Nairobi to Harare overland tours

Compared to your average small group trip, overland tours are full-on and the Nairobi to Harare route is no different, whisking through six countries in six weeks. The big win here is access to remote places: you’ll get to experience the landscape in a way that would be difficult and time-consuming if you were to do it independently, as you’ve all the red tape sorted out for you, plus drivers and guides to get you there and help things run smoothly along the way.

Your truck will take you deep into savannah, forests and mountains, and you’ll have vast windows and an elevated position from which to take it all in. Plus, there’ll be many nights spent camping out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but brilliant night skies and the mildly disconcerting sounds of the bush for entertainment.

Wildlife encounters are another major bonus of Nairobi to Harare overland tours. You’ll go gorilla trekking in Uganda, as well as on dedicated safaris in iconic parks and reserves including the Serengeti and the Masai Mara; but you’ll have plenty of unexpected wildlife encounters too, whether that’s spotting giraffes from the comfort of your seat as you make your way to your next destination or hearing lions roar from afar as you check that the zip on your tent is done up securely.
Travelling in a vehicle the size of a small house means that it’s not as easy to meet local people as if you were travelling alone, but it’s still possible. In fact, you’re actively encouraged to do so, by going on village visits – in small groups so as not to cause disruption – or shopping in markets and eating in local restaurants. So not only do you get an experience that’s pretty different, you put valuable funds into local hands while doing so.
Not everyone gets on with overland truck tours, though. There’ll be long, bone-shaking drives and nights spent in campsites with basic facilities, and you won’t get as much freedom or downtime as you would get travelling solo. Plus, there can be tensions from weeks spent in the company of the same group of people. Most people find that it’s well worth it though, and your truck will deliver sights and experiences that wouldn’t be possible any other way.

Nairobi to Harare itinerary & highlights

The Nairobi to Harare overland route covers some 5,000km: a journey of around six weeks. Starting in Kenya, you’ll drive down into the Great Rift Valley before crossing the border into Uganda, where you have the chance to get up close to mountain gorillas, and then to Rwanda, where you can learn about the tragic history of the 1994 genocide. Then there’s wildlife watching in Tanzania and beach time at Zanzibar Island and Lake Malawi, before your journey’s end in Zimbabwe. This itinerary can also be done in reverse, from Harare to Nairobi.

Lake Malawi

An iridescent inland sea fringed by golden sand, Lake Malawi is a bit like the Caribbean – minus the crowds and mega-resorts. You’ll pitch up at some gorgeous camping spots here, where you’ll have time to kick back and enjoy the beaches, visit villages and craft markets or try your hand at kayaking, scuba diving and snorkelling.

Masai Mara

This national reserve is synonymous with both wildlife and the Maasai tribes. A stage for the Great Migration, the Mara sees some two million wildebeest and zebras spilling into it from June to October. You can go on game drives as well as spend time with the Maasai, with bushwalks, village visits and warrior training all possible.

Mountain gorilla trek

Uganda is home to over half of the earth’s 850 or so mountain gorillas. Taking an optional trek to visit one of a handful of habituated families is Uganda’s most compelling activity, as a two to six hour trek up the steep slopes of the Rift Valley culminates in an eye-to-eye encounter with one of our closest relatives, lasting up to an hour.

Serengeti National Park

Tanzania’s oldest park has an incredible reputation but doesn’t disappoint in the flesh. Fertile grazing grounds equal huge herds of zebra, antelope and wildebeest, which ensures that crowd-pleasing predators are thick on the ground, too. At 15,000km2, there’s plenty of space to go around, and you’ve the option of jeep safaris or walks to Maasai villages.

Zanzibar Island

You’ll get a break from truck life with several days spent on this enticing island, which blends Middle Eastern, Indian and Swahili culture. Explore the alleyways of UNESCO-listed Stone Town, then escape to the waters, where you can swim, snorkel or swim with dolphins.

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Activities

Much of your Nairobi to Harare overland tour will be about the wildlife, whether that means tracking gorillas in the Ugandan mountains, swimming with dolphins off the coast of Zanzibar or watching huge herds make their way across the plains of the Mara. Emphasis is also placed on experiencing daily life in the places that you visit – touring a local educational project perhaps, spending time in a village, visiting local artisans, or haggling in a city market. Check with your operator which activities are included in your trip. While most wildlife viewing in Kenya and Tanzania’s national parks is included, tracking gorillas is usually extra, as are activities such as scuba diving, mountain biking and rafting.

Practicalities

This trip can be taken year round, though the best time to visit Uganda for gorilla trekking is during the country's two dry seasons: January and February and from June to September; and if you’re keen on seeing the wildebeest migration, then July to October is your best bet.
You’ll spend much of your time in your overland truck: purpose-built and brilliantly kitted-out, it comes will perks such as an on board library, charging points, a stereo system and inward facing seats, making it easier to chat with your truck mates. There’ll be around 24 of them, and most are solo travellers, so friendships are easily forged. Help comes in the form of a driver and a tour leader, who’ll help things run smoothly, as well as providing bits of info as you drive.
Distances are massive so you can expect early starts, long drives and some late finishes. Some days can involve drives of up to eight hours, while others will be as short as three, though the views make up for any discomfort. Most nights you’ll sleep in tents (which you’ll have to put up yourself), either at purpose built campsites or out in the wilderness, with occasional nights spent at small locally-run hostels and guest houses. You’ll usually spend one or two nights at each stop, but in some cases you’ll stay for up to four. These trips are fully participatory, so you’ll need to be fit and willing enough to help every day with the camp chores, such as cooking, washing up and general camp set up.

Travelling responsibly

Jackie Woon, from our operator Oasis Overland: “Before travelling we send all our clients information on travelling responsibly and interacting with local communities. The majority of our African crew are Africans themselves and they are always happy to chat with our groups about their culture and traditions.

We stay at small locally run campsites or basic hostels and shop in local markets. There are opportunities to do guided village walks or take local guides in a variety of destinations, and we encourage our groups to eat at local restaurants and drink the ‘local brew!’ These are some of the best ways to interact with the local community!

We also speak to our groups about reducing their environmental impact, by using reusable water bottles; not wasting water; using cloth shopping bags; removing unnecessary packaging on items before they travel; and using solar powered devices and chargers.”
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: DAVID HOLT] [Masai village children: Vince Smith] [Mountain gorilla trek: Ben Stern] [Practicalities: Ji-Elle]
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