Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions and inquiries about our trip through East Africa, and for good reason. That trip was amazing. I wanted to share our experiences in chronological order, but I also feel like I should give the people what they want. I’m going to write a lot about our Africa trip… I’m going to share everything from which visas you need to get, to which countries you should go to, how to pack for an overland safari, which companies you should look into... But I wanted to share a brief overview that encompasses all of these topics on a surface level. A one stop shop if you will. It’s a casual post with helpful tips and a few insights, covering all of the questions I get asked all the time, perfect for someone in the beginning stages of planning a trip to East Africa.
How long should I go for?
First things first, even before deciding where to go, you need to know how long you can go for. Do you have one week or two? Two months? Four? The time you can allocate toward the trip will help you decide where to go. We spent two months traveling through seven countries, and it wasn’t exactly at a relaxed pace. Everyone knows Africa is a huge continent, but you have to take into account things like dirt roads, slow boarder crossings, break downs, strict speed limits… It takes a long time to drive through Africa. Here are my country recommendations for any given timeline:
Less than 2 weeks: don’t go. Africa deserves more time than that.
2 Weeks: Tanzania. In this amount of time you can comfortably see everything this country has to offer, from the Serengeti to Zanzibar.
3 - 4 Weeks: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania. All 3 might be a little rushed, but is doable, especially if you fly in-between. These are the countries that embody almost everyone’s idea of what Africa will be like. Beautiful animals and landscapes, friendly people, and plenty of activities.
4 - 6 Weeks: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia. OR South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia. It all depends on what you want to see. Both routes include amazing national parks, so you’ll see animals either way. The countries in the second itinerary are far more developed and westernized. It will feel more like home and easier to navigate. The countries in the first itinerary will truly transport you to another world and introduce you to a new and wonderful culture. I would personally opt for Itinerary 1.
6 - 8 Weeks: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa. This was our Itinerary. It included long drives on most days, but was well worth it. We took 8 weeks to do this trip and honestly, any less would be boarding on too rushed.
8 - 10 Weeks: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa. You might notice that the country list is the same even though 2 weeks have been added to the itinerary. That’s because with this extra time you can see more of each country. Our eight week tour ended in Cape Town and only included 2 days in South Africa. If you have the time, take it!
10 + Weeks: Ethiopia (I’ve never been, but have heard great things), Uganda, Rwanda (I haven’t been, but heard it was worth a short visit), Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe (again, we didn’t visit this country but heard good things and will visit someday). I believe in 10 weeks you could truly visit most of East and South Africa with a comfortable timeline.
Where should I go?
Okay now that we’ve talked about timing and I’ve given my personal recommendations for trip lengths, lets talk about the most important aspect of your trip: destinations. Where you want to go depends very much on what you want to see in Africa. Do you want to see animals? Do you want an adrenaline rush? Do you want to go to a beach? In a very casual fashion I’ll give a brief description of the countries we visited and the highlights they bring to the table. I’ll only talk about countries I’ve personally visited.
K E N Y A
Might as well be synonymous with animals. This is where you’ll see giraffes and zebras while driving down a highway. This is where you can visit the Masai Mara, the finish line for the great wildebeest migration. In Nairobi you can visit giraffe, elephant, and rhino sanctuaries. You can take a walking safari and visit Pride Rock. I’ll always associate Kenya with animals.
T A N Z A N I A
Has everything. If you had to pick one country to visit, I would recommend Tanzania. The Serengeti’s vastness will leave you awestruck, the animals will humble you, and then there’s Zanzibar. A quick ferry over to the island and all of a sudden you’re in a tropical paradise with white sand beaches and a cocktail in your hand. I associate Tanzania with everything.
M A L A W I
The Golden Heart of Africa. Malawi is known for its friendly locals. We met some lovely people on a village tour there. Even the boys trying to sell us stuff were polite and friendly, we felt they earned a sale and bought a chair from them in the end. Lake Malawi is big enough to trick you into thinking you’re looking at the ocean and is a good spot for a beach resort at a fraction of the price. HOWEVER, there are parasites in the lake and it’s strongly recommended you buy the antidote while in Malawi as western doctors won’t be able to diagnose you and treat the symptoms properly. AND every few days there’s a plague of bugs that comes through the lakeside and makes it next to impossible to be outside. Other than that, and the heat, it’s lovely. I associate Malawi with relaxation.
U G A N D A
What an amazing country, so incredibly different than its neighbor, Kenya. Uganda is mountainous and tropical. On your gorilla trek, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into Tarzan’s world. While rafting the Nile, you’ll feel nature’s true power. While hanging out with the locals, you’ll feel like you’re home. While the adventures and gorillas were amazing, I always associate Uganda with its incredibly nice and friendly people.
