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Overlanding Tours (in Africa)

ATC TruckOverlanding is touring a country (or countries) by vehicle. Usually a bus or truck style. If you are considering an overlanding tour, then there are definitely many pros and cons worth considering.

My experiences and comments relate specifically to Africa. I toured Eastern Africa down towards Southern Africa with a company called Nomads, through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. I continued further South with the African Travel Company (ATC), through Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa.

The main benefit of doing an overlanding tour is that you get to see so much of your environment. You can see it change as elevation, as well as latitude and longitude change. You drive through local villages and see how people live. You also can spot a great deal of wildlife from the truck.

View from the ATC truckThe truck rides also provide a great opportunity for you to get to know your tour buddies better, play games, chat and sing songs. On my nomads tour we had such a fabulous group of people, there were constantly games being played, we voted on our team name, we had a team tour playlist and you could regularly hear us singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Hakuna Matata”. Even when our truck Morrison got bogged in the mud, we were all outside the truck dancing and singing in the mud as we waited for our tow truck. The camaraderie that you build on this style of tour goes beyond a standard group tour in my opinion.

The camaraderie you develop with your tour buddies is a key factor in enjoying an overlanding tour, because honestly there are many less glamorous aspects to an overlanding tour.

Nomads group photo together with our crew and truck Morrison

Long Drives

A roadside lunch stop on the Nomads tourTravelling by road is time consuming. African roads aren’t often very smooth and are riddled with potholes and speed bumps, some aren’t sealed roads. In addition to the road hazards you have to slow down when passing through villages, and also many roads have restricted speed limits. Larger cities are very densely populated and can over an hour to travel even just a few kilometres.

Many roads have regular police checkpoints which require you to stop. Border crossings between countries can take up to three hours dependent on the country, time of day and level of corruption.

All of this things are in addition to the fact that the travelling distances are large. Be prepared for the occasional 12 hour drive, and often the roadside lunch break.


My TentYou can typically sign up to the tour as a camper or pay extra to be accommodated.

Camping is obviously cheaper. Putting up and taking down a tent almost every night can be a bit of a chore. The worst case is when you have late arrival or early departure and you are working in the dark. To compound that, you are sometimes working in the rain and mud.

My home away from home, my tentThere were occasions where I upgraded to accommodation for a night here or there (whenever you arrive to a new overnight stay, you can enquire about upgrading to accommodation) some of the cheaper options still had shared bathrooms, and worst case scenario there were a few occasions where the beds had fleas. At least three times I woke up with legs covered in flea bites, which grossed me out completely!

One of the frustrations we experienced on numerous occasions was leaking tents, so be mindful of what you choose to bring into the tent. In the nomads truck we had lockers and could leave most things in the locker overnight, just bringing the necessary items into the tent. In the ATC truck the bags were stored in a compartment under the truck and we had to get our whole bag out at each stop, which I found a little frustrating. Also it takes a huge amount of space in the tent.


You will find three kinds of toilet in Africa: a normal western toilet, a squat toilet and a bush toilet. Firstly you can’t assume for any of these that there will be toilet paper, so always carry a roll in your backpack.

The Western Toilet

Often, but not always, when you find a western toilet it’s in a tourist destination that is a bit more up-scale. They often have a toilet seat, toilet paper and can be quite clean. Sometimes they cost money.

The Squat Toilet

The squat toilet is pretty common around Africa. Unfortunately they are often quite dirty and smelly, mostly just because westerners are unfamiliar with how to use them. Finding one that is dirty and smelly is certainly not conducive to wanting to give something new a try.

A squat toilet is much more hygienic than a standard western toilet because you don’t actually touch anything.

The Bush Toilet

The bush toilet can be found literally anywhere and it’s more hygienic than the western or squat toilet. You simply squat behind a bush, tree or even a car. It’s actually rather hilarious when the truck pulls over, everyone gets out and all you can see are girls heads peeking out over the tall grasses on the roadside as everyone squats (you will need to put your modesty aside for this excursion).

