Back in 2016, we had an urge to travel around Africa. We didn’t want to just visit one or two countries, or hop on an overland tour. We wanted to travel Africa ourselves and see what it was really like.
So we bought a truck in South Africa, and traveled around 14 countries for one year. I started to write and share this Africa travel story while we were still traveling Africa in early 2017. I picked it back up every few months or so and continued to document our travels on here with our photos. Then the months turned to years as I got busier with life and our other travels. Although I had every intention to finish this story, I never had the time.
In April 2020, I have all the time in the world to complete old projects and thought it was the perfect time to finish this MASSIVE blog post/diary entry that detailed our entire year-long trip around Africa. This post is unlike most on our website. It’s no top ten list or “things to do” article, but a genuine first-person story from me to you as if we were sitting next to each other on the couch – informal and personal. Buckle up and grab some tea – it’s a long and bumpy African ride!
(PS – If you want the details of all our accommodation along the way read here.)
Our Africa Story
Want to Go to Africa?
I suppose this whole journey began in Seychelles. Why the Seychelles? Well because we were trying to get to South Africa, and I noticed an airfare deal from Istanbul (where we were at the time) to Johannesburg with a layover in the Seychelles for only $450.
We always wanted to go to the Seychelles (who doesn’t) and figured we may as well plan a five-day layover in the islands before heading to Joburg.
We didn’t hesitate to book those flights and ended up spending five days in warm turquoise water looking out over incredible rock formations.
To this day, even after all the wonderful places, we have traveled I still consider The Seychelles the best place for a tropical vacation. Yes, to us it beats out places like The Maldives, Saint Lucia, Bali, Langkawi, and Zanzibar. I would recommend this beautiful nation to anyone for their honeymoon.
Landing in South Africa
We then flew onward to Johannesburg, South Africa. We didn’t know what to expect at all. It was our first time in Africa, we had done absolutely zero research and had zero idea of what we were doing.
We had a rental car reserved from Hertz to get us around for the next two months. We paid extra so that we could take the car into Mozambique and Swaziland as well. We picked up the car and drove to our Airbnb as dusk was rolling around. We started to realize very fast that…
Johannesburg was really creeping us out. All seemed well and good, but security was high and everything was on lockdown. All the neighborhoods we would drive past where gated with armed guards. Any place we walked into had metal detectors and guards and I felt like we were in a movie. Am I on set of The Purge and when nighttime comes around shit hits the fan? In all seriousness, I had never seen anything quite like this. Where an entire city is behind bars at night. It was our first time in South Africa, and although we knew about apartheid and the struggles from there I thought that it was a distant memory.
We arrived to Airbnb to relax for a bit, it got dark, and were slightly unnerved in the city. Again, it was our first night in South Africa and we had done zero research and knew no one. We were young and naive.
Then problems got a little worse. We hadn’t eaten in hours and didn’t have a Southern Africa travel adaptor to charge anything – travel fail. So we knew we had to venture out into the city and get some food and an adaptor.
We went to the new and affluent part of Johannesburg to do this and all was well. Our nerves turned to excitement and we drove home cautiously. We were safe, but did not let our guards down as we read about the horror stories that can happen at night on the roads. Things like carjackings, armed robbery, or worse are common in Johannesburg. We probably could have read a little more about the crime rates, but I’m happy we didn’t because you know how the internet is.
We learned a few things that night about driving in South Africa. Number 1, it’s common to not come to a complete stop at a stoplight after dark – this puts you at a greater chance for getting carjacked. Number 2, if you have a flat tire don’t stop and drive home on the wheel. A common scam is for crimesters to slash tires in the parking lot and then follow you home. When you get out of your car to inspect and change the tire they mug you.
I’m not trying to scare anyone! We were completely fine throughout our whole trip to South Africa, but it was clear that first night that we weren’t in a crime free country and needed to be viligent.
Driving to Kruger
We didn’t have much planned in South Africa, but we did know for sure that we would be heading to Kruger National Park from Johannesburg. We drove the distance to Hoedspruit, a small town outside of Kruger and stayed at in a private game reserve at Cheetah Paw Eco Lodge.
Our blog was less than a year old at the time. We were working diligently on it, but not bringing in really any income. We had heard about people leveraging their social platforms and blogs to stay in nicer lodges and hotels.
This wasn’t a method we had really tried before, but Cheetah Paw looked amazing so we pitched them. Social and blog coverage in exchange for a three-night stay outside of Kruger National Park. This is very common nowadays with the prevalence of digital presence and Instagram, but just back in 2016, it wasn’t so heard of – especially in Africa.
To our surprise, Cheetah Paw agreed to host us and we were stoked about it, otherwise, we would have probably been camping instead of glamping. We enjoyed three lovely nights in Guernsey Private Nature Reserve near Hoedspruit with the amazing lodge managers and other guests. Each day we were doing something exciting in the area like going into Kruger, exploring the game reserve, or going to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. It was exciting and new times for us.
Of course, our main reason for going to Hoedspruit was to have our first safari in Kruger National Park. Kruger National Park is one of the most famous national parks in Africa and also one of the most accessible and affordable on the continent. You can easily self drive it and see the Big Five, which is what we did.
As we entered the Kruger Park gates before sunrise I distinctively remember blasting The Lion King opening title and being pumped. We were about to see elephants, giraffe, rhino, lions, and more.
We didn’t know it then, but this was our first safari of many. Each one since that day I got more and more excited about the wildlife. Cam and I are in agreement that you simply can never see too many elephants in one’s life. If there is one splurge vacation I would forever recommend it would be an African safari, but more on that later.
Driving into Swaziland
We then crossed the border in Swaziland, a country we knew literally nothing about. However, we had a friend (Hi Zoe!) that was from Swaziland and she encouraged us to visit.
Her African bush knowledge helped us tremendously when planning. She also connected us with her best friend and then with her parents so that we had a place to say while visiting her country.
While in Swaziland we visited a few rural communities, learned about some amazing social enterprises happening there, and did some hiking in the area.
I didn’t realize how cool traveling Swaziland was then, but I do now! It’s far off the beaten tourist trail and well worthy of exploration. Most visitors to Southern Africa give it a skip, but I think it’s pretty cool to be able to say you made it to one of the last Kingdoms in the world!
The Swazi/Mozambique Border
From Swaziland we continued on to Mozambique. We had secured another lodge stay at Anvil Bay in the Maputo Elephant Reserve.
It’s far away from civilization and you’ll either need a helicopter transfer or a serious 4×4 to get in.
There was absolutely nothing between the Swazi border and Mozambique – nothing. We never saw anyone else crossing the border, and the only people on the roads were Chinese companies building roads (in case you haven’t heard the Chinese are creating infrastructure across Africa and taking natural resources from the land).
We had no Mozambique Metical on us, and just spent the last of our USD on paying for our visas into Mozambique. The sun was setting and were on dirt roads following a questionable GPS to the entrance of the Maputo Elephant Reserve where we were to meet with the lodge manager of Anvil Bay.
It had only been two weeks in Africa by this point, and it was a border crossing day. I hate border crossing days in Africa. I did at the beginning of the trip and the feeling never changed. African land border crossings are always confusing, always chaotic, and you are always at the mercy of ambiguous rules set forth by the mood of whatever border official you get. There’s also plenty of opportunities to get scammed or pickpocketed at land border crossings.
Needless to say we were super nervous. We were two stupid white people with no cash, no ATM in sight, iffy fuel levels with no petrol stations, and questionable directions. We stopped in the one town we passed to ask for an ATM, and got laughed at. The THOUGHT of an ATM in the middle of the nowhere Mozambique – that’s not happening. I’ll never forget the laugh that man gave us and how naive we were.
By the grace of God, we ended up making it to where we had to be. The lodge manager was waiting for us like he said he would be. We had brought in food from the grocery store in Swaziland that they asked us for. Getting food in remote Africa isn’t easy.
We enjoyed the next four days as the ONLY guests at Anvil Bay. We hung out with the lodge owner and manager, Marc, and the beautiful Mozambican staff.
This place is as remote as you can possibly get. I’ve never been anywhere in the world (to this day) that felt like I washed up in paradise like Robinson Crusoe. There is absolutely nothing around, and I LOVED it.
We have stayed at least 100 lodges and resorts since this place and I have to say that Anvil Bay still remains my go-to dream destination.
If you want real barefoot exclusion and beach luxury it doesn’t get any better. I hope we can return one day.
Crossing into Maputo
The day we had to leave Anvil Bay was a sad one, but we were heading up the coast of Mozambique and ready to tackle more of Africa.
It was a good six hour drive with the Catembe Ferry to Maputo in between. Any kind of border crossing or ferry terminal in Africa I had bad feelings about and this was no different.
We gave the chef of Anvil Bay a ride to his home in Maputo so he wasn’t stuck waiting for an African taxi that would surely take all day. As soon as we arrived at the ferry terminal into Maputo it was instant chaos. So many people coming up to us trying to scam us for tickets, buy their bananas, pickpocket our car.
The chef, I think his name was Jules, jumped out of the car to go catch the ferry. He shooed away the touts and sternly said to us.
“Be Careful. You need to watch out. You’re in Maputo Now,” and walked off in incredible fashion. We then turned off our naive white visitor persona and hardened up. We were on our own in Africa now, we needed to act like it.
We crossed into Maputo safely and set our sights on the Blue Anchor Inn. The Blue Anchor Inn is a well known transit lodge where travelers stop to break up their travel days between South Africa and Mozambique. They have some of the best shrimp curry we have ever tasted!
We had worked out another deal with Travessia Beach Lodge a few months earlier. This was in the early days of drone footage and we happened to have a brand new drone with us around Africa. In 2016 before we arrived to Southern Africa, consumer drone technology was just taking off. We didn’t have much money but decided to bite the bullet and pay $1200 for a drone. This happened to be one of our best investments for our business at the time. As the number of lodges seeking drone photographers across Africa was huge, and we were able to make our money back tenfold by selling drone footage of African lodges.
The owners of Travessia were seeking new photos for their booking websites and wanted some drone footage. We pitched our services and they agreed to let us come snap away for five days and sell them some photography for a small price.
At this point our blog was making almost no money, and the only way we were getting by was with side projects like this.
We drove to Travessia Beach Lodge, owned by a Namibian, Heye and his German wife, Angela. They lived in Cape Town so we wouldn’t meet them personally, but you’ll hear more about them later.
The drive in was tough on our 2×4 bakkie rental car. This was another lodge well off the beaten path and only accessible through the sand by 4×4. We didn’t know this at the time and were routing our trip with an app called Maps.me and no internet so we attempted to drive in with our small car.
Of course we got hardcore stuck and had to employ a few locals to help us push it out for $2. Although, they told us they would have much preferred some cigarettes, but we don’t smoke and didn’t have any. Side note – If you want help in Africa, spare cigarettes are key,
Our five days at Travessia were amazing. We again were the only guests and spent our days taking photos, enjoying the empty beaches, reading, and having absolutely no internet.
Travessia is an eco-lodge that is also very involved in the community. They have built a few schools and give back regularly. We got the chance to go around the village with one of their employees that lived there.
It was a fantastic insight into rural African life and many of the locals agreed to have their photo taken. We got so many good ones that we sent all the files to Angela later so she could give them to these people. They rarely get photos of themselves.
