and 65 with a few sprinkled in the middle for good measure! Our guide suggested that this was relatively normal, with those in their 20s/30s enjoying long trips before the responsibility of kids/careers/home ownership/etc. kicks in and those in their 50s/60s were enjoying the fruits of their labour after retiring/their kids flying the nest/etc. Age really didn’t matter on our tour, we all got along extremely well.
In terms of nationalities, most travellers were from the UK, Australia and Canada with a few from New Zealand, the USA, Switzerland, Finland and Kenya also joining us along the way.
Our tour was made up entirely of either solo travellers or people travelling in pairs (either with their partner/spouse or a friend). I imagine that a whole family or a larger group of friends joining a tour would change the dynamic significantly.
For a few people on the tour, this was their first big trip abroad without their parents. For some (including me), this was just one stage of a year-long career break spent travelling the world. For others, this was their regular life, taking long trips every year after retiring. And of course several people were enjoying a “normal” 2-3 week holiday from work.
Despite the range of ages, nationalities and travel experience, we all had one uniting bond – our love travel. People in my home-life aren’t necessarily interested in travel (hence I started this blog as a way to discuss my travel experiences!) and it was so lovely to meet such like-minded people. This really resonated with me when I realised that I’d never met anybody in “real life” who had travelled to Easter Island (one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands in the world which I visited in 2018 on my 3 month trip through South America); on the tour, a whopping 6 of us had visited! You can read all about my time on Easter Island by clicking here.
This was my first ever group tour and I was extremely daunted at the idea of travelling for 9 weeks with people that I’d never met. The first leg of our trip had an older demographic than later stages of the tour, so when I stepped onto the truck for the first time in Cape Town, I was suddenly wondering what on earth I’d signed up to. It turns out that I had absolutely no reason to be worried. Our group’s chemistry was instantaneous and you couldn’t get us to shut up half the time and I have definitely made friends for life!
My “Africa Encompassed Northbound” tour was made up of 4 shorter back-to-back tours which could all be booked individually or in combination:
This means that the group dynamic changed every 2-3 weeks in some way or another. The first 3 weeks of our tour (Cape Town to Victoria Falls) was fully booked (i.e. we had the maximum 22 travellers) and the minimum number of travellers we had at any given time was 16.
While the change-up of the group kept things interesting and always gave you new people to talk to, it also led to some extremely difficult goodbyes along the way! Changeover days were always extremely conflicting – I’d feel sad because we’d said goodbye to new friends but also excited for the next leg of the trip.
Intrepid tend to send one set of crew (a leader/guide, a chef and a driver) on a tour from Nairobi to Cape Town over the course of 7 weeks where they get a short break before travelling back up to Nairobi (another 7 week tour) with a new group of tourists.
If you book the full “Africa Encompassed Northbound” overland tour, it’s therefore likely that you’ll have the same crew for the first 7 weeks of the tour. The final 2 weeks (a round trip from Nairobi to Nairobi, passing through Kenya and Uganda) of my tour was serviced by a different crew and truck.
The crew for the first 7 weeks of our tour were absolutely incredible. We had an unusually high number of people (10) who were booked onto the entire trip, so it really felt like we were a little family by the end of those 7 weeks. When we had to say goodbye to the crew in Nairobi, many tears were shed but we were extremely excited for them to be reunited with their families after such a long time on the road.
Our first crew definitely deserve a shout out:
After such an incredible first crew, the second crew had a lot to live up to! Sadly, the overall organisation of the tour went slightly downhill under our new leader’s reign. I won’t dwell on this too much as our group gave extensive feedback to Intrepid (you are required to fill in a feedback form at the end of each section of the tour) and I know that Intrepid are constantly improving the quality of their tours so I hope that these slight organisational issues have been rectified.
Overall, the final 2 weeks of our tour had a much wider gap between the crew and the tourists. Most of the crew couldn’t name more than 3 or 4 travellers within the group and didn’t show any desire to learn names or get to know everyone. While there are potential reasons for this (1. The trip is only 2 weeks long and these guides must meet hundreds of tourists every year doing such short tours; and 2. We had a trainee chef and trainee guide with us too, meaning our crew were more potentially pre-occupied with training), it felt disappointing after such a great first 7 weeks.
