Forget the Ebola you will not get. And the malaria you may get. If you decide to come to Africa for the first time on a budget, you may get overcome from the senseless danger portrayed by the media or the limitless boulevards of jungle you have to traverse, but you need not worry because the tourism industry in Africa is quite extensive and there will be loads of companies vying for your purse. Sure safaris are plentiful, but can you afford to pay thousands of dollars for one? To be honest, most people on your “traditional safaris” are retirees who have retirement savings and prefer the wine and dine aspect of safaris, but if you’re willing to camp under the stars, cook your own meals, see a bunch of countries in a blink of an eye, and sit inside a giant truck bumping and rolling on the unpaved African roads…then an overland safari may be right for you.
As I was planning on what the hell I was going to do after Livingstone, I was stumped. Africa is not cheap and you don’t have budget airlines as you do in Europe or Asia. However, a co-worker had advised me to go on an overland safari, which would take me through several countries and sights on an oversized truck, and it was cheap. I was sold and after thorough research, I realized there were countless companies who did overland safaris. I eventually picked Absolute Africa based on their reputable history, their big yellow truck, their price, and their user-friendly website.
In a semi-big nutshell, this is how it works. I needed to get to Cape Town from Livingstone. Since companies have numerous different itineraries that take you through parts of Africa, I chose the 21-day safari from Victoria Falls (across the border from Livingstone) to Cape Town.
The day before departure, I met the team at the Shoestrings hostel in Victoria Falls for a pre-departure briefing. It turned out my 21-day overland was part of a longer 3-month overland from Nairobi to Cape Town, so most of the people on the overland had already been traveling for 2 months.
The team consisted of a tour guide, a driver, and 14 traveling souls (mostly European) that would navigate from Zimbabwe -> Botswana -> Namibia -> South Africa for the next 21 days. The mode of transport was a gigantic yellow truck named Wiley – it was like nothing I’d ever seen and felt like it could’ve been a weapon of mass destruction. Most of your time is actually spent either on the road or at camp, so you should bring a book or you can spend hours contemplating down the African roadside. Views are best in the front of truck (and it’s less bumpy).
Your group of Overlanders will vary but will most likely be independent European travellers ranging from 18 to mid 30s. While no one can predict the personalities of the people in your group, I was fortunate to have a group of wonderful and friendly people.
A majority of the trip was spent camping with a few stays in budget hotels and hostels. I got buddied up with a guy from New Zealand, and we’d spend early mornings and late afternoons bruising our fingernails trying to zip and unzip the tent bag. In fact, my right thumb has shown significant strength improvement since the start of the trip. Kidding aside, the tents were in great shape and the campsites were amazing. Just imagine watching the extensive sunset over the Orange River with the stars creeping out, sleeping underneath the Namibian Desert, or showering next to the Cederberg Mountains. In fact, I very much prefer camping to enjoy the natural beauty of the African outdoors. And if you don’t enjoy camping, stop being a bitch.
Most breakfasts and dinners are provided. The tour guide will buy everything from the supermarkets. There will be different shifts, and your tour guide and cook group will cook the dinner for the day. This will vary between groups and companies, but our tour guide did a majority of the cooking. Meals were mainly western ranging from burgers to pasta to Kudu. Lunch isn’t included but can be bought cheaply on the road at supermarkets (or in our case, dinner was so abundant that most of us packed a lunch from the leftovers).
This is why you paid for the safari. While several excursions and game drives are included, most are not. The overland will include several game drives and excursions but the main point of the overland is to drive you from point A to point B and stop at national parks or sites for you to choose whether or not you want to do an optional game drive or sky dive. For example, in Victoria Falls, you have the optional of tacking on an additional $160 for bungee jumping or $30 to enter the park. Costs can add up!
Total initial cost (excluding excursions) of my 21-day overland from Victoria Falls to Cape Town covering 4 countries was $1,290. Per day costs came out to $61/day. Of course you will do optional excursions and boost up the price but $60 per day is not bad considering accommodation + food + transport.
Would I go on another overland safari? Maybe but only with a different itinerary. Overlands are great if you’re a first time traveller, independent, on a budget, and want to see as many places as you can. After a while, I really needed my own space to explore independently and you won't be able to do this if you travel overland. If I do this again, I would much rather rent a 4x4, go on my own pace, and see the places I want to see.