To Tofo and Vilankulos
After Travessia we made our way toward Tofo. We didn’t know much about Tofo, but knew it was one of the main tourist spots of Mozambique. It was a long interesting drive the entire day. Everywhere we went we were stared at. Many people don’t see a lot of tourists passing through so when they do it’s a really good time. These boys loved having their photo taken. One said he was R Kelly and sand us rap songs.
We also really needed a top up of cash at this point in our Mozambique trip. We had to stop at whatever ATMs we could to get cash. The only problem was cash shortages in Mozambique are common, so any bank we went to we had to wait in at least a 30 minute line for cash. It made us appreciate even more the convenient banking we have back home.
In Tofo, we chilled in town a lot. It’s a unique small town with a strong Rastafarian vibe. We knew we could go swimming with whale sharks here and set out to do it.
For $30 each Peri-Peri divers took us out in a small group to go snorkel with them. It was incredible and I’m so thankful we did it in Mozambique. I’ve heard horror stories of it being done unethically in places like the Philippines and Mexico where they bait the whale sharks and then encourage hundreds of tourists to jump in the water and swarm the whale sharks. This was not the case in Tofo. We were able to swim with whale sharks in a small group in a completely natural environment, and it remains one of the best wildlife days of my life!
Our days of fancy lodges were over and we settled into Mozambeats, a backpackers spot in Tofo Beach. I loved the whole vibe here and think it’s a great value place to stay in Tofo. We splurged and got a private ensuite room for only $30. This place has music, movie nights, trivia, and good eats something every night.
Our next stop was Vilankulos. Another coastal small town that we had heard was a great stop in Mozambique. It had white sand beaches and clear blue water so what wasn’t to love?
We actually traveled here because we heard that dugongs are frequently spotted here.
So we booked a snorkel excursion with our accommodation provider, Baobab Backpackers and I was fully intent on seeing a dugong.
The “excursion” was just three of us. Cameron, me, and Steven, an American we just met that was traveling Mozambique.
I told the “captain” of the small boat to look out for dugongs. My goal was to find one.
“Okay – Sea Cow,” he kept saying.
“Yea, sure take me to the sea cows,” I said.
Throughout the entire day, I kept asking him where the sea cows were. I had to see one! I didn’t know when I would next get all the way back to Mozambique! He had no interest in me and my ridiculous demands and Steven told me to give up on the sea cow dream.
I never did see a sea cow that day, but we did travel to Vilankulos Island, had an amazing snorkel experience, and saw hundreds of flamingos. I still can’t believe how beautiful it is in this area of the world. Better than the Maldives and the Caribbean but with zero hype or Instagram shots. I love it.
We hung out at Baobab Backpackers for a few days with a nice French couple and Steven. Enjoying the coast, the chilled our backpacker vibe, and $3 crab curry. Mozambique has some amazing food guys!
Back to South Africa
After Vilankulos we had plans to leave Mozambique, although I was actually fighting it and really didn’t want to leave. I now long for the days on these chilled out beaches with a 2M in hand.
Mozambique remains one of my top three countries in the world and we want to run tours there to promote it as a fantastic and unique tourist destination. Stay Tuned.
Our next stop was Clarens, South Africa. Clarens has been voted the best small town in South Africa, and once you get there you’ll see why. The lovely town sits at the foot of the Drakensberg mountains. It’s affordable, charming, and has everything you could hope to find in a small town including a brewery and coffee shop. The town’s nickname is “The Jewel Of The Free State,” and it’s in close proximity to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
It’s one of the most beautiful parks in South Africa. The park only has some large antelope so it’s safe to go practice outdoor sports without being prey. Popular activities in the park include horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking.
Our highlight of the region is a hike up to Sentinel Peak situated at the top of Drakensberg amphitheater. The hike is a full day adventure and not for the faint of heart. Seriously, the hike is hard and dangerous, especially in bad weather conditions. You have to freely climb two chain ladders on a cliff face over 100 meters to get to the top, but the view is one of the best in Africa and the hike is a day-long adrenaline rush.
Snowboarding in Lesotho
We had a few spare days in Clarens so we decided to venture into nearby Lesotho. In Lesotho, there is a ski resort called Afriski, one of the only ones in Africa. Never one to turn down a day os snowboarding we went. More because we wanted to say we went snowboarding in Africa than anything else.
There is one tow rope up and one large extra green hill down, but it was still an incredibly fun day. I don’t snowboard in T-shirts often. It was also comical to us to see all the South Africans on vacation in their fancy Patagonia and North Face winter gear in 20 C weather.
After Clarens, we dove further into the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. We stayed at Montusi Lodge as they needed some photographers to come in and take photos of their horseback riding experience. We agreed to hand over a few images in return for a stay.
We don’t do this anymore, but in the early stages of our blog, we loved getting the content at the beautiful places and staying at nice places in exchange for our photography.
It was a fantastic few days of hiking around the mountains here and practicing our horseback riding through the bush.
We found ourselves with a few more spare days and no hard set plans so we decided to venture back into Lesotho. Lesotho is such an interesting country that is completely encircled by South Africa. It’s called The Kingdom in the Sky and is the only country to be entirely above 1000m.
We spent a few days here just driving around and exploring. There were no other tourists and it felt truly wild. Like we were in one of the last unexplored places in the world. It remains a country I have to return to and take a pony trek trip up into the mountains.
Roadtripping the East Coast of South Africa
Our next big stop was Stellenbosch and the Western Cape area of South Africa.
So we set out on a road trip and took five days along the famous Garden Route to get outside, go hiking around, eat oysters in Knysna, and bungee jump of the Bloukrans River Bridge.
In between Lesotho and Cape Town we were reached out to by a PR firm looking to push an eco-friendly safari in the Gondwana Private Game Reserve. They were running a newer program where guests could go and follow game rangers around and do the training and monitoring that the African game guides do in the park.
It was just us, Andreas, a German guy we just met and the two safari guides for the week. There was no internet at all. It was just wake up, safari, gin and tonics, and repeat.
Well actually the point of the camp was to live the lift of a game ranger so we were also doing things like monitoring game and bird counts, and assessing water levels all week. It’s the only safari we’ve ever been on where you can actually live the life of a game ranger and such a cool experience – especially for families!
Finally in the Wine Capital of Africa!
Our next stop was Stellenbosch, the South African capital of wine. We were seriously stoked to spend some time in the region because…wine.
We spent four days eating and drinking our way around the wine region. I loved our time in Stellenbosch and consider it a must visit when in South Africa – especially for wine lovers.
Wine in South Africa is cheap – like a whole bottle of the good Pinotage for $6 cheap. Even wine tastings and tours are extremely affordable. It’s a beautiful region and the perfect place to sit back under the sun with. aglass of Rose.
If you’re a foodie, there are also a plethora of great South African restaurants here. You can have an extensive four course meal with wine pairings for under $100. It’s every foodie and winos dream.
Yes, we continued on to Cape Town for six bottles in store.
Settling down in Cape Town
After Stellenbosch we were on to Cape Town! A city I was so desperately craving. It had been about six or seven weeks since we landed in Africa and we were traveling non stop. Just about everyone we met told us Cape Town was the Crème de la Crème of South Africa so we booked a month in an Airbnb for some chill time.
To this day, Cape Town remains my favorite city in the world. We booked a month here and ended up staying a little over two. There is so much to do and see, the weather is great, and it’s so affordable.
I turned 27 in this beautiful city and spent my birthday drinking cappuccinos in Simon’s Town, followed by hanging with penguins at Boulders Beach, and compete with a movie a the V&A waterfront. We hiked up Table Mountain and Lions Head multiple times, ate a lot of meals out, abseiled down table mountain, swam with seals, and went canyoneering. It was a fantastic two months in my favorite city in the world.
Cape Town was also the end of the road for our travel plans in Africa. We had no flight out and no set plans. We had loved the previous weeks in South Africa, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Swaziland so much we decided we wanted to keep traveling Africa. However not in a rental car.
We finally met Angela and Heye, the owners of Travessia that I mentioned above for coffee one day. We told them that we wanted to stay in Africa, but didn’t really know how to make it work. The suggested buying a car to travel around.
We hadn’t really given that much thought, and brushed it aside. But as our visas in South Africa were meeting their deadline day after day we knew we had to make moves.
We decided if we really wanted to travel Africa freely, maybe we would need our own car.
And that’s when we set our sights on buying a 4×4 car in Cape Town to do a big overland trip around Africa.
It was a long, drawn-out process because we didn’t have the right visas and had to find the perfect car. We scoured the streets of Cape Town for weeks before we found a 1989 Land Cruiser.
We knew instantly that we wanted to buy this car, but as American citizens on tourist visas, it wasn’t exactly legal. We needed the right paperwork and deal with a whole lotta African bureaucracy that you can find here.
In the end, we couldn’t purchase the car as ours because we were foreigners on a tourist visa. So we asked Angela and Heye, the only people that we could trust in Cape Town to put it in their name for us.
He was unadvertised online and sat right on the corner of Voortrekker Rd with a giant sign that said “4×4.” Honestly, we were just on the right road at the right time when we saw him. We took the car for a test drive and decided in was the right car for the right price. It took us less than an hour to realize he was the right car for the job of getting us across Africa.
To our surprise, they agreed to do it, and we could get our hands on the car to travel to Africa. It was a whole lot of back and forth with the South African registries but we finally got Charlie, our 1989 Land Cruiser!
Yes, We Bought a Car in South Africa!
We did not buy the car in perfect condition. We spent 60,000 (about $4000 at the time) South African Rand on the car alone, which we thought was a deal.
We had about three days to pull the whole car together and get out of South Africa because our visas were almost up.
Charlie still needed a mechanical check-up, new tires, and slew of other things, but we had very little time.
On top of that, we had to completely equip the car and ourselves for a major road trip that involved a lot of camping. We knew that South Africa was going to be the last major place in all of Africa that we could get things like jerry cans, a cooler, a hi-lift jack and so many other things we needed to tackle this truck camping journey. You can see our full Africa overland packing list here and here is a more truck-specific one.
We also needed things like a tent, sleeping bags and pads, and camping equipment. So we went to Cape Union Mart in Cape Town and spent a lotta money to make this whole dream come true.
On the last day of our 90-day tourist visa we left Cape Town at 6 am with very few plans and unsure of what we were doing, but knew we had to cross over the Namibian border and get to Fish River Canyon in Namibia that day.
We Got Banned from South Africa When We Crossed into Namibia
It was supposed to be a nine-hour drive, but we had a border to cross in between there. Remember what I said about African border crossings?
We were making good time until we got to the Vioolsdrift Border Control between South Africa and Namibia. That’s where we had our first set of problems.
You see, Americans get a 90-day visa on arrival to South Africa. I was under the strong impression from the South African website and hearsay that this meant that we were able to stay in South Africa for 90 days, which we did.
I did not think that we received a 90-day visa starting from the day we arrived in the country no matter where we went in between.
That meant that our five weeks in Mozambique, Lesotho, and Swaziland was also counting against our South African visa which made absolutely no sense to me.
Leaving South Africa we were stopped and inspected and were found in violation of our visa because we had overstayed by a month, because of our side trips to other countries.
So if you are planning to travel to South Africa and get a 90 day visa just know that your time in neighboring countries also counts as your 90 days in South Africa.
We were given a big UNDESIRABLE stamp in our passports and were told we could not return to South Africa. I asked the border agent how long our ban was for and she didn’t know.
“Could be a year, could be 10, could be a lifetime – I’m not sure…the rules aren’t clear,” she said.