Each of the overland trucks is slightly different but all are perfectly comfortable for the journey. As the layout/configuration of each truck is slightly different, it’s hard to say exactly what you might have in store for your journey, but here’s a general indication:
There’s no beating around the bush on this one, you will have to spend a significant amount of time in the truck travelling long distances. Sometimes you’ll wake up super early and jump in the truck after taking down your tent and eating breakfast and then not reach your next campsite until early evening where you’re ready to re-set up your tent, eat dinner, shower and go to bed.
I thought that I’d hate the drive days, but I actually found them to be a breeze. Of course, not everybody felt the same way about them (particularly those who are extremely active – I am quite happy sitting down)!
Our group would plan in advance for super long drive days by having a few activities ready to go. I was the nominated music quiz master and would hook my phone up to a speaker for 30-60 minutes to play songs chosen by the group (we had a few categories along the way such as “one of your favourite songs”, “a song that reminds you of this trip”, “your favourite song from a movie/TV show”, “best song you’ve seen live” etc.) and everyone had to guess the name of the song, artist and who in the group picked that tune.
The people sat in the table seats would usually have a card game or two to play – Uno is always a big hit (no matter your age or nationality!) – but card games were difficult on bumpy roads/windy days as the cards would fly down the truck!
I found it quite easy to pass the time by chatting to my fellow travellers, staring out the window (the scenery is often absolutely gorgeous), writing my daily travel journal, listening to an audiobook (which is great as it allows you to stare out the window still, but cuts you off from the group’s conversations), reading a real book (usually my preference as it meant I could still hear and join in with the group’s conversations) or playing a game on my phone (prepare to get addicted to Candy Crush again)!
Our first leader made sure that we stopped every 2ish hours for a toilet break, of course most of these were “bushy bushy” toilet breaks (i.e. you squat behind a bush) but it’s still nice to have the option to stretch your legs every 2 hours or so.
By the end of the trip, you’ll be calling a 7 hour drive a “short drive” and will be completely unphased by it!
I was expecting the worst when it came to accommodation and facilities. Famously, I left a family camping trip as a teenager on day 1 (before I even had to sleep in the tent…), so I had low expectations for camping life. Thankfullyl, I couldn’t have been more wrong if I tried.
At the beginning of our trip in particular (South Africa and Namibia), the campsites were incredible – beautiful views, pools, WiFi, fully stocked bars, clean bathroom facilities etc. Of course, not every campsite was top-notch; the more rural locations obviously lacked the luxuries of WiFi/pools/bars and campsites near big cities were often sub-par (particularly in Harare, Zimbabwe) but I can count the worse campsites on my fingers (not bad for a 9 week long trip)!
Intrepid provide you with a great quality tent (it was clear that the tents were relatively new during my tour in 2023) and a roll mat to sleep on. The roll mats were generally good, although some were thicker than others depending on usage. What I liked about Intrepid is that I could rent a sleeping bag from for a small fee. This meant I didn’t need to buy one in the UK and lug it halfway across the world with me. My sleeping bag for the first 7 weeks was brand new with the tags on, so I was extremely happy! For the final 2 weeks (after a crew and truck change), I clearly had an older sleeping bag but it was still clean and more than adequate.
If the camping all becomes too much, you can opt to “upgrade” at most campsites (subject to availability), meaning you pay to stay in permanent accommodation rather than pitch your tent. Some of the campsites had incredible upgrades – particularly in Etosha National Park (Namibia) where the luxurious lodges overlooked a busy watering hole where we saw 8 rhinos(!) and South Luwanga National Park (Zambia) where the boujie cabins overlooked a river with hippos and elephants walking right past your room.
There are a few “bushcamps” along the way which means you don’t have any facilities or the option to upgrade, but you are always pre-warned so can shower accordingly (bring a can of dry shampoo with you – we struggled to find it in the supermarkets there!) and even the long-drop toilets at bushcamps aren’t bad. I’ve definitely used much worse toilets elsewhere in the world!
The one thing I can’t deal with is cold showers. This is the thing I was most nervous about before the trip. Thankfully, I only had one freezing cold shower and this was due to a plumbing issue, we returned to the same campsite a few days later after returning from the Okavango Delta and were pleased to hear that the problem had been fixed and the showers were gloriously hot! There were definitely a few lukewarm showers along the way, but they really weren’t that bad – especially on super hot days. If I can deal with them, I can assure you that you can too!
