I’d longingly read Africa overland tour itineraries covering for years. Africa is my favourite continent and being able to spend an extended amount of time exploring was my dream. However, the itineraries can look extremely daunting and I was always left wondering “Should I book this?! Can I handle 64 days with complete strangers?! Will I enjoy a tour where I have to camp and help out with chores?!”
Well, in 2023, my dream became reality and all my fears were put to rest when I embarked on Intrepid’s “Africa Encompassed Northbound” overland tour, a 9 week group adventure through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
If you’re feeling as intimidated by an Africa overland tour as I was, you’re in the right place. This blog post will cover EVERYTHING you need to know before taking the plunge and making a booking!
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.
Have you ever booked a group tour before? If not, there are some basics that you need to consider:
I have never booked a group tour (let alone a 9 week Africa overland tour!) before this experience – I was always convinced that group tours weren’t for me. I am an avid planner and absolutely love to research trips, feeling like I’ve really maximised my time in a destination and seen as much as possible.
Immediately prior to my Africa trip, I spent 7 months travelling through Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia, so it’s safe to say that I had got my fix of “planning” and was ready for someone else to take over the reigns! Also, as a solo female traveller, it made sense for me to tackle Africa with a group tour. We travelled to some really remote areas that I’d not have been able to access easily or safely on my own.
Given the increased cost and lack of control, I’ll stick to independent travel for “easy” destinations. But my experience with Intrepid was so brilliant that I would absolutely not hesitate to book another tour to other “difficult to travel” destinations. I’ve got my eye on Central Asia next!
There are a plenty of other companies that provide Africa overland tours and I think you’ll have a fantastic experience with any of them (Africa is so incredible, it would be hard to be miserable!) but I am glad that I booked with Intrepid. While I personally haven’t experienced tours with other companies, we did bump into other tour groups along the way and picked up a few tips/pointers:
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 were always super interesting given the range of ages in the group.
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 chill out in the campsite bar/social area. While Acacia used to be the biggest African overland tour company prior to COVID-19, they seem 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 20-something year old girl (who was camping) and a 70-something 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!
I was in an extremely fortunate position to be able to book onto the longest Africa overland tour offered by Intrepid (the “Africa Encompassed Northbound” tour spans 9 weeks), but don’t worry if you aren’t able to travel for that long! A quick look at the Intrepid website will tell you that there are tonnes of Africa based tours to choose from, so there will definitely be something that meets your requirements.
The “Africa Encompassed” tour is actually 4 smaller tours which run consecutively, my thoughts on each of these sections are:
I truly loved this section of the tour as it mostly focuses on Namibia which is an incredibly beautiful country. Within this section of the tour, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to stunning scenery and incredible wildlife – our campsite in Etosha National Park overlooked a huge watering hole where we watched tonnes of animals (including 8 rhinos!) for hours after sunset. This section lacks slightly in cultural opportunities, other than an optional trip to a Township in Swakopmund which I enjoyed (the entire experience is great but learning about the Herero culture was a personal highlight) but makes up for it in abundance with wildlife and scenery.
There are some absolutely epic activities on this section of the trip – tracking rhinos on foot in Matobo National Park and exploring the Great Zimbabwe Ruins (both of which are in Zimbabwe) were overall trip highlights for me. This section had more of a cultural focus which was fantastic, especially given that the first leg of our trip was more scenery/wildlife centered.
However, this section does also feature some incredibly long travel days and 3 border crossings (which can be tiresome and time consuming) in a short timespan. If I were going to book one single leg, it probably wouldn’t be this one as you’d feel like you were constantly moving and not seeing much.
This tour is set entirely in Tanzania until the final day of where you cross the border into Kenya before the tour ends in Nairobi. The Usumbara Mountains are beautiful and the Serengeti National Park is obviously a highlight for any travel within Africa and is a great length of time for someone who can only get 2 weeks off work at any given time.
This is a 16 day round trip which starts and ends in Nairobi – perfect for ease of flights in and out of the same airport. This section of the trip has two of my trip highlights – trekking with gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and safari in the Masai Mara. Our game drives in the Masai Mara were by far the most incredible safaris of our entire trip – we got extremely lucky with how many big cats we managed to spot in one day!
Various combinations of the above tours are also available (i.e. combining 2, 3 or all 4 legs of the tour), so be sure to scour the Intrepid website to find one which suits you. I booked all 4 legs of the tour within the “Africa Encompassed Northbound” tour.
