Overlanding Africa: 12 Unmissable Highlights & Things to Do

Wildlife can wander through the campsites
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In 2023, I embarked on a two-month overland journey through Africa. To this day, it remains one of my absolute favourite trips… ever! I travelled through ten different countries, including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.

In my opinion, one of the best ways to experience Africa is by going on an overland trip. An overlanding trip is all about adventure, and what better place to experience this than Africa? From camping in the Serengeti to stargazing in the Namib desert, this diverse and often misunderstood continent has so much to offer.

In this post, I’ve shared the top 12 highlights from my two-month trip through Africa to help you plan your overlanding trip. In all honesty, narrowing this list down to 12 highlights was incredibly hard. Each country I visited had something special and unique to offer.

Overlanding Africa Pinterest

Before I discuss the top things to do when overlanding Africa, let’s discuss how to do this. I joined a two-month G Adventures tour across Africa, which included all my accommodation, transport, a variety of activities, and meals.

Planning an overland trip to Africa? You can book the EXACT tour I did right here.

Granted, some countries such as Namibia, South Africa and even Botswana would be easy to navigate yourself if you hire a car, but it requires a lot of planning. Many of the countries are vast with limited infrastructure, and it can be difficult to manage when things go wrong. As a solo traveller, I wasn’t keen on doing this myself so I opted to join the tour.

Overlanding Africa: 12 Unmissable Highlights & Things to Do

I’ve written all about my experience with G Adventures right here, but I honestly can’t recommend this tour enough. Group tours are a great way to travel, and my tour in Africa will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Here are the top things to do on an overland trip through Africa:

Bush camping in the Okavango Delta 

The Okavango Delta is one of Africa’s best safari experiences. Located in Botswana, this vast river delta is home to some of Africa’s most incredible wildlife, including elephants, hippos, lions, leopards and giraffes.

The best thing about visiting the Okavango Delta is how untouched it is. It’s a completely authentic safari experience without the frills.

While there are a couple of luxury lodge options, the best way to experience the Okavango Delta is by bush camping. The locals will take you down the waterways in a dugout canoe past elephants and hippos to find a suitable spot to spend the night. It’s bush camping at its finest with no electricity, no connection to the outside world and no running water or toilets.

There’s also the option to go on a walking safari and swim in the river (with guides on strict hippo watch!). As night falls, the locals share their stories, songs and games around a campfire.

Elephant in the Okavango Delta
Elephant in the Okavango Delta

There is something incredibly special about camping in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wild animals, with no control over what they will do. If you need to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, you’ll either need to be brave and leave the tent or hold it until the morning!

Planning a budget camping trip to the Okavango Delta is a little tricky. Many of the options online are incredibly expensive. I suggest looking at G Adventures, as an overnight stay in the Okavango Delta is included in the price of their tours in Botswana, and they hire the locals to run the trips.

Related read: All you need to know about camping in the Okavango Delta

Going on safari in Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park holds a very special place in my heart. Not only was it my first safari experience, but I saw wild elephants, rhinos, lions, and giraffes for the very first time.

One of the unique things about Etosha is the man-made waterholes. Many of the safari roads take you past waterholes surrounded by animals, meaning unique animal sightings are almost guaranteed.

The campsites themselves are also close to floodlit waterholes. As the sun set, we watched as young rhinos played and giraffes cautiously came to drink. It was such a special and magical experience.

You can actually drive yourself around Etosha, but I would personally suggest joining a guided safari tour. The guides know all the best spots for the animals. They also communicate with each other, so if there’s a sighting, your guide can quickly take you there.

Etosha National Park is an enclosed area. This means that animals can’t enter or leave the area. There’s some controversy around this as there are issues with overcrowding, but it’s ultimately to protect the animals from poachers and local farmers.

Wine tasting in South Africa

Is any trip to South Africa complete without sipping on some of the country’s famous wines? I think not!

South Africa is one of the top wine-growing regions in the world. Even if you’re not a big wine drinker, taking a tour through the wine-tasting region is a great way to explore beyond Cape Town and escape the business of the city.

If you’re hoping to taste the wine, you’ll likely want to join an organised tour so you can make the most of all the fine wines on offer. Many tours depart from Cape Town including this one, which is the tour I did. The tour includes a delicious lunch as well as several tastings.

If you’d prefer a bit more flexibility, you can choose the hop-on-hop-off tram which allows you to explore at your own pace.

Watching the sunset at Fish River Canyon in Namibia 

One of the first stops on my overland trip through Africa was watching the sunset at Fish River Canyon. This remains one of my all-time favourite travel memories, and it’s an absolute must for anyone visiting Namibia.

Fish River Canyon is the second-largest canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon) and the largest canyon in Africa. This vast wonder stretches as far as the eye can see. While it’s possible to explore the canyon by day, the magic truly happens at sunset.

