Five countries, 21 days... Here's how to have an epic African Road Trip

Cyril Klopper
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 ONE EPIC TRIP: Only 21 days are needed to travel across five countries. And there's time to have fun, too! Image: iStock ~ iStock

Johannesburg – Gather three friends, borrow your mom’s minivan and hit the road on one of Southern Africa’s most amazing road trips.

Experience five neighbouring countries. Drink cocktails on the Okavango Delta, bungee jump at Victoria Falls, chug down a beer on the shores of Lake Kariba and chill on a tropical beach. Sound good? We’ll show you how.

The travel times given for each leg of the journey is based on actual experiences. In rare cases we averaged the travel times given by Google maps and Tracks4Africa. Then we added another hour, just to be safe.

Border control times were correct at the time of posting but you should always check the gate times prior to leaving.

READ: The longest road trip - How to set a world record

Be mindful that like South Africa, many countries listed can experience violent political unrest and climatic disasters. Stay up to date on current affairs before you depart and periodically check local news during your trip.

Here we go!

A photo posted by Bjorn Ganz (@bjorn_ganz) on

Day 1, Johannesburg to Kuruman

You’ll be tempted to cover as much ground as possible on the first day - don’t. Nothing about this trip should be hard work. Kuruman has plenty of accommodation from a backpackers to well furnished hotels.

Route: N14 highway west via Vryburg
Distance: 520km (or six hours on the road)

Day 2, Kuruman to Grünau

This entire leg is simply stunning with immense skies above you, vast plains to the south and low mountains to the north. Pull over whenever you can for selfies on a lonely highway.

Route: N14 highway west via Upington
Distance: 570km (or seven hours on the road)
Border crossing: South Africa/Namibia, Nakob, open 24 hours.

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Day 3, Grünau to Windhoek

This probably won’t be the most memorable day of your trip. The road is long and uninteresting. If you need a break and have enough time you should visit Giant’s Playground or the quiver tree forest near Keetmanshoop, but it’s not a must-see attraction.

Route: B1 highway north via Mariental
Distance: 660km (or seven hours on the road

Day 4, take the day off in Windhoek

Windhoek is a smallish city and it’s easy to find your way around. It may be touristy but lunch or dinner at Joe’s Beerhouse is always fun. There are also cultural sights such as the Craft Centre and the Katutura Township.

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Day 5, Windhoek to Maun

It’s going to be a long day. Fortunately you had some rest the day before and you’ll have two days off once today is behind you. Be on the lookout for animals that stray into the road, particularly on the Botswana side.

Route: B6 and A3 highways via Ghanzi
Distance: 810km (or nine hours on the road)
Border crossing: Namibia/Botswana, Buitepos, open 7am to midnight

ROAD-TRIP: Chevrolet's refreshed Trailblazer makes a great road-trip vehicle. Image: Charlen Raymond

Day 6, take the day off in Maun

Maun’s airstrip is littered with small aircraft owned by competing airlines and it’s surprisingly affordable to charter a six-seater Cessna. Flight duration varies but you are guaranteed to see elephants roaming the swamps from the air.

A photo posted by 1992~ (@mminjikimm) on

Day 7, take the day off in Maun

Visit any tourism office in town to acquire a guide who will take you on a rowing safari. The dugout canoes called mokoro are quite comfortable and the boatman will get you close to the elephants.

A photo posted by instairez (@instairez) on

Day 8, Maun to Kasane

The A3 east is in excellent shape but you should be weary of roaming lifestock. The A33 north has wild animals as you pass through game reserves and the further north you go the wilder it gets.

Route: A3 and A33 highways via Nata
Distance: 610km (or seven hours on the road)

A photo posted by Sarah Khan (@bysarahkhan) on

Day 9, take the day off in Kasane

If you didn’t take a mokoro tour on the Okovango you should definitely join a river tour on the Zambezi River. But more importantly, go see nearby Victoria Falls! Kasane has plenty accommodation and Hunter’s Pub & Grill serves delicious meals.