Yes, that’s right even the South Africa border agent didn’t know the South African rules.
The whole process took at least an hour. I would have rather paid a fine for the overstay than to have had this eat up so much precious road trip time and not be banned from such an amazing country.
(Update – in 2019 we returned to South Africa only after hiring an immigration lawyer to get rid of our Undesirable status)
We left with our heads in shame and an undesirable status, but the fun still wasn’t over because we still had to get into Namibia. That process took another hour and the Namibian border agent informed me if we overstayed our visa there we would be thrown in prison. “And Namibian prison is not somewhere you want to be,” he snorted. Noted – we will not be overstaying. our Namibian visa.
Have I mentioned I hate African borders?
So after a few hours at the border we finally made it into Namibia. We snapped a few photos of our accomplishments and made our way in the dark to Fish River Canyon. You should never drive in Africa after dark, there are no street lights, people on the side of the roads, and animals everywhere. We knew this, but due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to break our own rules.
We pulled into the Fish River Canyon Lodge and campsite after 10pm. We were starving as there was virtually nothing to eat on the way up from Cape Town. Another lesson learned – always have snacks in the car when driving across Africa.
I thought we would have to go to bed hungry, but the staff made us a delicious Lasagne meal and we went to bed with little awareness of where we actually were.
We Woke Up in Namibia!
We woke up bright and early just outside of Fish River Canyon. We made it – we were in Namibia and it felt so good! Our trusty car had pulled through and we were ready to continue on this adventure.
We ventured around the desert, grabbed some beers, and watched the sunset over Fish River Canyon.
Angela and Heye, the owners of Travessia and technically the owners of our car had suggested to us that we reach out to two lodges in Namibia. The Gondwana Collection and Wolwedans and offer our services.
The Gondwana Collection has lodges and campsites all over Namibia and is the countries largest employers, while Wolwedans was a luxury desert experience.
We reached out to Gondwana first and asked if they would be open to us staying at their campsites in exchange for blog coverage. They responded to us offering us a stay in almost every single one of their lodges across the country (not campsites), it was an offer too good to pass up.
We road tripped Namibia checking off all the Gondwana camps, which to this day remain one of my favorite businesses in Africa. We’re trying to get tours set up with them exclusively next year so stay tuned.
Apart from the lodges we also had many free days where we would find campsites to stay at. Camping in Namibia is an experience like no other and I highly recommend it. This photo below is near where we camped in Aus, a small (very small) town where wild desert horses run free.
We were also trying to save money and meet people on this trip so we stayed active in Facebook groups like Backpacking Africa to offer people rides in exchange for fuel money and companionship. Everything was awesome!
Staying at a Dream Eco Camp
Towards the middle of our Namibian road trip we made plans to stop at the coveted Wolwedans Camp. Wolwedans in exclusive luxury eco-camp in the middle of the Namib Desert.
It’s where celebrities go to take a vacation without the paparazzi and Hollywood craziness. (Seriously, we stayed in Brangelina’s honeymoon suite.)
This was before the days of Instagram posts and luxury resorts offering influencers stays in return for shots of girls in bikinis by the pool with a breakfast fit for 10 people. When we pitched them the idea of letting us stay in return for drone footage they had never heard of a collaboration like this before, but were willing to test it with us.
Since then I’ve seen many Instagrammers and bloggers stay there so I guess it was a good marketing call.
They agreed to host us for five nights across all four of their camps. We went on safari every morning and evening in the desert with our Namibian guide, Beno, and spent the middle of the day watching the zebras come to our watering holes.
It’s one of the most perfect lodges we’ve ever stayed at. Truly unique for those wanting a different vacation experience in the desert. I hope we get to return one day.
Camping at Sossusvlei
It was a sad day when we had to leave Wolwedans but we were on to the highlight of our trip – Sossusvlei – the largest sand dunes in the world.
We pulled into one of the only campsites in the area – Sesriem campsite. It’s the only place you can stay and camp inside the park gates. So if you want to see the sunrise over the dunes you must stay here as the gates to the park open too late to catch sunrise.
Their campsites were booked up, but they agreed to let us stay in their overflow camping. Essentially a piece of dirt with no facilities nearby. A downgrade from Wolwedans for sure, but we were dead set on seeing sunrise over the dunes.
So we woke up at 4 am and made a mad dash with everyone else to Sossusvlei.
All the overland tour groups stop at Dune 45 to watch sunrise as it’s one of the taller ones, but we didn’t want to be in the crowds and decided to continue on to find our own dune, which is very easy to do in one of the largest deserts in the world.
After sunrise we continued onto Deadvlei, where you definitely want to be before 10 am. After 10 am the harsh sun hits the desert, now the light is not ideal for photos and it’s scorching hot. By 11am we had spent almost six hours enjoying the beauty of the desert, but the heat of the day was taking a toll and it was time to move on.
Getting a Base in Walvis Bay
Needing a base with some WiFi to catch up on work we continued on to Walvis Bay and booked an Airbnb literally right across from where the Walvis Bay penguins come to feed.
We spent three days here exploring Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, working, and getting our tires changed. We knew this would be the last stop for awhile we would be able to have reliable WiFi, a mechanic, and other comfort items we may need.
We then made our way up the Skeleton Coast to see the Cape Fur Seal Colony. We really really really wanted to venture further up the Skeleton Coast, but it’s an area where you must be 100% self-reliant as there is nothing around and we didn’t trust our 30-year-old car not to break down and strand us. I would love to go back now with more confidence and new car and do the trip again.
Etosha National Park
Our next stop was another highlight (well honestly Namibia is full of highlights) – Etosha National Park.
Etosha National Park is the safari destination in Namibia and a Big Five park. It’s also the cheapest safari destination I know about in Africa with entrance costing just 80 Namibian Dollars ($5 USD).
There was no need to hire out a safari guide here as the park is extremely affordable and easy to self-drive. We spent five days around this area enjoying the vast and open landscapes and unique wildlife.
Driving Towards Botswana
After Etosha we had to make our way to Botswana via the Caprivi Strip. If you look at a map of Namibia and see the little sliver of land in the Northeast dipping into Botswana, that’s the Caprivi Strip.
The Caprivi Strip is an area of Namibia many don’t venture to so we were stoked to cross into Botswana this way. It also is lusher and feels much more like “Africa” than the rest of the desert country.
We were due to stay at Hakusembe and Namushasha, two more Gondwana Lodges before crossing the border.
We made it to Hakusembe, and then our car broke down near the town of Rundu. Charlie had to be immediately serviced before we could go anywhere. It was a very good thing we gave the Skeleton Coast a skip as we could have been stranded.
We took it to the mechanic in Rundu and they said the car would be looked at in an hour. Four hours later and the car still hadn’t been touched as the mechanics took their lunch break.
I now knew that we would be driving around Namibia at night and it had me seriously stressed out. Africa is not a place where you want to drive at night – ever. There are too many people on the side of the roads, cattle crossing, potholes, no street lights, and the occasional elephant might even be standing in the middle of the road – I’m not joking.
We made a rule at the beginning of the trip never to drive at night, but there were a few times it was simply unavoidable and this was one of those times.
After hanging around Rundu with absolutely nothing to do for five hours the mechanic finally took a look at our car. They had to swap out the battery which had overheated in Namibia.
After we got the car back we made our way through the Caprivi Strip. I’ll never forget that night as it was pouring rain, pitch black, and I legit thought I was seeing elephants in the bushes out of the corner of my eye. It was a very jumpy drive and I was terrified of driving at night. What was supposed to be a five hour day turned into an 11 hour one.
Finally we made it around midnight to where we were supposed to be and could relax and enjoy the Caprivi Strip area. We hung out on Mashi Conservancy for a few days. It was enjoyable and relaxing time in nature along the Kwando River.
Crossing into Botswana
Our next big venture was Botswana, which meant a border crossing day, having me instantly stressed.
We made it out of Namibia no questions asked. We didn’t accidentally overstay our visa this time and would NOT be making a trip to the Namibian jail.
We thought it was going to be the easiest African border crossing every until we tried to drive into Botswana. This is where we were stopped for apparently failing to yield at the barely-there faded yellow line on the pavement. This is what I remember as the great Botswana standoff.
What then ensued was a huge conflict between us and the border patrol. There were three men chilling, drinking, and playing cards as they waved cars into Botswana. First these men at border patrol insisted that we broke the law for not stopping on a made up yellow line. He demanded to see our passports, and we never hand over passports in Africa. Once they have your passport, they control you and can demand anything they want from you.
So instead we gave him copies of our passport that were notarized by the South African police. This angered him, he was not happy and demanded we get out of the car and pay a $1000 USD fine for failing to yield at this line in the middle of nowhere. This was an African scam at it’s finest. One of the first of many we would come across.
We stuck to our guns and told him we weren’t paying and insisted we did nothing wrong. It took us about an hour of standing there going back and forth until he realized we were not going to pay and he would get no money out of us. He finally let us go on our way. This was one of those times they thought we would pay in an effort to save time, but we had all the time in the world on this day and were not succumbing to a bribe.
Have I mentioned I hate African border crossings?
We Made it to Botswana!
After our long ordeal at the border our next stop was Kasane and getting into Chobe National Park. It was also Cameron’s 26th birthday so we made plans to work with the Zambezi Queen and celebrate with a safari on the Chobe River with them.
The Chobe is an awesome place for a river safari. You can either go into Chobe National Park on the Botswana side and do a traditional safari in a game viewer or see the wildlife from the river on a river safari.
Both are awesome and we highly recommend for the first time safari-goer. Just don’t fall in, there are plenty of hippos and crocodiles willing to make sure you never leave Africa. Oh yea and Chobe National Park also has the highest amount of elephants in Africa.
We spent a total of six days relaxing on the Chobe. Watching wildlife from the Chobe River and feeling completely relaxed in such a stunning environment.
For Cameron’s birthday we went fishing on the river with a few sundowners. I caught a big ass cat fish (Cameron didn’t catch anything ha), and threw it back. We got far too sunburned and enjoyed watching baby elephants drink from the Chobe.
Getting Stranded in the Okavango Delta
We had to park our car in the town of Kasane when we were on our river safari and came back to a shovel stolen and dents in the car from someone attempting break-in, I was annoyed but it honestly could have been much worse. Car troubles like this were the easiest part about our Africa trip and I honestly stopped getting upset at such things and learned to move on fast.
Our next big venture was to stay at another camp in the middle of the Okavango Delta. The Okavango Delta is like the holy grail of safari in Africa and is considered extremely exclusive and expensive if you are not camping yourself.
If you are camping you must book out campsite months in advance, so we were so happy that a lodge agreed to take media like us on.
However, the lodge, which will remain nameless throughout this post failed to provide us with a ride to their camp. You must have a ride in, or have a heavy duty 4×4 to make it to their boat dock.
We met up with another freelancer from South Africa and his intern who were going to the lodge to also write a story. They failed to provide enough space in their safari vehicle for all four of us to get in. So we annoyingly agreed to drive ourselves in with the two others in the back.
Our car wasn’t running that well (story of our entire trip) and we weren’t sure if it would make it through such thick sand, but the lodge manager ensured us it would.
It was one ROUGH ride in, and the lodge game viewer with the incompetent manager drove right past us at blazing speeds. About 20 minutes later we found ourselves stuck in the sand and our four-wheel-drive failing.
We had no cell reception and were properly stuck in the sand in an African game reserve with roaming lions. One of the guys we were with was South African and bush smart.