The rule of thumb is that any paper you use should be put in the trash can, not thrown on the ground and poop should be buried (personally I’m happy to do a bush wee, but I would personally wait for the nearest western convenience for any pooping)

A number of the campsites are in National Parks or by rivers, places where you are exposed to the wildlife. This means you need to be vigilant, particularly after dark in using your flashlight to scan the area for wild animals before exiting your tent. The bathrooms are often a few minutes walk for the tents, and this can be terrifying. In the Serengeti we had a small pack of hyenas hanging around in the campsite. I can assure you, no matter how badly I needed to pee, I was not getting out of that tent by myself!


"Bathing" in the Okavango DeltaVery hit and miss, some showers only have cold water, some only hot, some high pressure and some low pressure.Sometimes the only option is to take a quick swim in a nearby river. I would advise you to pack baby wipes for the occasions where showering doesn’t feel like a feasible option. In a month and a half of overlanding, I only had a handful of terrible shower experiences.

Do remember though, everyone else on your tour is in the same position. If showering isn’t an option, you will all just get smelly together.


Using the tents as a washing lineYou are on the go so often that you don’t always have the opportunity to get your laundry done or find a laundromat. Hand washing in a sink, plastic tub or dry bag isn’t as bad as it sounds. If you keep up with washing small items every few days then you tend not to run out of clothes in a hurry.

I don’t usually pack much quick dry clothing, so I wear my jeans for up to a couple of weeks and then usually try to find a hostel that will wash them for me at a reasonable cost. But I wash my lighter clothes as I go. Most campsites have a washing line nearby, or you can hang things on the tent. Anything that doesn’t dry before your departure you can often find a spot to hang it in the truck.


ATC truck and prepping cooking benchesSome of the overland tours have a duties roster for everyone on tour. The duties are things like cooks help, dish washing and cleaning the truck and making sure the windows are shut.

When truck windows aren’t shut, you sometimes get cheeky monkeys and/or baboons sneaking in and wreaking havoc. We had monkeys climb into the truck and eat a bag of rice, they made a huge mess and pooped everywhere.

These duties are not hard and they are not time consuming, just get in and get it done. Overlanding is about working as a team, and this is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate some teamwork skills.


To go overlanding is a wonderful working adventure. To make the most of this amazing adventure be sure to pack some patience, tolerance and good humour.


South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

Elephants hanging out in the shadeAfter Malawi, we headed to Zambia for a few days. We spent the majority of our time in the South Luangwa National Park. In addition to sown time relaxing in the campsite with a view of the river, we did a sunrise game drive and a sunset game drive.

On both occasions I was in the jeep with a driver called Ryver. His english was really good, he had a great sense of humour and was incredibly knowledgeable about the area.

Hippopotamus' hanging out in a lakeSouth Luangwa National Park is the park with the highest concentration of leopards. The time of year we visited wasn’t conducive to seeing all these leopards unfortunately, as the grasses were too high, providing too many hiding places for the stealthy cats.

GiraffesDespite our misfortune with leopards, we were certainly very fortunate with the other animals. We saw many Thorny croft giraffe (a breed of giraffe only found in Zambia); Nile crocodiles; a Hawk Eagle; Vervant monkeys (the males have bright blue balls, which is bizarre, but easy for identifying the type of monkey); Puku (a bigger breed of antelope that’s all brown); Impala; Hippos; Lions; Golden baboons; Elephants, Zebras, Hyenas and Vultures. We enjoyed a morning coffee beside a hippo pool!

One of the most fascinating, but disgusting parts of the game drive was seeing the carcass of an elephant that had been dead and picked at for five days. A pack of hyenas were taking turns picking at whatever parts of the elephant there was left to eat, while in the background the vultures patiently waited their turn. It was a very visible demonstration of both the circle of life and the food chain.

Pack of Hyenas eating a dead elephant

During our sunset drive we found ourselves amongst a large herd of elephants, there were mature adults with huge tusks all the way through the baby elephants only a few days or weeks old.

Sunset over the Luangwa RiverAs the sun lowered in the sky, we pulled up by the river to listen to the hippo’s, watch the crocodiles and drink a ‘sundowner’. After dark our spotlighter did a good job of finding animals for us to observe, including a pride of lions stalking a herd of Impala. The impala got spooked and ran before the lions got close enough. But we were able to follow the lions for some time afterwards.

