Last month, I got to fulfill a childhood dream and travel to southern Africa. My sister Alisha and friend Sejeong went with me, and after a great deal of research on Alisha’s part, we decided to make this journey with Acacia Africa. There were several reasons for choosing them. They have a reputation for sustainable, responsible travel, and they cater to a younger crowd — camping tours recommended for those aged 18-39. They’re also very budget-friendly for an overlanding expedition, which ended up being the deciding factor.
The tour we chose was the Desert & Delta Express (Southbound), which begins in Livingstone, Zambia and crosses over into Botswana before finishing in Swakopmund, Namibia. We had some epic adventures along the way, exploring Chobe National Park, staying at Elephant Sands, camping in the Okavango Delta, and going on some jaw-dropping game drives in Etosha National Park. Check out those posts, then come back here for a review of Acacia Africa and their Desert and Delta Express tour to help you decide if it’s the right tour for you!
What is Overlanding?
Before we start this review of Acacia Africa, it’s important to understand exactly what overlanding is. Overlanding is a travel style that’s been (re)gaining popularity these past few years, using off-road vehicles to cover long distances between destinations. While popular sights feature on just about any overlanding tour, the focus is more on the journey and less the sights themselves. Overlanding doesn’t usually involve a lot of frills, and most nights are spent camping in the Great Outdoors.
While Acacia does offer an accommodated version of the same tour, it’s quite a bit more expensive and wasn’t in our budget range. Plus, the opportunity to sleep out under the stars in the African desert was just too good to pass up, so we went with the camping option.
The tours are led by a guide and driver team who work to make sure the group stays safe, has a good experience, and pitches in when required. Our guide’s name was Pili Pili, and our driver was Khumbu — both of whom are from Zimbabwe, “…the greatest country in the world.”
Our transport was in a 24-seat, self-contained safari vehicle, and we spent a lot of time in it. There were several 8+ hour days of driving, and some of the activities also involved time on the truck.
The tents are 2-person canvas affairs, sturdy and simple to take up and tear down. Sleeping pads were provided to us, but sleeping bags were our responsibility to bring. As we only spent multiple nights in the same spot twice, most mornings involved packing up the tent and most afternoons involved setting it up again.
Food is cooked by the group, though Pili Pili and Khumbu usually did the lion’s share of the work. Breakfasts are eaten after tearing down the tents, and dinners are eaten just after dusk. Lunch is almost always eaten on the road at a rest area. There are a few nights where food was not provided, always when we were in cities and people could branch off on their own.
That’s a brief overview… here are the nitty-gritty details of this review of Acacia Africa!
Guide and Driver
As mentioned above, our guide was Pili Pili, a gregarious guy from Zimbabwe who had a great sense of humor and made us laugh on a regular basis. In addition to being a stand-up guy and entertaining guide, he was also extremely knowledgeable about the animals we encountered, the areas we passed through, and the people we met along the way. Throw in some legit cooking skills — though he’ll deny it — and he was the best guide we could’ve hoped for to lead us through southern Africa.
Khumbu, also a Zimbabwean native, was our driver and would help out with cooking, guiding, and more. He and Pili Pili had obviously worked together a long time, and their chemistry was obvious. Since he was to drive us for 12 days, I was anxious to see what type of driver he was. Luckily, he was a consummate professional at the wheel and drove safely and carefully at all times — all while managing to spot wildlife none of us had any idea was there.
The night before our tour began, the entire group met for a briefing at The Waterfront in Livingstone. After a round of introductions, Pili Pili gave us the low down on how the tour would work, as well as our responsibilities during the trip. It was a lot of information, but necessary, and we left with a good idea of what to expect for the rest of the journey. This comprehensive organization and communication were exemplary of the rest of the trip.
The tour group was divided into teams, and a rotation was set up for the distribution of duties. Cooking, washing dishes, cleaning the truck, and packing were all divvied up, with rest days allotted to each team as well. Pili had systems in place for everything, and once we learned where things went, preparing meals and setting up/breaking down camp were streamlined processes.
In addition, we’d have daily briefings after everyone had finished dinner. During that time, Pili would cover the agenda for the next day, as well as give us any information we might need to know regarding border crossings, foot and mouth disease checkpoints, etc.
Our truck was huge, with seating for 24 people, plus space in the cockpit for Pili and Khumbu. Each one of us had a 70-liter locker in which to store our stuff, though we also made use of extra seats and floor space for things we wanted easy access to. The seats were reasonably comfortable, though I’d recommend not sitting in the front so you can stretch out your legs more. There were charging points inside the vehicle, though these only worked when the truck was stationary and plugged into power at the campsites. Lastly, there were coolers for storing drinks and perishable food, though purchasing ice for the cooler was the group’s responsibility.
Beneath the truck was storage space for our tents, sleeping pads, chairs, tables, and cooking equipment. Everything had its proper place, and it was our responsibility to make sure packing and unpacking the gear went smoothly.
