An African safari is a trip of a lifetime, and one that will not disappoint. It was the #1 thing I was looking forward to on our trip. However, a month before we were set to fly to Africa I started freaking out…what were the bathrooms like, what was I going to eat, can I survive camping that long, what should I pack, can I bring my hair dryer? These are just a few of the questions I had before we headed to Africa for our 43 day overland safari from Nairobi to Cape Town. I searched the internet for answers, but nothing… so here you go girls! Here is my girls guide to an overland safari.
Camping on an Overland Safari
I was not a camper, I only really camped maybe 2 times in the last 15 years and each time for only 2 nights max and went to bed usually after a few too many alcoholic beverages. I was nervous about being in a tent for a month and a half!
Your tent will keep out all the creepy crawly things, that is as long as you keep all zippers closed. We forgot one zipper once and ended up with a mouse in our tent….I slept in the truck that night I was too freaked out! It takes about 3 days to get your tent system setup all figure out, you will be sharing your tent with another person so you just have to work together to put it up. Once you are good at it, you’ll have your tent set up within 5 minutes, honestly it’s so easy. You will be assigned the same tent every day, so it’s up to you to keep it clean. We had to sweep ours out every few days.
Our overland safari company provided sleeping mats, which made for a pretty good night’s sleep. I expected to have terrible backaches, and restless nights but this was not the case. If I had any problems sleeping it was mainly because I purchased a sleeping bag that was too hot, it was made for much cooler temperatures. There was only 1 night where I swear there was something outside my tent. Adam and I both laid there scared shitless for hours trying to not to move. In Etosha National park we heard the lions roaring at night, and that was the coolest thing ever (they were outside the fences).
What are the Bathrooms like on an Overland Safari?
Depending on where in Africa your overland safari is going this will vary vastly. Most overland safaris either start or end in Nairobi, Kenya or Cape Town, South Africa. If you start your overland safari in Kenya you will experience the worst first. Almost all campsites in Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi had COLD water only showers and the occasional shower bug. As for bathrooms there were western toilets at campsites, but dirty squat toilets while driving usually. If you are on an overland safari from Nairobi to Cape Town things will start to improve around day 20 when you get closer to Victoria Falls, Zambia.
If you start in Cape Town and are making your way towards Nairobi you will be blessed with amazing facilities the first half of your trip. Throughout Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia most campsites will have HOT water, and dramatically cleaner & nicer facilities.
Also if you happen to be traveling during your time of the month, I would suggest bringing any products from home. It may be days before you go to a proper store that has what you might be looking for. Also our driver stopped around every 2 hours, but if you had to go to bathroom before a stop we just had to knock on the window and they would stop at the next possible place.
Campground Situation on an Overland Safari
Again this depends on where in Africa your overland safari is going this will vary vastly. Once again the if you are starting in Nairobi you start with the most rustic and things get better as you move south.
In Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi all the campgrounds had a bathroom with western toilets, most had bars where beers were around $2-3, security men that would walk the premises at night, limited if any Wi-Fi, and all had gates/fences except when in the Serengeti National Park. We literally had this elephant walk through our camp.
Once you get to Zambia most campground will have Wi-Fi, but be prepared to always pay for it. Depending on your safari company many places swimming pools, HOT showers, and cheaper beer at the bars & tasty wine.
What to pack for an African overland safari was something that stressed me out before my first trip. After my first overland trip, I learned a few things about what worked and didn’t. As you might have guessed, Africa is not a fashion show. Pack things that are comfortable and practical. I lived in my “elephant pants” the backpacker pants you get all over Asia. Pack light but not too light. You will have time to do laundry about once a week, but remember that everyone else on the truck will also be doing it. This often was a hassle, all fighting for the wash bin and space on the clothesline. Bring a clothesline & clothespins from home. Below is a packing list assuming you are going from Kenya to South Africa in May-June and doing laundry every 10 days.
Suggested Women’s packing list for an Overland Safari
- 2 pairs of pants -1 jean and 1 good for outdoor activities
- 2 pairs of lounge pants- yoga pants or elephants work great
- 2 long sleeve shirts
- 1-2 dresses- If spending nights in Zanzibar, Victoria Falls, Cape Town nice to dress up a little
- 7- T-shirts- Make sure to bring shirts that dry quick and go with everything
- 1-2 Bikinis – You will have a few days on the beach, and campground pools bikinis double as bra & underwear if you find yourself out
- 10 pairs of underwear- Even though you do laundry often bring more they are small
- 5 pairs of socks- Wear them two days in a row to save on laundry
- Zip-up hoodie
- Fleece jacket- Only if traveling over winter months
- Rain jacket
- 1-2 pairs sandals- You will need sandals for all the showers
- Tennis shoes / Trainers
My must-have clothing items are: prAna yoga leggings, comfortable big sweatshirt, elephant pants, and a bikini (I’m a beach lover).
