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African Overland Tours offers best budget African safari tour packages (accommodated, small group, camping trips and overland tours) at amazing prices. We hope you find our blog informative and entertaining. We have packed it full of interesting articles, great specials, beautiful photographs of Africa and fascinating facts.
Exploring a cosmopolitan city is probably the last thing you’d expect – or even want – to do when you’re planning a safari tour. But, the unexpected is the only guarantee while overlanding in Kenya and that’s what makes it so exciting. Since the vast majority of East African safaris start or end in Nairobi, a pitstop in this bustling city is almost inevitable. So buckle up and prepare yourself for a cosmopolitan adventure like no other.
Nairobi is East Africa’s gateway to the untamed wilderness that lies just beyond the city’s towering skyscrapers. Exploring this concrete jungle is a rite of passage that is sure to change the way you think of overlanding in Africa. So leave your preconceived notions at the door; Nairobi’s reality – like that of so many places in Africa– will come as a pleasant surprise.
While many travelers are familiar with the capital’s nickname: ‘Nairobbery’, the city actually gets its name from the Maasai phrase “Enkare Nyarobe”, which means “a place of cool waters”. And, like any good watering hole, this thriving metropolis is home to a melting pot of diversity. Locals, tourists, and expats alike bustle their way around Kenya’s beating heart.
But be warned, the city can get overwhelming and, if you’re not ready, you can easily be swept up in the bustle and miss out. So, to help prepare you for the mind boggling trip you’re about to have, here are a few of our favorite places in Nairobi plus a few tips on how to navigate this city like a pro.
Our favourite things to do in Nairobi
1. Practice your game viewing at the Nairobi National Park
Don’t let all this big city talk give you the wrong impression. We know it’s the wildlife you came for and you’ll get plenty of it. Just a stone’s throw away from the capital, the Nairobi National Park is the perfect place to practice your wildlife watching skills before moving on to the larger reserves.
Just 7 KMs away from the city centre, this is the only place in the world where you can go on a real safari with a backdrop of towering skyscrapers. You’ll spot everything from antelope to zebras, hyenas on the prowl, and even a few of the Big Five.
Unfortunately, there are no elephants in this park. But, worry not; the Nairobi Elephant Orphanage is filled with baby elephants and rhinos and is well worth a visit. Just don’t wear your best whites – these guys love to spray water over unsuspecting tourists.
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2. Sip tea with giants at the Giraffe Sanctuary
For even more wildlife action, why not rub noses (literally) with one of the region’s most underrated endangered animals – the Rothschild’s giraffe. The famous Langata Giraffe Centre protects these playful animals, and features a conservation platform that is brimming with information highlighting the benefits of conservation to people, as well as animals.
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As for the giraffes themselves – they’re super friendly and visitors are welcome to stroke, kiss and feed giraffes a tasty grub of pellet-shaped biscuits. And, if you were looking for a bit of grub for yourself then head over to the tea house where locals, tourists, and giraffes mingle over Kenyan tea and cuisine.
3. Drink Kenyan tea and coffee
One of the best things to do in Nairobi is drink a cuppa. Over the last century and a half, Kenya has been providing the world with some the best coffee available. And there’s hardly a better place to sip a freshly brewed cup than in Nairobi.
If you want to go straight to the source then go on a coffee tour of the the Karunguru Estate. Just 30 mins out of the city, this 500 acre coffee farm has been been around since 1928 and offers visitors a chance to see the entire bean to cup process.
Though Kenya itself is not particularly a coffee drinking country, there are plenty of places that serve a wide range of ethically-sourced coffees. For a touch of glamour with your morning brew, Cafe Villa Rosa at the Kempinski hotel is the perfect place to luxuriate in a slow morning. But, for something a little more down to earth, check out Gibson’s Coffee House. This Nairobi institution has been a local haunt for over 50 years and serves up delicious coffee alongside local dishes.
4. Feast on Kenyan cuisine
Speaking of local food… Visiting Nairobi would be incomplete without eating like a local. A word of warning though, Kenya is not really the most vegetarian friendly. While you will find some staple dishes like ugali (stodgy maize porridge) and vegetables such as spinach; most of the dishes are very much meat-based.