The Camping Experience
I was impressed with the quality of the gear provided for this trip, from the tents and sleeping pads to the cooking utensils and furniture.
The tents are big enough for two people, plus some gear, and were roomy enough to not feel cramped. I got lucky and had my own tent the entire time, but that’s an exception, not the norm. The tent fabric was durable and kept the elements out, while mosquito netting covering the ventilation flaps did an excellent job of keeping me cool and bug bite-free over the course of the trip. The tents were easy to set up and break down as well, even for one person.
The sleeping pads were comfortable enough — better than I expected. I brought an extra air mattress from home that I used when sleeping on rougher terrain, which made for an extremely comfortable experience.
The campgrounds we stayed at were all great — there wasn’t a single place that felt sub-par. Most had WiFi in some form (sometimes paid, sometimes free), and all except one had proper toilet and shower facilities. Many even had a bar and/or restaurant on site. Elephant Sands and Delta Rain were favorites — Elephant Sands for the surroundings, and Delta Rain for the amenities.
Our site in Spitzkoppe — the most bare-bones site we stayed at — was absolutely magical. Despite there not being any shower facilities and only pit toilets, the area was stunning, and the chance to sleep out on the rock formations under the stars was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Then, there was the food…
Pili warned us at the start that he wasn’t the best cook, so we shouldn’t expect much. Other tour members who were on a longer version of the trip than us quickly shut that assertion down, assuring us that he was, in fact, a great cook. They were right. Every meal had several options for people to choose from, depending on their tastes and dietary restrictions. Though we had some standard camp meals like hamburgers and pasta, we also had local treats like beef stew and a proper braai.
Even when we got dinner elsewhere, like when it was provided in the Okavango Delta, those meals were fantastic as well. One of my favorites was eating bobotie (my favorite food in the world) at the Delta Rain mobile campsite in the Delta — just delicious!
Even for a (relatively) short trip of 12 days, the included activities were varied and well-planned, with most days including some sort of awesome experience. These included a day trip to Victoria Falls, a cruise along the Chobe River, a mokoro expedition into the Okavango Delta, a walk with some Bushmen in Ghanzi, and game drives in Chobe and Etosha National Parks.
For some, like the trip to Victoria Falls, we were dropped off at a place and allowed to explore on our own. For others, like the game drives in Etosha, Pili and Khumbu would take us in the truck and guide us through the experience. For the rest, we went with local guides. Those were the only ones which varied a bit in quality.
Our cruise along the Chobe and the mokoro expedition, for example, were highlights of the trip — very well run and with excellent local guides who were loquacious and informative. Conversely, the guide we had for the Chobe game drive was unenthusiastic and laconic (it was still a great drive, but very light on any sort of extra info about what we were seeing).
The only activity I would say I was a little disappointed with was the Bushmen walk. Not because of the Bushmen guides — they were great. But the walk combined several groups, so we had a mob of about 40-50 people tramping through the brush and competing for the best angles to take pictures. It would’ve been a much more pleasant experience with smaller groups, like our bush walk in the Okavango Delta.
In certain locations, we had the opportunity to participate in extra activities with third-party operators for an extra fee. These ranged from game drives, scenic flights, and game walks to skydiving, ATV adventures, and more. Like the included activities, the range of optional activities offered was impressive. I ended up going on an extra game drive in Elephant Sands (AWESOME), watching a Bushmen dance in Ghanzi (entertaining and interesting, but not a must), and riding ATVs in Swakopmund (possibly the best experience on the trip!).
Value for Money
Now for the most important thing… was the tour worth it? Some tours, that’s tough to answer. This one, however, is easy.
Doing a similar trip on your own, with all the game drives and bush camps, would be prohibitively expensive. With Acacia, the base price for the trip starts at $1,012 USD, with an optional Adventure Pass costing an additional $390. The best way to explain the Adventure Pass is that it takes some of the more expensive activities like the Chobe cruise and game drive, as well as the mokoro expedition into the Okavango, and makes them optional.
For someone truly looking to have the cheapest trip possible, you could cut those activities and save yourself $390. Honestly, that would be a mistake, as those were some of the highlights of the trip.
Review of Acacia Africa
The end result of this review of Acacia Africa is that Acacia knocked this one out of the park. The tour was very well led, exceptionally organized, and I honestly don’t think I can pick a single favorite experience — there were just too many! The food was delicious and varied, the campgrounds were well-equipped and interesting, and the range of activities included and offered was top-notch. All of this for a very reasonable price that blows most competitors out of the water, and I will definitely be going with Acacia Africa next time I visit the African continent.
Travel insurance is required to participate in this (and most other) tours. I use World Nomads and have always been happy with their offering. If you book through this link, I’ll get a commission, which helps support the blog. You rock!
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*DISCLAIMER* I received a discount in exchange for producing this review of Acacia Africa and some photography relating to the tour. All views and opinions expressed here are my attempt to be balanced and fair in my assessment of the tour and review of Acacia Africa as a whole. Thank you for reading!