I think there is a knack to showering at the right time. While every campsite was different, generally you wanted to be within the middle of the showering timeline. Those who went to the showers first sometimes struggled as the hot water took a little while to come through. Those who went last sometimes also struggled if the hot water had run out by that point. Some campsites also heated their water using solar, so you want to shower before sunset.
The food we were given was definitely plentiful and varied enough that I personally didn’t get bored. There are obviously a limited number of dishes that the chef can make in very basic campsite kitchens but they do a fantastic job. Regular dishes included pasta, various stews and curries, rice, vegetables, potatoes, soups (which were so delicious!), salads etc.
My favourite nights were when the crew treated us to a Kenyan feast – handmade delicious chapatis (a slightly thicker and flakier version of the Indian bread by the same name which you’re probably more familiar with), ugali (a spongy side dish made from cornmeal), a stew and vegetables.
Allergies and dietary requirements were catered for well within the first 7 weeks of our tour. However, the standards slipped with our new crew who seemingly didn’t prepare enough food for vegetarians and struggled with the concept of a vegan diet. If you have dietary requirements, definitely include these on your booking form and then have a chat with the chef when you first join the tour.
Intrepid’s tour price covers a fair number of “included activities” with additional “optional activities” available for a fee.
When considering the value for money of Intrepid’s tour compared to other tour companies, the included activities are something you definitely want to pay attention to. The most expensive item is definitely the Mountain Gorilla Permit & Trek (which would cost you $800+ if booked independently in Uganda, even more in Rwanda). My Intrepid tour also included a whopping twelve safaris, and lets be honest, if you’re signing up to an Africa overland tour, you love wildlife and safaris!
Aside from the above, some of my favourite inclusions were:
One of the biggest “pros” of a group tour with Intrepid is that someone has expertly curated an itinerary for you and you don’t need to exert any effort! However, that’s also one of the biggest “cons” if you’re a little bit “Type A” like me and have usually done realms of research and planning to create the perfect trip for you.
Overall, I was happy with the itinerary provided by Intrepid, other than a few points:
The benefit of travelling with Intrepid is that you get to experience some off-the-beaten track destinations that would be difficult to access (or you wouldn’t know exist!) if you were travelling by yourself.
Your health and safety is your tour leader’s main priority – just think of the amount of admin they need to complete if something goes wrong… nobody wants that! 😉
I never felt like my health or safety were compromised in any way shape or form during the first 7 weeks of our tour as:
Sadly, during our final 2 weeks with a different crew, the standards slipped slightly. We had a nasty stomach bug making its way around the group and the crew didn’t seem particularly interested in trying to help us stop it spreading. We had to buy our own big sanitising spray for people to use and we had many duplicate numbers on tents and roll mats meaning people were accidentally swapping sleeping equipment. When I fell ill at the Ugandan border (due to heat stroke), my fellow travellers looked after me as the guide was no where to be seen (in her defense, we did have some major truck/logistics issues that day that she needed to sort). Of course, none of this was too big of an issue as we’re all adults and know how to look after ourselves/sort out issues!
I found Intrepid’s customer service to be extremely hit and miss. In this section, I’m referring to the booking process and the ability to contact Intrepid before your trip rather than the crew leading the tour on the ground.
If there was one thing I could do to improve Intrepid’s service for Africa overland tours, it would be for a package of invitation / host letters to be automatically generated and issued to everyone upon booking which cover all countries visited on your tour. While visas are absolutely the responsibility of the traveller, it would be so much easier and more convenient if the relevant documentation was provided in advance to save any confusion. The letters follow a very simple template which are currently subject to human error, an automated process which produces letters for all countries would then give the traveller the ability to filter through what they do or don’t need (as not all nationalities will need visas for all countries).
I had a few interactions with Intrepid’s “Live Chat” feature, all with varying degrees of success:
It goes without saying that Intrepid Africa overland tours aren’t cheap but I do think they are absolutely worth the money if you’re willing to get your hands dirty, aren’t looking for a luxurious trip and want to experience off-the-beaten-path destinations!
If you’re considering booking an Africa overland tour, you should read my other posts too (especially if you’re looking to book with Intrepid!):
If you found this post helpful, be sure to pin it for later!