3 week overland trip camping from Victoria Falls to Nairobi

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
9
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
6
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
7
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
8
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
9
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
8
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
82 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Africa
country
Kenya / Malawi / Tanzania / Zambia / Zimbabwe
Length of time
2-4 weeks
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 2,500
Time of year visited
January
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
22nd/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 10% SUMMARY RATING: Unmissable

Summary

One of the classic overland routes across Africa is from the thunderous Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to the big hitting wildlife meccas of the Masai Mara and Serengeti in Kenya and Tanzania, with the paradise island of Zanzibar and the tranquil Lake Malawi en route.  Each of those destinations are world-class experiences that are must sees in their own right.  Combined, you have one of the world’s great travel experiences with the added benefit of seeing the wonderful African landscape in-between

 

That being said, the experience isn’t for everyone.  These overland tours are often done in an overland truck which is fantastic for the elevated views with its large windows and their ability to go off-road, but they are not a luxury, comfortable coach or a private 4×4.  There is a lot of driving – roughly 80 hours in the truck in total, which also means that you’re hoping that you get a good group of people to enjoy the trip with (typically 20 or so will be on the tour).  And of course, there is the camping which, whilst there will naturally be a few nights when you stay in rooms with beds, will form the majority of your evenings.  Looking back, it is a truly amazing experience, and I’d highly recommend it for those with heaps of energy for an adventure and maybe a little tight on money . . . dare I say a younger traveler?  But I think it all really depends on the individual – we saw a couple in their 70s who embraced it and loved the experience, in comparison there were a group in their 20s who struggled.   Looking back, the long hours sat in the truck, a few breakdowns and the camping might just push me over the edge!  At the time though, in my late 20s, it was fantastic

 

To shorten, I’d consider flying from Tanzania to Victoria Falls.  The major highlights are really in Kenya (the Masai Mara), Tanzania (The Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Zanzibar) and Victoria Falls.  You’ll be doing a lot of driving, so the big stretch between Tanzania / Lake Malawi to Victoria Falls you could maybe skip

highlights

#1 Spending 3 days in Serengeti National Park to see the "Big Five", plus the thousands and thousands of other grazers such as the wildebeest, gazelle, giraffes and elephants

#2 Getting to see the sheer number of lions across the Masai Mara . . . and knowing that the right of passage for a Masai Warrior is to kill one an adult one

#3 Chilling out by the beautiful white sand beaches of Lake Malawi, seeing the surrounding mountains and having the beach largely to yourself

#4 Wandering the alleyways of Zanzibar's Stone Town and finding hidden courtyards that showcase the rich infusion of Arabian, African, Indian and European cultures

#5 - Seeing the water booming over the edge of Victoria Falls, the largest sheet of falling water in the world and one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World

#6 Learning some of the techniques for how the Masai live. Basic stuff at times, but just a great insight into their every day lives . . . often with smartphones to help!

#7 Getting to meet some of the locals, in particular those in places more off the beaten track like here in Livingstonia, who get that wee bit more excited to see you

#8 The adventure of it all as you head off overland into the vast landscapes of this stunning part of the world

#9 Seeing the rarest of the Big Five - the leopards, and hopefully being lucky enough to see a mother with her pups

#10 Taking a boat trip around Zanzibar for the white sand beaches of the north point and east coast and the chance to go snorkelling with dolphins

#11 Those classic Africa savanna backdrops, especially that perfect moment as its just about to rain

#12 Hiking up to Livingstonia for a view back in time to this utopian missionary and for grand views 40km / 25miles across the other side of the lake to Tanzania

#13 Kayaking out to one of the nearby islands on Lake Malawi for snorkelling and general adventuring

#14 Learning about the variety of spices and fruits that still to this day are grown in plantations all across Zanzibar

#15 Looking across the giant caldera of the Ngorongoro Crater and heading down to see this amazing concentration of wildlife

#16 Visiting the giant tortoises on Zanzibar. After being used by seafarers for centuries, hundreds still reside together on the island

#17 Getting involved in the various activities all around the falls - whitewater rafting, quad biking or, in this case, the bridge swing