Those who love putting their canines to use will definitely have their taste-buds blown. The Carnivore restaurant is a staple dinner spot for visitors. As the name suggests, the menu is brimming with speciality meats skewered on real swords and cooked over a huge barbecue pit. Sure, it’s touristy but the nyama choma is mouth-watering.
If the weather is fine then be sure to tuck into a Kenyan Karoga at the Mystique Gardens. A Karogoa is like a Kenyan cook-out where people gather over drinks and Indian cuisine. While it’s origins are ambiguous, this communal style of cooking is believed to have started from the Indian community and later spread to other communities.
And, for homemade regional cuisine try Ranalo Foods. This local haunt pays homage the Luo, in western Kenya, with speciality fish dishes that have been passed down from mothers to their sons and daughters.
As you can see by now, Nairobi has a lot going for it. The city is forever bustling with the sights, sounds, and smells of local living. Being on the ground is overwhelming and exhilarating all at once.
But, sometimes you just need to take a step back, let time slow down, really take it all in. For moments like this, head over to the K.I.C.C. Formally, the 28-story building is an internationally renowned venue for conferences, meetings, exhibitions and special events. Informally, it’s the best place to watch the sunset in Nairobi. The view from the rooftop is unrivaled and, on a clear day, you can see as far as the Nairobi National Park.
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6. Revel in Nairobi’s nightlife
And finally, when the sun goes down and you’ve caught your breath, brace yourself for Nairobi’s nightlife. At sundown the city’s bars beckon with great music and heavenly cocktails. For one of the best nights out check out The Alchemist Bar.
This all-encompassing creative hub is the perfect place to sip on local drinks while immersing in Nairobi’s art, fashion, and music scene. The events calendar is insanely diverse and on any given night you’ll find yourself watching classics in an open-air cinema or browsing local art in a collective exhibition or even dancing the night away with the city’s best DJs. The options are endless and the cocktails are divine.
Landing in Africa is landing in another continent, but also much more than that. Landing in Africa is an adventure in itself. We arrived at 4am at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and at 8am to the hotel, after taking an Uber that we hadn’t planned for since we had a transfer arranged for us. No one showed up with our names on a sheet of paper, but trying to find our driver was a fun experience!
We managed to check-in to the hotel shortly after we arrived, and we tried to sleep the rest of the morning before starting to roam the streets of Nairobi.
Crossing streets in Nairobi is another adventure. Fortunately for the first walk through the city we had the help of a guide. The traffic is terrible, as well as the air pollution. Old cars, buses (called “matatus”) that spit smoke clouds, no markings on the streets, and a huge number of people walking and driving, bring a large challenge to the pedestrians, but I think if I was driving I would have the most difficulties! Accidents seem about to happen constantly, but as by some divine grace, everything flows…
In this city, to find zebra crossings is almost impossible, and as the saying goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”, so we have to watch and learn.
That learning process comes to looking for the moments where the cars are stalled in traffic and cross between them. But then the motorbikes require even more attention, because they drive between the cars as well!
In the middle of all this crowd, there are always lots of people going everywhere. And it is rare to come across another white person, which shows there isn’t much tourism around here… I think the Safaris probably show another story!
The first stop was Kenyatta International Convention Center (KICC), because we had asked the guide where could we see the city from a high point, and he took us there. We weren’t expecting the 500 KES (approximately 5€) per person entry fee, but they were well spent. Residents don’t pay to enter, which is very fair.
At the top of this conference center, considered one of the best in Africa and built in 1973, it is possible to see the city very well, and part of the surroundings. Mount Kenya, the highest mountain in Kenya is visible at the distance. We can also see the new town, where many new high-rise buildings are being built. The old town, where the center is located has a few parks, hotels, and further away the airport is visible, as well as Nairobi National Park and the Karuru forest that is a large green area. The Kibera Slum, 5km from the city center is the biggest in Africa, but is not visible from the top of the 29 floors of the KICC since it is located behind the high-rises of the new town.
