Planning your first trip to Africa can seem like a big task: it’s a big continent with a lot to see, making it hard to choose where to go. In many places, the tourist infrastructure isn’t well developed, so transport options can be limited. Add to that political instability in some countries, and Africa can seem positively daunting.
Many first-timers to Africa choose to travel in a group – either on a package tour that includes flights, hotels, transfers and guides, or on budget-friendly overlanding trip, where you travel around a country or a region (or even the entire length of the continent!) with a group in a big overlanding truck, staying in campsites or basic accommodation.
Traveling in a group definitely has a lot of benefits: you don’t have the hassle of doing your own research and finding out where to go, how to catch buses, how to organise visas, or where the best places are to visit – all you need to do is decide on the area you want to go to and your budget.
There’s very little stress involved in group travel – even if you go on a cheap overlanding trip – so you spend more time enjoying activities such as rafting down the Zambezi River, tracking gorillas in Rwanda, wildlife spotting in the Serengeti or scaling dunes in the Namib Desert. While packages are often more expensive than independent travel, overlanding can be a lot cheaper than independent travel, as your food, accommodation and activities are generally included and the overlanding companies get good deals from the tour operators.
The two major cons about group travel are that you have to spend most of your holiday with other people you may not get along with (this can be especially difficult on an overlanding trip when you’re stuck in the same truck with each other every day), and that you don’t get to decide where to go or how long to spend there. For example, you may want to take hundreds of photos of birds when you’re on a game drive, but the rest of the group may want to just rush ahead to the next Big Five sighting. Group travel definitely demands some compromises from you.
Traveling independently, on the other hand, allows you much more freedom. Africa may seem like an intimidating continent to travel to on your own (especially if you’re used to seeing negative images of Africa on the news – Ebola, wars, poverty) but in reality most places are safe, and most of the people you’ll meet are incredibly friendly and helpful. You do need to do your research on which places are no-go areas, but other than that you can wing it – either rent a car and drive yourself around (southern Africa in particular is great for road tripping, with decent roads in most of South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique) with a tent, so you can stay in campsites, or use public transport.
There is the hassle of border crossings (which are never actually that stressful, as long as you have all the right documents and some patience), sorting out visas and working out where to go in terms of the best wildlife, culture and scenery, which can take up time you’d rather spend on experiencing the best Africa has to offer. You do, however, get to decide exactly where and what you want to do. If you find a great lodge that you love, you can stay longer, or if you arrive somewhere and realise it’s not your cup of tea, you can leave.
Traveling independently in Africa is certainly a more adventurous alternative to group travel, so if you’re up for an adventure it’s for you! If you’d like to travel with no stress, and leave it to someone else to plan your trip and look after all the important aspects of travel, then your best bet is to go with a group.
Sarah Duff is a freelance travel writer and photographer from South Africa whose assignments have taken her all over Africa. In the name of work she’s tracked mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda, driven around Malawi and Mozambique in a Mini, trekked over sand dunes in the Namib Desert, sailed dhows around Lamu Island in Kenya, eaten her way around Mauritius, hiked into an active volcano on Reunion Island and explored the South African bush on foot. www.sarahduff.com
So which are you up to this summer Independent or group? Let us know