4.5 Star Review of Africa Overland Tours - Africa Travel Co (Leah, Noah, Gita) - Nairobi to Cape Town (42 days) - July 2019 - BEST VALUE ON THE MARKET for budget Camping trips
Note: if you don’t have time to read this in detail you can just jump to my “quick recommendations” at the end of my write up.
About me: travelled the world and worked 7 years conducting all aspects of group travel arrangements to South East Asia for school groups. First time ever personally being a participant on a group trip and not as a leader.
I thought I would do as I normally do and just do a bit of research, find out the must-see activities I wanted to tick off and book my flight, then see where my path takes me. But for some reason I decided to ask Africa Overland Tours (www.africanoverlandtours.com) a question through their web portal and wow was their response prompt. Before I go into my experience with them though let me explain for those of you that don’t know the difference between what a tour company is and what a booking agent is and why both a necessary.
The tour company owns the vehicle, employs the crew, sets the route/activities/itinerary and deals with the day to day on ground operations. These companies for individual group travel tours in Africa include:
1. Acacia Africa
And of course, Africa Travel Co who I experienced 42 days with. I’ll go into detail about my experience with them below. Basically, all these companies follow the same routes, have basically the same tent and upgrade options and do the same activities. Do check the included and the optional activities though before confirming your trip that can affect the costing.
The booking agents help you find the best trip for you and have different price schedules for the different markets around the world that they sell to I.E if your reading this in Europe or China you might find the cost of your trip is different to that of someone in Canada or Australia. Some of these companies are:
3. Africa Budget Safaris
4. On The Go Tours
5. Africa Create
6. Escape 4 Africa (That I found the best deal with)
On top of that these companies have shell companies
/brands that they use to sell through. I bought through www.africanoverlandtours.com that’s owned by Escape 4 Africa I think? The reason they have these is because they want the flexibility to promote their products to different markets at different prices to maximise their profits, which is understandable. If you find the right deal through these, you won’t be able to go to the tour company and expect they will beat it. There is strategy behind having the companies and the agents.
I did a bit of research into the different routes not all the agents say they are booking you onto a Africa Travel Co tour but Africaoverlandtours were up front and for the days I had planned the companies that were most suited to my time free and experiences I wanted to have were G-Adventures, Nomads, Acacia, Intrepid, Drifters and Africa Travel Co. I saw one Drifters vehicle and no Dragoman so I will not comment further on them.
Let’s look into some differences between their set ups. If you are camping, I would only be considering two companies G-Adventures (premium option) & Africa Travel Co (budget option).
There is one true premium camping option on the market and that is G-Adventures. And you will pay a premium price for this adventure. The differences between them and the budget option was not enough to convince me though. They all have the same tents, routes and similar stops. The other kind of premium camping trip is Intrepid, but do not consider if your looking at paying the same as G-Adventures. G-Adventures are newer to the market and want to build their brand and reputation here. They operate in a type of luxury coach that would not look out of place in Europe. The rest all operate out of a converted truck (which personally I liked because of the table we could play cards around). Their food budget is great ($18 usd per day), includes nibbles, sundowners (wines & beers), money handed out sometimes in cafes instead of eating beside the truck I.e Outjo’s Café in Namibia. They don’t end up spending their budget and all food is purchased using their cards given. Which in the travel industry means no blank receipts can be written out for items never really bought. This auditing is very important especially for companies like ATC, Nomads and Acacia that don’t have the bigger food budgets. At the moment the wifi is hit and miss on G-Adventures though, they will be upgrading in January 2020 so that should not be such a problem if your reading this now. What I Cannot believe is that Nomads are offering trips at the same price as G-Adventures, their food budget is less than ATC’s I was informed by a G-Adventures guide, which is roughly $7 USD a day. Saying that, that budget is fine for a budget camping trip, especially because ATC travel with 3 crew including a chef! Nomads though only travel with two crew like intrepid and G-Adventures (guide & driver). At the end of the day this is what got me over the line in deciding to go with ATC.