Morrison stuck in the mudLeaving the camp the following day after a night of solid rainfall caused some issues with mud on the road and Morrison (the truck) was soon bogged into the embankment at a precarious angle. With some pushing, good humour, dancing, singing and the help of a truck we managed to get Morrison out of the ditch and on the road again.

Then we were on our way to Zimbabwe!



Lake Malawi, Malawi

Lake MalawiMalawi is a fairly small country in south eastern Africa with a very high population. While it is a landlocked country, not bordering an oceans, it does border an enormous lake, Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is half in Malawi and half in Mozambique.

Our tour group spent four nights in Malawi, mostly just relaxing by the lake side.

NB: Lake Malawi contains a parasite commonly known as Bilharzia. While you could potentially get the parasite from swimming anywhere in the lake, it is unlikely you would be at risk from swimming in many of the common regions. I recommend talking to your travel GP about the parasite before travelling, and then making your own decision about the safety of swimming.

Maji Zuwa

The local children love having their photo takenMaji Zuwa was our first lake side accommodation. It is run by an American who facilitates aid organisations to help build up the neighbouring community with education, health care and Women’s rights.

We were given a tour of the local village to see the schools, medical clinics and legal offices. The children in the schools were so excited, they all wanted hugs, high fives and to be photographed.


The hiking crew at Manchewe Falls, LivingstoniaLivingstonia is a mountain-top town named after the famous explorer David Livingston. The mission in Livingstonia was built in 1884 by Dr Robert Laws. With the towns establishment by people from the United Kingdom, the architecture has a colonial style, which is quite fascinating to see in Africa amongst all the local and traditional style architecture.

A small group of us decided to attempt the hike from the tiny town of Chitimba to Livingstonia town. It was a hot, humid, sweaty, gruelling 11.5kilometres ascent. Three liters of water and three hours later we arrived close to the top at Manchewe Falls, where we stopped to eat our packed lunch and sit in the shade briefly. The falls cascade 125 metres down the mountainside and are really quite beautiful. Behind the falls is a track to a local cave, but visiting it would have added an additional 2 hours to our hike, so despite our curiosity, we decided not to see it.

A chameleonThirty minutes from the falls, we finally arrived in Livingstonia where we restocked our water supplies before enjoying looking at the old buildings and learning a little bit about the towns heritage. Walking along the road, we also found a small chameleon, which I thought was fabulous and enjoyed a ‘cuddle’.

After checking out the town, we paid for a ride down the mountain on the back of a pickup truck. The road down has 20 hairpin bends often on a cliff edge – quite the ride!!

Ngala Lodge

Ngala Lodge, Lake MalawiThe last night in Malawi was spent further south on Lake Malawi, at the beautiful beachside lodge, Ngala Lodge. The managers were really friendly and helpful and spent the evening chatting and drinking at the bar with us.

It was a very relaxing place to spend a night, we throughly enjoyed it and the use of the pool; we were sad our stay was so short.



Mikumi National Park, Tanzania

Mikumi National Park

A Leopard walking down the highwayMikumi National Park is the fourth largest National Park in Tanzania. It is 3230 square kilometres and shares a border with one of the biggest game parks in Tanzania.

We did a half day game drive in the National Park with some local guides. Our group was spread across three jeeps, unfortunately only one of the drivers had reasonable English so we didn’t learn any new information about the park and the animals along the way. I will say though that I was happy enough with our non-english speaking driver, as it was a much safer jeep to be in than the one with no brakes!

WildebeestOn the drive into the game park we were all astounded to start our morning off with seeing a leopard strolling down the main highway. Unfortunately it had lost it’s tail, which I am sure affects it’s ability to climb trees, stalk and hunt. Despite this, it still looked quite healthy.

Once in the National Park we were all very interested to note that the vegetation was so much different to both the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, and in fact it was much nicer with a greater variety of landscape.

The park was gorgeous and once again luck was on our side. We saw: a Leopard; Lions; Giraffes; Elephants; Zebras; Impala; Hippos; Bushbucks; Buffalos; Wildebeest; Warthogs; Golden Baboons; and many other smaller animals and birds.