As the sun sets, the orange, reds and purples create the most stunning setting. Although it’s a popular attraction in Namibia, it’s a lot less crowded and commercialised than the Grand Canyon, and I much preferred this experience.

There is a short walking track along the rim of the canyon. I’d suggest arriving in time to go for a quick walk to admire the views, then finding the perfect spot for sunset. There’s a dedicated viewing area with seats, or you can find your own spot along the ridge.

Fish River Canyon
Fish River Canyon

Camping and stargazing in Spitzkoppe 

Sticking with Namibia, a visit to Spitzkoppe is an absolute must while on a road trip through the country and its neighbours. This hidden gem lies in the heart of the Namib desert. I only spent one night there and truly wish we had been able to stay longer.

Known as the ‘Matterhorn of Namibia’, Spitzkoppe is home to unique orange granite peaks. It very much reminded me of Utah. The area is known for its hiking, rock climbing, ancient cave paintings, epic stargazing and wild bush camping.

Spitzkoppe is a great day trip, but it’s well worth spending a night if you can. The area is in the middle of nowhere, and there are no signs of civilisation. The campsites are basic, but that’s the beauty of overlanding Africa.

For sunset, I highly recommend making your way up to a viewing point. These aren’t very well signed, but our guide told us which rocks we could climb up. This is one of my favourite moments from my trip across Africa. It was the most incredible sunset over a vast landscape, and we sipped on (warm) beer as we watched the stars start to shine.

And, speaking of stars…wow! Spitzkoppe has some of the BEST stargazing in the world. I’ve stargazed in dark sky reserves, including New Zealand and Utah, as well as the Galapagos, and I’m being entirely honest when I say it doesn’t even compare to the stars here.

Sunset at Spitzkoppe
Sunset in Spitzkoppe

If you’re planning an overland trip through Namibia or Africa, don’t forget to add Spitzkoppe to your itinerary.

Related read: Plan your trip to Spitzkoppe

Going on a sunset cruise in Chobe National Park

Chobe is known to have some of the best sunsets in the world, and one of the best ways to experience this is by going on a Chobe Sunset River Cruise.

The boat takes you through the national park past elephants, buffalo, and even hippos as the sun sets. It’s a great way to mix up your safaris. While travelling by vehicle is great fun, a boat allows you to see the animals from a different perspective.

Chobe is especially known for its large population of elephants, so it’s a great option for those who want to get up close and personal with these giants.

The sunset I witnessed in Chobe was breathtaking (and I didn’t even go at the ‘best’ time of year). It’s exactly how I pictured an African safari sunset to be, but even better!

You’ll need to book a tour to do the Chobe sunset cruise. You can do these from Victoria Falls or the nearby Kasane which has several campsites (and even a Nandos!).

Sunset at Chobe National Park
Sunset at Chobe National Park

Meeting locals in Malawi 

Next up on this list of the best things to do on an African overland trip is the slightly lesser-visited Malawi. I have so much to say about this beautiful country and its friendly locals. It turned out to be one of my favourite countries on my entire two-month trip.

Malawi is mostly known for its incredible lake, the fourth-largest in the entire world. While our itinerary was based around exploring all corners of the lake, it was the people we met along the way which made this place so special.

One of the stops included spending two nights at Kande Beach, a great place to relax between all the adventures. We spent one night having a dinner cooked by locals. We went to a nearby house, ate delicious food and listened as the locals told us more about their lives and shared their songs and dances with us.

It was a very special evening and one I certainly won’t forget.

Sunrise at lake Malawi
Sunrise at lake Malawi

Admiring Victoria Falls 

One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls is an obvious one to include on this list, but it really is a must.

On the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, the impressive Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the entire world. Even if you’re not normally bothered by waterfalls, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer scale of this natural wonder.

The best time of year to visit Victoria Falls is between February and May, which is when it’s at its most powerful (right after the rainy season). Having said that, I went in October during the dry season and was still blown away by the scale of it all.

You don’t need to join a tour to visit Victoria Falls (although there is an entry fee), and you can wander the many boardwalks and paths around the area. You can visit from both the Zimbabwe and Zambia sides; just remember to take your passport if you’re planning to go across the border.

The town of Victoria Falls itself is a great place to reset amongst a longer overland journey. The town is much more developed than other popular destinations, and there are lots of hotels and accommodation options if you need a break from the overland life.

Victoria Falls are a must visit when overlanding Africa
Victoria Falls

Relaxing on the beaches of Zanzibar 

Ah, Zanzibar! I didn’t know much about Zanzibar before I visited, but this stunning island is absolutely an underrated gem. Just off the coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar is an up-and-coming popular tropical paradise surrounded by the Indian Ocean.

Think endless white sand beaches, the bluest and clearest ocean water and thriving marine life – that’s Zanzibar! If you’ve been to Thailand or the Philippines and longed for something less commercialised, Zanzibar is the answer (at least for now).

