Can you drive across Africa? Yes, you absolutely can. But you need to know what you’re doing. Here, the founder of Africa Rally shares his inside information so that you can have the trip of a lifetime.
How to see Africa overland
Africa is such a vast continent that it’s easy to feel small when even asking the question: can you drive across Africa? But while jumping in your car and clocking up mile after mile is a challenge, you’ll be surprised by how rewarding such a self-drive safari can be.
In fact, self-driving through Africa is a thing today, and a great way to start is to join the Africa Rally, a three week charity road trip that takes you from South Africa to Kenya in one magnificent adventure.
Spoiler alert – any vehicle can enter! In fact, according to the organisers, the more ridiculous, the better!
Paul Clayton: Founder of the Africa Rally
We caught up with partner Paul Clayton, founder of the Africa Rally and former human rights lawyer, who frequently drives through South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Botswana and more. He was perfectly placed not only to share his experiences about driving across Africa but also to explain why joining the Africa Rally makes sense.
Right now, I can’t leave my daughter for three weeks and it’s not an event that’s particularly a good fit for small children. If you have teens, though, there’s nothing to stop you from bringing them along with you. And if you’re footloose and fancy free then what’s holding you back?
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Let’s go back to basics.
What’s the Africa Rally?
The Africa Rally is a road trip that starts on 1st July 2023 at Sparrowhawk Lodge near Hartbeespoort, South Africa and ends three weeks later at Victoria Sands Lodge to the west of Kisumu in Kenya.
Anyone can enrol, and the best part is that you don’t need a 4×4 or a race car to be part of the event.
That’s because the Africa Rally is not a race but an adventure. And anyway, a race car would be useless on the kinds of roads you’ll be bumping through.
The rally is more of an opportunity to give your old Chevvy or Volkswagen a final ride that you will never forget. Did we mention that the more ridiculous the car, the smaller the entry fee? Plus, the entrance fee is per vehicle, not per person. So you can save money and have more fun by bringing your mates along with you.
Is it safe to drive through Africa?
Africa is a large continent and the rate of violent crime varies from region to region. There are also some no go places at the moment due to ongoing conflicts. This is why it is important to establish a route in advance by researching and choosing the African countries that are considered safe. The states in southern Africa are more popular due to their lower violence rates, but there are also many states in East Africa, on the West Coast, and even in North Africa that will welcome you.
However, it’s best to always be aware of your surroundings, no matter where you are driving.
Tips for Overlanding in Africa
As you might expect, Paul Clayton is a firm fan of overlanding in Africa but he also offered this advice on the question of safety:
Border crossings are usually one of the areas on this route where you are less likely to experience corrupt police officers, as the critical mass of security / police / border officials means they don’t tend to try their luck.
Police checkpoints are commonplace in Tanzania and Kenya but most of the time they just wave you through.
If you do get stopped the usual scam is not having “car insurance” for the country. You don’t need to purchase this as the TIP, or relevant road tax docs (legally) purchased (with receipts) on the border are enough.
Most of the time, claiming ignorance and not being hassled if they say “we need to go to the station” will do the job. After a 15min chat about the event and a look at the car they’ll just wave you through.
Signs and Speed Limits
There are very few traffic lights en route, and if there are power cuts they will be off, but the signs you need to pay attention to are the speed limits. Getting pulled over for speeding is a legitimate way to pick yourself up a fine.
The main cause of road accidents once into Botswana and north is hitting animals on the road, this is why our first rule for safety is ‘don’t drive at night.’
It’s also always wise to travel with insurance. Worried about the specifics of the Rally? You can find a tailor made insurance policy with their partners, JS Insurance here.
How Do You Get Your Car to Africa?
If you are bringing your own car from Europe, the easiest way is to do this is to take the ferry from Spain to the Spanish territory of Ceuta, which is surrounded by Morocco. You can then drive south from there, although bear in mind that the traditional Cairo to Cape Town route is currently closed due to geopolitical conflicts.
A better idea would be to ship your car to one of the main ports like Cape Town in South Africa, Walvis Bay in Namibia, Alexandria in Egypt, or Mombasa in Kenya and fly yourself to meet up with your vehicle.
For the Africa Rally, it’s usually easiest to ship your car to Durban with their partner company Global Fixers, who can then transport your vehicle to the start line or to their workshop just 15 minutes from the airport at Johannesburg, O.R. Tambo.
Another option would be to buy a car in Africa and sell it once the rally is over – it sounds a bit extreme, but it’s actually a great option if you don’t already own a car to drive through Africa.
As Paul Clayton says “South Africa has the best second hand car market in the world: you can pick up gems such as old VW Beetles for no more than $2000 max, or my classic Ford Cortina was about $1,500.
“ You can’t legally import vehicles to Kenya if they are older than 7 years, but there are plenty of opportunities to sell vehicles elsewhere in Africa or it is easy enough to bring them back to South Africa for sale.