Z A M B I A
Livingstone. Arguably Africa’s most famous adrenaline capitol. Located on the Zambezi River and very near Victoria Falls, you can spend your days white water rafting, swimming in Devil’s Pool atop Victoria Falls, bungee jumping (if you’re insane), visiting elephant sanctuaries, flying in helicopters, the list seems endless. We spent 3 days there and I could have extended my trip even longer. Because of the town’s popularity with tourism, the campsites and resorts are very luxurious and a bit more expensive than some other destinations. Of course there’s more to Zambia than Livingstone, but it was the highlight for us. I associate Zambia with excitement and luxury.
N A M I B I A
Woah. Namibia is a surprise at every turn. From Etosha National Park, with its famous watering holes giving you amazing vantage points of animals at night, to its sand dunes and German towns, it’s truly a country like no other. Namibia is so wonderfully itself and offers so much to travelers, but because of its German history and western culture it doesn’t feel like “Africa.” Visitors can enjoy animal spotting in Etosha, hiking sand dunes at sunrise in Sossusvlei, get an adrenaline fix or German beer in Swakopmund, and visit Fish River Canyon to feel insignificant. There’s something for everyone in this diverse country. I associate Namibia with Namibia, I know that’s not super helpful but this country stands on its own and therefore stands out in Africa..
B O T S W A N A
Another country that has so much to offer. With parks like Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta, you can see animals and nature up close and personal. Botswana is significantly more developed than East Africa and is therefore not exactly the “traditional Africa” you might expect, however it’s wonderful to see the country thriving. The Okavango Delta was the highlight for us. It included a night camping completely off the grid, canoe transport guided by locals, walking safaris, and an accidental very close, nay too close elephant encounter. We spent the night dancing around the fire with locals and pooping in the bushes. It was a truly authentic experience. I associate Botswana with authentic people and experiences… and the elephant attack.
When should I go?
Like every destination in the world, some times of the year are better for visiting than others. Each country in Africa has a different peak season so you need to either decide what you want to see/where you want to go and plan around that, or decide when you want to go and figure out the best destination for that time of year. For example, we wanted to see the great wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara, which is usually coming to an end in October so we planned our entire four month trip around that. It was a great time to be in the Masai Mara because there were animals everywhere, healthy and active. While I loved our trip to the Serengeti, it was the wrong time of year to see it in its fully glory. You’d want to plan a trip there before the wildebeest migrate. In Africa, timing is everything so make sure you research what you want to see and set yourself up for success!
How do I choose a tour company?
I’m not even going to waste time explaining why overlanding is the best way to travel Africa. If you’ve started doing any research at all, you’ve already seen how easy, affordable, and efficient these companies are. If you’d like to hear more about it, check out my post dedicated to anything and everything overlanding (coming soon). The number one most stressful aspect of planning this trip was deciding on a tour company. There are so many options that seem to all provide the same thing, so how do you pick one from a million miles away? We looked at 3 aspects: price, inclusions, and the truck.
Price: Overlanding is the cheapest and most efficient way to travel Africa, especially for budget travelers. Overland companies often offer a variety of types of trips to appeal to any traveler. We opted for the cheapest possible trip which meant we were camping, cleaning, cooking. We knew this was what we wanted to do from the beginning so we had no issues with this. Some companies charge slightly more for the same option, without the added burden of cooking and cleaning, etc. You can also opt to spend significantly more and stay in hotels along the way. So with price, it all depends on how you want to travel and where you want to spend your money. We always feel like saving on accommodation is smart because it leaves a much bigger budget for activities and food :)
Inclusions: This is related to price in that some companies include excursions like National Parks in their advertised prices and some companies don’t. This is where you’ll initially see a big discrepancy between company prices for trips that offer the same experiences. It takes a bit of work, but add up the estimated price of the excursions you’d like to do and compare totals. Read the fine print and see what’s included in each tour company’s itinerary. Do the math and add it up to see which company provides the best value for money.
The Truck: This sounds silly, but once you start looking at itineraries you’ll quickly realize how much driving is involved! No matter what company or country(s) you choose, you’ll be spending a lot of time in a truck. During my own research I started thinking about this and came across a company that provided a truck that looked like it just drove out of 1945 and immediately crossed it off our list. It sounded snobby then, and it sounds snobby now, but when you’re spending 10 hours a day driving, you want to be comfortable. When you leave your campsite at 3am, you want to be able to sleep. When you start collecting driving snacks and souvenirs, you want storage space. All of these things seem small, but they make a big difference.
