The People of Africa (Diverse and Fascinating) “We are not Africans because we are born in Africa, we are Africans because Africa is born in us.”
Chester Higgins Jr.
There is no continent more blessed with the incredible beauty and sweeping diversity than that of Africa. From this diversity Africans “parented” the rest of humanity. However, all this diversity has a tangible and intangible commonality which merges into one family! Who hasn’t looked at a collection of photos or videos and “marveled’ at the stoic Maasai Tribe…tall, handsome and often dressed in red – a semi nomadic people located in Kenya and Tanzania. They are among the best known and recognizable African ethnic groups and are often found working the many game camps and lodges in the region.
Or who hasn’t heard of the Zulu? The reason you have heard of them just might be that they are the largest ethnic group in southern Africa and beyond. They are well known for their beautiful, brightly colored beads and baskets as well as other small carvings. The Zulu are practically divided in half with about 50% living in cities and engaging in domestic work and another 50% working on farms.
My personal favorite might be the Himba. (Picture the tribe that uses the “red” die to color their hair and skin.) This ancient tribe of semi nomadic herders and farmers is made up of extraordinary people who have resisted change and preserved their unique cultural heritage. It’s hard to travel through Namibia without visiting a village of the Himba.
Okay, so that is just three of the over 500 tribes that make up the indigenous people of Southern and East Africa…but when many, if not most of us think about Africa, how can we not think about Nelson Mandela and his struggle and ultimate leadership in ending Apartheid? A trip to Cape Town or a visit to District 6 or Robin Island will take you back and leave you thirsting for more insight about this period in African history.
As I said early on, the people of Africa are diverse: Sheep herders, gold miners, peasants and millionaires. It would be hard to stereotype Africa’s population and be even close.
Safari or Not To Safari (Types of Programs Throughout Africa)
Now back to the task at hand – preparing you to determine the best African Adventure for you and yours. As I see it there are really just a few different types of African vacations. Obviously #1 is the classic African Safari. Option #2 might be more of an “Active” African adventure, and option #3 might be a combination of the two. There is of course a #4, sitting on a beach somewhere drinking tropical drinks with an umbrella but really, why travel all the way to Africa for what you can do in Florida or Hawaii? To this end I will spend a few minutes talking about #1, #2 and #3 (#4 I will leave to your imagination).
The Classic African Safari! First we need to remember, Africa wrote the book on luxury camping and over the top customer service. While it may be possible to locate a large multi-unit hotel style complex, I am just not sure where or why you would want to stay in one when much better options are available. The “average” accommodation, if there is such a thing in Africa, is a small super deluxe permanent camp style setting. Yes, there are permanent lodges and/or mobile camps, but for the most part you will find a permanent tent style camp. Why tent style? Often times the “landlord” can only lease the land, so the idea is there cannot be a permanent structure. That said, these permanent “camps” are about as far from camping as you can get: running hot and cold water, incredibly plush bedding and service beyond your wildest expectations. Guest to staff ratios in excess of four staff to one guest is not uncommon.
These camps are often on nature conservatories or game reserves in the heart of the best game viewing possible. I have had the pleasure of having White Rhinos visit the dinner table and Hippos brush my tent in the middle of the night. This is clearly how you can get up close and personal to the game. In my book African safaris has to be the perfect adventure vacations for couples.
One thing to keep in mind – not all camps have all game. Therefore, one must start considering what it is they really want to see. Similar for each region, you may be able to see the Big Five for example, but it may take a few days at this camp and a few days at that one and so forth. Each camp (and area) has its own “specialty”.
The overall experience can vary as well. A “private” experience in Africa is quite common…this is when you and say, your family of four, has their own vehicle and guide for the duration of your stay. The guide driver will escort you from camp to camp or region to region, always in your own vehicle. Another option is to “fly” into the bigger camps…here you meet a group of likeminded travelers and each day load up into a “safari” vehicle (sometimes seating as many as a dozen plus) and go out for your game drives together. After a few days you may move to another camp and meet another group.
Each camp or lodge for that matter has a different “setting”. Each region has different vegetation and geography. Start asking yourself questions: are you a desert person or do you prefer thick forestation, dunes or river valleys, red rocks or granite peaks, six tent compounds or more expansive forty room lodges with a hot tub?
#2 Active Adventure. Here is the challenge, by the sheer nature of the beast (pun intended): it is difficult at best, but not impossible, to have a very active safari. Why? Simply put, there are things out there that would be delighted to eat you and wandering around is just not a good idea. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a day here or there of biking, rafting or horseback riding (in fact, there are some great safari options that include a little of both). It’s easy to fit in an active day here or there. But for a truly active adventure one has to think along the lines of civilization, at least by African standards.
South Africa vacations are a smorgasbord of possible activities. Biking the Garden Route, kayaking Point of Good Hope, shark diving with Great Whites, hiking Table Mountain, etc. It may be easiest to base in one of the many hotel style properties. There are lots of opportunities to explore the culture (think townships and Robin Island) or fine dining and wine tasting (South Africa is not to be overlooked for its own wine country).
As with any civilized destination, the options for hotel types and quality are endless. Everything is available from five star luxury resorts to the more affordable three start comfort hotels. Don’t overlook Africa’s beaches – some of the best in the world! (Just remember their “season” is opposite of that in the US).
#3 Combination. This option seems to fit the best for most adventurous souls. Simply put, five to seven days of safari can be a lot. As pointed out, most safaris entail a lot of “seat time”. So how about starting with an “active” on-the-go vacation and then graduating to a safari style? This may be easier than you think. You see, the toughest part of an African vacation is just getting there. Depending on where you start, this could be a 15-20 or even 24 hour flight! But once you get to Africa it’s not all that tough to take in-country flights from one country or destination to another. Let’s say your “hub” is Johannesburg (as it often is)…you can fly to Johannesburg and then on to Cape Town and spend the week exploring, biking, hiking, kayaking, you name it. Then, either take a commuter small plane to one of the game reserves like Sabi Sabi near Krueger National Park or fly back to Johannesburg and transfer via one of the in-country carriers like South African Airways to Windhoek to visit a wide range of camps in Namibia. Or via Johannesburg, fly back up to Nairobi and treat yourself to a Kenya or Tanzania safari.
The options are limitless...
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