An Africa overland tour had always been my dream trip – I absolutely love Africa and everything it has to offer. In 2023, 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. You only need to have a quick look at Intrepid’s trip notes to know that an overland tour in Africa isn’t like any old ordinary tour – things can (and probably will) go wrong along the way, but it’s all part of the adventure!
While everyone’s experience will be different, hopefully this article will give you a flavour of what you can expect from one of these tours. Despite the issues along the way, I still had the absolute time of my life!
The below issues are listed chronologically as they occurred rather than ranked by importance – and apparently I never took any photos during the rough patches, so the photos bare no resemblance to the words of this article!
RELATED: Your mindset and attitude will make or break the trip. Before signing up to an Africa overland tour, you should read my article on whether an Africa overland tour is the right style of travel is for you!
At the beginning of our tour, a number of people unfortunately fell ill with a stomach issues and diarrhea. A few of them did later admit that they’d been using tap water to brush their teeth/rinse their mouths and the issue stopped after they switched to bottled water. Thankfully I managed to avoid the issue!
While stomach issues aren’t uncommon when travelling overseas, I’d say that an Africa overland tour is one of the worst types of trips to be on while you’re stomach is suffering! There are plenty of long driving days spent in the truck with no “real” bathroom breaks (for the most part, your bathroom breaks will be “bushy bushy” stops which aren’t the most comfortable when you’re ill); you then will be sleeping in a tent with communal toilet facilities which aren’t always super close to the campground – nobody wants to wake up in the middle of the night and then walk through the cold when they’re ill!
If I picture Namibia, I picture Dune 45; the iconic, towering sand dune with incredible views at sunrise. It’s one of the things I was most excited for when I booked my Africa overland tour. Our group woke up early to hike up the dune in order to reach the summit before sunrise. I was dreading the hike slightly (walking on sand uphill is difficult at the best of times) but I knew it would be worth it.
What I didn’t anticipate is that my fear of heights would kick in (in a BIG way) midway up the dune. While I don’t think it’s physically possible to fall down the dune (the sand would catch you!), the sides on either side of the path are sheer and terrifying. Thankfully I was travelling with some lovely people who stopped to make sure I was okay. I will forever be jealous of the incredible photos my friends got at the top of the dune!
The itinerary shows that you have the option of an evening game drive in Etosha National Park for 750 NAD (approx £30) but the park gives priority to those who have pre-booked lodges rather than those who are camping. We were all looking forward to it but sadly the evening game drives had been fully booked by lodgers.
So that those of the group who were leaving the tour in Victoria Falls could at least experience one evening drive, we decided to book one at Stanley & Livingstone Game Reserve in Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) instead. The downside to this is that the price was extortionate in comparison! We paid 163 USD (£132) for the game drive including an extremely fancy dinner. We did have an incredible rhino sighting though (2 rhinos passed directly between our two safari jeeps!), so it’s definitely not all bad!
Lake Malawi is absolutely stunning, particularly the campsite we stayed at in Kande. Thankfully I was ready for a chilled 2 days in Kande and didn’t plan to do too many activities as the options available were questionable…
I went on the village walking tour which was great. The tour was so interesting and the village is surrounded by beautiful farmland and mountains, however we were hassled at the end to purchase overpriced artwork and souvenirs. The hard selling tactics left me feeling uncomfortable, but the overall experience was good.
My fellow travellers that booked other optional activities were sadly less impressed:
Intrepid are constantly adapting their itineraries and optional activities as a result of customer feedback, so hopefully the quality and safety of these optional activities will improve in the near future.
After 4 days with no WiFi in Malawi, we reached our first campsite with WiFi in Tanzania and I received some extremely upsetting news from a friend. Travel can be the perfect way to escape from issues at home, but an Africa overland tour isn’t for you if you need to be contactable constantly or in a position to leave the tour at short notice (the tours often travel through rural locations with limited ways to escape).
I’d been suffering from toothache for around 4 days before finally admitting that I needed to see a dentist. Thankfully, we were arriving in Arusha (a large city with plenty of dentists) that evening.
After running around the city and various medical centers to find a dentist that was open past 5pm, we finally found somewhere that would see me. The dentist prescribed some antibiotics which quickly sorted out the infection around my wisdom tooth and I got to experience more of Arusha than my fellow travellers! The truck can’t really navigate through the center of large cities, so the campsites are usually on the outskirts of the city. Being able to whizz through the city in tuktuks and see the city at rush hour was great!
Throughout the entirety of our Africa overland tour, we discussed how much we were looking forward to our safaris in the Ngorogoro and Serengeti National Parks (East Africa is known as the home of good safaris!), so moods were low when we reached the Ngorongoro Crater and couldn’t see a single thing due to intense fogs and hard rain. While everyone in my safari truck tried to make the best of it, it was clear that not everyone was succeeding in hiding their disappointment. Our first day was extremely tiring with lots of driving but not much reward.
