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Africa: Guided tours vs. independent travel

Guided tours involve a designated tour guide and you ordinarily travel with others in a group, but private tours are available. The guide travels around with you and is responsible for navigation, safety and liaising with locals and venues on your behalf. Guided tours are a common holiday choice, and they usually include activities as well as accommodation and transportation.

African holidays are all about wildlife. Tours are common (and recommended) and many are designed to create an enthralling experience for travellers while also maintaining safety. Tours are ideal for most people and particularly for those who wish to explore remote areas, or areas that they have never travelled to before. The benefits of having a guide include:

  • Being able to access remote areas, like deserts, jungles, gorges, and mountains that you would not be able to attempt on your own
  • Maintaining safety for you and your travel companions
  • The opportunity to explore local destinations and speak to native people, which you might otherwise not have the chance to do
  • The ability to relax! Guided tours mean you don’t have to worry about where to go, how to get around or what the local rules and customs are
  • Save money! With a tour, you’ll know from the outset exactly how much the excursion is costing you
  • The chance to gain a knowledge and understanding of cultures and geographies that you would not usually have access to

​​Where can guided tours in Africa take you?

On safari: Although you can tour many of the big safari parks yourself, it can be highly beneficial to travel with a group (especially if you’re on a walking tour or camping out). The guide will have much more knowledge about the animals and their habitats, and they will know how to handle animals and unforeseen situations.

On a cruise: Cruises are available all over Africa, from journeys down the Nile to sailing the oceans around Cape Town. While trips aboard the big cruise ships are safe, many also choose to participate in smaller river cruises, which can involve sailing down the Chobe River or the Zambezi. Guides are almost mandatory here, especially since many rivers contain dangerous crocodiles and hippos. 

Into a village: If you want to visit a traditional village, you will most likely need a guide. The guide will be able to take you to a safe village, where tourists are appreciated and welcomed. Your guide will be able to translate any dialogue for you and you’ll most likely get to meet the village children and participate in some village activities.

Into the wilderness: If you’re keen to see more of Africa’s wilderness outside of the safari parks, a guide will be invaluable and he or she will be able to take you to many places that ordinary tourists wouldn’t dare go. Adventure tours in Ethiopia, for example, will take you through Blue Nile Falls and the remote Omo Valley, where native tribespeople still dwell.

 

It is, of course, possible to travel in Africa without being part of a tour group. One option is a self-drive holiday, which is one of the most unique ways to explore the vast wilderness and exciting cultures. If you feel a self-drive holiday would work for you, here are some of the best driving routes and destinations we recommend.

South Africa

If you love driving, South Africa offers up great roads, friendly people, luxurious accommodation, and an almost endless array of highlights. Head off on the Western Cape’s Garden Route to check out the pristine beaches and lush rainforests, or spend your time exploring the northern Panorama Route and viewing the wildlife in the nearby Kruger National Park. 

If you prefer the backdrop and indulgence of wineries on your holiday, there are also many driving routes and cellar doors that are easily accessible to tourists. The only problem is then deciding who will be the designated driver!

Namibia

When it comes to natural beauty, few places on earth compare with Namibia. Driving the fantastic road network here makes it easy to discover this amazing country. Various routes will reward you with endless coastal highlights, while others can take you through the world-famous Kalahari Desert and the mammoth Fish River Canyon (the second largest canyon in the world). 

Namibia’s self-drive holidays can be as easy or adventurous as you like, with two of the more popular routes being the northern loop starting and ending in Windhoek, and the southern route that goes from Swakopmund to Vioolsdrif, which lies just across the border into South Africa. 

Botswana

For those with four-wheel driving experience and an eagerness for adventurous holidays, Botswana is a great country to explore. While there are well maintained roads linking most of the major destinations in Botswana, many of the biggest highlights are only accessible by gravel or sand roads, making it a true “off the beaten track” drive. Some of the most incredible highlights are in the north east of the country, such as Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta and the Moremi Game Reserve, all of which rest on the popular Maun to Kasane route. Just watch out for all the wildlife!

Madagascar

Madagascar is one of Africa’s most beautiful holiday destinations, famous for its lemurs, sublime surroundings, and welcoming local people. Self-drive holidays in Madagascar are not for the inexperienced or faint of heart, however. The best way to get around the island is by 4WD, as the roads can range from fair to non-existent, and many visitors find that hiring a local driver makes their self-drive holiday a whole lot easier. 

While the entire island is well worth exploring, one of the best routes to drive is between Antsiranana and Ambaro Bay, which takes you through stunning National Parks and onto some of the island’s most beautiful beaches. We recommend spending as much time as possible in Madagascar - it's truly incredible!

 

Staying safe on your African holiday

The key to staying safe on any African holiday is to make sure understand your surroundings and seek guidance if you are unsure. When driving you should:

  • Familiarise yourself with the road rules and spend some time getting to know your vehicle and equipment before you head off
  • Always tell someone where you are going and make sure you carry a survival kit with you
  • Keep your vehicle doors locked at all times
  • Always be cautious when you are anywhere near wildlife and do not approach wildlife on foot 

Remember! If you don’t have much experience with 4X4 driving, or if you have concerns about safety, choose a guided tour instead. Your local Travellers Choice travel agent can help you plan the perfect trip to Africa.

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