We tried to dig the car out for about an hour before throwing in the towel and incorrectly assuming that the lodge staff would turn around shortly after they realized we were so late to the boat dock.
The sun kept getting lower and I was beginning to think that no one would be returning for us and we would spend the night in the middle of the bush on top of the car.
The South African guy, I think his name was Warren, told me not to worry about the lions, and that the dehydration would kill us first.
I didn’t think he was serious, but he full on was. We didn’t have enough water for the four of us, but did have some canned vegetables and a lot of gin and tonic. Still – no one wanted to spend the night out there.
After we realized that no one would be turning around for us we made more attempts to dig out the car. Thank god we bought our high lift jack in Cape Town, because it ended up saving us and after a good three hours or so we got out.
We made it to the camp just before sunset. The manager was drinking gin and tonics and was not concerned about our whereabouts at all. He just assumed we saw an elephant or something and got held up – for three hours at sunset… Needless to say I was thankful we made it out because this lodge was literally no help at all and treated us very poorly.
Regardless of our beginnings we still enjoyed our time in the Okavango Delta. It’s one of the places you see on Planet Earth and can’t believe it’s real. We had a slew of other problems with the lodge. Including not taking us on a safari because they only had one vehicle for some reason, so it wasn’t the trip to the Okavango Delta we had really hoped for. That was okay though because it was still beautiful and we were ALIVE.
Getting Our Car Fixed (Again) in Botswana
When we made it out of the Delta we knew enough was enough, we had to get this car looked at properly.
We settled up at Old Bridge Backpackers in Maun for a few days and camped on the river. It was great to relax at a quiet campsite for a bit. We got a mechanic off a recommendation of the lodge managers we had just stayed with (mistake).
He ended up overcharging us by about $300 and stealing all of our precious gin from our car. We couldn’t have gin and tonics for awhile, but the car was fixed and we were ready to hit the road again.
We went to Nata in Botswana and stayed at a nice campsite there to relax for a few more days before venturing into Zambia. After the whole car fiasco, I really wasn’t ready to deal with an African border quite yet and enjoyed our days chilling out in the African shade and camping for a few days.
My favorite drone video ever
The Great Kazungula Ferry Crossing
It’s a good thing we rested up in Botswana and camped for awhile because the border crossing from Botswana into Zambia was the worst we ever encountered in Africa.
It was so bad I even wrote a blog post about it called, the great Kazungula Ferry Crossing which still gets seen a lot today as other poor overlanders are wondering what it’s all about.
The hectic Kazungula border crossing and ferry are notoriously soul sucking. We knew self-driving over the border from Botswana to Zambia would go one of two ways – easy peasy or painstakingly difficult. And it was the latter.
There were people everywhere. The crowds, buskers (people that will try to push their “services” on you), and the money changers were relentless.
I should mention that if you are walking over all these African borders you shouldn’t have many problems. The reason we had so many and the reason I hated borders is that we had a car. We always had to prove that we weren’t importing the car, that the car was not stolen, that we had the right paperwork for the car, and yada yada yada. Many of our problems usually started with the fact that the car wasn’t in our name, but in Heye’s.
Heye actually gave us all his paperwork and we had a signed Power of Attorney stating that we had power over the car no matter whose name it was in. We had all of this signed and notarized by the South African police before we left too.
The only thing we didn’t ensure ourselves with was a “police clearance” letter. This is essentially a letter from the police saying the car was not stolen. These weren’t mandatory anywhere, but we were told it could help you out of bribes. I wanted to get this sorted out in South Africa, we just ran out of time with our visa. However, problems still came up at every border and Kazungula was no exception.
We decided in all the craziness not to leave the vehicle unattended at this border. As two white people with a big ass truck in Africa we got a lot of stares and unwanted attention – especially at borders. One of us had to stamp the vehicle out of Botswana. Cam went in to deal with the process first.
Cam showed immigration the papers first, and because he didn’t have a “police clearance” like we feared they wouldn’t let us out of Botswana. I was in no way expecting this problem actually leaving Botswana. He came out frazzled an hour later after being turned around multiple times. Police clearances can take days to sort out and sometimes have to be done in the cars registration country.
I decided to try my luck while Cam stayed at the car. I went into the bustling immigration office and made my way to the youngest, nicest looking woman in the room. I claimed that I was confused as to how I can get my car out of Botswana and told her I had all my papers. She looked at my papers briefly and stamped the car right on out. There is no proper system in Africa – so if you’re on a journey like ours don’t ever give up, just keep trying until something works.
When I existed there was a drunk or high man in a red shirt hanging on our car. Cam couldn’t get him to go away and neither could I. He hung around us for the next four hours while we delt with our Zambian visas, and getting into Zambia. He left when I finally agreed to pay him $5 just to go away. Looking back, I should have paid him sooner as he made the whole experience a lot worse.
The whole process from leaving Botswana to Zambia took about five hours, and almost $300 to get our car and us into Zambia. I was so done with it all until I remembered we were on our way to one of the best lodges in Zambia.
Tongabezi is luxury eco lodge on the Zambezi River. We set up the lodge stay with some of the same people that helped us out on our last lodge visit in South Africa (many African lodges are all run by the same PR firm), and we enjoyed four days there before continuing on.
We then crossed into Zimbabwe via the Vic Falls border. We had plans to be somewhere for Christmas and had to keep moving, and we knew we would be back through Zambia for New Years so we felt okay leaving so fast.
Vic Falls is simply a sight all must see when traveling Africa. The “Smoke That Thunders” has been described as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. At 1,708 meters wide and a height of 108 meters (354 ft), Victoria Falls is one of the largest waterfalls in the world and is probably one of the main reasons you have come to Zimbabwe.
We enjoyed a nice morning on the Zimbabwean side of Vic Falls followed by afternoon tea at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel. The Victoria Falls Hotel was built by the British in 1904, and was originally accommodation for workers on the Cape-to-Cairo railway. Now it’s a luxury property to stay at. However, even if you can’t stay they still offer afternoon tea on their beautiful grounds. Next time I return to Africa I would like to see Victoria Falls from Zambia!
We camped for another few nights around Victoria Falls because we were gearing up for our largest adventure in Africa yet and wanted to chill.
It was almost Christmas time and the family run Musango Safari Camp invited us to enjoy Christmas with them in the Zimbabwean bush. Not wanting to spend Christmas alone and be on safari we happily obliged.
The only problem was we were looking at a 16 hour in the middle of nowhere to do it. We accepted the challenge anyway.
A 20 Hour Bush Drive Around Lake Kariba
The goal of this particular journey was to drive around the fourth largest man-made lake in the world, Lake Kariba. We would be traveling through Zimbabwe. The drive would take us roughly 800 kilometers and there was no guarantee we’d find petrol en route. We would be taking the dirt roads the whole time because the police were checking the highways and we informed by locals that the police stops in Zimbabwe are notoriously corrupt, and difficult. To take the main roads could end up taking us more time and hassle with all the attempted bribery.
Driving down single track dirt roads and passing through rural villages we were in the midst of the real overland journey. In rural Africa, there aren’t many vehicles driving around on a daily basis. So, once we had turned off the main road out of Victoria Falls we were completely on our own. There was no AAA, mechanics, fuel stations, hotels, or even cell reception.
We had to ascend and descend many mountain roads and only came up on a fueling station once. Thank god we had jerry cans. The entire two day drive we only saw a handful of other cars – all locals.
However the beauty of being this remote was astonishing. The valleys were lush and full of life and everyone stopped in awe as they watched us drive by. Likely the only muzungus (white people) they had seen in the last couple of weeks.
After about 20 hours on rough dirt roads in the middle of absolutely we signed a huge breath as we made it to Musango Safari Camp on Lake Kariba.
A Christmas Safari in the Bush
We finally made it to Musango for a great Christmas in the bush. We never had a Christmas that involved elephants and gin and tonics, and we were excited to change that. We spent the holidays with antelope, hippos, and crocodiles in the morning and then had a present swap with an African feast later that night. Not exactly a white Christmas, but a memorable one.
We made it to Musango for a few days of holiday cheer with other adventurers, but we now had to continue and make it out of Musanga and to civilization.
Zimbabwe was going through fuel and cash shortages at the time, which unfortunately have only gotten worse since then.
We arrived to Musango out of gas, and didn’t really have a plan of how we would refill and get out. We needed roughly 60L to make the journey to the next town. These are everyday struggles in Zimbabwe.
Steve Edwards, legend and owner of the camp had to call his crocodile hunter friend to bring us two jerry cans worth of fuel via speedboat across Lake Kariba. We paid the grand total of $2/liter, the most we have ever paid, to fill up our tank (still to this day) with hopes it would get us to the next town. To put this in terms American’s will understand we paid $7.63 a gallon. Yikes! Think about that the next time you complain about fuel prices.
The drive out from Musango brought about new challenges. The night before heavy rains had occurred and the roads subsequently turned to mud. We climbed about 800m up the mountain and crossed sections where the road was disappearing and washing away in front of our eyes. Other sections were hastily being replaced by locals with rocks, makeshift dams, and wood.
We had to make to the Zimbabwe/Zambia Lake Kariba Dam border. It was the next point of civilization.
We crossed through the Charara wilderness area in Zimbabwe and found impala grazing along the road, baboons, lots of birdlife, and eventually came to a dead stop when two elephants greeted one another in the middle of the road. We were in the Africa we dreamed of. Lush, remote, and completely wild.
When we pulled into the small town of Kariba we had driven another nine hours on the worst roads (but most beautiful) we had experienced in Africa. We set up camp along the banks for one last night on Lake Kariba. Then went to the campsite bar for some Zambezi lagers, beef stew, sadza, and relish. This is the perfect meal to end a trip in Zimbabwe.
Another Border Crossing
Our next stop was Zambia, to head into their capital, Lusaka and enjoy New Years Eve in an actual city instead of the bush.
We had to cross another border to do it though, and like all African land borders this one was just as much a struggle as the others.
The first being getting ourselves out of Zimbabwe. We had to apparently pay a $.50 fee each – cash only to exit Zimbabwe. It sounds really simple, however the only problem was Zimbabwe was going through a major cash shortage (still is) and $1 bills were really hard to come by.
In Zimbabwe any USD you could get would surealy be the saddest, most crumpled, taped up bill you have ever seen – so bad they are only accepted in Zimbabwe. The photo below sums it up perfectly.
We knew this when we entered Zimbabwe so we armed ourselves with enough cash to get us through. Only problem was all we had were crisp twenties the ATM spat out at us. This was a problem all over the country as no one could give us proper change for the twenties, and when they could it was these ratty dollar bills unaccepted virtually everywhere.
So at the border when they asked for $1 to leave I didn’t have any and had no way to get it. I literally needed one freaking dollar to leave this country and couldn’t find anywhere to exchange our cash for that.
Finally after walking up and down the street, I found a white Zimbabwean guy who had one ratty dollar. I offered to give him my twenty if he could break it, but he couldn’t so he just gave me the dollar, a very hard thing to do in Zimbabwe.
I thought our problem was solved until we tried to get the car out at the police station. The police were watching a Trevor Noah standup special on their old television and couldn’t be bothered much with us.
When they looked at our vehicle paper they pretty much accussed us of stealing it and said we needed a letter from the police saying otherwise before we could leave.
OMG are we ever getting out of this country? I kept thinking. They then said we could pay them $100 to be on our way. Sadly bribes go a long way in Africa, but we made a pact never to pay a bribe throughout our trip and stood our ground.