To add insult to injury, our safari jeep had recently been cleaned but clearly not properly dried. We should have realised the problem when we first got into the jeep and realised that our seats were wet. We stopped at a lunch spot in the Ngorongoro Crater where I put my DSLR camera into the deep pocket infront of my seat while I ate. When we were back on the move, we spotted a heard of buffalo and I picked up my camera to take a photo – unfortunately my camera was soaking wet as the pocket was filled with water and unsurprisingly, the camera was completely broken.
It was a huge inconvenience not to have a camera for the second day of our safari in the Serengeti (although it was nice to sit back and enjoy it without taking photos) and worrying as I didn’t think I’d have the camera working for the rest of my trip (especially as we had incredible experiences such as the gorilla trek and safari in the Masai Mara to enjoy)!
Thankfully our chef saved the day by providing a huge box of rice – after 48 hours in the rice and a few days more defogging, the camera was working again! Our safari jeep driver was extremely apologetic and worried that I would ask him to replace my camera (obviously I didn’t). Accidents happen and you shouldn’t bring expensive gear on holiday if you aren’t willing to take the risk! Hopefully insurance would have covered the cost of a replacement in any case.
When we got to camp that evening, we then realised that my tentmate’s sleeping bag (which had been in the back of the jeep) was also completely soaked which didn’t make for a comfortable night for her.
Thankfully day 2 in the Serengeti was gloriously sunny and made up for the issues in day 1!
Our trip had been pretty smooth sailing up until the big changeover in Nairobi. After 7 weeks of travel with the same truck and the same crew (guide, driver and chef), we switched to a new truck and new crew for the final 2 weeks.
On our 3rd proper day of this new leg of the tour, it became apparent that there was something wrong with the truck. When we arrived at our campsite in Eldoret, our driver called the mechanics in Nairobi who started the journey to meet us and begin work on the truck. They worked all through the night and the truck still wasn’t fixed in the morning. These trucks are really pushed to their limits covering incredibly long distances and a multitude of terrains across every Africa overland tour they complete, I’m surprised we only had one truck issue on the trip!
We all woke up between 04:30 and 05:00 to be get ready and take our tents down before breakfast at 05:30 and depart camp at 06:30. We needed to leave early to reach the Ugandan border before everyone else to increase our chances of a smooth border crossing. However, the mechanics needed a part from a nearby shop which wasn’t open yet.
Alternative transport was arranged (2 mini buses, one for us and one for all our belongings) and we ended up departing for the border at 09:30 (3 hours late) after unloading all of our belongings from the truck in case we ended up getting a replacement truck.
Thankfully the mechanics fixed the truck after buying the replacement part and our driver and chef met us (with the truck) and the border a few hours later. Because it took us so long to get through the border (more on that later…), we ended up not having to wait for them at all.
Intrepid’s trip notes for Africa overland tours note that crossing land borders between the various countries can be difficult – the Tanzania/Uganda border was (in my opinion) the worst that we faced. We had received advice from Intrepid that the “East Africa Visa” (which covers all travel between Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda) is difficult for the Ugandan land borders to process, so it’s better to purchase separate visas for each country.
There were two separate queues at the border (one for people with the East Africa visa and one for those with single entry Ugandan visas). 2 members of our group had purchased East Africa Visas and they quickly got through their queue. The rest of us didn’t have such an easy time and it was taking up to 10 minutes for the offer to process each visa (there were 14 of us, plus a queue of people in front of us).
The replacement minibuses we got to the border were extremely warm and I’d woken up from a nap on the bus extremely groggy and hot. This was amplified by the fact I was near the back of the visa queue in an extremely hot and stuffy building in the early afternoon heat. I stood in front of the border officer willing myself not to faint (I have a tendency to faint if I get too hot). After getting my visa sorted, I left the building and ended up vomiting violently outside the “Port Health Authority” who had previously checked my COVID pass, Yellow Fever Certificate and temperature before deeming me healthy enough to enter the country – I was suddenly very scared they were going to redact their decision!
We had another long drive into Kampala while I felt absolutely awful to tackle before I could fall into a hotel bed and sleep it off. Definitely not my finest day!
Throughout the final 2 weeks of our tour, a strange sickness bug was clearly making it’s way through the group; every other day, someone new was struck down by the 24-48 hour illness. Thankfully I managed to avoid it (probably because I was obsessively washing my hands and disinfecting everything I touched). Given the gorilla trek (a once in a lifetime experience) was coming up, we were all extremely nervous that one of us would be sick on the day of the trek.
To finish our final 2 weeks of issues, we hit some issues when trying to cross back into Kenya from Uganda. Both Intrepid and the Kenyan government websites stated that you could re-enter Kenya on a single entry visa as long as you’d stayed within East Africa (i.e. Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda).
We encountered a particularly stubborn border official who told us that the “rules had changed” and we would have to all repurchase new visas (50 USD each). Despite not being able to prove that the rules had changed and receiving an earful from a senior employee at Intrepid on the phone, he insisted that we all needed to purchase new visas which were suddenly “half price” when we out up a fight. We all needed to pay 25 USD for a new “visa” or be denied entry to Kenya.
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 article helpful, be sure to “pin” it for later!