There are pros and cons to booking the full Africa Encompassed tour vs each section in smaller segments. Overall, I don’t think there is a right or a wrong answer, it just depends on your travel style:
Of course, an obvious item to consider is how much time you are able to take off work / spend abroad in one stint. If you can only take 2 to 3 week trips, that’s absolutely fine! You can space the various shorter Africa overland tours out over a few years in order to complete the whole route. However, if you are able to take 9 weeks off work, I would recommend booking the entire tour in one stint to avoid paying for multiple airfares to keep returning to Africa to do all the tours you are interested in.
There are a few destinations along the way where I would have loved to have spent a few more days, sometimes these were destinations which were the start/end of a new tour section, so the travellers who were joining us may have spent an extra few days in the starting destination which I was always super jealous of!
The main example of this is Zanzibar. If my tour started/ended in Zanzibar, I would have given myself a few more days to relax and enjoy the island. If you are staying on an Intrepid tour on either side of your time in Zanzibar (like I was), you will only get 2-3 days to explore, some of which will be eaten up by travel time. It’s not possible to do all of the activities on offer in that time (and some of them sounded great!), especially when you need to take some time to relax like we did.
My tour group was always relatively big (ranging from 16 to the maximum capacity 22 passengers) but everyone gelled incredibly well and we were (for the most part) one big happy family. Our crew (guide, chef and driver) for the first 7 weeks of our trip helped to instill this family atmosphere from the offset. The Intrepid staff who do the long legs of the tour (Nairobi to Cape Town, then back again) often spend more time on tour than with their actual family.
I had 10 travellers on my tour who completed the full 9 weeks from Cape Town to Nairobi (apparently this is an extremely high percentage of the group compared to other trips) and we had the same crew for the first 7 weeks. Those first 7 weeks therefore had an incredible family atmosphere – many many tears were shed when the time came to say goodbye.
When our group changed dramatically (including the crew) for the final two weeks, we noticed that this atmosphere changed greatly. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing, lots of people just want a 2-3 week holiday.
While I had an incredible experience, the reverse may happen and you might end up with fellow travellers that you aren’t a fan of, in which case 9 weeks is an extremely long time to be stuck with them!
The entire 9 week Africa Encompassed trip is available in both a Northbound and a Southbound option. I booked the Northbound option and it was *perfect* for me. A few options were taking into consideration when making this decision:
While both options worked for me, the Northbound version fit more comfortably between two weddings that I had to be in the UK for. I was also able to score cheaper flights on this route (flying into Cape Town and out of Nairobi).
I started the tour in May (Autumn in Africa) and ended the tour in July (Summer in Africa). South Africa can get extremely cold in Winter, so I decided that travelling towards the equator as we headed into Winter would give me the best chance of good weather.
When travelling Northbound, the final two weeks have two of the biggest highlights of the trip for me (gorilla trekking and safari in the Masai Mara). Given I had such an incredible experience on safari in the Masai Mara, there’s a chance that any safaris after this (if I were travelling Southbound) would have felt a little bit flat. By travelling Northbound, you’re saving two of the best activities for last.
If you’ve thoroughly read the “Essential Trip Information” (“ETI”) on Intrepid’s website and you don’t feel scared by it, then yes the tour probably is right for you. If you do feel some level of apprehension after reading the ETI, don’t worry, I don’t blame you. The ETI can be daunting and certainly should be taken seriously, but hopefully I can help to ease some of your concerns!
At the time of my tour, I was 28 and had a reasonable level of fitness (mostly by virtue of being 28 and having a decent metabolism rather than because I spent any time exercising/preparing for any strenuous activity). I get quite out of breath when walking uphill and have absolutely zero upper body strength, yet I survived just fine. The things that helped me were:
Something else to consider is your mobility – a few of the safari jeeps we used in National Parks were hard to get in/out of, you had to be comfortable with climbing up with limited places to put your feet/stabilize yourself. If you have issues with mobility, this may be difficult.
On the flip side, you may struggle with this tour if you’re an extremely active person. We had a few people who really struggled with long days spent on the truck who felt like they weren’t getting enough exercise. Long drives are required when travelling through these countries (unless you want to fly everywhere, but then you miss out on seeing so much) and while they can drag (although I personally never minded them), the end destination is always worth it.
