Overlanding from Nairobi to Cape Town was a life-changing journey. I also turned into quite a keen camper and after such an amazing trip we’ll be returning in May and leading a photo safari through Kenya and Uganda with Acacia Africa. Our next visit will include gorilla trekking, but before we add this once-in-a-lifetime adventure to our list, here are the essentials (based on our experience) to consider if you want to enjoy a great safari on the continent.
Life on an overland safari revolves around the truck and being on the right truck can make or break your tour. We saw quite a few different vehicles en route through Africa and they all vary – from the seating arrangements to the size of the lockers. Soft duffels or backpacks are ideal for this style of travel and don’t forget to bring a lock. Make sure it has a narrow u-shaped bar because the holes on the latch are generally small and opt for a combination lock so you don’t have to worry about a key. Bring an extra padlock or two as the rough bumpy roads can cause them to break. T.I.A – yes, this is Africa!
You might spend whole days driving so a real pillow should be top of your list. Not only to get a good night sleep, but also to help with all the bumps. The inflatable pillows got a thumbs down from our group. My advice is to buy one and test it out for a few nights before you travel. Make sure to check out our full packing list on what to pack for an overland safari here.
Come prepared: It’s going to be dusty, very dusty. No matter what time of year you travel. It doesn’t matter if all the windows and doors are shut as the dust will always sneak in. If you are serious about your photography kit, then it’s wise to bring a fabric lens cover, to keep the dust off. Something to cover your lens that comes off quicker than fumbling with your plastic cap.
Be open to new experiences and ideas: The Maasai Tribe live a hard life, but it’s also a very simple and beautiful one. On our village visit we learnt that whenever you step in cow dung it’s a sign of good luck. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to get lucky walking through the village because it doubles as an animal pen – the homes constructed in a circular arrangement to keep the cows safe at night. Of course, where there are cow droppings there are swarms of flies – another sign of good fortune for the road ahead!
Travelling out of peak season can be a plus: The Spice Island is as beautiful as Negril in Jamacia or Tulum in Mexico, but it had a less developed feel to it. We travelled off season, and we often found we were the only tourists on the beach. We didn’t mind being the only two dots on the horizon, and it was wonderful to have a place with such raw beauty all to ourselves.
Sometimes the poverty can be overwhelming: Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa and possibly the world. We walked through a village school that had less than 30 desks for over 1,200 pupils. The walls were crawling with bats, and their droppings littered the corners of the classrooms. The Warm Heart of Africa couldn’t be a better description of the people and the genuine interactions that took place on our overland tour and in the local craft markets. It’s not uncommon to see hard cash replaced by trading of goods – t-shirts (see the vendor pictured wearing one of Adam’s shirts) and socks were a particular favourite.
Africa may not be as cheap as you think: Expect to pay more, especially at the Victoria Falls. We loved our helicopter flight. The first half of our journey focused on the main attraction: the largest curtain of falling water in the world, and then we made passes over the falls from both sides so we had amazing views of what the locals call Mosi-oa-Tunya, or the smoke that thunders.
Death by toaster outweighs the chances of getting eaten by a shark: Believe me I’m quoting actual stats! I eventually gave in and plucked up the courage to go Great White shark cage diving at Gansbaai, near Cape Town. There is no place on the planet with a larger population of Great White Sharks. Several companies offer this activity, but ensure yours comes with a “constant air supply” as if it doesn’t, you will have to hold your breath and you may miss some of the shark action.
Never say never: I was a newbie to the camping scene, but post trip I would probably say I’m hooked. Our tents were in good condition with no holes and tight zippers to keep the bugs out, but that didn’t stop things from crawling in our tent. Don’t forget to zip the zippers! Some tour operator’s will give you the chance to upgrade along the way. We got real beds in Zanzibar and Swakopmund, but I grew into the camping deal and would have been happy to pitch more.
Getting The Best Safari Shots
The Masai Mara was a Big Five hit and we captured every one on camera in the first 24 hours. Don’t restrict your checklist as there’s more to Africa’s wildlife including the ugly five – also spotted in Tanzania. The vehicles used in the Mara are similar to a minivan with a pop up top so you’ll be taking photos standing on the floor of the van with the roof at chest level. Rest your camera right on the roof or on a tripod depending on your height. Whichever you choose make sure it is either tall enough to reach from the floor to a comfortable height above your shoulder, or short enough to sit on the roof on the truck (which is about 4′ from the floor that you stand on) to a comfortable height for you. Most of the time the vans are left running and the motor creates some vibration which in lower light situations may cause some trouble with your shots so a small bean bag to rest your camera can cut out the bouncing and protect your gear.
As I have mentioned earlier, we will be heading back to Africa on 2nd of May to lead a photo safari in Kenya and Uganda. You can book a seat with Acacia Africa on the 18-day Mountain Gorillas to the Mara Camping Overland Expedition and join us for this once-in-a-lifetime overland trip – the itinerary includes one hour encounter with the endangered primates, Big Five safaris in the Mara and a visit to Lake Nakuru. See you there!