Overlanding with Absolute Africa
Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania
Africa is a huge-ass continent with very little in the way of public transport (and what does exist is fairly unorganised), which means unfortunately, it is pretty inaccessible without booking onto an overland tour. I don’t generally endorse travelling by tour – and if you Contiki your way around Europe I consider you a knob who is either has a drinking problem, an STD or a mum who still makes your bed for you – but in Africa, unless you have a spare four days to take a bus which should take one and a body muscle content which screams, “Don’t fuck with me!” a tour really is going to be your best bet.
Considering the sheer number of African overland companies, I figured I’d give one of the cheapest ones a try for my fellow hobos, so signed up with Absolute Africa for their Simba Sounds Tour.
Cost: Around $2188, including your local payment.
Get There: Book through their website, which also has departure dates.
Overlanding with Absolute Africa means camping for the majority of the trip, so you’d best get cosy with your tent partner. The tents themselves all seemed to be good quality and pretty easy to put up. The accommodation was all fairly good- it’s not the Ritz, but you’re a hobo: what do you expect. They range from very basic campsites with drop or bush toilets and cold showers, to dorm rooms or double beds, and almost all of them have a well-stocked bar (when in Africa you have to try Amarula and Savannah cider). The meals on the trip were fairly scrumptious, and the guides were great at catering to various dietary requirements, but sometimes the food got slightly repetitive. If you find this is the case, you can always suggest a meal you want and make it on your cooking day – yes, you’re expected to participate in chores. It’s not quite a lay back-on-the-beach holiday, but washing the dishes in the middle of the Serengeti still beats washing them at home.
The Best Campsites:
Aruba Cam (Kenya): Just outside the Masai Mara, this camp comes complete with a Maasai Warrior bearing a poisoned bow and arrow and a warning not to venture to the toilet alone. If fearing for your life while holding in your pee as you fall asleep to the gentle sound of lions and hyenas in the distance is your idea of a good time, then this camp is for you. In all seriousness, Africa is an adventure, and for a lot of people, it’s about interacting with animals, so many find this camp amazing.
Lake Naivasha (Kenya): This campsite is set right on the lake, which is a hippo haven. Wake up in the morning, stroll over the fence (not past it) and you’re likely to be greeted by a hippo twirling his tail as he does his morning shit. In case the hippos don’t sell you, there are also not only one, but two bars here, one of which has a bonfire under the stars.
Nile River Explorer Camp (Uganda): You spend four days here, so luckily it’s one of the best campsites, and is located right on the banks of The Nile. This campsite not only has a bar with a view, but it’s popular with backpackers, so there’s also an atmosphere – something Africa can severely lack. You can even upgrade to a dorm here if you’ve felt homesick for waking up next to a pile of vomit and a guy with his hands down his jocks.
Rafiki Guesthouse (Uganda): After camping for nights on end, a dorm room seems like a five-star hotel. The atmosphere here is not quite as good as other campsites, but that may be because there’s access to solid Wi-Fi for the first time in days.
Ngiri (Tanzania): Right in the heart of the Serengeti with no guide to protect you, this campsite is the perfect mix of shit-yourself terrifying and wee-yourself exciting, neither of which you want to find yourself having to do in the middle of the night thanks to the sounds of hyenas laughing and fuck knows what else. If you’re lucky, some local legends run a Mr Whippee Style bottle-o on wheels which may turn up at your campsite.
Simba Camp (Tanzania): Simba Camp sits on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, and while this campsite is fairly basic, the view on the drive up is amazing.
Be prepared for long driving days and interrupted schedules; Africa is gigantic, and to see any of it, you need to be willing to spend a lot of time sitting in the truck. It’s very third world, so learn to expect and even embrace the unexpected. The truck itself is fairly spacious compared to other overland trucks I’ve been on, has speakers to chuck on some bangers (or your fellow passengers can torment you with The Lion King soundtrack for the 50th time, with brief interludes of Toto’s Africa) and charging facilities, so you don’t miss taking that perfect Insty shot.
Aside from the inclusive activities, there’s a huge choice of extras to choose from, including night drives, cycling through Hells Gate National Park, visiting local communities, gorilla trekking, visiting a Maasai Tribe, Grumeti Game Walks, going to the Rwandan Genocide Museum and a bunch of adrenalin rushes like white-water rafting and bungee jumping. If there is something you particularly want to do, I’d suggest making a list of where it is so you can ask about doing it in case your guide does not mention it.
The Best Bits:
Giraffe Centre in Nairobi (Kenya): To kick off our trip, we headed to the Giraffe Park just outside Nairobi to indulge in the pleasure of hand-feeding giraffes and enjoying a kiss from their 40-50cm long tongues – which of course, every good backpacking trip should include.
Elephant Orphanage (Kenya): The Elephant Orphanage is an amazing organisation rescuing abandoned baby elephants (mainly due to shitty human influence on Africa). The presenter explains what the orphanage does, giving detailed accounts of each elephant’s plight to increase awareness while you watch feeding time. While there is opportunity to touch the elephants as they walk past, the real event here is just to sit back and watch, a personal highlight being one elephant consistently attempting to straddle a female, and when his persistence seemed futile, proceeding to fart on her instead. This really is nature at its finest.
Masai Mara (Kenya): The Masai Mara is quintessential Africa, and a game drive at the best of times is lucky, not to mention if you can make it for the wildebeest migration, which we were lucky enough to. There is a huge diversity of animals to be seen here, although what you do see on the day is very dependent on luck.
Lake Nakuru (Kenya): The prospect of a 5am wakeup for an all-day game drive was admittedly pretty grim to me. While partial to a game drive, unless you’ve gotten lucky and are seeing multiple lions, they have a habit of feeling longer than your wait in line for the girls’ toilet at a bar after you’ve broken the seal. Fortunately, this was one of those exciting game drives which don’t drag out, and we were lucky to see some lions ripping a poor wildebeest to piece and the elusive black rhino.
Ngorongoro Crater (Tanzania): As far as scenery in East Africa goes, Ngorongoro crater shits all over everywhere else on the trip. It is absolutely stunning, and as a bonus, there are a tonne of animals here.
Serengeti National Park (Tanzania): After a solid three days of driving, arriving in the famous Serengeti was a huge relief, as my ass was more numb than my ex-boyfriends heart. The park lived up to its reputation. We were lucky enough to see 13 lions, two leopards and a cheetah in the one day, and lion cubs the next. A huge highlight was a hyena digging into a zebra (gruesome, yet satisfying). While game drives are all about luck, I certainly recommend visiting this park from my experience here.