Bull Elephant

Baobab Valley

Hugging a Baobab TreeDeparting the Mikumi National Park on our way to Malawi, we stopped by Baobab Valley to take some photos.

The Baobab Tree is the funny looking tree in Africa (it can also be found in some other countries) that has a really wide trunk and looks kind of like a bottle with leaves on the top. There are nine species in the family and they all look a little bit different, but they all have the very wide trunk to store water in.

Traditionally the tree is viewed as sacred, it has many medicinal uses and when you hug the tree you can make a wish.

The tree’s look really cool and their bark feels lovely – I admit I hugged the tree longer than necessary, because it felt good and I had some very important wishes to make.


Zanzibar, Tanzania

On the east coast of Tanzania is the city of Dar Es Salaam, Arabic for “a haven of peace”. It is the economic centre of Tanzania and used to be the capital city until 1974 when it was moved to Dodoma.
Dar Es Salaam remains a bustling city, but its biggest draw card for me is that it provided a gateway to the Zanzibar Archipelago.

The group enjoying beach time

Zanzibar Archipelago

The Zanzibar Archipelago is in the Indian Ocean, 1.5 hours by ferry from Dar Es Salaam. Amongst twenty or so islands, there are two main islands Zanzibar and Pemba. Despite it being part of Tanzania it has its own entry requirements and passport checks.

The streets of Stone TownThe Zanzibar Archipelago is home to 1.3million people, 99% of whom are Muslim. Quite extreme Muslim, and if you plan to visit as a female you must ensure appropriate clothing. Cover your arms to the elbows and legs past the knees. Even as recently as a couple of years ago women have been stoned for inappropriate dress.

Stone town, built in the 1830s by the sultan of Oman, is the capital of Zanzibar. Between 1804 and 1964 Zanzibar was ruled by twelve sultans until the Zanzibar revolution when they demanded independence from the Arabs and chose to join the Tanzanian Republic.

Stone Town

Stone Town earned its name by the construction of the buildings. The coral stone from the ocean was used as a building material. Based on the towns unique construction and its history, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage listed site in 2001.

Sculpture representing the slave market in Stone TownOne of the most notable historic aspects of Stone Town was its slave trade. Africa had a large slave trade, slaves from the West were traded to America and slaves from the East were traded through the spice markets in Stone Town to Asia. The slave trade was officially stopped in 1873, but was continued in secret until 1907. Two million slaves were traded over 400 years, and many more would have died or been killed before making it to the slave markets. A very sad history.

Spice Tour

Eating a fresh coconutPart way between Stone Town and Nungwi, we stopped by a spice farm for a tour. We learned a little bit about some of the spices grown on the island and the purposes they had in both cooking and medicine. We also had the opportunity to watch a coconut tree climbing demonstration, as well as enjoy some fresh young coconuts to drink and eat.

As a group we didn’t think the spice tour was run in a particularly professional manner and didn’t particularly enjoy it, and we were also unhappy that every person on site asked us for a tip though they did little to nothing to earn one.


Our boat for the snorkelling tripOn the northern coast of Zanzibar is the quiet little beach town of Nungwi. When you head to Zanzibar for your beach getaway, this is the place to be. Crisp white sand, crystal clear blue waters and bright, hot sunshine.

It is a great place to relax on the beach or by the pool. The more adventurous can book snorkelling or scuba diving excursions.

A fish swimming in the reefWith a group of eleven of us we booked places on a traditional sailing boat for a full day snorkelling trip to the island of Mnemba. We enjoyed the sun and views for the trip out and back. Dropping anchor just off the coast of the island we leapt into the clean, cool water. The snorkelling there was lovely, with live coral and a large variety of colourful fish in all shapes and sizes.
Before heading back to Nungwi we stopped at a beach for some lunch with freshly cooked fish, rice and a local tomato/vegetable sauce.
The full day snorkelling trip included drinking water, lunch and snorkelling equipment at a cost of USD$25.