For the rest of the afternoon, we visited one of the parks on the west side of the city center, the catholic cathedral and we passed next to other important buildings such as the Tribunal and Parliament.
It is remarkable that for an African city, Nairobi is quite clean, which we noted right from the airport. There has been a great effort from the government to make it so. One of the main actions taken was to ban the use of plastic bags, and to severely punish, with up to 3 years in jail, those who use them. And it seems to have the intended effect. It is not up to European standards of cleanliness, but I was quite impressed. We even walked past small containers on the sidewalk for different types of waste disposal. Also, throughout the city you can find educative messages for those passing by, for example in viaducts “pay attention to street signs”, “do not overload your vehicle” as well as in garden benches “I refuse to just sit here, I will make a change”, and on the waist containers themselves “take care of the environment”.
Another thing that we were really surprised with was the presence of very large birds, that looked to us like vultures (but we don’t know what they are) in trees in most areas of the city. But they are really big! We also saw some very colorful birds on our way to the city from the airport. Further to the 3 million people living in Nairobi, there is still some biodiversity.
Our next stop will be Masai Mara, our first safari. We look forward to it!
After choosing Africa as a first destination, we had to choose how we would travel once we were there.
Africa is a very peculiar continent. I think it is one of the most untouched continents, but also where we will find more difficult situations, tied to poverty, insecurity and lack of healthcare.
Therefore, travelling in Africa requires significant research. As mentioned in the previous post, we opted for an overland tour.
Other options we considered were:
Buying a car upon arrival and selling it before departure: We would have more freedom. For the period we needed it (3 months) the costs would be high, we would be very tired from the driving (the distances in Africa are huge). There would always be the possibility of not being able to sell the car before departure.
Public transportation and hitchhiking: by far the cheapest option. It would still be insecure and especially uncertain. On the other hand, finding bus companies online to go from point A to point B in Africa is quite a challenge.
Renting a car: it would be quite expensive, probably lots of bureaucracy due to all the borders we will cross, and also very tiring.
After looking at the pros and cons of each option, we decided that an overland tour would be the best, both in terms of safety and the amount of things we would be able to see and do. After deciding on an overland tour, we started searching for the best options.
There are multiple companies that organize these trips. All of them have in common that they charge a base price and a local payment, destined for the general expenses of the trip (food, fuel, included activities). Therefore, as you can imagine, there are prices for all types of travelers, from those that want the all inclusive experience, sleeping in hotels or luxurious lodges, until those that don’t mind sleeping in a tent and cooking shared meals.
We wanted the trip that could offer the most, for the least daily cost. There is a search engine for overland tours that helped us a lot: Tourradar. From here, we quickly saw the two most competitive companies were Absolute Africa and Oasis Overland. Still, you need to pay close attention to what is included or not.
For that reason, we ended up choosing to book with another company, African Overland Tours, that while more expensive per day, had more activities included (namely the safari in Ngorongoro and the visit to the Okavango delta), as well as more meals. Also, they were the more responsive and nice when answering our e-mails.
Since we started planning a world tour, we realized how big the world is. Even if you take a year to travel, like we are doing, you will quickly come to the conclusion you cannot go everywhere you want to!
First, we broadly decided the regions we wanted to visit: The southern part of Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia & New Zealand, Central and South America.
From the start we also decided where we wouldn’t go, based on a few rules:
Expensive countries that are easy to travel to: This excluded USA, Japan – and will maybe exclude Australia & New Zealand.
Countries too close to Europe: North Africa and Europe we already know a little bit, and will be easy to travel to anytime.
Unsafe regions: This excluded the central part of Africa, the Middle East.
Very large developing countries: India, China can have a trip on their own one day.
Lastly, we decided to break down the trip in three steps, coming back to Portugal for a few days in between steps.
As we started on the task of planning a world tour, we decided to begin in Africa since it is the most challenging continent in our opinion. We considered various routes and ended up with the following:
The first part of the trip will be with an organized tour. We will be part of a group of about 20 people plus a driver and a guide, together for 42 days straight! This is called an overland tour, and there are a few different companies doing them. We opted to book with African Overland Tours after researching and reading reviews for a few days. Our tour is with camping accommodation, which means most nights we will stop at campsites, pitch the tents and cook the meals as a group.
