It has been 7 months since returning from my epic overland adventure through Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe – with layovers in Qatar and South Africa – which added 6 new countries to my list. Since I have now booked my next trip, which is also to Africa, I wanted to post some thoughts from that previous trip overlanding across Southern Africa.
The overland route from Zanzibar to Victoria Falls is one that I had wanted to do for a very long time, since my first overland trip to Africa in 2009, and it did not disappoint. Sure, there were extremely long and difficult travel days – probably among the longest that you’ll get in Africa – but this is something that you are warned about in advance. However, the scenery, the wildlife, and the people definitely made up for it.
This is a country that hadn’t really been on my to-do list but it’s one that I enjoyed visiting. It was nice to start in Zanzibar, with the melting pot of culture and food that creates a unique atmosphere, before heading out into the wilderness.
The constant pestering from people in Stone Town trying to sell football shirts was annoying, but it’s a place that I enjoyed visiting to soak up some culture and relax before the long weeks ahead.
We had a shore overview of the mainland of Tanzania after leaving Zanzibar and it was great – I enjoyed seeing wildlife in the Mikumi National Park. I will have to return to the country again at some point – I’d love to do the overland segment between Nairobi and Zanzibar to start filling in the gaps in the East Africa route that I haven’t done yet. Plus, the Serengeti and Masai Mara are supposed to have some amazing scenery.
This was a country that was at the top of my list of countries that I had wanted to visit in Africa for a long time. Those who follow this blog will know that I love to get off the beaten path, to places that are not frequently visited by western tourists, and where you can see the real destination. Malawi didn’t disappoint.
I enjoyed spending a few nights on Lake Malawi – including 2 nights on a beachfront bungalow at Kande Beach which was idyllic. Unfortunately, most overland trips only spend a few days in the country which isn’t enough to get under the skin of the place and there are so many other places that I would like to see in the country.
One day I will return to Malawi so that I can see more of the country – and hopefully the weather will be better on that visit so that I’ll be able to go snorkelling on Lake Malawi. It’s supposed to be an incredible experience, with a wealth of marine life, but unfortunately there were storms before we arrived which meant that snorkelling wasn’t possible.
However one thing that I did notice was the sincerity and friendliness of the people. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world but the people have such a positive outlook on life and I think that we could learn a thing or two from them.
There were a few very long travel days in Zambia but it was a great country to visit. The scenery was beautiful, and there was so much wildlife. I haven’t been to any of the major National Parks in Africa – Serengeti, Kruger, Etosha etc – but I have been to a few and the South Luangwa National Park was definitely the best of them all.
What made me happy the most here was finally seeing Lion up close, after seeing them for the first time briefly in Tanzania, and also seeing Leopard for the first time which was the final member of the Big 5 that had been evading me for so long.
When I was in East Africa in 2009 I was told that the National Parks of Zimbabwe were incredible because they have a lot of wildlife but don’t have the same level of visitors as Kruger and other places at that end of the continent.
We didn’t visit Hwange on this trip but we did visit Matobo National Park to go walking with Rhino which was incredible, and something that I would definitely recommend to everybody.
One thing that was unique about this trip, however, was that it’s the only overland trip which both visits Lake Malawi and does a loop around Zimbabwe to see more of the country than just Victoria Falls. While it was a fast-paced trip I’m glad that I did it to see places like Bulawayo and the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe had been on my bucket list even before I was told about its National Parks and I’m so glad that I had a chance to visit there, finishing at the epic Victoria Falls.
Overlanding during COVID-19
I’ve been on a few overland trips before but this was the first time since COVID-19 brought the travel industry to a standstill, especially in Africa. Until last year borders were closed, travel wasn’t possible, and the continent really struggled.
Kande Beach, on Lake Malawi, would usually have dozens of trucks passing through every month but now it only sees the occasional one. Our truck, which was at 1/3 capacity, was the only truck visiting for the 3 days that we were there. You can read more about my thoughts on Kande Beach on this page.
Additionally, there aren’t that many places suitable for overland trucks in Harare anymore as most of them closed due to lack of visitors over the past 2 years, which is a shame.
The health checks at the borders sometimes took a while, and were incredibly stressful. At the Malawian border we were specifically told that if the one person who had to have a PCR test on the border tested positive for COVID then we would all be denied entry into the country. Luckily that didn’t happen, and we were all able to compete the trip successfully.
The Intrepid guides were great in helping us to navigate the ever-changing rules regarding testing, masks, paperwork, immigration during this time of change and they helped to keep the stress levels down, for sure.
My advice would be – if you want to go somewhere then just go there. Don’t worry, don’t overthink, just go there. You will have a great time, and these sorts of places really need our investment and our visits right now just to survive.
Overlanding with Intrepid
This is the first time that I’ve been in an overland truck with Intrepid since most of my overlanding has been with Dragoman, other times that I have travelled with Intrepid was on public transport or on a boat, and I had a great time.
One thing that took some getting used to was the overall pace of the trip. This segment has long travel days no matter who you travel with but as a comparison, the previous Dragoman trip covering this segment was the same duration but without the big loop in Zimbabwe taking in Harare, Masvingo, and Bulawayo, so it’s at a much slower pace.
This faster pace, and the fact that Intrepid are more whistlestop and big company in style rather than raw and off the beaten path like Dragoman, was a shock to the system for me but I had a great time and you will too as long as you mentally prepare for it.
What I did like, however, was the individual lockers for kit. This made life so much easier as we could get to things whenever we wanted, including while on the move, which wasn’t possible on Dragoman trucks since they have one big locker at the back for everything.
The crew were the highlight of the trip for me, however, and I have nothing but positive things to say about them. They made it a pleasure to be back out on the road again, even during COVID, and I really enjoyed spending a few weeks on the road with them and the rest of the group.
Before going on this trip I was worried that a combination of the long driving days, the COVID-19 restrictions, the fast pace, and the fact that it had been 7 years since I was last on an overland truck would mean that I wouldn’t have a good time. I was very wrong.
This is a trip that I had wanted to do for so long and I am really glad that I did it. Sure, the long driving days on this segment were challenging at times, but I had become battle hardened on other overland trips which had shorter days and I also mentally prepared.
This trip ticked so much off my bucket list and, while I never lost the travel bug during COVID and the busy years at work that came before it, I’m so glad to have been back out on the road and know that this is where I truly belong.
Every time I write a blog from an overland trip I say to people that if you want to go on an overland trip then just do it. As long as you set your expectations you will have an absolutely amazing time, with memories that will last a lifetime. I’m also, as always, willing to receive messages via the contact page if you have any questions.
I have booked my next trip, also to Africa, already although it’s a shorter trip to a cheaper destination as this trip was very expensive. More details to come on that closer to the time.