How to Go Beyond the Safari Experience in Africa

The destination offers countless opportunities to connect with nature and discover the local food, history and culture

Travelers to Africa are increasingly looking to broaden their experiences. © 2019 Sababu Safaris

Travelers to Africa are increasingly looking to broaden their experiences. © 2019 Sababu Safaris

A street market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia © 2019 Getty Images

Women at a street market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia © 2019 Getty Images

“I think people who travel to Africa, in particular, are generally open-minded. It’s fun to change people’s perception of certain things and see them open their hearts and minds to new experiences.”

Denise Brown, co-founder of Sababu Safaris

Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda © 2019 Getty Images

Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda

Like so many other visitors to the country, Eden Hagos made sure she got to see wildlife during her first trip to Ethiopia in 2009. Her visit was part of a college study-abroad program, and when she had the opportunity, she jumped at the chance for an animal encounter. She saw crocodiles and hippos in the southern Ethiopian city of Arba Minch, and gelada baboons in the Simien Mountains. She enjoyed the experience, but 10 years later, it’s not what she remembers most.

“It was probably the least memorable part of my trip,” Hagos said.

What resonated instead with the now 29-year-old was the history and people of the country. So much so that when she returned in 2018 with her family, Hagos followed her passions instead of the typical itinerary and focused on the emerging food culture in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city.

“It had a big impact on me,” said Hagos, who now runs BlackFoodie.co, a popular blog and website that seeks to share food and culture through a black lens. “Now, I was traveling with intention.”

Hagos’ desire to see wildlife is shared by most travelers: According to the African Development Bank Group, more than 60 billion people traveled to Africa in 2017, and most leisure travelers have a specific bucket-list wildlife experience in mind.

The continent is the world’s top destination for safaris, and travelers flock there for the chance to see lions, zebra, giraffe and more.

The challenge Africa faces is how to keep guests intrigued enough to explore beyond that singular goal — and how to get them to visit more than the same few countries that already see most of the tourism.

The answer may be, in part, showcasing Africa as more than a one-trick pony, Hagos says.

“When people in North America realize that there is so much there, they’ll be more willing to go and spend their tourism dollars,” she said.

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Residents at Kaya Mawa, an African beach lodge set on Likoma Island in the middle of Lake Malawi © 2019 Kaya Mawa

A picturesque bridge at Kaya Mawa © 2019 Kaya Mawa

The Zomba Plateau in Malawi has lush forest trails. © 2019 Malawian Style

Residents at Kaya Mawa, an African beach lodge set on Likoma Island in the middle of Lake Malawi © 2019 Kaya Mawa

A picturesque bridge at Kaya Mawa © 2019 Kaya Mawa

The Zomba Plateau in Malawi has lush forest trails. © 2019 Malawian Style

Fishing boats docked at Likoma Island © 2019 Malawian Style

Fishing boats docked at Likoma Island © 2019 Malawian Style

Local children in Nkhotakota, Malawi © 2019 Tongole Lodge

Local children in Nkhotakota, Malawi © 2019 Tongole Lodge

Clients can try fun activities besides game drives, such as snorkeling. © 2019 Kaya Mawa

Clients can try fun activities besides game drives, such as snorkeling. © 2019 Kaya Mawa

Alternate Activities

Mike Varndell, managing founder of travel companies Malawian Style and Zambia In Style, notes that although safari travel remains Africa’s No. 1 attraction for American guests, he is noticing an upswing in the number of travelers who are looking to broaden their experiences.

One way his companies are meeting this demand is with hard- and soft-adventure options that enable clients to get out and climb — or paddle — in a variety of places. Trips to the 9,849-foot-high Mulanje Mountain, snorkeling with 800 species of fish that are endemic to Lake Malawi or horseback riding on the Zomba Plateau are just a few of the activities in Malawi that his company has added to its offerings in recent years. There is also a concerted effort to help guests connect with locals, he says.

“We try to add in lots of activities that enable people to interact with Malawians,” Varndell said. “Malawi has some of the friendliest locals on the continent, and while people often travel for the safari aspect, they fall in love with the people.”

Eastern African neighbors Rwanda and Uganda are also working to entice travelers to explore beyond the traditional gorilla trekking safari — which has proven to be a popular draw but is limited by a predetermined number of permits.

In Uganda, visitors are being encouraged to visit Rwenzori Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the western part of the country that is often referred to as the “Mountains of the Moon.” Six of the continent’s highest peaks are there, and guests can hike through incredible scenery and participate in glacier experiences.

Rwanda’s Heritage Corridor — a region south of Kigali — showcases the country’s pre-colonial history through architecture, museums and more. And opportunities to ride horses or to zipline offer an alternative to more typical tours.

Even safari companies are realizing that a diverse African offering is better for the long-term prosperity of tourism in the region. Denise Brown says she co-founded Sababu Safaris with the hope of showcasing a more diverse African product.

“If you solely focus on seeing animals, you are losing out on getting to know the diverse and unique culture of a country,” Brown said. “The safari business is very isolated in the sense that guests get picked up at the airport and then usually go straight to the national parks without ever getting in touch with local communities. The people they are exposed to are their guides and the staff at the lodges or camps, but that’s it.”