Serengeti National Park & Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

I flew into Nairobi, Kenya to join a 3 week overlanding tour of East Africa with the tour operator Nomad Tours South Africa, booked through Peri Peri Reizen. The guides Nika, TK and Evans introduced themselves and set a friendly and fun tone for the tour. They made introductions and then bundled us into our overland truck (the truck is named Morrison) and set off for Arusha in Tanzania. Arusha is the gateway to Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro  Crater & Mount Kilimanjaro. We spent two nights in Arusha, one before and one after our jeep  safari.

Elephant CrossingRun by local operator Tanzania Experiences, we headed off to the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater for a four day/three night jeep safari. The jeep safari was an additional excursion on top of the tour and cost approximately USD$560.

The safari was spent almost entirely in the jeep for two reasons, firstly the distances are huge so there is a great deal of time spent in transit between locations, secondly the parks are full of amazing, but very dangerous animals, so seeing them is done in the form of a game drive.

We did three game drives in the Serengeti National Park and one in the Ngorongoro Crater.

Serengeti National Park

The name ‘Serengeti’ means Endless Plain and accurately reflects the size, 14762 square kilometres, and appearance of the park. It is the second largest national park in Tanzania. Despite is being called a plain, the landscape is broken up with rivers, lakes, hills, rocky outcropping a and trees. This can make it challenging for spotting animals, but does provide them a varied environment with many shady areas under which they can escape the heat of the day.

Lioness taking a restOur driver Rashid was absolutely brilliant on spotting wildlife and communicating with other drivers on where to find certain animals. He was very knowledgeable on breeds, facts, and statistics about the animals and shared the information with us in a fun and informative manner, sometimes pop quiz style.

We were incredibly lucky to see four of “The Big Five” numerous times in the park: Leopards, Elephants, Lions and Buffalo. The fifth animal in the big five is the Rhinoceros, which we saw in the Ngorongoro Crater.

Giraffe EatingWe also saw a Cheetah, Giraffes, Zebra, Topis, Impalas, Thomson Gazelles, Grant’s Gazelles, Wildebeest, Hippopotamus’, Black-backed Jackals, Hyraxes, Hartebeest, Warthogs, Hyena, Baboons, Ostriches and loads of different types of birds.

The best times to see the animals are in the cooler parts of the day, early morning and late afternoon. Even then many, such as the large cats, are usually found hiding in shady places in tree branches or under trees.

A cheetah looking for preyAs you can appreciate with any experience involving wildlife spotting, it is all about luck. I think we were incredibly lucky to have seen all of the animals that we did. Our biggest stroke of luck was in seeing a cheetah, the most solitary and reclusive of all the big cats. The cheetah was hanging out in the shade under a tree. We sat and watched it for some time, it got up and moved to another shady spot and then another. While we didn’t get to see a chase, we were thoroughly grateful to see the cat both sitting, standing and walking. An interesting piece of information about the cheetah – it differs from all the other big cats as it doesn’t climb trees due to the fact that it does by have retractable claws. If it were to climb a tree and get a claw stuck and damaged it would limit its ability to hunt effectively and most likely result in death.


Our tour guides put up tents for us in a campsite, Seronera Campsite.

The facilities provided were minimal but sufficient and there was no electricity.  I was a little surprised at the lack of protection against the wild here, but I guess that’s part of the thrill of being in a national park in Africa. After dark it was up to you to be vigilant and scan the darkness for eyes with your head torch.

The first night we heard Hyenas, Lions and a Leopard. The second night, even before going to bed, the camp was surrounded by Hyenas – animals which are thankfully scavengers. The first morning we had baboons rummaging through the trash can in the middle of the camp and the second morning buffalo were hanging around the outer edges of the site. These experiences were equal parts terrifying and exciting!

Sunset at our Serengeti Campsite


Ngorongoro Crater

Yawning HippopotamusThe Ngorongoro Crater is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site, that is a famous natural wonder. The rim to the crater floor varies in height from 400-610metres and is quite a deep descent. The crater floor is 19km wide and covers an area of 264 square kilometres.

ZebrasA pre-dawn wake up call had us descending into the crater as the sun was rising. The landscape was much flatter, greener and had fewer (almost no) trees, this made animal spotting a little bit easier.