“Another option is to ship back to Europe where the import tax is only at valuation on country of export from (not to) so you can double your money if you wanted to do it that way.”
10 Reasons to Explore Africa as Part of the Africa Rally
The Africa Rally is a rather unconventional way to see Africa, and it may not be for everyone.
If you love travelling in comfort, then it would be easier to book a tour. But if you are ready to trade ease for a more authentic experience, then the rally is for you.
Here are ten reasons you should join the Africa Rally:
To Create Memories that will Last a Lifetime
With the Africa Rally, you are taking the rough road – there’s no doubt about it. You will be looking for petrol stations, shops, or a place to eat. Your car may breakdown, and you may need to come up with ingenious ways to get it working again. Plus, some places to stay may not be what you expected.
But you’ll be driving through several countries with your partner, family, or best friend, taking in spectacular views as part of an epic road trip. You’ll actually only be driving for 2-3 hours per day on average and most teams plan to spend several days at Victoria Falls and on Lake Malawi, for example.
Imagine how many stories you’ll have to tell your friends when you get home. This is something you simply cannot experience if you take the easy path.
To Make a Difference While Taking Part in a Glorious Adventure
While your African road trip takes you along the open roads of several countries, the entry fee you pay and all the money you manage to collect by promoting this event will go to a charity of your choice. There’s also a prize at the finish line for the team that raises the most for their chosen charity.
To Explore some of Africa’s highlights
This is the best part of your adventure! You will be passing through some of the best places to visit in Africa in only one trip.
While the organisers of the Africa Rally have put together a map, nothing is set in stone. You can create your own route that will get you to the finish point. Want to cross the Okavango Delta in Botswana first? Add it to your personalised route on Google Maps.
The rally takes you into Zambia, where you can see the stunning Victoria Falls. Take a dip in the Devil’s Pool, and if you are truly adventurous, do a bungee jump from the Victoria Falls Bridge.
Continue your trip to Malawi to admire Mount Mulanje and the beautiful Lake Malawi. Then, cross Tanzania with its outstanding nature reserves. Connect with nature in the Serengeti National Park and head to Kilimanjaro National Park to see the highest mountain in Africa and its snow-capped peak.
Your trip ends in Kenya after miles and miles of driving, with a last stop at Lake Victoria before you head to your finish point near Kisumu at Victoria Sands Lodge.
Tip: If you want to see more of South Africa, like the famous Garden Route or the Kruger National Park, arrive a week or so before the rally starts. They’re in the opposite direction to the route in South Africa and otherwise you’ll struggle to fit them into your schedule.
To Experience the Diversity of African Wildlife
Driving through Africa will give you a unique chance to see giraffes, elephants, zebras, antelopes, leopards, and hippos in their natural habitat. Not to mention ostriches and lions. Paul Clayton reminisces over how he found both along the main road from Nata to Kasane in Botswana, for example.
To Witness Achingly Beautiful Sunsets and Clear Night Skies
The rally is not about who reaches the finish line first, so you will be able to drive at your own pace and stop every time you feel you need to spend more time in one place. You’ll witness the sunset in the most amazing places on earth, and you can even camp out in the complete quietness of a park and gaze at the stars before you doze off after an exhausting day.
Tip: While you can set up camp almost everywhere in Africa without permission, it is safer to pick a designated campsite for your overnight sleep.
To Uncover the Flavours of Africa
Each stop along the way is an opportunity to explore something new.
Try a bobotie or the Kenyan ugali with a spicy sauce. Jollof rice is also very popular and easy to pack and take with you on the way. For dessert, we recommend the delicious malva pudding.
As Paul says, “I would also recommend fresh fish caught to order from the banks of Lake Malawi. The local people call the fish Chambo, and they taste awesome on a braai.”
To Make Lifelong Friends
You’ll travel in convoy with other teams, making stops at the same places, and sharing a unique experience. Nothing bonds people better than travelling together over a long distance.
You’ll help each other if you get stranded on the side of the road or get lost and need to find your way back to the main road. This rally offers you a one-of-a-kind chance to meet people who have the same passions as you and you’ll create lifelong friendships.
To Showcase Your Brand on a Global Stage
The Africa Rally is also a great opportunity to make your brand or product known to a larger audience. Stick your logo on your car and take awesome photos with giraffes, elephants, and Kilimanjaro in the background. And then post to social media.
To Win a Fun Prize
There’s no prize for who reaches the finish line first, but the rally has several other great prizes in store. The big prize goes to the team that raises the most money for charity, which is understandable, as this is a charity led project. But there’s also a prize for the team that takes the best picture of the rally and a reward for the best-dressed team – and since the vehicle is also considered a member of the team, dress it well.
To See Victoria Falls from the Sky
Of course, this is entirely optional but why not take the chance to fly above a huge wall of water, with the roar of the foam rushing around your head. It’s an overused phrase but it really is the experience of a lifetime. Join the Africa Rally and you may be able to book this at a discounted price.