Africa: Five culture and community-focused holidays

Africa: Five culture and community-focused holidays

Africa has become almost synonymous with safari, but it is also home to fascinating cultures and friendly people - and meeting them can be both moving and memorable.

It's increasingly easy to combine cultural excursions with more traditional activities, so if your clients are interested, suggest visiting a local village or conservation project in between game drives or beach time.

Below are five African holidays that include the chance to visit and interact with local communities...



Zambia's South Luangwa Valley has a high concentration of game around its river and oxbow lagoons, but it's also home to local tribes.

Robin Pope Safaris started supporting education of the children in the Nsefu Village area in 1989. This has developed into the Kazawa Village Project, a programme allowing visitors staying at the Robin Pope camps to visit the villages for anything from a day up to seven nights.

The award-winning project is now completely self-run by the villagers. Guests are allocated English-speaking local guides and are accompanied by Robin Pope Safari guides, too.

Activities include visiting the local school, church and the palace of the Kunda chief, spending time with a traditional healer and bush walks to explain traditional uses of trees and plants.

Outside these organised activities, visitors can just get involved with everyday life, helping to draw water, grind maize, brew beer and hoe the fields. They'll be invited to eat with locals - a typical menu might include maize meal, curried chicken, spinach and peanuts. Around the fire they'll be entertained by dancing, drumming and storytelling.

If they stay overnight, they'll sleep in mud huts on mattresses with mosquito nets. The toilet is a thunderbox and the bath is a bucket of hot water.

Visits to the village are available at all three Robin Pope safari camps.

Sample product: Cox and Kings offers a seven-night private journey through Zambia combining the three Robin Pope camps - Nkwali Bush Camp, Tena Tena and Nsefu - costing from £2,595 including flights, full-board accommodation, transfers and excursions. (Tel: 020 7873 5000)



Exodus's trip to the Omo Valley in Ethiopia is one for clients with a strong interest in tribal cultures, as this area functions as a crossroads of sorts for many indigenous peoples. For thousands of years the Omo Valley has been a route by which different ethnic groups migrate around the region.

The Exodus trip allows visitors the opportunity to meet several of the 20 tribes based in the area, including the Dorze people who live in beehive-shaped houses made of organic material the Mursi, who have clay plates in their lips and the Karo tribe, known for their elaborate body painting traditions.

This is a fairly demanding trip by four-wheel drive over rough roads and, while nine nights are spent in hotels, guests spend four nights camping, so it's not for the faint-hearted.

Though the focus of the trip is strongly on the local peoples, one day is spent spotting zebras, warthogs, gazelles, kudus and dik-diks in the Nechisar National Park, with an afternoon boat trip on Lake Chamo to view hippos and crocodiles.

Sample product: Exodus offers a 15-day Omo Valley trip starting from £1,659 including international flights, accommodation, all meals, transport and guiding. (Tel: 020 8675 5550)


South Africa

Luxury lovers with an interest in local cultures should head to one of &Beyond's swish lodges. The company funds numerous community projects through its foundation, and encourages guests to visit these free of charge.

These short three-hour trips are conducted between game drives so they don't clash with the main focus of the client's holiday, but provide an alternative experience and extra insight into the area they are visiting.

Guests at the Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal can take a trip to see Nkomo high school, the Mduku health clinic, Mbhedula craft market and the Digital Eco-Village Centre, which gives local communities access to computers. There's also a more in-depth cultural tour that guests can pay for, introducing visitors to Zulu culture in local villages, visiting local homes and even a witch doctor.

Phinda is in northern KwaZulu-Natal and has a wide diversity of habitats: woodland, grassland, wetland and forest. As well as the big five, visitors are sometimes lucky enough to spot cheetahs and black rhinos. It's also close to the coast, so scuba diving, fishing and turtle watching are available.

Sample product: Exsus offers seven nights’ all-inclusive at Phinda Mountain Lodge including international and domestic flights starting from £3,199 per person.



Some people want to drop in and see a small slice of local life - others really want to dig deep, and Travel 2's Rewarding Malawi trip is definitely for the latter. It's a volunteer programme run in association with Born Wild, where an entire week is devoted to interacting with local communities.

The first couple of days are spent at Kumbali Village, a more comfortable experience with accommodation based on traditional Malawian villages, but with tourist comforts. Visitors spend time in a number of local communities, gaining insight, receiving drumming lessons, and learning Malawian dances.

The next five nights are based in Kakuyu, a small farming district in Namitete. The volunteer scheme, run by Born Wild, allows guests to engage with the local community and help out.

It's unusual in that there is no set structure. Guests offer their personal skills to the community, whether this involves painting, gardening, teaching football or English. Some help out in the orphanage or local schools, work in the hospital, or help develop sustainable agricultural practices - it's up to the guest to choose. Clients are totally immersed in local life and have a bilingual guide to help them communicate.

For those wanting to extend their stay with more traditionally recreational pursuits, why not book a safari in the Liwonde National Park, or a few nights' stay in a lodge on the banks of Lake Malawi?

Sample product: Travel 2's Rewarding Malawi trip starts from £1,142 per person including international flights with KLM from Heathrow, accommodation, transport, activities, meals, bilingual guide, host, project manager and use of a bicycle. (Tel: 0800 022 4182,



Not everyone wants to spend their whole holiday discovering local cultures, and Turtle Bay Beach Club in Watamu, Kenya, is a great choice for those who want a beach holiday with the option of getting involved with a few local charities.

The resort supports local schools, clinics and an orphanage. Guests can visit these and, if they wish, make donations. Guides can also take visitors out to see sacred shrines of the local Giriama people at Dabasso Rock and Kalulu Caves. Visitors can also get involved with the community-based turtle protection organisation.

The all-inclusive resort is three-star plus and is surrounded by tropical gardens and has 200 metres of beach on the edge of the Watamu National Marine Park. Guests can boogie board, paddle ski, take a catamaran or pedalo ride, windsurf or dive. There are themed entertainment nights, a kids' club, three bars and three restaurants.

Sample product: Thomas Cook Signature offers seven nights' all-inclusive at the Turtle Bay Beach Club from £955 per person twin-share, including return flights with Kenya Airways and transfers departing June 8. (Tel: 0844 871 6640,


Tips: Advise your clients to...

  • Donate useful gifts to schools - pens, pencils, exercise books, educational games and DVDs. Where possible, try to buy them locally rather than taking them from the UK so they support local businesses, too.
  • Dress appropriately - women should usually cover their legs with long trousers or a skirt. It is advisable for ladies to keep their shoulders covered, too. Keep beachwear for the beach.
  • Ask permission before taking photographs of people. If you have a digital camera, show the person the picture you've taken afterwards.
  • Avoid over-the-top displays of affection in public as this may not be the custom in the area and could offend.


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