Food Situation on an Overland Safari
Will I starve? Will I gain or lose weight on an overland safari? I was really nervous going into Africa about the food, I admit, I am a very picky eater. Once again if you start your overland safari in Kenya you will experience the worst first, the food isn’t terrible and I can promise it will get better.
Once you visit some of the local grocery stores you will realize the slim pickings your tour leader has. The food we cooked was always good for dinners we had chicken, rice, potatoes, beef, spaghetti, garlic bread, etc. The breakfast was cereal, yogurt, toast, coffee, and fruit. Lunch was typically packed sandwiches we would make in the morning or leftovers, every so often if we were passing through a town we would get “lunch money” and we could go out for lunch on our own. When you head into Serengeti & Mara the food is brought in by another company, and not as good or filling.
You will not starve that is for sure, but if you are picky bring a few of your favorite items from home. For me, I brought 2 jars of JIF peanut butter. You will stop every day at shops where you can get kit-kats, snickers, cookies, chips, soda, etc. You won’t have the option of much fresh fruit. Also realize you have little to no activity, so if you are watching your weight take this into consideration.
Just Go! Africa is AMAZING
Hopefully, my girls guide to an overland safari has helped answer any questions you have. Oh and if you’re wondering about that hairdryer, yes I brought it and I used it maybe 6 times out of 43 days…it’s totally up to you if you have room in your bag. If you have any questions just leave them below in the comments or send me an email.
Pre-Safari Accommodation Options
If your safari ends or starts in Cape Town we highly recommend the Primi Royal Hotel in Camps Bay, we spent 10 nights here at the end of our 43-day tour last. Price was right for only $55 a night, check prices on Agoda here. Great place to recover from an overland safari, they had super comfortable beds, ocean views, swimming pool, free Wi-Fi, the best free breakfast in ages, and we found an amazing steak restaurant down the street Hussar’s Grill that lets you BYO bottle of wine! I would spend 3-4 nights in Camps Bay and if you have time make your way to Stellenbosch for another 3-4 nights in a lodge or estate so gorgeous accommodation options. This year we hope to spend 3-4 nights in Stellenbosch, as last time we just did a day trip from Cape Town.
If your safari starts or ends in Nairobi I would spend minimal time here, we spent 4 nights in Nairobi. The city felt unsafe overall, with nothing to do. This year we have 2 nights before our overland safari departs. Your safari will suggest a hotel, which is where the pre-departure meeting will likely happen. Acacia-Africa has their meeting at Boulevard Hotel, rates & bookings can be here. Your safari company can book this for you, but you might want to see if you can book it yourself for a reduced price. Also, note that if you don’t stay at the pre-departure meeting you will have to take a taxi to and from your other hotel to attend the pre-departure meeting and then again back to the hotel the morning your safari ends. We found taxis in Nairobi very expensive for the distance they traveled, just take all this into consideration when booking your hotel.
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Sunday 17th of April 2016
Great post, I was meant to be volunteering in Zimbabwe/Victoria Falls this year but had to cancel my trip unexpectedly. While this is a great post, makes me sad that I'm not still going to Africa this year!
Tuesday 5th of May 2015
We love this post! So far we haven't been on a safari, but articles like this make us want to pack up and head out on a safari! Is there one country that's better for safaris?
Monday 27th of April 2015
Such a useful guide Hannah! It's great that you've addressed all those issues us girls would all be wondering about but might be shy to ask like the time of the month situation, type of bathrooms and what to wear. I would have totally freaked top if a mouse had come into the tent! I've only been to Southern Africa once, on safari in Tanzania but that was honeymoon so we stayed in a lovely luxury lodge and that experience has spoiled me a little I think! ☺
Katrina the Two Week Traveler
Sunday 26th of April 2015
Did you have to bring clothes of certain colors? I've heard youre supposed to wear only neutral colors and I'm kind of nervous because I only have a couple shirts and 1 pair of pants that are neutral.
Sunday 26th of April 2015
Great advice Hannah! I have to agree on the clothesline and clothespins, they came in handy so many times. If (and that's a big if!) the campground provides a clothesline, there is never enough room on it and it's always windy! Plus, the clothespins stop other campers from moving your wet clothes to make room for theirs!