Sababu Safaris works closely with schools and grassroots organizations, and it can even take guests to a Maasai-run lodge where open dialogue is encouraged about the traditions, values and daily lives of the tribe.

Another option is spending a day with the indigenous Hadzabe people, where guests have the opportunity to accompany members of this hunter-gatherer community on a morning hunt and learn survival skills.

“People are looking to make conscious choices and prefer to travel sustainably and in a more meaningful way,” Brown said. “We want to target those travelers by tapping into their desire to travel with purpose.”

Sababu Safaris works closely with schools and grassroots organizations. © 2019 Sababu Safaris

Sababu Safaris works closely with schools and grassroots organizations. © 2019 Sababu Safaris

Education Is Key

Key to the efforts of outfitters such as Brown and Varndell is an informed public who is prepared to think outside the box when it comes to planning an African vacation.

“Our websites have a lot of information about our locations; dedicated pages for each lodge we work with and why we love it; when we last visited; and more,” Varndell said. “We try to really convey what we offer and show people the diversity.”

Brown believes that travelers are ready for new African adventures, too.

“I think people who travel to Africa, in particular, are generally open-minded,” Brown said. “It’s fun to change people’s perception of certain things and see them open their hearts and minds to new experiences.”

Ethiopian breakfast platter at Bake & Brew © 2019 Eden Hagos

Ethiopian breakfast platter at Bake & Brew © 2019 Eden Hagos

For Hagos, two trips to Ethiopia only solidified her determination to see — and taste — more of Africa. She notes that while she expected the fantastic coffee culture and array of spices in Ethiopia, it wasn’t until her most recent visit that she realized that Ethiopia’s vegetarian lifestyle means that there are plenty of vegan and gluten-free offerings that would appeal to North Americans who are increasingly seeking out those options. It’s a fact that she is hoping to share with her readers.

“I think there needs to be more education around food, history and culture,” Hagos said, clearly ready to lead by example. “I’m hoping to go to Ghana next — and I’d love to explore South Africa after that.”

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The early 20th-century St. Peter's Cathedral is located in the middle of Likoma Island. © 2019 Malawian Style

The early 20th-century St. Peter's Cathedral is located in the middle of Likoma Island. © 2019 Malawian Style

The Details
BlackFoodie.co
www.blackfoodie.co

Malawian Style
www.malawianstyle.com

Sababu Safaris
www.sababu-safaris.com

Zambia In Style
www.zambia-in-style.com

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Safari Plus

Planning African adventures for clients? This year, why not suggest some new options? Instead of asking them where they want to go in Africa, consider what their interests are and make suggestions that can lead them in new directions. Adding one of these options to a safari adventure could be exactly what your client is looking for.

Food Culture in Ethiopia
Eden Hagos of BlackFoodie.co recommends that clients who are interested in gastronomy spend some time in Addis Ababa. They should begin by visiting Habesha 2000 Cultural Restaurant; sipping coffee at Tomoca, a popular cafe chain; or shopping for ingredients to make berbere or mitmita, popular spice mixtures, at Merkato Market, one of Africa’s largest. And for twists on international foods you love, try Tru Luv, a granola snack startup that was founded by an Ethiopian American who moved back to Addis Ababa, or Bake & Brew, a cafe and coworking space owned by a popular Ethiopian British personality.

www.2000habesha.com
www.tomocacoffee.com

Biking in Rwanda
Whether novice or hard-core, cyclists interested in exploring Rwanda will want to take note of the 141-mile-long Congo Nile Trail. Rwandan Adventures can help set up a multiday tour that ranges from moderate to very challenging. Bike enthusiasts will also want to stop in at the Africa Rising Cycling Centre, where members of Team Rwanda offer ride-alongs that last from an hour to a few days. Word of warning: The country is known as “the land of a thousand hills,” so prepare your calves accordingly.

www.rwandan-adventures.com
www.teamafricarising.org

Hike the Mountains of Uganda
Those seeking active hiking adventures will do well in Uganda. Rwenzori Mountaineering Services offers a nine-day hiking trip up Mount Stanley, and Insight Safari Holidays takes hikers to the 16,762-foot-high Margherita Peak. Travelers looking for less intense routes will find those, too. And while there are animals here (about 70 mammal and 217 bird species), the treks — which range from daylong adventures to intense 10-day trips — introduce travelers to flora and fauna that make the area beautiful.

www.insightsafariholidays.com
www.rwenzorimountaineeringservices.com

Shop to Conserve the Animals in Zambia
Travelers with Zambia In Style are introduced to a project called Mulberry Mongoose that creates beautiful jewelry made from local materials, including snare wire collected by anti-poaching patrols. Today, money raised through the sale of snare-wire jewelry is donated to Conservation South Luangwa, which fights illegal poaching and protects wildlife and habitats.

www.cslzambia.org
www.mulberrymongoose.com

Community Visits in Tanzania
The desire to make a difference while on vacation is common among travelers worldwide. Guests with Sababu Safaris can opt to participate in community visits in Tanzania where solar lights are distributed to families who don’t have electricity. According to co-founder Denise Brown, these visits always result in unforgettable memories.

www.sababu-safaris.com

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