Head on an action-packed adventure direct to East Africa’s biggest and best. Spend 27 unforgettable days spotting the Big Five in the vast plains of the Serengeti and deep in the Ngorongoro Crater, hiking the lush Usambara Mountains in search of the longest horizons, and lolling about Zanzibar’s pristine beaches, fragrant spice plantations and historic Stone Town. You’ll be accompanied by a crew of a local leader, driver and cook, on hand to offer their recommendations and make your overland journey a whole lot easier. And with a handful of likeminded travellers joining you each step of the way, your Lonely Planet Experience through Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe is sure to be pretty memorable, if you ask us.
Camping (with facilities) (19 nights), Camping (with basic facilities) (2 nights), Bungalow (2 nights), Hotel (3 nights)
Day 1 - Nairobi
Jambo! Welcome to Kenya. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. You can arrive at any time as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. If you arrive early, perhaps head out and explore the National Museum of Kenya, the Karen Blixen Museum or the highly recommended Bomas of Kenya, where traditional homesteads of several Kenyan tribes are displayed in an outdoor village.
Day 2 - Mto wa Mbu
Depart early for Mto wa Mbu in your overland truck (approximately 10 hours). The trip includes a border crossing from Kenya into Tanzania, so be sure to have your passport handy. While you're on the road, there will be a stop at an ATM and a market or shop to stock up on any supplies you might need for the coming days. Arrive in Mto wa Mbu and acquaint yourself with this delightful small village – it's a fascinating snapshot of small-town African life, situated well off the tourist trail.
Day 3 - Ngorongoro Crater / Serengeti National Park
Get up early, put your camping and personal gear into a six-person jeep and head out for an excursion into the Serengeti via the Ngorongoro Crater. Enjoy a safari in the crater, spending 3–4 hours exploring this incredible, perfectly intact volcanic caldera. Watch for black rhinos, lions, leopards, elephants, impalas, zebras and hippos. The crater floor offers excellent game viewing all year round (some 30,000 animals live here) and the photo opportunities are unrivalled. Next, it's on to the wide-open plains of the Serengeti. Green after the rains, brown and burnt in the dry season, this is perhaps the quintessential image of Africa – the home of thousands of hoofed animals and fierce predators. Your campsite is within the Serengeti itself, so listen out for the sounds of nocturnal animals as you drift off to sleep.
Day 4 - Serengeti National Park
Awake at dawn and embark on a game drive. You will head out while the animals are at their most active, then head back to camp for brunch at around 11 am. After spending the middle of the day relaxing, just like the animals do, head out again as the day begins to cool. You'll return from this second game drive in time for dinner. There's also the option of a balloon ride over the park this morning – in place of some of today’s game drives. If you have pre-booked this activity, you will be picked up before dawn and driven to the launch site. After a safety briefing, glide through the dawn, sometimes at tree height, getting some amazing photo opportunities. Sometimes you will ascend, getting an overview of the enormity of the plains and the early morning movements of the teeming herds. After landing, indulge in a five-star bush breakfast, then be returned to camp.
Day 5 - Serengeti National Park / Mto wa Mbu
Rise with the sun and enjoy another game drive as you leave the Serengeti in your dust. Jump back into your overland vehicle and head for Mto wa Mbu. Once camp is set up, join the local community for a guided stroll around the farming areas, milling machine, and local homes and farmlands, before a local meal in town.
Day 6 - Usambara Mountains
Prepare yourself for a long travel day heading for the Usambara Mountains (approximately 10 hours). Stretch your legs during a brief supply stop in Arusha, then jump back in the vehicle and watch the ever-changing scenery, read your favourite book or get to really know your fellow travellers. Your base will be Lushoto – an old German colony and home to the Wasambaa people. This highland town sits at approximately 1400 metres and this evening you'll camp in the grounds of one of the oldest hotels in Africa.
Day 7 - Usambara Mountains
Explore the beautiful Usambara Mountains today – a lovely unspoilt area of Tanzania. Unlike the coast and the north, very few tourists visit this part of the country, so it has a freshness that can be hard to find elsewhere. As beautiful as the surrounding mountains and rainforests are, however, the real jewels here are the local people and villages. You'll experience some hospitality on a visit to some of the small local communities. From your base, you will take a walk out to the gorgeous Irente viewpoint. It's best to pack some water and snacks in a day pack for this trip. On your way back, visit a local cultural project based at an Irente farm and enjoy a picnic lunch.