Zanzibar is also the perfect spot to take a break from the overlanding life. You’ll need to take a boat or plane to reach the island, and you’ll likely find yourself staying in an affordable beachfront hotel (does it get much better than this?!).

While in Zanzibar, don’t miss a visit to the island’s main town of Stone Town. This is likely where you’ll begin your trip on the island, so spend a few hours exploring before moving on.

One of the best things to do in Zanzibar is to go on an island-hopping boat trip. You can spend the day snorkelling in the ocean, swimming with dolphins, and visiting different islands and sand banks. There’s also the option to go to a spice garden or join a safari.

Gorilla trekking in Uganda (or Rwanda)

If you’re heading to East Africa, then don’t miss ticking off one of the ultimate top wildlife experiences in the world – trekking to see the silverback gorillas.

My Gorilla Trekking experience is one of my all-time favourite memories, not just from travel but in general! It’s so hard to describe the feeling of being so close to these incredible creatures and seeing them thrive in their natural environment.

Sadly, the mountain gorillas were once hunted and nearly went extinct, leaving only around 1,000 in the wild. Thanks to efforts from conservation organisations, governments and the locals, these creatures are now protected within National Parks.

You can go gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the DRC comes with a few safety concerns and can be more complex to arrange, so it’s best to stick with Uganda or Rwanda.

I did the Gorilla trekking in Uganda in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the cheaper option of the two countries. I’ve heard Uganda is a bit more of an adventure as it tends to be less developed and harder to reach. Rwanda has a few more accommodation options and is slightly more commercialised (and a lot more expensive)!

Trekking to find gorillas is a real highlight of overlanding Africa
Finding gorillas in Africa

You need a permit to do the trekking, and you will also need a local guide (trust me, you don’t want to be wading through that jungle alone). If you’re keen to go to Uganda, I’d suggest this tour which collects you from Kampala (Uganda’s capital) and includes accommodation. If you’re planning to do the trip with G Adventures, the trekking is included in the price.

It’s also important to know that the gorillas have been “humanised”. This means the guides have spent significant time with the wild gorillas to get them used to humans. This doesn’t mean they will approach you (or you can approach them). It just means the gorillas won’t freak out when they see a human. So ultimately, it’s for everyone’s safety.

We could have a whole debate on whether humanising wild animals is ethical, but this is a unique situation. Gorilla tourism brings in a lot of money to the local economy which encourages the locals to protect the area from illegal activity, such as poaching and logging. If tourism to the area stops, so may the protection of the gorillas. It’s a complicated topic, but the gorillas are still wild with limited and controlled human contact.

I’m planning to write a guide about this activity so check back here soon!

Trekking to find Gorillas
Trekking to find Gorillas

Camping in the Serengeti 

The Serengeti is one of Africa’s best safari experiences! Located in Tanzania, this humongous area is home to all of Africa’s big five and offers everything you could want from a safari.

Because of its popularity, parts of the Serengeti are commercialised, with luxury hotels and lodges attracting tourists from all over the world. The park itself can also be quite busy, with hundreds of safari vehicles going around at any given time.

Thankfully, it’s easy to escape the commercial side of the area. One of my highlights from the Africa trip was the wild bush camping, and the Serengeti, in particular, was very special. We were at a basic campsite with toilets and nothing else. There were no fences to protect us from the animals which made it all the more special. I even came face-to-face with a hyena in the middle of the night and woke to a zebra munching grass right outside my tent!

As tempting as staying in a luxury lodge might be, overlanding Africa is really not about that. Camping in the heart of the Serengeti will undoubtedly be a memorable experience, and I highly recommend it.

If you’re not planning to join a tour for your overland trip, you can book your budget Serengeti camping experience here.

If you are visiting the Serengeti, one of the most popular things to do is to take a sunrise hot air balloon ride. Unfortunately, this was not possible within my budget, but a few people in my group did it and absolutely loved it.

If you book your tour with G Adventures, you’re best to arrange the activity with them directly. For those planning a DIY trip, you can book the activity here.

Morning safari in the Ngorongoro crater

The final activity on this list of things to do when overlanding Africa is a morning safari at the Ngorongoro Crater. This volcanic caldera is home to one of the highest densities of wild animals anywhere on the entire planet. It’s absolutely incredible and one of the top things to do in Tanzania.

Due to the steep crater walls, most animals choose to live there year-round, giving the caldera a unique ecosystem. During our morning safari at the crater, we saw endless animals including lions, zebras, hippos, rhinos, elephants and giraffes. It was definitely the safari where we saw the most animals in a short space of time.

The Ngorongoro Crater is one of Africa's best safari experiences
Inside the Ngorongoro Crater

I especially loved visiting in the morning. It was still cold, there was a beautiful fog rising out of the crater and we were the first safari vehicle on the road. We had so many unique wildlife experiences all to ourselves.

The Ngorongoro Crater is close to the Serengeti, and many tours include a visit to both. However, you’ll need to join a guided tour to get into the crater.

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