Cultural Activities on Safari
It’s the age-old question: how do you experience cultural activities on an African safari?
Because while the focus on safari is on wildlife, visitors are increasingly curious to see how their counterparts – kids, mums, dads, the older generation – live in extraordinary destinations like the Kalahari or the Serengeti, and how they maintain their traditions in a fast-changing world.
But how to do it in a way that delivers genuine, non-intrusive cultural experiences without resorting to stereotype? Or indeed exploitation?
The answer isn’t easy but it’s a lot easier than several decades ago when cultural activities were limited to traditional dancing at dinner time. Several safari operators have seen the value in creating relationships with local communities, not only drawing their human resources from them but also incorporating their society and traditional activities into a safari itinerary.
The result is a win-win for everyone. On the one side, local employment in tourism uplifts local communities and is generally accompanied by a drop in animal poaching. Village tours provide an income for local entrepreneurs – often women – and are usually linked to a local infrastructure project such as a school or clinic.
These tangible benefits make local communities more comfortable about opening up their doors – literally – to strangers and you’ll enjoy a far greater degree of authenticity than watching a costumed dance in a restaurant.
And for you, the visitor, you have the chance to see how people really live in these destinations, and can enjoy an augmented safari experience.
Where to go for the most authentic cultural encounters? Well, you’ll generally need to get a little off the beaten track – and it doesn’t get more off the beaten track than the far north of Namibia where the Himba people live. A handful of lodges provide their guests with a chance to visit the Himba, famous for their red-painted skin, and walk in the desert with local guides.
And if walking is your thing, then the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) is great hiking country – and who better to lead the way than someone who knows the area and its communities like the back of their hand? Try local dishes, learn a few local phrases, and a whole new world opens up.
Indeed, walking with local guides is becoming popular in safari country. Lodges in Botswana’s remote Kalahari Desert encourage guests to go on nature walks with San guides who reveal the fascinating secrets of the natural landscape – which plants yield water, which provide arrow poisons, and how to stalk big game.
In fact, you don’t even have to go to places you’ve never heard of. Kenya’s Masai Mara, well-known for its wildebeest migration, has opportunities to meet the Maasai people in their traditional society rather than at the dinner table, and at Victoria Falls there’s a choice between the commercial side of cultural activities and something a bit more authentic.
You can even enjoy a taste of local culture in a stunning beach location: Lake Malawi is a destination where you can mix active water sports and lazy down-time with visits to projects that range from recycling centres to re-forestation programmes. This is a model adopted by several lodges across the region: authentic engagement with the local community in exchange for a financial contribution which is channelled back into their society.
We’ve got great safari itineraries with authentic cultural activities and engagements with the local community: ask us about our Namibia adventure, from desert dunes to the land of the Himba, or a classic Botswana ‘desert and delta’ safari, offering an insight into ancient San culture.
If it’s a ‘bush and beach’ combination you have in mind, then you can combine wildlife watching in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park with a beachfront lodge on Lake Malawi and still have time to visit local community projects.