Day 8 - Dar es Salaam
Leaving the mountains behind, travel further south to the coastal town of Kipepeo Beach in Dar es Salaam (380 km, approximately 8–9 hours). Your camp at Kipepeo is by the beach, so make the most of it – perhaps take a stroll along the shore after you arrive and settle in.
Day 9 - Stone Town
Catch a ferry to Africa's 'Spice Island' of Zanzibar. Filled with pristine white-sand beaches, winding cobblestone alleyways and fragrant bazaars, Zanzibar has had a colourful history – everything from slave traders to Arabian sultans and fruit exporters. The sight of traditional dhows sailing along the coast evokes what the island must have been like in centuries ago. The old part of Zanzibar's main city is known as Stone Town, and the best way to see this is on foot, exploring the markets, shops, mosques, palaces and courtyards. When the sun is setting, why not grab a drink from a bar overlooking the seafront. A seafood curry at a local restaurant is also a great choice. You'll spend the night in Stone Town at a basic inn.
Day 10 - Zanzibar Northern Beaches
Once checked out of your Stone Town accommodation, consider booking in to an optional guided tour of the island's spice plantations, learning all about the history of this town's spice trade. You will have the opportunity to smell and taste various spices, such as cinnamon, vanilla and ginger, plus sample some teas made with these spices too. After lunch, head to the Northern Beaches, where white sands and sparkling blue seas await. This is the Indian Ocean at its best.
Day 11 - Zanzibar Northern Beaches
Enjoy free time in this beautiful archipelago today. There are many ways you can spend your day – perhaps talk to your leader for any recommendations they might have. Snorkelling in search of exotic fish is an excellent option, or you could take a traditional dhow boat on the water. You might also like to feast on a sumptuous lunch of grilled local seafood, or just relax in a hammock underneath a coconut tree with a good book. It's totally up to you!
Day 12 - Stone Town
Enjoy a sleep in and maybe one last dip in the warm waters of Zanzibar's northern beaches. After check-out at your accommodation, transfer back to Stone Town for a cruisy afternoon of free time. Maybe grab an octopus curry or biryani for dinner with your crew. There’s long day of driving ahead tomorrow, so be sure to relax in the island vibes tonight.
Day 13 - Mikumi National Park
Embrace an early start to catch a 7.30 am ferry to the mainland, then make tracks for Mikumi. It’s approximately an 8-hour drive to your first camp spot, but you’ll get a great look at all that renowned Tanzanian landscape on the way. Gaze out at vast plains dotted with baobab and tamarind trees and maybe catch a glimpse of some of the elephants, buffaloes, giraffes, lions and leopards that call the park home. Once you arrive at your camp spot, your leader will show you the ropes (literally) and help you set up and get comfortable for your night in the tent.
Day 14 - Iringa
This morning there is a chance to wake up early to enjoy an optional 4WD game drive into Mikumi National Park. Then drive to Iringa (approximately 5 hours). You will set up camp on the grounds of a farmhouse on the outskirts of this pleasant settlement. The area is filled with natural bush land which can make it a bird watchers paradise. Maybe make the most of this rural setting by doing some stargazing before you retire for the night.
Day 15 - Chitimba
Enter Malawi and travel to your campsite at Chitimba (approximately 10–12 hours). Malawi, the ‘warm heart of Africa,’ is dominated by its lake, which covers almost a fifth of the country and provides a livelihood for many Malawian people. Fishermen, fish traders and canoe and net makers all ply their trade on Lake Malawi. A common sight is that of a fisherman in a bwato (a dugout canoe made from a hollowed tree trunk) fishing on the still lake at the break of day.
Day 16 - Lake Malawi
Travel from Chitimba to Kande Beach on the shore of Lake Malawi (approximately 6 hours). There will be a chance to stop at a shop or market for any supplies you might need along the way. Enjoy a relaxing getaway from the commercialism and crowds with a few days on the lake’s more peaceful beaches. Your campsite at Kande Beach is right on the shore of Lake Malawi.
