Those of us used to travelling in Africa are likely to have seen trucks full of (usually) western tourists. That’s a fairly popular way of getting around Africa. Typical to overland truck tours is:
- Trucks specifically fitted to sustain rough roads and carry passenger, equipment and luggage
- Tours may last weeks, sometimes even months
- Tours cover more than one country
- Tours end at a different place (and country) than the starting point
- Many tours are planned to minimise costs (e.g. camping)
Most overland tours take place in Southern Africa. East Africa is another hotspot. A few operators offer tours also in Northern or Western Africa. The most popular route is arguably from Cape Town via Namibia and Botswana to Victoria falls, this itinerary takes usually around 20 days.
Tour itineraries that are planned to include the best attractions, many of which are difficult if not impossible to reach by public transport. However, due to time/cost constraints some other interesting places have to be left out. There may also be optional activities, like game drives, whitewater rafting, scenic flights, boat trips, visits to local villages, museums, and even a Kilimanjaro trek. Those who want to save money, are not interested in the activity, or just want relax (given otherwise stuffed itinerary), can opt out.
Longer tours often run in sections, so those who don’t have time or don’t want to take a full tour may participate only selected sections(s) of the tour.
Even if the tour operator tries to minimise costs, national park fees and visa costs may hike up the overall cost significantly. The latter is not included in the tour fee. For national park fees, check before booking the tour! Accommodation and most meals are included in the tour price. Buying own snacks and drinks will be possible whenever the truck stops at supermarkets or petrol stations. Other extra costs will be optional activities, alcoholic drinks, restaurant meals, tips, and more.
Many, but not all overland tours are camping tours. Participants are expected to help in cooking, putting up tents, cleaning and, needless to say, pushing the truck when it is stuck!
Most campsites offer reasonable toilet/shower facilities. Simplest camps lack electricity. Nicer camps may have a bar, swimming pool and even a working wifi! Those who want to stay connected should consider buying local prepaid SIM cards, although there may be wide gaps in coverage, and 3G is most likely restricted to only big cities.
Tent accommodation can be rough, the routine is to set up the tent right after a long and tiring day and then packing it up again early hours the next morning. Once the tour enters a city, the accommodation may be instead in a hostel or cheap guest house. After a week of camping a hostel dorm bed may feel like a paradise!
Apart from camping tours, companies often provide accommodated options, at a higher price. The quality of accommodation may vary from rather simple guest houses to luxurious safari lodges.
Being shared tours, these attract solo travellers, couples and small groups. Participants on camping tours are mostly aged 20s to mid 30s, although older participants are not uncommon. Accommodated tours attract more of those in their 40’s to 50s. Families with children rarely join these tours. Many travellers are Africa first timers, while others have been to (almost) every corner. Socialising between participants is common and these tours may leave long-lasting friendships.
The size of the truck varies, carrying maybe between 10-20 passengers. A full truck may affect the experience negatively. Some companies offer smaller maximum group sizes at extra cost (but this may also mean the truck is smaller).
A good truck should have comfortable seats, enough space for luggage, safety lockers, a fridge (or a coolerbox restocked with ice whenever possible), and plugs for charging mobile phones. Aircon is a luxury most trucks won’t have. Some truck have already seen their best dates, on the other hand an old but reliable truck may beat a new flashy one.
Truck tours will inevitably involve long days spent on the road. Travellers should prepare to this by bringing plenty of reading, playing cards, a tablet device with preloaded movies (good as long as the battery does not run out…), etc. Lucky ones will learn how to sleep on these trucks while travelling on bumpy roads.
Many people will find overland truck tours very enjoyable, but these are not for everyone. There are many alternatives to overland tours:
- Luxury seekers should look for fly-in/fly out safaris. Surely it is expensive, but also saves much valuable time.
- Conventional safari tours cover less destinations and last only few days. However, by combining tours itineraries these can be tailored to resemble those of overland truck tours. Longer transfers, especially between countries, may be taken by scheduled flights. The downside is that regional flights are not well developed in Africa, routes are limited, flight frequencies scarce, and prices high.
- Those with more time than money will use public transport (buses, minibuses) whenever possible, and resort to tours only when necessary. This option is also for the adventurous-minded, and for those who swear by independent travelling.
- Renting a car allows much independence, but can be costly option especially for solo/couple travellers. Self-driving, may, however, be ideal for families. It has to be a proper 4WD vehicle, forget about renting a Micra. Driving on African roads can be a tough job, and apart from road conditions, traffic madness especially in cities make self-driving a less attractive option.
Many tour companies offer overland truck tours, but the majority are just booking agents. However, these may have better selections of tours if they offer tours by several operators. Booking agents, especially those based overseas, can take juicy commissions. So they may be reluctant to reveal the real operator to prevent customers from making a direct booking. Below is a list of companies, that according to the author’s knowledge, operate overland truck tours:
- Acacia Africa
- Africa Travel Co
- African Trails
- Drifters Adventures
- G Adventures (GAP Adventures)
- Geckos Adventures
- Kiboko Adventures
- Nomad Africa
- Oasis Overland
- Overlanding West Africa
- Sunway Safaris
Some of these companies are locally owned (e.g. South Africa), other overseas (e.g. UK). Tours by latter ones may be a bit pricier due to higher administrative cost. Companies offering prices in South African Rand may be a better deal than those quoting in USD or Pounds due to recent loss of value by Rand.
Things to note when booking a tour:
- Customer experiences and reviews of the company and that specific tour. Bear in mind that different travellers may rate the same trip very differently
- Price, and what it includes and what’s not
- Level of accommodation
- Itinerary and available dates
My only personal overland trucking experience has been a camping tour with Nomad Africa. They offered a great price yet the tour was professionally organised and the guides were great, as was the whole group. While schedules were tight, time allocated to be spent at each attraction was always enough. On downside the truck was almost full. Yes, conditions were simple and days spent on the road long, but that was just a necessary part of the adventure.
- Helen in Wonderlust: 25 Things that will happen on your Africa overland tour (June 20, 2014)
- Lee Abbamonte: African Overland Trucks (October 19, 2011)
- Wild Junket: Overlanding Africa: Tips and Reviews (April 5, 2012)
- The World Wanderer: African Overland Trucks: A Survival Guide (October 1, 2012)