We stood at the police station for around 30 minutes staring at the police officers, eventually annoying them enough through their Trevoh Noah special to let us go.
We settled into Siavonga, the first town across the border and sat down at a small hotel for a proper cappuccino. Our car was filthy so we paid some of the workers there to wash it for us and they were super happy. This is called job creation in many poor countries. We often got asked if someone could wash our car, fill up our gas, or do anything for a few dollars and even if we could do it ourselves, it is better to give the job opportunity to someone that needs the money.
Now we were finally in Zambia and heading to Lusaka.
We arrived in Lusaka and decided to hole up in a hotel for a few days. We went to the movies, ate Chinese takeway, got massages, and then went to a New Years Eve party at the bar, followed by a little fun at the casino. An African New Years I’ll never forget!
Kasanka National Park
We made our way acround Zambia camping at a few parks along the way. A big stop we wanted to make was in Kasanka National Park as it’s where one of the largest bat migrations takes place in the world.
We ventured into the park and they told us the last of the bats had literally moved on two days ago. It was a bummer, but we wanted to camp in the park anyway.
Literally the only people in the entire park we set up camp and enjoyed time in the bush and rang in the start of the rainy season. We didn’t see ANY wildlife or bats, or any other humans, but it was still a peaceful time in the bush. At one point I woke up and swore there was SOMETHING outside our tent, but I was too scared to look.
The Day We Drove the Wrong Way
After some time around Kasanka and other camps we had plans to go to South Luangwa National Park for safari, before continuing onto Southern Malawi. We were staying at Chinzombo, one of the nicest and most luxurious camps in all of Africa.
We were almost guaranteed to see leopards at South Luangwa by the multiple guides we had spoken with so we were so stoked to go to South Luangwa.
We made our way to the Mutinondo Wilderness Reserve, which was on our way to South Luangwa according to the GPS. We met the managers of the reserve and I told them we just needed one night at their campsite. Without them asking I decided to tell them of our future plans (and thank god I did).
“We are heading to South Luangwa tomorrow. How long do you think it will take to get there?”
The two Dutch managers stared at me and lauged.
“Oh, you can’t get to South Luangwa this time of year. You’ll have to drive back to Lusaka and around. I think it should take you about 21 hours.”
I stared at them, I looked at Cam, I stared back at them. I think I giggled a little in between…they had to be joking. “There has to be some sort of way to South Luangwa?” We were literally right next to it on the map. We just came from Lusaka and couldn’t even imagine paying the crazy petrol prices or taking the time to drive all that way again.
There is a road between Mutinondo Wilderness Area and South Luangwa – even paper, Maps.me, and Google Maps confirms it. But see, it’s the rainy season in Africa, meaning the normal bad mud roads are now bad brown mush roads that are totally impassable. The road we thought we were going to take is only open three months out of the year. Traveling along it any other time is pretty much signing a death certificate.
My friends, this is why you cannot just “wing Africa,” which I see so many people claiming they want to do. This is also why I really really wish Cameron and I were more bush smart and could just know these things like the other overlanders we meet.
It was a tough choice deciding how to fix our massive and expensive mistake. We decided that we would have to cut out South Luangwa and Southern Malawi. With petrol in Zambia costing a whopping $1.40/Liter (over $5 a gallon) and time being a precious commodity, we would continue to northern Zambia before trying to cross over into Malawi from the north.
So we continued on to other campsites around Zambia. We had no WiFi for days, but it truly felt like we were traveling the heart of Africa that many don’t see on typical tours. We called this episode of our adventure, the day we drove 1100 km in the wrong direction.
Driving to Malawi
We made our way up to Kapishya Hot Springs. From the hot springs, we were to drive into Malawi via the Chitipa border. The Chitipa border exists on a map, but outside of that, I couldn’t find any info on it.
Some of the Africans we asked mentioned that the border post may, in fact, be absolutely nothing, and when I asked in the Overlanding Africa Facebook group no one had been through the border.
This is Africa and things don’t always make sense. Even though there is a border post on the map doesn’t mean there is one in real life. I was beginning to stress how we would make it into Malawi legally with our car and once again cursing myself for not making it to South Luangwa so I could cross over the “easy” border post at Chipata. With nothing lose…besides a ton of gas and time we awoke at 5 am and made our way towards Malawi towards what could be a fictitious border crossing.
We drove from Kapishya Hot Springs towards the Chitipa Border post. We stopped in Chinsali knowing this would be our last chance to get fuel. We followed Maps.me the whole time which is extremely accurate for bush driving. It takes three hours to get from the hot springs to Isoka. From there we turned off onto a dirt road. If you make the same drive then pray that it hasn’t rained in the past day because this road is long and muddy. It took us 2.5 hours to drive 114 km through what seemed like fifty small villages.
We had no idea if we were going the right way and we were literally in the middle of nowhere with half a tank of gas. My doubts started to get ahold of my mind so we pulled over so I could ask someone. We found a young Zambian on one of the coolest motorcycles I had ever seen. He told me we were heading towards Malawi, and that was good enough for me to keep going.
We never saw one single car the entire way, and got a lot of stares. BUT we eventually made it to Malawi. I knew we made to Malawi not because of a large border post, but because I finally saw a pristine tarred road (yes, most of the roads in Malawi are tarred).
The border post existed, we were legally stamped out of Zambia and into Malawi. Rejoice Rejoice!
The silver lining to crossing the border here was that it was empty. It was not a well known border between Zambia and Malawi, meaning we had to wait in no lines, didn’t have to deal with any crowds, and everything was hassle free!
We had NO plans for Malawi, but I wanted to spend time on Lake Malawi and just chill for awhile. We heard good things about Nkhata Bay so we decided to head there from the border. We didn’t really know where to stop or go between the Chitipa border crossing and Nkhata Bay so we decided to keep driving and do the whole thing in one day.
This turned into one of our longest, most grueling, and hangry days in Africa as we started at 5am in Zambia. Netween the terrible roads and border crossings we made to Nkhata Bay in Malawi at 9pm and it was pouring. It may have taken 16 hours but man it felt good to be on the lake!
We spent the next week bouncing around the town, meeting locals, paddleboarding on the lake, and enjoying warm Malawian hospitality.
I had also heard great things about Livingstonia, so after we left Nkhata Bay we drove north again.
We camped out at a campsite called Hakuna Matata’s for a few days and met other overlanders for the first time in months.
They were a middle aged South African couple who were lodge managers around Africa. They were born and bred African bush people and we stood to learn so much from them. When I say “African bush” I mean that they know the bush. They know Africa, they know the tips and the rules. It’s something that cannot be learned in a short period of time, but something that takes years and to perfect.
We were not those people, but we wanted to be! They invited us to kayak Lake Malawi with them and enjoy the area. It was a fantastic time being around others who were overlanding Africa themselves like we were.
We then decided to hike from Pumba’s campsite to Livingstonia. Livingstonia is 900 meters above the lake and is accessible by either driving or hiking up the hairpin dirt roads. Not wishing to put any more strain on dear Charlie and in desperate need of a good hike and exercise, we decided to walk up to Livingstonia in the intense African heat.
It was grueling and hot, but felt good once we reached a jungle oasis at the top.
The hike took us about three hours in the humid Malawian air, but we met locals who said they do it in an hour and a half. Of course, we were not local, did not know the short cuts, and wanted to take countless photographs. We met a few other travelers who were also hiking, but if that is not your thing you can hitch a ride on one of the local trucks going up and down (we felt more confident on our feet given the state of the road).
Once at the top visitors can take in the stunning views, visit Manchewe Falls, and relish in the cool mountain air. The town of Livingstonia is also home to some impressive Scottish architecture, the beautiful Livingstonia Mission Church, and even a coffee shop. We stayed at Lukwe, a small eco-lodge run by a Dutchman who built the whole thing. It’s a fantastic and cheap place to stay with amazing views.
I wanted to stay longer in Livingstonia, but we only had a minimal amount of cash on us and couldn’t pay for another night at Lukwe. No credit cards are no use in Africa, except in the cities.
I actually wanted to stay longer in Malawi in general, but we were out of cash and the only ATM was 2.5 hours away at the Tanzania border. So instead of driving 2.5 hours just to get cash and back we chose to leave for Tanzania after Livingstonia.
As we were leaving Pumba’s we were met with the sweetest girls ever. My favorite memory from our visit to Malawi was when a group of four young girls came up to me as I was walking and just held my hand. They asked my name and I told them it was “Natasha.”
The girls, perhaps they were between three and five, said back to each other “NASHASHA.” They walked with me back to where we were staying for the afternoon. They didn’t ask me for sweets or money like we’ve been asked for in the past, but instead, they asked me for pens.
We’ve been traveling around with small notebooks and pens to give to school children so I got some out of the car and gave them each a notebook with a pink, orange, and purple pen. I told them to please study and do well in school (not like they could understand me), and they stared at me like I had just given them a million dollars. I walked away and then they started running, smiling, and chasing after me chanting “NaShaSha, NaShaSha, NaShaSha!” It was heart warming, genuine, and amazing at what a little thing like a pad of paper can do for a child. It’s best to never give candy or money handouts in Africa, if you’re going to give anything to children it should be useful items like school supplies or nutritious food. And if you’re going to give you have to give it to ALL children, otherwise there will be fights among them.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, but you honestly wouldn’t think it given everyone’s seemingly positive outlooks. Instead of stares, we received waves, smiles, and curious questions from locals. The children were some of the happiest we’ve come across in Africa.
As mentioned we were running out of cash in Malawi and there weren’t any ATM’s where we were at. We literally had to pay for our last campsite via Paypal. We would need to go North to the Tanzania border to get our hands on some cash so we decided it was a good time to leave Malawi and continue onto Tanzania.
The Malawian/Tanzania border proved terrible and chaotic yet again. At least three separate people tried to scam us out of money, but we were getting smarter by this point and crossed into Tanzania with only two hours spent at the border!
At this point we had been overlanding Zambia and Malawi for about three weeks. It had been awhile since we chilled like we did in Lusaka and wanted beach time.
Our goal was to be sitting on the Zanzibar beaches in a weeks time so we crossed Tanzania to do it.
Our first stop was camping at Utegele Coffee Farm to enjoy some cooler climate and good coffee. We pulled a no no and drove from the border to the coffee farm at night to get there which was honestly slightly unsettling in Tanzania.
Onwards towards Dar Es Salaam we stopped again at Kinolansi. A campsite that is really popular with overland safaris. For the first time in awhile we were at a packed campsite in Africa.
In Iringa, we went into town and wanted a coffee shop. Like a real coffee shop where I could get an iced latte and vegan food. Surprisingly this exists in Iringa so yes we went into town just for Neema Crafts Center.
We got coffee, but we also enjoyed this social enterprise. Neema Crafts Center employees disabled Tanzanians. Many employees are deaf or blind and cannot get work elsewhere so Neema Crafts Center provides sound employment. I highly recommend stopping here on your way to Dar Es Salaam if you are to do this journey as well.
We then continued our journey to Dar Es Salaam and stopped at Tan Swiss Lodge to camp here for a few days with WiFi to catch up on work. It’s a good base for people to venture into Ruaha National Park. However, Africa was getting very expensive for us by this point so we opted out of the ridiculously priced Tanzania park fees and skipped out. We would be returning later, but we didn’t know that at the time.
