Although Africa’s probably best known for the extraordinary quality, and quantity of wildlife that she protects, not for nothing is the continent known as the cradle of mankind. Africa is home to an extraordinary array of different cultures, and incorporating a well thought out visit to the local community is (we think) an essential part of any African adventure, provided it’s done in the right way.
We’re not fans of canned “cultural performances”, so we won’t recommend somewhere if we don’t think it’ll be enriching (and fun) for both you, and your local hosts. The chance to wander the plains alongside a Maasai warrior, or watch the seemingly empty Botswanan desert spring to life through the teachings of a San bushman guide is a fantastic way to get to know a culture entirely different from our own. Best of all, visiting the local community is often the best way to ensure that the money you spend on your holiday reaches the people who need it most.
Meet the Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania
Any visitor to Kenya or Northern Tanzania can’t help but notice the striking red shukas of the Maasai morans, billowing in the breeze as they stride across the savannah. Small children herd goats beside the road, elders hold council in the shade of acacia trees and ladies carefully build the family manyattas. Though many Maasai will have a mobile phone tucked away somewhere in their robes, the nomadic lifestyle is largely a thing of the past, and most Maasai families live in permanent homes in Northern Tanzania and parts of Kenya. Further north still are the Samburu people of Kenya, who are related to the Maasai and wear similarly striking outfits.
You’ll encounter Maasai askaris (guards) in many safari camps, and numerous safari camps in the Masai Mara have Maasai guides. If you’d like to visit a manyatta, we’d recommend avoiding the ones in busy tourist areas of Northern Tanzania as this can feel more than a little commercialised. Instead head to some of the private conservancies in Laikipia in Kenya, or visit largely undiscovered areas like West Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Alternatively, incorporate a visit to a manyatta as part of a safari in the Masai Mara– the fee for your visit will go directly to benefit the local community.
Visit the Himba in Nambia
Visitors to the Kunene region of Northern Namibia will often meet Himba pastoralists seemingly in the middle of nowhere, travelling in search of grazing for their cattle and goats. As the Himba live in such a barren, remote, region, much of their lifestyle remains largely traditional. Many Himba people live in temporary villages, and the ladies are particularly distinctive, covering their skin with a mixture of fat and ochre. You are most likely to encounter the Himba people on visits to some of the most remote areas of Namibia- we’ve heard of at least one plane being flagged down on a Skeleton Coast Safari for a Himba lady to have a quick chat and ask about the weather forecast…
Meet the San bushmen in Botswana
The San bushmen were historically resident in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Today, while many San live a traditional lifestyle, largely foraging from the land, visitors to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Mkgadikgadi Salt Pans may also meet San guides or visit a traditional village. If you have the opportunity to walk through the desert with a San guide- take it- you’ll see your environment in a totally different way. Where you see a barren desert they’ll rapidly point out roots that are sources of water and holes that harbour hidden life.
Visit a township in South Africa
As part of a tour of South Africa many of our travellers will spend time in Cape Town or Johannesburg, and if that’s you, we’d wholeheartedly recommend setting aside some time to spend in one of the townships. We’d encourage you to get as hands on as possible- take a cookery lesson in Cape Town or a cycling tour of Soweto. Getting involved is a real icebreaker and hugely informative. And this is really just the tip of the iceberg- for those who want a greater insight, we can arrange a number of longer cultural tours as part of a stay in South Africa including anything from a visit to Cape Town‘s District Six Museum or sitting down to a Cape Malay curry in a local home.
Want to incorporate a visit to the local community in your African adventure?