Overlanding Africa: The Pros and Cons

For those of you who did not know, I participated in a 3 week overland trip (commonly referred to as “overlanding  Africa”) from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Johannesburg South Africa, with the company, Africa Travel Co, or ATC for short (website link here).  Overland trips are extremely popular in Africa, due to the extreme rural areas, large distance between national parks/areas of interest and a somewhat undeveloped tourist infrastructure.  Combined with the mainly outdoor/adventure activities and beautiful scenery for camping, they are a good option.  Some other popular companies include Acacia Africa, Absolute Africa, G Adventures, and Nomads.  While I’m not usually a fan of group/organized tours, I decided to give it a try.  Having travelled through East Africa for five weeks (Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya) independently and with my two Chilean amigos, Nacho and Laura, I will be making a few comparisons between the 2 different experiences.  I find it always beneficial to start on a positive note, so I will start with the pros:

Overlanding Africa
The Okavango Delta group with our guides
Overlanding Africa
The original crew hanging out in Devil’s Pool.

-The itinerary is already set up, so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. Note: This aspect is what motivated me the most, as I became a little frustrated in dealing with the unreliability of the local buses.

-The groups are usually filled with like minded people, although you’re always bound to get a few bad apples in the bunch.

-Security is not an issue, both personal and for your property, as you are rarely alone.  The truck is locked when not in use and you don’t have to worry about other passengers stealing your things while you are on a bathroom break (an actual problem on the public buses).

-You have the opportunity to camp in some beautiful locations, including a few national parks, depending on which trip you have signed up for. (I know that this could potentially be a con for some people.  If so, I advise on rethinking Africa as a travel destination).

-If you have a good guide, you can learn a lot about the local cultures or countries you travel through, as some have been working the route for many years.

-The food is (usually) delicious!  After having a haphazard meal schedule while travelling through East Africa, I knew I could rely on a solid 3 meals a day on this trip.  Dinners were especially great, always varied and usually consisting of some sort of meat or protein, a vegetable, and a starch to round it all out.

Overlanding Africa
All smiles after our flight over the Okavango Delta.

Cons

As this is a guided trip, there is no flexibility on the schedule.  While you do have entire days to explore certain areas and there are various optional activities, the number of nights spent in a specific location aren’t negotiable.

-As this is a camping trip, the campsites are often located well outside of the cities, so it is difficult to get to see the larger cities that you may be “staying” at.

-The costs per the trip are more expensive than travelling independently.  The quoted prices do not include beverage or alcohol, nor many of the optional activities that you are sure to want to do such as game drives, whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, etc

-If you do not get along with a person or people on your trip, you have to suck it up and deal with them, for they will be with you for the duration of the trip.

-Because you are travelling in a group, it is much harder to interact with the local people and culture, as they often view you as a group from which to profit from, as opposed to being able to make a genuine connection and get to know them.

-As this is a for profit company, they do their best to fill their tours to capacity.  The ATC trucks could seat up to 28 people.  Luckily for the first half of the trip there were only 8 of us.  We greatly enjoyed the spacious truck and were the envy of some of the other companies.  However the group ballooned to 20 people for the second half of the trip, starting in Victoria Falls, so it was a bit of an adjustment.

Overlanding Africa
Goodbye picture in front of the truck before everybody set off on their separate ways.

In conclusion, I do not regret participating in the overland trip, as I was able to see and do some amazing things in a short period of time, as well as meet a lot of interesting people.  However, when/if I ever return to Africa, I do not think I will participate in one again, as I value the freedom and flexibility that independent travel offers, as well as the excitement of unpredictability.
I will recommend it to first time travelers to Africa and/or those who travelling independently through Africa seems a bit daunting.  It is a good way to ease into the African way of life and determine which areas you would like to explore on future travels.  I do suggest that if you do decide to do an overland trip to at least schedule a few days before or after your the trip’s schedule to try to get to know the local people and culture, as it is difficult to do whilst on the tour.

How have your experiences been with a guided trip in Africa (or anywhere else)?

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