What you get for $7 USD a day is basic drinks throughout the day I.E tea, coffee, milo. Breakfasts include: sausage, eggs, french toast, bake beans, cereals, which is more than sufficient! Speaking with another ATC truck in Tanzania though I believe their chef was a bit more creative with his food. Lunches were sandwich’s every day, with the cheapest of white bread, which got to me and a few others on the trip. We ended up buying our own bread. I mean a good German brotchen role in Namibia only costed 0.11 cents (usd). Dinners were really tasty and included a soup most nights, we only had 3 steaks throughout the 57 days though which I can kind of understand due to budgeting restraints. But overall, I would not say the full $7 was spent on us each day. In summary the food was sufficient for the price of the trip. I will though send a follow up email to their operations team regarding creating some minimum dish requirements on certain dishes (fish at least once, especially in Namibia where it’s super cheap) and asking questions as to their auditing processes. It is because of this I deducted half a star.
In terms of clientele we were lucky no matter who you travel with it will be a mixed bunch. We travelled from Nairobi to Zanzibar with 17 (50 plus except the three of a)from there to Vic falls with 11 and from there to ape town with 21 (mainly 22-35 with 3 others being 50 plus) So we never had a full, full truck. I was told by African Overland Tours that ATC trucks guarantee that they run no matter what the number of participants, so you can be lucky, and this could happen. The Intrepid and G-Adventures were full when I saw them, but they have 4-8 less seats. Another thing to consider is that ATC are doing many Chinese charters. I have heard stories of sometimes there being a mix of western and Chinese and that is not great for group dynamic, they do try and filter the groups though. G-Adventures and their fancy coaches will no doubt target that market eventually.
Another thing to consider and very important to the trip is the quality of guide. G-Adventures and Intrepid is where most of the guides who are the best and worked already a while for the other companies (Acacia, ATC, Nomads, Absolute) will end up. So, you will have the best chance of travel with a great guide if you travel these companies. Reason being are that their benefits are awesome, and pay is substantially better than that the other companies. I spoke to one guide that when he was recruited to G-Adventure he was up against 500+ applicants. You need experience to work for them!
Saying this you can be lucky, we definitely were having Leah as our guide. BEST guide in Africa!!! She I would hope would one day consider jumping across companies, being only 3 years new to the industry she still has a bit to learn about the destinations she is travelling to, as it was her first-time past Vic Falls. Fantastic recruiting by ATC and if that is the quality of all your new guides, that is a big thumbs up from me, made for an amazing adventure. There were a few people that came with us from Nairobi with us and after Vic Falls took a different truck with a new guide through to Johannesburg. He had been with ATC 10+ years and after having Leah for 21 days were less impressed from the conversations I had with them. At the end of the day it is luck of the draw.
Finally, there was a change in our itinerary mid adventure (taking out our second visit to Chobe National Park) that myself and the others that were affected were less than impressed by. This was initiated by ATC and the communication follow of information internally within the organisation was not great. I will say though that when I pushed, their operations team resolved the issues and we were more than happy with the outcome. Thank you for this!
QUICK RECOMMENDATIONS (for camping not accommodated overland tours):
1. Firstly, DO IT, with whichever company you choose, just do it. It is just an awesome experience and is for all ages.
2. If your looking at any particular itinerary through a website contact www.africanoverlandtours.com and at least ask them the question as to what they can do price wise. Their service when we had an issue arise on tour was second to none.
3. ATC being African based and one of the longest running overland companies were awesome and based off my experience I would say at least consider them as your value option!
4. Word of warning: Don’t go with NOMADS. They cost more than ATC and are not worth the extra money in my opinion. They have a very bad reputation when it comes to paying their staff and suppliers (camps). Got some inside word on them a few times during the journey from camps and ex guides.
5. If you have just finished school and are 18-22 and you want to pay extra just to be with some people your age, go with Acacia. But really, having a mixed group of people that we had (20-68) was awesome. If you’re in this age range of 18-22, your probably budget conscious, so save the dollars and just go ATC.
6. If you want to pay extra few thousand for the premium option and travel in a European styled coach instead of a truck. I would recommend G-Adventures over Intrepid at this price bracket.
7. You always hear about Kenya/Tanzania. But the VIC Falls to Cape Town route (21 days) was my personal favourite of the journey. The Delta, Chobe, Etosha, Fish River Canyon, Cape Town and just Namibia in general blew me away!
8. Have an awesome trip, just say yes and get out there and do it. Africa is an amazing continent and these overland companies really have nailed the East/Southern Africa route.