We STILL weren’t in Dar Es Salaam to catch the ferry to Zanzibar and still had a lot of overlanding to do. We had been driving since Malawi for five days now just to get to Dar. The journey was grueling, but camping along the way made it very enjoyable. At the bad advice of another overlander they said we could go to Bagamoyo and catch the ferry to Zanzibar there and completely bypass the city.
I’m not an African city person so the fact that we could catch the ferry to Zanzibar via a small town was music to my ears.
We drove out of the way to Bagamoyo and camped on the coast. We learned at our campsite that there was no ferry, but we could pay for a local dhow if we wanted.
A dhow is a local wooden fishing boat used around the Indian Ocean. It seemed there was about a 20% chance of the dhow being overcrowded and capsizing into the ocean so we decided to pass on this local opportunity and went to Dar Es Salaam and continue to Zanzibar the normal and safe way.
Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar
We had to ferry our car to Mikadi Beach where we would park our car at securely for the three weeks we would be staying on Zanzibar.
By the time we accomplished this task it was already late in the day and the ferry terminal to Zanzibar is an absolute madhouse. We ended up not securing our tickets to Zanzibar on the day we wanted. So reluctantly we settled into the Hong Kong Hotel, a Chinese run hotel in the city with. a Chinese restaurant in Dar Es Salaam to experience the city before waking up for the 6 am ferry the next day.
Three weeks in Zanzibar
I’m not sure how we did it from the road, but we managed to pull together a three week sponsorship at some amazing Zanzibar properties. We also spent five incredible days in Stone Town, the beating heart of the island which delicious food and interesting sites.
Zanzibar is the perfect African destination if you really want to relax and enjoy the Indian ocean or have a breather after safari.
We spent three weeks not getting into a car and relaxing on the island. Blue water, white sand beaches, and amazing spicy food became our life for three whole weeks.
Most days we relaxed on the beach during the day, and caught up with work on this website and night since we finally had working WiFi.
Returning to Real Life
It was very hard to leave Zanzibar after such an amazing and relaxing three weeks there. It’s still one of my favorite underrated islands in the world and another place I really want to get back to.
But we had to return to our Land Cruiser and complete our journey. We were also picking up another travel blogger who wanted to join us on our trip for a few weeks and experience Africa herself. We had never met eachother, and were meeting for the first time in Dar Es Salaam. After a week or so it was apparent that we all didn’t really jive so well together, but given that we had agreed for her to join us in our travels for a few weeks and unwilling to part ways as we had the car we just continued on anyways and all was well.
We drove up the coast of Tanzania and enjoyed Ushongo Beach, then camped and did some hiking in the beautiful Lushoto mountains.
We continued on to Kilimanjaro and camped near the mountain and woke to watch sunrise over Africa’s tallest peak.
To this day everyone still asks us if we climbed Kilimanjaro during our adventure, but the truth is after seven months of overlanding Africa we. didn’t quite have it in us to exhaust ourselves on this trek, so we skipped it. However I would eventually like to return and accomplish the hike.
The Great Flood
Undoubtedly the worst night of our entire African trip was the night of the great flood.
We were on our way to enjoy a safari in the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti when we stopped in the town of Arusha to break up our driving.
We set up shop at the Meserani Snake Park campsite. Our tents were pitched and we had been enjoying the sound of the rainy season in Tanzania while enjoying a cold beer and playing darts with the bar staff.
We then were rushed out of the open bar area. The few staff members that were there, the Masai guards, and three campers screaming.
We ran out to the campsite and saw chaos. A dam had burst uphill and caused a huge flash flood in the area and it ripped through the entire campsite.
The whole area was no flooded with muddy water up to my hips. My thoughts raced to the the truck and all that was inside. All of our electronics, cash, and passports could all be swept away in a matter of minutes.
We bolted through the water to retrieve our valuable possessions before the car went bye bye. The Masai guards were screaming at us that it wasn’t safe – and it honestly it wasn’t, if lightning struck the water we could all be dead. But adrenaline kept us going and we climbed into the trunk of the car grabbed what we could and held it over our heads to walk it uphill to shelter.
We then watched as all was in ruins. I was crying, Cameron was telling me that the car was done as the water had definitely flooded the engine by now and soon it was going to move in the flood.
I didn’t realize it until later how selfish I being as I was worried about the car and not finishing our trip, while people in nearby villages may have lost their homes or lives. The campsite was in total disrepair as well and this would take Ma and Pop, the two owners of the campsite weeks/months to rebuild their business.
Thankfully, there was only us and one other camper there for the night. The other camper pitched his tent uphill. We pitched ours downhill under the tin roofs to provide shelter from the rain. The tents were the first things to get destroyed.
Ma and Pop offered us a room to sleep in for the night, as well as dry clothing. The car never washed away, but we were positive it would probably never start again.
We woke up early the next morning to assess the damage. The whole area was covered in mud up to our knees. The few overnighters, the staff, and the local Masai just kinda wandered around not knowing what to do.
There were three cars that got ruined. Ours, and two overland vehicles that were parked there while the overlanders spent the night in the Serengeti. Thank god they were not there, because I can only imagine the chaos had 25 other overlanders been there camping.
Ma and Pop, felt terrible about our cars. Obviously we knew it wasn’t their fault and it was a complete act of nature, but they insisted that they repair the car in their shop anyway.
They had a small shop set up to repair vehicles and insisted on repairing our car for free if we just paid for the parts. We were so thankful! The only problem was it would take a week or so to fix, so we re-routed a bit of trip so that we would go to the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater without our car and get transferred in.
We spent the next two days at Meserani Campsite deep washing all our stuff from the mud and enjoying downtime at the campsite. The Meserani campsite also has a snake and reptile park and is one of the only places in the area that treats life-threatening snake bites. It’s such an amazing spot and I highly recommend it to anyone needing a place to stay in Arusha.
Onwards to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro
We let the car sit with Ma and Pa and get repaired and moved forward with our trip and safari in the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. The crater is almost unreal and we saw an overwhelming amount of wildlife. BUT it was not amazing after all the cars came in around 9 am. Our guide told us we had to get up at 4 am and be the first car into the park when it opened.
We followed his advice, woke up bright and early and saw the sunrise in the crater which was well worth losing sleep over. The Ngorongoro Crater is beautiful, but it’s also very busy so make sure to get there before 6am.
We spent a few days in the Serengeti and while it was a good time it was actually the most underwhelming African National Park we visited. Too many people and vehicles crowding the animals. I would still go back and give it another go, but prepare myself for the crowds.
We were working with The Simba Collection to also visit their Tarangire camp as well. They needed us to shoot some video footage as they had no drone clips for marketing use. So we were able to go on safari and make a little money with our drone once again!
Onward to Rwanda
Our car was in tip top shape when we picked it up from Meserani. Because of the awesome staff at Meserani, we were able to get back on the road. I’ll never forget the kindness they showed us and their willingness to help us out. People are so good – especially in the heart of Africa.
We were able to continue our journey onto Rwanda, which would take two full days of driving in the middle of nowhere. We were driving from Arusha to Kigali – over 1200 km. The wiser routing would have been to venture from Arusha to Kenya, but we needed special paperwork to get our care into Kenya and couldn’t go that way. Burundi, although interesting, was too unstable to drive into at the time.
We spent two full days driving to Rwanda. At the Rusumo Falls border post we were some of the only people there. It was actually a nice and relatively easy border crossing. We paid $100 for an East Africa tourist visa that got us into Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya. Rwanda has banned all plastic bags so we had to sit at the border and make sure we didn’t have any plastic in our car before continuing. If we had plastic bags and got caught it would have been a fine between $5-$110 on the spot.
Once we crossed over into Rwanda we were relieved to be over the border in a new country. Except it was night time and we had no plans. We had no idea of a campsite to stay at, or what to do. We hadn’t had internet for a few days and it was pitch black outside.
So we stopped in small village called Rusumo and found a lively bar that apparently had rooms for the night. We were fine camping, but there were no public toilets or showers so we needed a room if we wanted any of that.
We agreed to pay $30 for a room so we could shower and reset, but after seeing the room decided against staying in there or even showering in it.
It was the most disgusting room we had seen in Africa yet. Sometimes it’s just better to do all your business outside folks. We ordered some local food from the bar after not eating all day, and were told it’s best not to look in the kitchen. I suddenly wasn’t very hungry anymore and stuck to beer to fill my stomach.
The next morning we woke up on their “campgrounds” which we saw was essentially an open spot of land surrounded by kids playing soccer. We packed up camp and brushed our teeth outside with many onlookers. We continued the four hours onto Kigali so we could get some coffee and breakfast.
We stayed in Kigali for a few nights to catch up on some rest and plan our travels with internet. Kigali was a breath of fresh air for an African city. It was incredibly clean and modern, with cute cafes, modern amenities, and things to do. They’ve done a great deal of work since the horrific Rwandan Genocide and I was thoroughly impressed.
We decided in Kigali that we wanted to go see the Chimps in Nyungwe Forest Park. So left our comfortable Airbnb in Kigali in exchange for more off the grid camping in the forest.
You can go chimp trekking in both Rwanda and Uganda. We already had plans to go Gorilla trekking in Uganda so I figured we should utilize our time in Rwanda for the chimps. The chimps are most active in the morning so we had to get to the park by 4 am to start our trek. It was ridiculously early and we trekked for about five hours with fire ants, but we finally found our chimp family!
Afterward we got back to our campsite and were completely exhausted from the early morning wake up. We had two choices – stay and camp another night or continue onwards in our tired state to Lake Kivu.
I can’t remember why, it may have been limited supplies, but we decided to continue on and this led us to our first accident.
While we were refueling on gas, I’m not sure what happened, but there was a lot going on. Someone came up incredibly close behind our vehicle and parked there. The other person we were with needed a receipt as she was expensing all our purchases so we were waiting to get one, and on top of that, there was a bus in front of us with a ton of people.
Cameron didn’t see the car as he was backing up and we ran right into the back of this persons cars
“Great,” I said. A group of white people in a huge truck just ran into a locals car. Payday for them. Whether they planted it there on purpose we don’t know, but either way this was our fault and I knew it was about to cause a big show.
It only took about 60 seconds for a huge crowd to form around the scene, with everyone accusing us of our crime. The damage wasn’t serious, just a small dent on a very old beat up car, but a dent indeed.
I knew they all saw us as walking ATM machines. Make no mistake, when you are white in rural Africa you are a walking ATM machine. Whether you are rich or poor, you are white, meaning you are rich in Africa.
The car we ran into was a complete beater, and he demanded we pay him $500 for the small dent in an old car which was not going to happen. After a ton of back and forth we agreed to give him $100 and he was not happy. $100 was more than fair and we knew it, so we got in our car and continued on.
It had been a hell of a day when we arrive to Lake Kivu. A 3:30 am wake up call, chimp trekking, a long drive, and the collision meant we were completely exhausted. I hadn’t been online in a few days, but when I opened my computer at our guesthouse I had a message from my Dad.
“We lost him,” with a picture of my Grandfather. I knew what he meant. It had been a long time since my Grandfather was in good health and it was sadly only a matter of time until I would receive this.
I was upset, I didn’t want to be in Africa anymore, I wanted to be home, but I was in the middle of Rwanda. May as well been on the moon.
After a tough few days and talking to my parents they convinced me to finsih out the trip. There was nothing that would be accomplished by taking 50 hours flying back home at this point. So I traveled the rest of Rwanda in a daze, just going through the motions. There is absolutely no content on Rwanda on this blog and hardly any photos unfortunately, not because we didn’t have a good time, but because of the many incidents we went through.