Day 10, Kasane to Kariba

Get up early and catch the Kazungula Ferry over the Zambezi. There won’t be time to check out Victoria Falls today so hopefully you saw it the day before. Today’s 600km won’t go quickly, but you should try to get to Kariba before sunset, grab a beer and find a spot above the impressive dam wall to watch the sun go down.

Route: Kazungula Ferry via Livingstone
Distance: 600km (or eight hours on the road)
Border crossing: Botswana/Zambia, Kazungula, open 6am to 8pm

Day 11, Kariba to Mutare

Don’t forget to buy a Nyami Nyami pendant before you leave. It is said to bring good fortune to travellers. Today your mission is to pass through Zimbabwe and get to Mutare on Zim’s eastern border. It would’ve been great to visit the Great Zimbabwe ruins near Masvingo but you’ll have to save that for another visit.

Route: A1 highway via Harare
Distance: 630km (or eight hours on the road)

Day 12, Mutare to Vilanculos

Today will be the most stressful part of your journey. The National Resistance Movement (RENAMO) is currently conflicting with the Mozambican government. The stretch of road between the town of Muxungwe and the Save River may only be driven under the protection of an armed convoy. The convoy leaves twice a day and you don’t want to be late for it.

Route: EN6 highway via Chimoio
Distance: 560km (or nine hours on the road). Convoy departs at 6am and again at noon (Be at least one hour early. Two hours early is better)
Border crossing: Zimbabwe/Mozambique, Forbes, open 6am to 8pm

Day 13, take the day off on Bazaruto Island

Leave for Bazaruto as soon as you can. Two Mile Reef is one of the most amazing places you’ll ever visit. The snorkling is tops but even if you just want to stare at the sea you’ll agree that all the driving thus far has been worth it.

Day 14, take the day off on Bazaruto Island

This is your last day on the island. Make the most of it because tomorrow morning you’ll return to the mainland.

Day 15, Vilanculos to Tofo Beach

After arriving in Vilanculous it’s time to get back into the car and drive the reasonably short distance to Tofo Beach. Don’t feel glum about leaving Bazaruto because Tofo Beach is epic as well!

Route: South on the Av. de Maguiguana (EN1)
Distance: 250km (or four hours on the road)

A photo posted by Wian Verwoerd (@wianv) on

Day 16, take the day off at Tofo Beach

Rent a surfboard, dive the reefs, ride a horse at Cavalheiros Do Tofo, eat hot-rock seafood at Branko’s Restaurant, drink a 2M beer on the beach, an party into the early hours of the morning.

Day 17, take the day off at Tofo Beach

Just relax or do the stuff you didn’t get time for yesterday.

Day 18, Tofo Beach to Maputo

It may only be 500 km but it’s a long day in the car. The road surface is often in a deplorable condition. Almost none, with a few exceptions, of the coastal resorts along the way is worth seeing. Xai-Xai in particular is a dive. The sights are beautiful though and it beats any day at the office hands down.

Route: South on the Av. de Maguiguana (EN1)
Distance: 500km (or seven hours on the road)

A photo posted by X a n o c a (@xanoca92) on

Day 19, take the day off on Inhaca Island

Maputo has an active nightlife and a fairly good vibe but Inhaca Island is why you are here. There are ferries that service the island but you should always find out ahead of time if they are operational.

A photo posted by @idafatimahansen on

Day 20, take the day off on Inhaca Island

Inhaca Island may be a little touristy - there are Ocean Liners anchored off its shores - but the food and people are great. Enjoy it at its max because tomorrow you’re heading home.

Day 21, Maputo to Johannesburg

As good as it was, you’ll be glad to head home again. We can’t guarantee that you’ll stay happy though. We’ll bet that you’ll soon miss the people, sights and tastes you experienced on you your epic African road trip.

Route: EN4 and N4 highways via Nelspruit
Distance: 550km (or seven hours on the road)
Border crossing: Mozambique/South Africa, Lebombo, open 6am to midnight