Such a tour is more expensive than doing everything on your own, but you will not see as much on such a short time. Also, the added safety was a deciding factor.
The tour will take us from Nairobi to Cape Town. From Cape Town to Mozambique we feel comfortable enough to travel on our own, as especially South Africa is quite popular for tourism. As an ex Portuguese colony, in Mozambique at least there will be no language barrier!
We watched the prices of the flights for some days before buying, using the website Skyscanner. Being flexible with dates is great since prices can vary a lot.
From Portugal to Nairobi, on the 9th of September, the flight has a connection in Casablanca and then a stop for refueling in the republic of Chad. It is operated by Royal Air Maroc and came to 548,48€ for both of us.
We then bought a flight from Maputo to Lisbon on the 8th of December, this time direct and operated by TAP, the Portuguese airline. We paid 505,23€ for both of us, bringing the total of flights for this trip to 1053,71€.
We are very excited for our African Journey! They say planning the trip is more fun than the actual trip, we certainly hope not!
For example, you won’t see the peak of the wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara in April. And if you were thinking about hitting Cape Town’s beaches in June then you better think again. The good news is that the region boasts such a myriad of adventures that you’re guaranteed an adventure year round!
To help plan your Africa overland tour, we have put together a month by month guide to the continent’s most iconic attractions and the best time to travel.
January – February
The start of the year comes with plenty of rain over popular safari destinations. But don’t let that put you off. Although wildlife viewing is generally best during the dry season, there are a few perks to Overlanding through Africa in January and February.
The Serengeti and Kalahari migrations along with the calving seasons are in full swing. This means plenty of predator-prey action, plus a few golden opportunities to sing The Circle of Life. The rainy season is also fab for traveling on a budget as this is the low season for many wildlife destinations.
On the other hand, January is the peak of the dry season in Uganda’s northern parts. During this time of year, Murchison Falls National Park is primed for game viewing as the animals are easier to track. But if the 40ºC (104°F) temperatures are a bit too hot to handle then the higher altitude of Uganda’s jungles which offer a welcoming respite plus excellent gorilla trekking opportunities. For some downtime afterward, we recommend adding on a few extra days and ending your overland tour in Cape Town or Zanzibar.
March is a great time to travel to Africa. Not too hot and not too cold either. If you’re planning on a Southern Africa overlandtour, this is a fantastic time to visit destinations such as Cape Town, the Winelands, the Garden Route, and the Eastern Cape.
On the East African front, safari season starts tapering off. Kenya and northern Tanzania will still have good game viewing in March, but by April some camps and lodges close due to the long rains. When it comes to gorilla trekking, Uganda’s rainy season begins in March and makes conditions muddy and tracks hard to manage.
By April, major safari destinations slow down. But, destinations such as Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, and Seychelles start to open up at the beginning of the “Green Season”.
Travel to Africa in May and you’re bound to find good safari deals. It’s shoulder season in the southern hemisphere (between the end of the rainy season and the start of the dry one) so from now until October is an excellent time for a safari in South Africa.
At this time of year, destinations like Zimbabwe, Zambia, and the Greater Kruger Park are coming into the dry season and the animals are starting to congregate around the waterholes, making them easier to spot. The beginning of May is also a great time to visit Botswana’s Okavango Delta before the rush of peak season in late June.
In East Africa, the wildebeest migration will be heading through the western corridor of the Serengeti and will begin crossing the crocodile-infested Grumeti River on their journey back to the Masai Mara. River crossing season is the most nail-biting part of the journey and also the most popular – so booking in advance is a must! June also sees the return of gorilla trekking in Uganda and the opportunity to spot newborns.
An overland tour in Africa is a travel odyssey like no other. After all, this beautiful continent is filled with sensational sights and experiences that have probably been on your bucket list for a while!
The great migration in the Serengeti, safaris in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, desert exploring in Namibia, gorilla trekking in Uganda. Nothing can compete with spending a few weeks or months on the road in Africa.