Crossing into Uganda
Continuing on with our journey we made headway into Uganda, through another rigorous border crossing. We made it to our first stop which was Lake Bunyoni, which would definitely be one of those “Instagram destinations” if it wasn’t in nowhere Uganda and easier to reach.
Lake Bunyoni is the perfect place to visit if you just don’t want to do anything at all. We found great joy in just sitting with a coffee while overlooking the peacefulness of our surroundings.
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Our next BIG outing was to go Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. This was a highlight of our entire Africa trip and we had been looking forward to it since we started our adventure.
So we drove into the National Park and near Buhoma where the park headquarters is. We woke up bright and early for a day of trekking.
Gorilla trekking permits are extremely expensive and limited, and there were only about 50 trekkers set to go into the jungle when we arrived. The groups were split up and we were off.
Treks to find the gorillas can take anywhere from one hour to 10, although we found them in two through a moderately difficult path. If I can give you one tip it’s to wear long sleeves. I wore a tank top because it was hot and had fire ants on me the entire time.
I won’t go too much into the experience, because I wrote a whole blog post about it and video here, but needless to say it was amazing and I hope someday I am fortunate enough to go again.
This is where we departed ways with the other traveler, she had been with us 5-6 weeks and had a flight out, while we would continue on to self drive Uganda.
The Tree Climbing Lions
Our next destination was Ishasha, where we heard there were tree-climbing lions. Yes, Ishasha National Park in Uganda and parks in Tanzania are the only places you can find the tree-climbing lions.
Upon entrance into the park our vehicle stalled at the gates and we were stuck. We knew we had to service the vehicle immediately, but couldn’t really do anything in the middle of nowhere again.
So we ditched the car and hopped in with other safari-goers in search of the tree climbing lions. It only took us about 20 minutes to find some so we enjoyed hanging out with the lioness while enjoying a gin and tonic in the back seat. Yes, drinking gin and tonics while on safari is one of the great joys you can have traveling Africa.
We then made our way around Queen Elizabeth National Park and the crater lakes. Watching the sunset over the craters meant we would be driving around Uganda at night, but it was well worth the stunning views.
We were working with the Uganda Tourism Board at this point and had set up to go chimp trekking with them in Kibale National Park. The only problem was we did a poor job setting up the dates and had a lot of gap time in between. So we made our way to Fort Portal to get our car fixed.
We had to camp out here for a few days while they worked on the vehicle, and enjoyed the nice coffee shops and being in a town with a few restaurants and working WiFi. At this point we were making a little money on our website, about $1500 a month or so. It wasn’t a lot, but in addition to selling photography, it was enough to keep us motivated to keep working online.
We had some time to kill in Uganda, and knew we wanted to go to Jinja and also to Kampala to begin trying to sell our car. We knew Uganda would likely be the end of the road for Charlie.
The import fees and path to Kenya wasn’t an easy one and then trying to get the car overland into Sudan and Egypt would require a lot of work and money. I regret not making it to Sudan and Egypt, but at the time we were really draining all of our resources to try and complete this journey. (Update – we made it to Egypt in 2019!)
So without much hesitation, we traveled all the way from Fort Portal to Kampala on a Saturday night.
Arriving in Kampala
Man what a giant mistake driving this was. Kampala is known for having notoriously terrible traffic, even for an African capital. However nothing could prepare us for this night.
We were stuck in almost stand still traffic for over five hours in Kampala as we were trying to make our way to our hotel in Entebbe. This traffic wasn’t LA traffic either where there are organized lanes and street lights.
This was full-blown African chaos traffic. Mopeds, or boda boda’s, lined the streets. Individual lanes were non-existent, and instead of traffic lights it was traffic circle after traffic circle. Cars, boda bodas, and people cut us off every few feet or so, and we were on constant guard. There was no looking at the phone to pass time – we were fully aware of being in a huge Land Cruiser in an African capital city at night.
I’m sure this was a usual Saturday to most people who lived in the city, but to us it was absolute hell. We were stressed about being two white people in an oversized truck at night in an African capital. We were highly susceptible to being jumped, and had we been in another country like South Africa the likelihood would have been higher. We were hungry and stressed out as each car inched closer to our vehicle as bumpers were touching. To this day, I’ve never seen anything as bad as the traffic in Kampala.
However, we made it out completely unscathed without even a scratch on the car, but it was a night I’ll never forget.
We camped out in Entebbe for the next five nights catching up on work at the Protea Entebbe. Cameron’s sister worked for Marriot at the time so we were scoring crazy cheap deals on all Marriott properties when we could find them – it was amazing to stay at nice properties for $40 a night. That was almost the same price we were paying to camp in Africa! (Campsites are typically $15 a person).
A nice hotel, a Thai restaurant nearby, western coffee shop, and movie theatre where we could go see Kong: Skull island – what’s not to love?
We posted in groups to try and sell our car and were getting what seemed like some serious inquires.
So we moved on to Jinja as we wanted to camp out along the Nile, go white water rafting, and had a few potential buyers for the car up there.
We stayed at a great campsite right along the Nile River with no one else around.
We joined up with Nalubale Rafting and tried our hands on the Nile River. The company made us practice three separate times the proper procedure for if we fell in the water.
I’d been white water rafting five separate times in various spots and never had anything go wrong, so I thought their safety procedures were a bit overkill – but I was wrong.
Nothing could prepare me the intensity of the Nile River. It is serious rapids and far from mellow. Our raft ended up flipping four times, as well as everyone else’s. I genuinely thought I was going to drown on the last one major flip (shown above), and judging by our entire rafts energy after one large spill I could tell they were thinking the same. The group went from chanting “FLIP FLIP FLIP,” to “let’s just take it easy from now on.”
I’m glad we rafted down the Nile, but I definitely won’t ever be doing it again. Also – I have no idea if there are crocodiles or hippos in the water. The guides say that they aren’t near the fast-moving rapids, but honestly if someone would have died on the Nile I doubt it would get a wide news release.
We stayed for a few more days showing our car to various buyers, but no one was biting so we decided to move on and travel back to Fort Portal to go chimp trekking in Kibale National Forest.
Getting Completely Lost
On our way from Jinja to Kibale National Forest our GPS led us completely astray. As the sun was setting and we were about two hours out with low fuel we realized we were on the wrong path.
The paved road turned to a one lane dirt road passing through endless villages. We tried to ask locals the right way, but the communication barrier meant we were on our own. All we could get was hand gestures pointing forward. We had no other choice but to trust them and soon ended up in the fields of rural Uganda with the road just narrow enough for a road bike to pass through.
The sun had set and we needed fuel so we decided to turn around and drive back an hour. It’s then that I decided I’m never asking locals for directions again – or completely trusting a GPS. Granted the paper maps weren’t super helpful at this point either and we were on our own.
Somehow, I was able to get a cell phone signal and call our accommodation. We ended up making it to our accommodation and they still had dinner waiting for us even though it was late at night. Only problem was I was not hungry. I just wanted to get to our room so I could go to the bathroom.
As soon as they checked us into our room I shot to the bathroom and hurled all over before I could even make it to the toilet.
It was a restless night of vomitting, pains, and non stop sweating. I couldn’t eat and we were supposed to go chimp trekking the next morning through the forest.
I didn’t realize it then, but I’m pretty sure I had gotten sick from swallowing so much Nile River water the previous days.
Wanting to go chimp trekking the next day I still suffered through it and hauled my ass into the jungle. I’m so happy we did because the chimp spotting here was so much better compared to our Rwandan experience.
We didn’t have to wake up at the ass crack of dawn, and found the chimps in under 20 minutes compared to the 4-5 hours in Rwanda. Plus the chimps were much more interactive and let us get a tad bit closer for observation.
We had pretty open plans after this and could either drive nine hours to Kidepo National Park or drive BACK to Kampala to try and sell our car.
Not wanting to drive nine hours after our last adventure we decided with the latter and focused on selling our car in the capital. I’m happy we did because it was going to take some time to get this done.
We had been posting in Ugandan Facebook forums for a few weeks advertising our car. We started at $7000, knowing he was well worth that price, but seeing as we were selling a South African car in Uganda whoever bought the car would have to pay import fees which we had to account for.
I had probably 50 people messaging me about buying the car. Most of them were complete lowball offers, some guys just wanted a date, and one person wanted us to donate the car to him.
We had flights out to Kenya and were closing in on time to sell the car. I dropped the price $6000, then $5000, then to $4000 – the amount we paid for it – and was willing to include our cooler, tent, and sleeping pads into that price because what was I going to do? Haul it on the airplane with me to Kenya?
It was a heck of a deal and it was the absolute lowest I would be willing to let it go. If we couldn’t sell it our plan was to leave it in a lot and come back for it and try to sell it then for the price we wanted. Cameron even thought about driving it back down to South Africa for an easy sale.
In the knick of time we found a buyer for the car. A Dutch man was living in Uganda and running a safari business with his Ugandan wife. He sent is Ugandan safari guide, David, to meet us and inspect the car.
They agreed to buy the car for $4000 cash and would be meeting us at the Protea Entebbe to make it all happen.
David, the Dutch man’s wife, and their bookkeeper/accountant met us to do the deal and in a matter of hours they were driving off with Charlie. It was a bittersweet moment because we absolutely loved that car, Cameron especially. If we had lived in Africa there was no way I would have ever sold it. In the US the same vehicle would go for over $10,000. BUT regardless we had to let it go and move on with our trip and remember all the great moments we had.
We were $4000 richer than we were the day before, and now had to travel a few more months around Africa with a ton of cash on us. We could have Western Unioned it back to the US, but they wanted a crazy $500 in fees to make that happen. So we decided to hold onto it until we got home and would hope for the best. You can read the full story on how we drove across Africa for *essentially* $300 here.
Flying to Kenya
We were car-less once we sold Charlie and flew to Kenya instead of making the huge crossing overland. I was relieved not to do another 15-hour border crossing journey with the car.
We arrived to Nairobi late at night and prepared for a blissful three days at one of the nicest properties in the city.
We had worked out another photo deal with Hemingways Nairobi. They would show us Nairobi and their property near the Masai Mara in exchange for a content+photo deal. We were stoked to stay at such a beautiful and peaceful property in the center of one of Africa’s largest cities and then jet off on safari.
It was also super interesting to go on safari in a major city like Nairobi. Yes, in the middle of Nairobi you can go on a safari at Nairobi National Park!
The Masai Mara
We somehow managed to work with three different safari operators in Kenya. Hemingway’s Ol Seki was the first. Located on the award-winning Naboisho Conservancy, Hemingway’s Ol Seki offers guest an amazing wildlife experience. The camp is intimate with ten tents perched on an escarpment. Tents are massive and modern with canvas all around including two massive family tents.
For being outside the park we actually spotted a ton of wildlife here!
Next up was Governors Camp – one of the largest safari operators in Kenya. Their camp is massive, but it has a great location in the middle of the park.
Nearly a century ago in an exceptional part of the Mara the Governors of colonial Kenya had their exclusive camp along the banks of the Mara River. The spot was world renowned for its exceptional game and beauty and was the camp Teddy Roosevelt used on his safaris.
That very spot is now home to Governor’s Camp, the first tented camp in the Masai Mara. Over the years the operation has expanded and it is the largest we have stayed in with nearly 37 tents.