A Black Rhinoceros in the distanceIn addition to the animals we saw in the Serengeti, we also saw Black Rhinoceros’, Bat-Eared Foxes, Golden Jackals and Elands on the crater floor.

The animal that we considered to be the specialty of Ngorongoro was the Black Rhinoceros. It is an animal close to extinction, with a current population estimated at around 400. Of the total population, approximately 15 are resident in the crater, and despite only being able to see them from a huge distance, we were lucky enough to see six of them.


Ngorongoro Crater CampsiteThe campsite at Ngorongoro Crater, Simba Campsite, was on the crater rim and had a reasonable view put towards the crater floor. This was a larger campsite than the Serengeti and had better facilities, including electricity, hot showers and armed security patrolling the site.

Maasai Village

Maasai Village WelcomeIn transit between the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater, we stopped to visit a Maasai Village, for USD$10 per person.

The Maasai of the village welcomed us outside their gates with a traditional welcome ceremony of chanting and dancing/jumping.

Once we were then invited in to the village where the men and women separated and showed us a little more of their traditional dancing/jumping, also inviting us to join in. It was actually really quite fun.

We were then given a tour of the village, including the livestock pen, the school and a home.

School children in a Maasai VillageThe life of the Maasai centers around their livestock and their village construction reflects this. In the center of the village is a circular pen where livestock are kept overnight. During the day the livestock are herded around the countryside. The houses are all built in a circle around the livestock pen and facing it, but with a four to five meter gap between. The houses are constructed from Acacia trees, cow dung and urine. It’s not the most watertight construction, so when it rains they pull a plastic tarpaulin over each home. The men of the village may have multiple wives, and for each family there is one home (so one man might have a few homes).

Interestingly, the school building we visited was outside of both of these circles. On questioning I was told that it is because the school is only used for an hour or two during the day for children who aren’t yet old enough to go to proper school, and that day time is safe.

Buying handmade jewellery from the MaasaiTo end the tour we were asked to visit the marketplace of each of the families. Around the circle between the livestock pen and the houses were small ‘shops’ from each family to sell their beaded jewellery and handcrafts. Their prices were exorbitant, but by spending inside their community it is nice to choose products that are handmade by their creator with the knowledge that the money goes directly to the community without a store taking commission. It is a very touristic setup, but nonetheless fascinating. On my way back to the bus a lovely gentleman advised me, with eager eyes, that he had one black wife, but would also like to have a white wife…


Toilets in East Africa, particularly an overlanding trip, deserve a special mention. You will find three kinds of toilet in East Africa: a normal western toilet, a squat toilet and a bush toilet. Firstly you can’t assume for any of these that there will be toilet paper, so always carry a roll in your backpack.

The Western Toilet

Often, but not always, when you find a western toilet it’s in a tourist destination that’s maybe a bit more up-scale. They often have a toilet seat and are often quite clean.

The Squat Toilet

The squat toilet is pretty common around East Africa. Unfortunately they are often quite dirty and smelly, mostly just because westerners are unfamiliar with how to use them, and finding one that is dirty and smelly is not conducive to wanting to give something new a try. Thought they are much more hygienic than a standard western toilet since you actually don’t touch anything.

The Bush Toilet

The bush toilet can be found literally anywhere and it’s more hygienic than the western or squat toilet. You simply squat behind a bush, tree or even a car. It’s actually rather hilarious when the truck pulls over, everyone gets out and all you can see are girls heads peeking out over the tall grasses on the roadside as everyone squats (you will need to put your modesty aside for this excursion). 

The rule of thumb is that any paper you use should be put in the trash can, not thrown on the ground and poop should be buried (personally I’m happy to do a bush wee, but I would personally wait for the nearest western convenience for any pooping)

Medical Advice

First and foremost, consult a travel GP before heading to East Africa. Two things I know as a fact – you must have your Yellow Fever vaccination and take Malaria prevention tablets (and use really good bug spray with a high percentage of DEET). My vaccination record was checked for Yellow Fever at the border when I transited from Kenya to Tanzania.

The last time I checked you also require up to date vaccinations for Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Tetanus.

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