So which companies do I recommend?
We traveled with Tucan Travel and loved it. I felt their price was very fair for the experience that was provided. We camped nearly every night, took turns cooking dinner, setting up camp, cleaning up after dinner, and cleaning the bus. It was exhausting but because we chose the cheapest accommodation, we had more money for excursions. The Tucan truck is the best on the road. It’s modern and very comfortable, efficiently designed for lots of storage space, and comes equipped with a fridge for food and a cooler for drinks. Furthermore, the drivers doubled as mechanics and they were fantastic. We only got one flat tire in the entire two months. The guides were knowledgable, however they are much more like tour leaders than tour guides. Their job is to successfully get the group from place to place and keep things organized, not inform you about local culture or wildlife, although they do so when they can. When we ran into any problem, they were incredibly helpful and went out of their way to make sure it was solved. I highly recommend Tucan Travel and will likely travel Africa again with them in the future.
Other companies we saw on the road and I would recommend include Acacia, Intrepid, Gecko, and G Adventures. We saw Oasis, but after a 10 hour drive in their truck I honestly can’t recommend that company. The guides and drivers were incredibly nice, and the people seemed very happy with their experience, but I was very uncomfortable on that drive.
How much should I budget?
Africa isn’t cheap. In 4 months, we spent about $20,000 AUD ($14,046 USD) each (including flights, visas, tours, oopsies, 3 Moroccan carpets, excursions, etc). Our two month overland safari with Tucan Travel was more than half of our budget. Here is a price break down per person in AUD (the currency we used while traveling) and USD:
Gorillas to Cape, 52 day Group Tour: $3489.00 AUD / $2,450.00 USD, this is your accommodation, transportation, tour leader, and driver
Compulsory Local Payment due upon arrival: $1120.00 USD (must be USD and must be in cash) This covers food, a few park entries and expenses, and any problems the tour leader might run into along the way.
Excursions - these are all optional but highly recommended as they are likely the reason you’re going to Africa
Okavango Delta Excursion: $219.00 AUD, $153.00 USD
Gorilla Trek: $1159.00 AUD, $813.00 USD
Serengeti & Ngorongoro Crater $1189.00 AUD, $835.00 USD
Masai Mara: $750.00 AUD, $526.00 USD
Total: $8,400.00 per person AUD, $5,900.00 USD (including local payment)
*Tucan Travel allows you to save your place with a $1400.00 AUD / $983.00 USD deposit
So technically, this is all you have to spend on the trip. However, you will spend thousands more. Every day there are multiple activities offered. From white water rafting and village tours to elephant sanctuaries, sand boarding and everything in between, there is something for everyone. A lot of these activities cost upwards of $100 so you need to make sure you budget for these as well. We went through every single day of the tour and added up all of the most expensive excursions to plan our budget. We ended up budgeting for $1,400 AUD in extra activities and probably spent about that. So now the trip is $9,800.00 AUD, $6,882.00 USD.
You also need to take into account drinks, snacks, dinners out, the occasional room upgrade for the nights when you just can’t with your tent, and souvenirs. Beer is anywhere from $1.50 to $4. You might want to budget an extra $30 a day per person for these types of extras. There will be days you won’t spend anywhere near that much, and there will be days you blow out. So that’s another $1,560 bringing your total trip cost to $11,360.00 AUD, $7,978.00.
And don’t forget visas! You can expect to pay $50 USD in cash at most boarders. I go into detail about visas and boarder crossings in another post (coming soon), but for now I’ll just add the extra cost to the budget. Visas cost me (an American) $335 USD, and Will (a Kiwi) $285 USD which you need to carry in cash. After visas, my trip total is now $11,837.00 AUD or $8,313.00 USD.
Obviously you need to get to Africa, so you must take flights into consideration as well. Everyone’s travel plans are different so it’s hard for me to speculate the cost of your flights. We spent about $1,333 AUD per person, flying to Nairobi from Romania and to Sydney from Windhoek. Bringing my trip total to $13,170.00 AUD, $9,250.00 USD
Last but not least, and something I always forget to consider while budgeting is vaccines! Everyone’s vaccination history is different, so again I can’t comment on how much this will cost you. For example, I only had to purchase malaria tablets and antibiotics, a total cost of $190 AUD. Will, on the other hand, spent hundreds on vaccinations.
My trip total for East Africa, down to the very last pill, cost a total of $13,360 AUD or $9,383 USD.
Do I need any visas?