They took us on a sunrise balloon safari and countless game drives. This is where we actually saw the most wildlife in the least amount of time – Throughout our ENTIRE Africa trip.
If your goal is to see as much as possible, I highly recommend the Masai Mara to start with.
On our last night at Governors Camp I texted my Dad and asked him how everyone was. He texted back, “she’s dying,” and I knew instantly he was talking about my Grandma.
Thankfully our tent had WiFi so I called him as soon as I could. I’ve never heard him so upset to this day. He told me that she was in bad shape, went into cardiac arrest and had signed a do-not-resuscitate order after my grandfather passed.
Just two days before I was skyping with her and she seemed in great shape. I was looking forward to going home and spending the summer with her – needless to say we were all surprised at her rapid decline. However, my Father and his brothers had no choice but to follow her wishes and let her pass that night. Again, I was in the middle of Kenya, and there was nothing I could do in that instance. It was another heartbreaking moment in Africa where I had no control.
We continued on our trip, which was incredibly tough at this difficult time. I was not myself and in great mourning on the other side of the world. Death is hard to deal with, but it’s extreemly hard when you are traveling and so far away.
I tried to keep my spirits up because we had a round full of plans to finish out of our Africa trip before going home in a month. I tried to stay positive knowing that my grandparents would want it that way.
The Masai Mara was downright amazing. I’ve never seen so much wildlife in so little time. It’s also where we came across our first (and only) poached elephant in the middle of the bush.
We were the first ones on the scene on the outskirts of the Masai Mara. We saw vultures circling above, and thought we were coming up on a natural kill. Maybe a lion devouring a zebra, or hyenas enjoying their leftovers – something natural to the animal world and circle of life. However what we came up upon this morning was much more surreal. A fresh poached elephant, with the face chainsawed right off, and the tuck thrown to the side like trash. No tusks in sight – those were the treasured items. We analyzed the scene with our Masai guides, all of us unsure of what emotions to express. Anger and sadness consumed us as we radioed rangers.
This is a common occurrence across parks in Africa. Elephants and rhinos exploited for their ivory. Endangered and vulnerable animals killed for their body parts to be sent back to rich Chinese and Vietnamese. Currently an estimated 20,000 elephants are killed every year for their ivory and horn. These African parks are massive, some the size of Switzerland, and despite anti poaching units it’s impossible to monitor them all. Park rangers also put their lives at risk to stop poaches from doing exactly this.
Despite the pushback, legal ivory trade is still legal in many parts of the world, including Canada and Japan. In just 30 years it’s believed the number of elephants in Africa has fallen from 1.3 million to 400,000! If we are to save this species, the demand for ivory and other elephant parts has to end, legal and illegal.
After the Masai Mara, we flew to Mombasa for a few days at the coast, but honestly this whole portion of the trip was a blur. I remember it feeling great to be on the coast and out of the bush for a little, and watching the sun rise over the Kenyan coast. It was great to be in another beach environment, but looking back I can’t even remember going into the ocean at all. It was a weird time in the trip and I wish we were able to return to Mombasa and Diani Beach to do it differently. Even though it was absolutely gorgeous, I felt ready to go home.
The only problem was we had committed to a huge partnership a few weeks prior. It was an exciting one, a once in a lifetime partnership actually, but I had just wished there was flexibility with the dates. There wasn’t.
Our 35 Day Safari
You read that right. We had committed to a 35 day safari with a tour operator we had been chatting to for months. Since we had been traveling around Africa for almost a year now we had been on many safaris.
We had worked with tons of safari lodges and tour operators on an exchange basis. Meaning they would provide us with an awesome safari experience, and in return we would provide coverage on our website, and various social channels.
This was in the early days of our website and income was low. To work with safari providers on this scale saved us a ton of money.
Now in 2020, this isn’t really a new thing and with the abundance of travel influencers on Instagram nowadays. Many properties will provide a free stay in return of social coverage.
However, in 2016 and 2017, this wasn’t super common – especially in Africa as mentioned previously. We worked with many lodges who said we were the first “influencers” they ever worked with (I say influencers because that is what it is called now, in 2016 we were just referred to as “social media people,” or “bloggers.”
Because there weren’t many people like us overlanding Africa AND blogging we had built quite a name for ourselves in this small world we were now getting contacted by safari operators.
One, in particular, offered us a 35 day safari around Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania in return for coverage. This was great for us, because we wanted all the Africa content we could get. The more information, photos, and videos we had from safari the more helpful our website and overall brand would become. So although we knew it was 35 days without WiFi, without working, without an actual income, and pretty much not doing anything but seeing safari animals we said yes.
Zambia – Third Times a Charm!
We started this long ass safari in Zambia. It was our third time back in the country, but a completely different trip. The first stop? South Luangwa National Park. If you have followed along and read this far you may remember that is the park we were supposed to go to after we left Lusaka, but drove 1200 km in the wrong direction.
The lodge we were to stay at first? Chinzombo, one of the nicest lodges in Zambia and also the one we were supposed to stay at after New Years Eve. I guess the universe has a weird way of working itself out.
We spent six days in South Luangwa National Park, easily Zambia’s most famous place to go on safari. One where you can go on a walking safari and stand a high chance of spotting leopards.
After South Luangwa, we made way for Kafue National Park. One of Zambia’s least visited parks which many have never heard of. We stayed at one of the only lodges in the park, Ila Safari Lodge, a completely eco-friendly lodge. They even have a solar powered pontoon boat.
This is where we got one of our best photos in all our time in Africa. See below for the sunset bathtub photo.
It’s also where we got some of our best drone shots in all of Africa and a few of our best video footage of leopards in all of Africa. If you want to see a leopard head to unknown Kafue.
Our last stop in Zambia, was Lower Zambezi National Park. A park that I would encourage anyone traveling to Zambia to experience. It’s here you can take river cruises, walking safaris, and regular safaris. It’s also where one of the most down to earth, African lodges is.
Chiawa and Old Mondoro are owned and operated by the same family in the Lower Zambezi National Park. I would suggest anyone traveling to Lower Zambezi to try out both camps.
Old Mondoro is the smaller of the two and much more “back to Africa” feeling. At Old Mondoro guests are truly in the heart of the African wilderness – no WiFi, no unnecessary structures, and completely open. Both camps offer excellent guiding, food, and activities in the Lower Zambezi.
After departing Lower Zambezi National Park we were due to head into Zimbabwe. Only the way we were getting there was a little different.
Into Zimbabwe Again
Our next stop was back to Zimbabwe, but we weren’t set to get there the regular way. Oh no, we were canoeing along the Zambezi into Mana Pools National Park.
I’m going to be honest, after an entire year Overlanding Africa I wasn’t really thrilled about a three-day camping canoe safari along the Zambezi. I had done enough camping by this point, and three days in croc and hippo waters with no shower and no toilet didn’t exactly sound great.
I was reluctant to go on the journey, a little nervous about canoeing the Zambezi where there were crocodiles and hippos everywhere! We were the only two on the canoe safari, accompanied by three Zimbabwean guides. At first I thought it was a little awkward that we were the only guests, but after a night star gazing with the whole crew we felt bonded with TK, Casper, and Emmanual.
They kept us safe on the Zambezi, and let’s be honest TK (who was my canoe mate) did most of the hard work rowing, but they also felt like friends. I can’t believe I didn’t want to go on such an amazing adventure, but looking back I’m so happy I did.
Mana Pools and Hwange
After three days canoeing on the Zambezi we paddled into Mana Pools National Park, directly across from Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia. We couldn’t wait to take a shower and use a real toilet.
Mana Pools is an amazing park to go on safari. It’s quiet and off the beaten path of safari-goers. There are only a handful of camps and it’s one of the few places you can go on a walking safari yourself. Yes, you can, if you are brave/dumb enough go out into the bush without a gun and go on a walking safari with lots of predators. We declined this opportunity, but did manage to go on a few walking safaris with licensed guides!
After Mana Pools we were transferred to Hwange National Park. You may know Hwange National Park as the site of Cecil the Lion. Yes, the one the American dentist shot and killed and the media went insane. While Cecil had sadly departed the park his two sons are still roaming free, and were able to see these big beauties. In addition to Cecil’s bloodline we also saw our first wild dog hunt.
We had been on well over 60 safaris by this point in our travels and were just now seeing wild dogs, and seeing them hunting nonetheless.
This is why when people go on one safari and hope to see a lion hunt, wild dog kill, or leopard, they might be disappointed. It’s the wild and you never know what you are going to see, and some animals are rare. We’ve met countless African safari guides who have never seen a Pangolin or Aardvark.
Back to Tanzania
After Zimbabwe our last stop in Africa was Tanzania. Yup, we were going back to Tanzania, but this time instead of the Serengeti, flash floods, and endless driving we were going to the countries’ Southern region. Two new parks were in store for us. We were to explore The Selous and Ruaha with Nomad Tanzania. Ruaha was the park we had to give a skip to before because we were low on cash, so returning and working with a tour operator there made us extremely excited.
We started in the Selous, The Selous is 54,600 square kilometer safari area making it Africa’s largest game reserve and one of the most beautiful wildlife areas in the world.
At one point more than half of Tanzania’s elephant population lived here, but that is a statistic long gone. In 2009 it was estimated that 109,000 elephants lived in Tanzania. Fast forward to 2016, the most recent estimate and the elephant population in Tanzania is around 51,000 – nearly a 53% drop in a matter of years.
The majority of that loss came from the Selous. With a massive amount of land and a small group of rangers to protect the park poaching has been rampant. We never saw a simgle elephant here in The Selous, and it was heartbreaking. However we did get to see plenty of hyennas, lions, and hippos making the experience worthwhile.
In all our safaris we are typically the youngest people around. An African safari is a very expensive vacation that many young people cannot afford. At this point, we were 26 and 27 and enjoyed most of our conversations and safari time with older guests. (We are aware of our privilege and of how fortunate we are).
That is until we got to The Selous where we finally met a honeymoon couple our age. We enjoyed our conversations even more and look back on our time them fondly. They were also traveling to Ruaha next, which was fantastic news.
We flew to Ruaha and staed at Nomad Tanzania’s Kigali Camp. The four of us were somehow the only guests the entire time and enjoyed sundowners with lions roaring, sneaking up on lions (see below), and endless conversation under the African sky.
Disconnection, wildlife, nature – this is what an African safari is all about.
The End of a Journey
Sadly, our time in Africa had come to an end. We started as two young world travelers anxious to check out a new continent. We hadn’t intended to stay for a year. We didn’t intend to buy a truck and check off fourteen countries along the way. We didn’t intend to turn our website into an African travel database and become safari enthusiasts. But we did.
We arrived naive, and broke, but headstrong. We left with knowledge, empowered, and still broke.
We flew home from Dar Es Salaam in July 2017. I was ready to go after arriving in July 2016. I wanted to go home, I wanted some normalcy, I didn’t want to camp, and I wanted reliable internet.
I wanted to work on my website, I wanted to finally start making money, I wanted to complete my goals, and I wanted to relive these adventures.
I was ready to go then, but it only took a few weeks back to normal life to miss the African bush and adventure.
Even though we continued to travel non-stop for two more years, and still continue to travel six months out of the year I still miss Africa every damn day.
Every day I think we should do this whole thing over again. We should have kept Charlie, and maybe we should have moved to Cape Town instead of Canada. So many feelings and emotions went into this trip. They are great memories to have and look back on and be forever thankful we lived our dreams.