It’s a well celebrated mantra that travel is not about the destination, but the journey. That certainly rings true when you travel across Africa by road, the journeys unravelling a kaleidoscope of authentic scenes and local flavours. Whether it’s passing a lion pride or winding through a local village, we love the impressions from the road.
Types of Safari Vehicles
The mainstay of most safaris is the game drive. You travel slowly in rugged four-wheel drive vehicles, exploring adventurous trails rather than roads. Most vehicles in East Africa have pop-up roofs – almost all are customised Toyota Landcruisers – while Southern Africa game drives are mostly in open-sided or semi-sided vehicles. They’re all designed to provide an open 360-degree view, so you can enjoy the wildlife wherever is occurs. It can get dusty and you must remember the sunhat, especially in Southern Africa.
Enjoy Exciting Game Drives
Guides will plan a route, perhaps looping around permanent waterholes or seeking out your favourite animal. However, they’re extremely flexible and will respond to the landscape. So you might spend an hour tracing a leopard or veer off towards the calls of wild dogs. On private safaris, a game drive could be two hours around a river, bringing you back to the camp for a leisurely afternoon. But it could also be 12 hours in the bush, driving from sunrise to sunset. It’s really up to you and your mood.
Get Off the Beaten Track
In most parks and reserves you’ll drive on set trails. They’re certainly not roads and it’s going to be pretty bumpy at times. In private concessions and reserves you’re also permitted to drive off the trail, a journey that brings you closer than ever to the magical wildlife. For example, we love how the Masai Mara’s private concessions allow you to drive right up to the leopard’s hideout, rather than just admire the hunter from afar. Night time drives are allowed in certain destinations, an evocative journey illuminated by the guide’s roving spotlight.
Travelling Between Locations
The same four-wheel drive vehicles are also commonly used transport for transfers between destinations. Orange muddy trails swerving through Ugandan forests, elephants roaming besides the highway in Botswana, redolent villages packed with colour and charm...every road journey is an authentic evocation of Africa. We’ll never forget some of the random stops and sights along the way. Even when you’re outside the parks, there’s a lot to see through the window. At these times, the roof comes down so you travel as speedily as possible.
The Best Destinations to Visit
All the big safari countries have some excellent overland routes, most famously Tanzania’s northern safari circuit from Lake Manyara and Tarangire, through Ngorongoro to the Serengeti. South eastern Kenya and north western Botswana also have a number of parks in very close proximity that can be connected by road. South Africa’s roads are as good as those in the UK, so you can easily connect some of the excellent private reserves in the north of the country.
Tailor-make your Journey to your Needs
Distances can be big which means that drives can be long. We like to recommend destinations that minimise your time on the road. We’d also recommend staying at least a couple of nights in each destination, rather than trying to cram five parks into a single week.
Although light aircraft can be expensive, it’s also worth considering a one-way journey and then flying back to the international airport from your final destination; it can save one or more days of travel time.
Be Adventurous on a Self-drive Trip
You might also be itching to have a drive yourself and we know some great destinations in Southern Africa for a self-drive safari. In some places we’ve encountered baboons and elephants crossing next to the international border post. Roads in Southern Africa are excellent so you’ll cover large distances fairly quicker, but we wouldn’t recommend East Africa, where the roads can be a real challenge. The rugged four-wheel drive vehicles are best if you’re going to drive yourself, both for their functionality and the elevated vantage point.
Whether it’s a morning game drive or an adventure between parks, road transport gives you a vivid impression of Africa’s beauty. You’ll love how the continent unfolds through the window, or how it showcases itself when your head is out of the roof.