In my opinion, your attitude is the most important thing to consider when deciding whether a group overland tour is right for you. Your group will no doubt coin the phrase “This is Africa” (or “TIA” for short) during the trip as some things will inevitably go wrong, that’s just the nature of overland travel. How you’re able to deal with these hiccups will determine how much you enjoy the trip. It will also impact the enjoyment of your fellow passengers – remember, you’re spending a considerable amount of time with these people, often in the confines of a truck. If a few people are in a bad mood, it can lower the mood of the entire group, which isn’t fun for anyone.
An “oh well, shit happens” attitude is the best approach. When I’m at home, I can be quite anxious, stressed and quick to snap with those I’m close to; however, I was having the absolute best time of my life while on tour and couldn’t even fathom not being in a good mood even when:
You will be travelling with strangers for a considerable amount of time. Of course, not everybody will have the same thoughts/opinions/views on the world as you. While healthy debates and discussions are fine (so long as everyone is comfortable and aware that this is just an interesting discussion), it’s not worth getting irate. Causing arguments and drama on the tour isn’t fun for anybody and causes huge rifts throughout the group.
Aside from my fitness levels, the thing I was most concerned about was having to follow someone else’s itinerary. I had never been on a group tour before and my favourite kind of travel is long-term slow travel. A few years ago, I spent 3 months in South America and immediately prior to this trip, I’d just spent 4 months in Australia, 2 months in New Zealand and 1 month in Indonesia. I love planning, and always give myself more than enough time to see and explore a destination thoroughly.
You won’t get that luxury on an Intrepid overland tour. There are a few destinations that felt slightly rushed and I wish I had more time to explore, or even just to relax after long travel days. While the itinerary shows that you visit cities like Harare (Zimbabwe), Lusaka (Zambia), Dar El Salaam (Tanzania) and Arusha (Tanzania), it’s likely that you won’t see much of these cities (if anything). The truck can’t handle driving through the busy centers of these cities and instead you might see a shopping mall just outside of town where you can use an ATM and restock on drinks/snacks etc. One of my main pieces of feedback to Intrepid was that extra time should be given for people to do a city tour (should they so wish), so hopefully this will change in the future!
You must also be willing to try lots of different activities. We had a few people on our tour that absolutely loved wildlife (which is great!) but struggled to feign interest for more cultural activities. Having a broad range of interests will improve your enjoyment levels significantly!
When booking an Intrepid overland tour, you should be aware that they are “participation” tours. This means that you will be expected to do some chores along the way. None of them are difficult or that time consuming, so make sure you’re a team player! While you might think that you’re clever by somehow avoiding chores, you’ll just end up annoying your fellow travellers which isn’t fun for anyone.
For the first 7 weeks of our tour, the group was split into 4 groups (which changed each time we had new joiners/leavers). Each day, you had a different task to complete:
For the final 2 weeks of our tour (after we changed crew, as all tour leaders operate slightly differently), we were split into 3 groups and “camp set-up / break down” wasn’t an official task, we all pitched in to get the job done.
Intrepid has two options when it comes to Africa overland tours:
If camping isn’t for you, a “comfort” tour might be better suited to your needs. You will be sleeping in various accommodation throughout your tour (hotels, lodges etc.). While you will still need to get used to doing chores and long, bumpy and dusty drives in the truck, at least you will have somewhere more comfortable to rest.
Comfort Tour prices are obviously higher and the tours tend to be shorter than that of Basix Tours. Perfect for someone who wants to experience Africa (outside of luxury resorts) but wants to keep a few home comforts.
My tour was a “basix” tour. This means you will predominantly be camping (with the option to upgrade to other accommodation at most campsites, subject to availability).
I thought it was pretty difficult to book a Basix tour and be shocked at the lack of luxury (Intrepid make it pretty clear on their website!), but we had a few people join our tour along the way that clearly hadn’t read the notes! I personally had no issue, but it’s best to be prepared:
Intrepid’s prices have increased pretty significantly after COVID-19, but they have notoriously good sales throughout the year.
If you’re thinking about making a booking, you should:
Intrepid have great price match policies – multiple travellers on my tour had booked pre-COVID and Intrepid kindly honored the pre-COVID tour prices when they came to re-book their tours. Similarly, one girl on my tour booked a matter of days before the tour was discounted. She was still within the timeframe to cancel her tour with no implications, so reached out to Intrepid who agreed to discount her tour without the need for her to cancel the original purchase and re-book.
The short answer is yes, absolutely (provided you read the above and Intrepid’s “Essential Trip Information” and are comfortable), but you can read my full review here.
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!):
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