Africa Overland: 20 Days from Cape Town to Victoria Falls
An overland trip means exactly what it sounds like – you travel over land without the use of planes but in specially adapted trucks often sleeping in different locations every night. With the popular overland companies in Africa, all transportation and accommodation, most food and many activities are covered. The trip requires little to no planning on your part and is a great way of meeting other travellers. Cons of doing an overland tour, as with most organised tours, are no independence/lack of genuine local interaction. Both weren’t a problem for me as I often broke away from the group to do my own thing when I felt like and ventured further than the group.
With overland trips, you often choose between camping and accommodated. I love the great outdoors but I’m not much of a camper yet I chose the camping trip after being informed by someone who had done the route that much older people (over 50s) took the accommodated option. I wanted to be with people closer to my age, so I figured I’d be able to upgrade to rooms in the campsites and more often than not it cost me around $30 per night.
The Cape to Vic Falls route is the most popular in Africa so we bumped into the truck for the accommodated tour and I’m certain I would not have had as much fun with them even though I got on well with their guide Preston and driver Nkhosi. There were a lot of overland trucks from other operators, and it was always a race to beat them to the border or campsite.
The Cape Town to Victoria Falls trip was made up of shorter segments for people who are unable to do the entire journey. It is broken down as; Cape Town to Swakopmund, Cape Town to Windhoek, Swakopmund to Vic Falls and Windhoek to Vic Falls. We spent 3 days in South Africa, 11 days in Namibia, 4 days in Botswana and 2 days in Zimbabwe.
We started off 23 travellers – A French family of 4 (2 teenage boys with parents in their 50s), a group of 6 Spanish guys with a Brazilian girl (5 lived in Brazil), 2 German couples, 2 German friends, Singaporean Aunt/niece duo and 4 solo travellers including me (Korean, German, Hong Konger and Brit). What a mix! At Swakopmund, the Aunt/niece duo left, and we were joined by a Pole who lives in Germany, and at Windhoek, the French Family and HKer left while a Swiss couple joined. At which point it was primary Spanish and German group, only I and the Korean guy were non-speakers of both languages.
We had three guides: Crispen who was responsible for guiding “Jimi” our truck on the nearly 6000km journey, Simba our tour leader who also prepared delicious meals for us and Yves who was meant to be the German translator but as all the Germans spoke English he didn’t have much to do. Kidding! He helped set up camp, took us to watering holes and was the official game spotter. I got on well with all 3 guides, especially Cris and Yves who I sat with in front of the truck for more than half the journey. On our last official night on the tour Simba, Cris, Nkhosi (all three Zimbabweans) and Preston took me to an underground bashment club in Victoria Falls and we had dinner the following evening at a local spot. It's been a few months now and I really do miss them.
Days on an overland trip tend to start very early. Breakfast was usually between 7 and 7:30 a.m., and we were usually on the road by 8 a.m. On two or three days we were able to lie in as we didn’t have an early start and then on the days we had border crossings or early morning activities like watching the sunrise on Dune 45, we woke up around 4 am and had breakfast in the truck so we could be the first at the gate of the Sossusvlei national park.
Breakfast was always simple cereals, breakfast roll with hot drinks during the week and eggs/sausages/bacon/baked beans weekends or days with a late start. Lunch was almost always sandwiches, and we usually had an hour to eat and pack up. Dinner was where Simba showed off his culinary skills – from potjie to pasta, bbq, braai, soups and pap. We all looked forward to dinner which was also a time Simba to discuss the activities of the following day.
As it is a participatory trip we had to do our dishes and help with meal prep. The latter wasn't compulsory but we worked as a team.
Some days we didn’t have to change location (very few), while others we drove for up to 8 hours. The first day we hit Namibia was such a long drive on untarred, dusty roads giving us what Cris called “African Massage”. Some days the truck broke down and was fixed quickly while we played roadside football. On our way to Swakopmund it couldn't get fixed so the operator sent smaller buses to get us to our hotel.
Highlights of this route include:
Wine-tasting in Spice Route
Camping next to the Orange River (made my birthday extra special)
Watching a sunset at Fish River Canyon – the second largest in the world
Climbing Dune 45 in the Namib Desert
Adventure activities in Swakopmund such quad-biking, skydiving, sandboarding, etc.
Camping under the stars in Spitzkoppe
Visiting the Himba & San tribes
Learning about desert life with the San people
Getting up close and personal with wildlife in Etosha, Victoria Falls and Okavango Delta
Taking sunset cruises on the Okavango Delta and Zambezi River
Going on a boat safari in Chobe National Park
Visiting Victoria Falls
There was a lot packed into the trip, sometimes it got difficult getting up super early or having to first check for wild animals before leaving your tent to do a bathroom run in the middle of the night, but these made it what it is, ADVENTURE!
Will I recommend this form of travel? Absolutely! You’ll get covered in dust for most of the journey, have to deal with extreme temperatures, untarred roads and long hours driving but you’ll be rewarded with truly wild places, endless horizons, unspoilt nature and a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience to see places you otherwise wouldn’t.