Day 17 - Lake Malawi
Enjoy free time to soak up your idyllic surrounds. You might like to participate in one of the many water-based activities on offer, like snorkelling or pedal boating. Ask your leader for their recommendations. As well as chilling out on the lake’s sandy shores, make sure you take the opportunity to meet some local Malawians – easily some of the friendliest people in Africa.
Day 18 - South Luangwa National Park
Journey through southern Malawi and enter Zambia, continuing to South Luangwa National Park (approximately 9–10 hours). There will be border crossing formalities on the way, and a chance to stock up on goods at a shop or market and visit an ATM. The concentration of animals around the Luangwa River and its lagoons is some of the highest in Africa. Take in the beautiful scenery and the abundance of wildlife, watching out for colourful birds and herds of elephants.
Day 19 - South Luangwa National Park
Rise early for an exhilarating morning game drive in a 4WD, then head back to the camp for lunch (as this is the hottest part of the day). If the conditions are right, perhaps return to the park for an optional game drive at night. A village walk is another good option, if you'd like a snapshot of daily life in the local community.
Day 20 - Petauke
After breakfast, take a visit to a workshop where local craftswomen make all the jewellery by hand using natural materials from the South Luangwa valley. The project is set primarily to empower women and raise awareness against poaching. Then head further south to Petauke (approximately 6 hours).
Day 21 - Lusaka
Head for your camp just south of Lusaka City (approximately 6 hours). Arrive, stretch your legs and take a stroll to discover the town. Though it's fast developing, Lusaka retains a strong African feel, and the locals are usually up for a chat.
Day 22 - Harare
Travel to Harare today (approximately 8–9 hours). The first part of your journey takes you to the border with Zimbabwe. After crossing, continue to Harare. There will be a chance to explore the town, stock up on whatever you need at a market or shop and use an ATM.
Day 23 - Great Zimbabwe Ruins / Masvingo
Drive to Masvingo (approximately 5–6 hours). This colonial settlement – the oldest in Zimbabwe – makes the perfect base for exploring the ruins of Great Zimbabwe. The ancient city, now a World Heritage site, was first constructed in the 11th century and is believed to have been the seat of power for a monarch. Spend a few hours exploring this intriguing site before heading off to camp.
Day 24 - Bulawayo
Travel to Bulawayo (approximately 5–6 hours). Known locally as the 'City of Kings', Bulawayo is Zimbabwe's second largest city. There is some impeccable colonial architecture to take in here. Enjoy free time this afternoon to explore town. You might like to browse some local markets or chat with the locals. The Natural History Museum and National Art Gallery are also worth checking out.
Day 25 - Bulawayo
Perhaps get up early and take the option to visit Matobo National Park. Home to a significant population of black and white rhinos, this optional activity gives you the unique experience to track these magnificent animals on foot. There will also be the chance to spot other game – klipspringers, leopards, warthogs and springhares, among others – while learning about local plant and tree species. This impressive wildlife park is also the site of the grave of Cecil John Rhodes – the founder of Rhodesia and the De Beers diamond company. The Matopos area has great spiritual and cultural significance to local San communities, and there are many sites within the park where important ceremonies still take place. Take a short hike to see San paintings and learn about local history and culture.
Day 26 - Victoria Falls
Depart Bulawayo and make the 6-hour drive towards Victoria Falls. Stretching 1.6 kilometres wide and falling 108 metres into a narrow gorge below, the falls for which the area is named are a sight to behold. Although a visit to the falls themselves is optional, it is highly recommended. The entrance fee to the falls is not included, as groups that book ahead are required to tour the site with a local guide, and we feel that seeing these waterfalls should be an uninterrupted sensory experience. In the wet season, the spray created from this feat of nature can rise 400 metres and can often be seen from kilometres away. It’s no wonder that the local name for Victoria Falls is Mosi oa Tunya, or the 'Smoke that Thunders'. Though dry season travellers should not despair! You’ll get an unobstructed view of the falls and the chance to see the islets in the river below. Your leader will take you to a local activity centre where a range of activities will be on offer.
Day 27 - Victoria Falls
With no activities planned for today, you are free to leave the camp at any time. That being said, you may like to try some of the optional activities on offer here, and so, we recommend that you schedule any flights for later in the day. If you would like to spend more time in Victoria Falls, we’ll be happy to organise additional accommodation (subject to availability).