Overland Travel Blogs
26Apr 2016

Trans Africa Overland via the Nile – north or southbound?

Travelling from “Cape to Cairo” is one of the classic overland journeys of our time – so once you have decided to join a Nile trans-Africa trip, the only decision left is whether to travel northbound or southbound. So which is better…

Elephant in Lower Zambezi

Gorilla in RwandaThe classic trans-Africa overland route follows the Nile River through north and east Africa, and travels through southern Africa either starting or finishing in the beautiful city of Cape Town.  Travelling through 13 countries over 17 to 20 weeks, it is a route which offers a huge amount: the wildlife of southern and east African national parks, the unique tribes of Ethiopia, spectacular scenery, adventure activities such as white water rafting, bungee jumping, sand boarding and horse riding, the ancient ruins of Sudan and Egypt, tropical beaches of Zanzibar and much more.

Travelling from “Cape to Cairo” is one of the classic overland journeys of our time – so once you have decided to join a Nile trans-Africa trip, the only decision left is whether to travel northbound or southbound.  So which is better?

Departure dates – there are more options for departure dates on the northbound journeys (departures in April, June/July, November/December, depending on which operator you choose), than for the southbound journeys (depart October/November), giving you more flexibility to decide when to travel.  Winner: Northbound

Bete Giorgis, LalibelaVisas – visas are more straightforward to arrange for the southbound departures as you are able to obtain your Ethiopian visa from your home country before departure.  For northbound trips, due to the time taken to reach Ethiopia from Cape Town, it isn’t possible to obtain your Ethiopian visa before you start the trip, and since it can no longer be obtained from neighbouring countries, you may need to fly from Kenya to Ethiopia and miss a few days of the trip, or potentially to obtain a second concurrent passport.  It is all very do-able, it is just a bit more complicated than on the southbound.  Winner: Southbound

Planet Baobab, BotswanaComfort & Challenges – starting in Cape Town is undoubtedly a more gentle introduction to the trip, especially if you haven’t done any overlanding or much camping before.  In southern and east Africa you can expect most camping to be in organised campsites with good facilities and even opportunities to upgrade from camping to accommodation.  As you head north into northern Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt things get a bit more ruffty-tuffty, with bush/wild camps, more limited facilities, dusty and bumpy roads and less tourist infrastructure.  So, for those heading northbound, things start out nice and easy and get more challenging as you head north, by which time you have hit your overlanding stride and are settled into life on the road.  Conversely for those heading south, your trip starts with the more challenging sections of the route, and then gets easier and more comfortable as you head south, so having done the hard(er) yards in the northern section you can relax and enjoy the southern section.  Winner: Draw – it really depends on your personal preference and timing!

Meroe Pyramids of SudanWeather – as with any extended overland tour of 4-5 months that also crosses the equator, you can expect the weather to be variable along the way.  The section of the trip that is potentially hottest is the northern section, and here you will find more departures in either direction are timed to avoid the worst of the heat in Sudan & Ethiopia (the exception is the April northbound departure which arrives into Cairo in August at the height of summer).  The other northbound departures leave Cape Town in winter (June/July) or in summer (November/December), while the southbound departures generally arrive into Cape Town in summer (February).  Winner: Draw – again depends on your personal preference and timing!


Overall, it would appear to be a draw! Both northbound and southbound trips have their advantages and disadvantages.  But no matter which direction you travel in, you are destined to have a fantastic overland adventure!

Cape to Cairo cafe, Zimbabwe

Cape Town to Cairo (or reverse) – 20 weeks


Cape Town to Cairo (or reverse) – 17 weeks

If you are looking for a shorter African adventure, or would like to explore west Africa, we have some great options, so please get in touch!

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." 
Mark Twain

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