So, if you’ve been thinking about overlanding and need help planning your travels to Africa then you’re in the right place. Here’s everything you need to help you put together the most adventurous African overland experience.
1. First thing’s first. Where do you want to go?
Africa is a huge continent. To put it into perspective, it is more than three times the size of the US including Canada and Alaska. That is a lot of ground to cover so knowing which highlights you want to see will determine which trip is best for you.
Typically speaking, overland tours are either in East Africa or Southern Africa. If your adventure through Africa must include highlights such as Victoria Falls and the Kruger Park then Southern Africa is for you.
While your start point and route are crucial, it is also important to think about where you want to end your overland tour. Remember, this is not a holiday, it’s an adventure. Roughing it out for a few weeks is grand but at the end of it, you’re going to want some downtime. This is why we recommend adding extra days in destinations such as Cape Town or Zanzibar post tour.
2. When or what time of year do you want to travel?
Once you’re settled on where in Africa you want to overland and what you want to see, the next factor to consider is when do you want to go.
Generally speaking, overlanding in Africa is a year-round event. But, as with any other type of travel, there are peak and low seasons that can have a huge impact on your overlanding experience.
Do you want to avoid the hot summer or go on a camping trip when rainfall is low? Do you want to see the migration, or go to the Zambezi when its waters are flowing at maximum?
Typically July and August are popular months to explore Tanzania and Kenya thanks to the excellent Great Migration action. While January and February are primed for Gorilla trekking in Uganda.
Ultimately the amount of time you have will determine how much distance you can cover. If you’re just taking a break from work, this is more likely to be a shorter period of time and you’ll be limited to either one or two countries and tours that skim the surface.
But, if you’ve got an open calendar to play around with, then you’ll be able to explore more countries for longer periods of time. Whatever timeframe you come up with, you need to consider if you can see all the things you want to in that period.
We recommend 2 weeks or more on the road in Africa as this allows you to really engage and take in the experience as well as see many things in a relatively short amount of time.
The next thing to consider is your budget, excluding flights. There are two questions you need to ask yourself when planning your overlanding tour budget – How much have you got to spend and how much are you willing to spend?
Dozens of variables go into determining the price of a trip and it is important to remember that your budget shapes the experience. For example, a semi-inclusive lodge safari will cost more than a tented safari but can also be more comfortable if you’re not into roughing it out.
By the end of it, your price ranges can look something like this: 1000 – 2000 USD, 2000 – 3000 USD or 3000+USD per person.
Then there are the additional expenses. Think souvenirs, meals that are not included, last-minute activities you may want to join, guide tips, visas etc.
Be sure to read all the small print about what is and isn’t included in the tour. Trust me, the Hakuna Matata lifestyle does not apply when booking your overland tour in Africa.
5. Your accommodation style
Another thing to consider is your travel style. After all, you don’t want to spend weeks on the road feeling tired and uncomfortable. So, knowing yourself is paramount to planning an overland tour in Africa.
Are you excited by the thought of roughing it out in the wild? Dead-set on not cooking while you overland? Do you need the comfort of a bed (not sleeping mat) each night? Thankfully, there are a few options that cater to various travel styles.
If you’re looking to Bear Grylls it then a Camping Overland Tour will be perfect for you! Participation is key here so expect to assist in setting up your campsite, building campfires, and preparing some meals.
A camping safari is ideal for travelers who want to experience the wilder side of Africa. And, as the name suggests, you will be doing a lot of camping! On adventures like these, you’ll stay in large canvas tents which are spacious enough for two adults plus luggage. Or, you can opt to have your own tent by including the single supplement. Either way, with the wildlife mere meters away, you will feel connected to the environment and the starry night skies.
But, if the idea of sleeping in a tent for a few weeks/months does not float your boat then you can opt for an Accommodated safari. Although you probably won’t be in a 5-star resort, this overland style comes with all the basic comforts plus incredible views.
If you prefer a more premium experience, we can also assist with our range of African Lodge Safaris. These tours offer comfortable accommodation in 3-4 star lodges with optional actives including scenic flights and boat cruises.