You’ll need visas for most of the countries you enter, but not all (Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa are free). Most visas cost $50 USD (some are less, some are more depending on where you’re from) and are available upon arrival, as of 2018. Kenya and Uganda both have options to purchase their visas online, however I do not recommend doing this as it’s actually much easier to get them at the boarder. If you plan on going to Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya, however, I highly recommend getting the East Africa visa ($100USD) prior to departure, as it will grant you entry to all three countries and save you money. We had some issues with visas so I’m dedicating a whole post to them, to clear the air and make sure that the truth is out there, somewhere on the internet! Check it out for more details on price, boarder crossings, and the mistakes we made along the way (coming soon). However, I will say, because I know from personal experience that in your darkest hour you’re not thinking clearly… When in doubt, stay calm and call an embassy.
What do I pack?
I have a whole post dedicated to packing for an overland safari (coming soon), so check that out if it’s something you’re interested in. For now I’ll provide a few packing tips and a brief overview of what you’ll need.
Pack for every season. There were days we were shivering in the pouring rain, and days when our birthday suit was still too much clothing. Puffer jackets that pack into their pockets are key, as are flowy dresses, pants, and shorts.
You don’t need that many clothes. You will get dirty, it’s just part of being in Africa. And about a week into our safari I realized I’d rather dirty and ruin a select few clothing items, than wear and wreck my entire wardrobe. Pack light (one to two pairs of shorts, 4 shirts, etc) and save your wardrobe.
You DO need a lot of underwear. You’ll be washing your own clothes 90% of the time (unless you want to pay someone at the hotel to take your white shirt to the river, wash it in dirty water, and hang dry it on a dirty line), so you’ll be surprised by much you’ll rewear items. Underwear shouldn’t be one of those items.
Pack the essentials for laundry: soap and a clothes line
Sunscreen: Africa doesn’t really stock this product in its grocery stores
2 pairs of shoes: one for active days and flip flops.
That’s pretty much it! You’ll thank yourself for packing light when you’re not digging through your bag to find clean clothes and have plenty of room in your bag for the masks you bought.
Oh and PS: use a backpack. It’s 1000 times easier than a suitcase and fits into the truck much more efficiently.
Do I really need to bring a camera?
I get this one a lot. My answer is yes… I don’t care how good your phone is, it cannot take the same quality photo as a DSLR. Africa is the one place you are going to want that extra zoom, detail so good you can count the hairs on a mane… Even if you’re not an avid photographer, I think a good camera would be a good investment for a safari. However, out of the 7 of us who traveled the entire 2 months together, I was the only one with a camera. Other travelers did have really nice phones that took amazing photos and every single one of them was happy with their pictures, and that’s all that matters! So here’s a few questions to ask yourself if you’re debating whether or not to purchase a camera:
What are you going to do with these photos?
What are you going to do with these photos? Will they ever leave your phone screen? If you just want some good photos of the time you spent there and plan to do little more than look at them on your phone and share them to instagram, then your iPhone would be fine. If you want to look at these pictures on a computer screen, print them out, or even get into some serious editing, you’ll get much MUCH higher quality images shooting with a camera.
What do you want pictures of?
What do you want pictures of? Are you more interested in pictures with the friends you make along the way, or do you want to show off the wildlife you encountered? Phones are great for quick shots, especially of people who are close by. With a good enough phone you can even capture an amazing scene. Cameras, on the other hand, give you the ability to get in the animals faces from far away. You can take portraits of cheetahs as well as your friends.
Do you really have the patience to deal with a camera?
Do you really have the patience to deal with a camera? They are more work, there’s no denying that. To me, the trade off is so worth it, it’s not even funny. My photos from Africa are some of my most prized possessions. I can’t wait to decorate my house with prints of my own photos! But not everyone wants to do that and not everyone wants to carry a heavy camera around, worry about keeping it charged, organizing photos, etc. Because of my cameras, I also had to bring my laptop to Africa and with all of the equipment and their chargers and what not, we ended up having to carry an additional bag.
If you are interested in buying a camera, I use and recommend a Nikon D80 with a 18-250 mm lens. It’s incredible versatile and easy to use, allowing for those zoomed shots but still able to capture landscape.
Do I need to get vaccinated?
Yes. Here’s a list our tour company provided to help get you started on your vaccination research. Schedule an appointment with a travel doctor to get the most up to date information and do so early, as you might need to space out your vaccines.
Okay I think you’re well and truly ready to start planning your trip to Africa! I’ll be sharing more in depth posts in the future, so keep an eye out for those and subscribe so you don’t miss them! If you have any questions at all, please reach out. Helping people plan for once in a lifetime trips is a passion of mine.
H A P P Y
T R A V E L S