The route

Rough itinerary

  • Day 0 – arrive in Victoria Falls.  Make your intros to people on the tour, get your equipment and camp for the night Victoria Falls. I call this Day 0 because it most likely won’t be included in your tour itinerary, but in reality you will need to get there the day before
  • Day 1 – a day to see Victoria Falls.  One of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, “The Smoke that Thunders” is immense.  Check out the views across the falls and get a bit wet at this time of year.  Be sure to visit the Victoria Falls Hotel for late afternoon drinks or, even better, High Tea – the grounds are magnificent and with views of the spray from the falls nearby.  Travel entry here – Seeing the magnificent Victoria Falls
  • Day 2-3 – making your way to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia
  • Day 4-5 – South Luangwa National Park for your first safari and the chance to see leopards
  • Day 6-9 – camping on the lake shore of Lake Malawi.  This is a combination of being able to chill out on the lake with its stunning setting, but also an opportunity for kayaking (see Kayaking and swimming Lake Malawi from Chitimba) and hiking up to the wonderfully idyllic spot of the former missionary town of Livingstonia perched up in the mountains overlooking the lake (see Hiking up to the former utopia of Livingstonia from Lake Malawi for more tips)
  • Day 10-12 – making your way out of Malawi and across Tanzania towards Dar es Salem and Zanzibar
  • Day 12 – 14 – the paradisiacal island of Zanzibar.  The highlight is obviously Stone Town with its rich mix of influences from India, Arabia, Africa and Europe, but make sure you also take a spice tour round the island and see the white sand beaches of the northern tip and east coast.  See Zanzibar’s 5 highlights for more details
  • Day 15 – make your way up towards the Serengeti / Masai Mara
  • Day 16-19 – Serengeti / Masai Mara.  Note that tours at this stage usually chose between either Safari in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater or Hanging out with the Masai in the Masai Mara, with an option of adding the one you’ve missed as part of a separate tour at the end.  Both are world-class experiences, and I’ve listed the differences between the two below, but my simple suggestion, if you have the time, is to do both
  • Day 20-21 – making your way to Nairobi to see the elephant sanctuary and to fly out

Travel Tips

  • Details on tour – I won’t go into all the specifics of what you need to bring with you as you tour company will provide this and, if you need more detail, this site (African Overland Tour Details) gives you a comprehensive list.  But, at a high level, make sure to bring games / books / entertainment (its a lot of driving), your own pillow, sleeping bag and towel that you are happy with, and cash in US dollars
  • Choice of tour  – the choice of tour company is vital both because you want get one with a good reputation, but also because there are a range of options from cheap and cheerful to more luxury end.  Be sure to also confirm what is included in the price – its should be all entrance fees etc. and to give yourself the options for some of the optional extras – in particular the Masai Mara / Serengeti National Park at the end
  • When to go – we went in January, which we loved because we had the perfect time for Serengeti National Park and didn’t find the rains in Malawi area bad at all.  That being said, it does seem like if you were to chose an optimal time you would go for August – October based on: the Great Migration when the Wildebeest cross the Masai River is August – October; Victoria Falls is best for viewing July – October; the Malawi and Zambia rainy season is November to April; Zanzibar rain is March to May with June to October the best time to visit
  • Masai Mara or Serengeti – firstly, they are both fantastic experiences.  I know that sounds like a bit of a cop out but they really are – do both if you can!  That being said, I think your choice comes down to:
    • Resident animals compared to migrators – the Serengeti is more dependent on the herd migrations which are determined by the time of year, whereas the Masai Mara (and Ngorongoro Crater) have more resident animals
    • Time of year – if visiting in August to October, the choice is simple – go to the Masai Mara because that is where the Great Migration of Wildebeest (and the other grazers and predators) will be happening with the world-famous, and daunting, crossing of the Mara River.  January to March (calving season) and June to August (see the Great Migration in Tanzania), make more sense for the Serengeti National Park.  April to June, the herds will be in the west of the Serengeti but it will be wet
    • Culture vs nature – the Masai Mara offers the opportunity for staying with and learning from the Masai, which you will not find as an option in the the Serengeti.  In comparison, the Ngorongoro Crater, which you will naturally want to visit as part of your Serengeti National Park trip, is the world’s largest broken caldera and offers stunning views that outclass anything in the Masai Mara

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone