Cultural Experiences and Traditions in Africa

Enjoy a Cultural Safari to Africa 

Africa gets into the soul of most travelers and it must have something to do with the fact that this is indeed the cradle of mankind, the origins of humanity, that primal place where our cultures began. Exploring local communities and traditions on an African safari is inseparable from wildlife viewing, landscape appreciating and adventure activities in the rugged and spectacular regions we all call home. With our bespoke African safari packages, you can customize your itinerary according to your unique interests in the culture and traditions of the continent.

Guests on a guided safari walk in Tanzania.
The Culture of Africa is varied and manifold, consisting of a mixture of countries with various tribes depicting their unique characteristic and trait from the continent of Africa.

Conservation of Africa’s natural resources, fauna and flora, cannot be done without the buy-in of indigenous cultures who were here long before colonialists arrived to transform the continent. Enjoy a cultural safari to Africa and see how ecotourism and sustainable travel keep their balance with one foot in community and one foot in earthly preservation. Experience the historical grounds for fierce battles, sacred rites, ancient customs and cultural heritage that cannot be forgotten. Wander around awe-inspiring ancient ruins, view the graves of kings, princesses and explorers and respect all cultural and historical traditions you come across. Visit communities on their terms and learn valuable lessons about different people living in harmony with nature.

Browse our top seven cultural experiences and traditions in Africa and plan your safari. 

The Long-lived San (Bushmen) of the Kalahari

The Kalahari is an immense desert landscape that stretches across several countries in Africa including Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. The San were here first, thousands of years ago when the continent was just born, and wildlife roamed free in lands that knew no boundaries or fences. These Bushmen were the first ever people ever to walk southern Africa’s semi-arid desert landscapes, watching it change as history and geography evolved. They wandered the entire region as hunter-gatherers, moving where the food moved, surviving in tune with nature’s seasons and water supplies, fruits, meat, tubers and shelters. 

The San culture involved a carnal spirituality revealed in cave paintings and etchings and they passed their traditions down to the younger generations in a cyclical instinct for survival. A visit to Botswana today includes meeting San trackers who will show you how they still live in tune with nature as you embark on the most unforgettable cultural experience of your safari. Track wild animals, learn about the plants’ medicinal values and how ethical hunting, and sustainable living can save our planet.

Two San bushmen talking in the bush of the Kalahari
Did you know? The San are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, where they have lived for at least 20 000 years.

The Striking Himba of Namibia’s Kaokoland

About 50 000 Himba live in northern Namibia’s Kunene Region (Kaokoland), an ancient indigenous culture that lived a semi-nomadic life as pastoralists in the harsh arid desert landscapes. The OvaHimba live in solid homesteads where they grow crops but they may have to move within the year depending on rainfall and where there is access to water. This fascinating culture dates back to the 16th century when their tribe migrated from the east to the Kunene. 

The Himba developed a deep connection to the earth and its natural resources but when colonialists arrived to control the region they were forced to learn Christianity, live in villages and pay taxes. In the 1900s they suffered devastating genocide by German troops and while they still live off the land today, their earthly culture is increasingly threatened by modernization, tourism, alcohol consumption and Western ideas. 

Enjoy a cultural safari in this part of Africa, staying in a luxury lodge in the gorgeous Kaokoland. Take a trip to see the remaining Himba in their villages on the banks of the Kunene River.  See how the women mix animal fat and ochre into their hair and skin as protection from the sun and insects and as a sign of marital status. The preservation of such customs and cultures is essential for the survival of Africa and its natural resources, and ecotourism plays a vital role in sustaining these ways of life.    

A himba tribesman looking over the landscapes in Namibia
The Himba tribe are an indigenous ethnic group inhabiting the Kunene region in northern Namibia, where they have resided for centuries.

The Ancient Great Zimbabwe Ruins 

Built thousands of years ago, between 1100 and 1450 AD, the Great Zimbabwe National Monument, or the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, stretches over 800 ha of land and harks back to the Middle Ages. Researchers think that construction on the city began in the 9th century and continued until it was abandoned in the 15th century. Historians think that most of it was erected by the ancestral Shona, the actual stone city spanning an area of 7.22 square km with room for up to 18,000 people. It’s a fascinating cultural experience that will add flavour to your safari in this part of Africa with its rich historical past.

The Great Enclosure is the largest single ancient structure south of the Sahara while the Khami Ruins have been partially reconstructed to recreate a fascinating historical landmark. Tourists can view Hill Complex on the high granite hill and then the Great Enclosure below it where the walls are 6 m thick, built purely from granite. It’s the hive of a lost culture and tradition, a historical destination that enraptures and enthralls due to its many secrets.

Aerial view of the remains of Great Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe was part of a large and wealthy global trading network. Archaeologists have found pottery from China and Persia, as well as Arab coins in the ruins there.

The Magnificent Masai Warriors in Tanzania’s Serengeti

Some 500 000 Maasai people live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania along the Great Rift Valley on dry lands, taking up a total land area of 160,000 square km. Nomadic and subsistence farmers, they’re best known for their colourful dress, intricate bead necklaces and their high jumping dancing. The Maasai live near the many game parks here and speak the Maa language, Swahili and English. 

Tourists love to visit the Maasai villages in East Africa when exploring local communities and traditions as an essential experience on an African safari. Learn how the Maasai worship a single deity called Enkai with a two-fold nature revealed in two colors – Engai Narok (Black God) is kind and Engai Na-nyokie (Red God) is bitter. The lion is the Maasai’s symbolic animal but they always killed this carnivore to be used in the rite of passage ceremony. 

A safari holiday to the Masai Mara Game Reserve reveals many tall slim Maasai herdsmen ranging across the grasslands and many of these tribespeople work for the local safari camps and lodges. Guests can go tracking for wild animals and learn incredible connections between biodiversity and people from such earthy people. Your guide will show you his home, his village ways and the high, leaping cultural dances. Yes, it’s true, traditionally, the Maasai diet consisted of raw meat, copious fermented raw milk, honey and raw blood from cattle!

The tribes of Maasai Serengeti in Africa
Maasai warriors are known for being strong and courageous. They protect their cattle and community with long spears and buffalo skin shields.

Surreal Stone Town in Zanzibar

Visiting Stone Town in Zanzibar is an experience of historical and cultural nuances and as you enter the town, you find yourself traversing a maze of narrow alleys lined by houses, shops, bazaars and mosques. Watch out for the hundreds of bicycles and motorbikes in Stone Town, indeed a melting pot of various architectural styles including Arab, Persian, Indian, European, and African traditions. 

Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000 but it is sad that the historical buildings are deteriorating very fast. This is a sensory experience for every tourist from across the globe, to delight in the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and textures of a very traditional and cultural destination in Africa!

Coral stone has been used extensively to build the town, hence its name “Stone Town” and the characteristic, reddish warm colour of most buildings. Traditional buildings feature a baraza, a long stone bench along the outside walls and large verandas protected by carved wooden handrails. Your safari in Zanzibar will be permeated with the cultural experiences and traditions of the diverse people in Stone Town. Seeing the best-known feature of Zanzibari houses, the finely decorated wooden doors, with their rich carvings and big brass Indian studs is fascinating. 

An aerial view of the old stone town in Zanzibar
The Old Fort was built in 1699 and has long been known as the oldest building in Stone Town.

The Eerie KwaZulu-Natal Battlefields in South Africa

The history of South Africa is complex and captivating, but the Anglo-Zulu War holds the attention of visitors from far and wide who want to experience this battle with a tour of the famous battlefields. They learn that it was on 22 January of the year 1879 that a small group of British scouts came upon 20 000 Zulu warriors waiting in silence for them in the Ngwebeni Valley of Zululand near Eshowe. And so the British Empire fought the Zulu Kingdom here, and much blood was lost. This war was especially tough thanks to the many bloody battles – the Zulu won the Battle of Isandlwana, but the British got them back during the defense of Rorke’s Drift. The British eventually won the war, ending Zulu dominance of the region. 

Accommodation at Fugitive’s Drift Lodge is famous too as a Natural Heritage Site, and where, long ago, Lieutenants Melvill and Coghill lost their lives here attempting to save the Queen’s Colour of the 1/24th. It was here that David and Nicky Rattray pioneered Heritage Tourism in South Africa and created an award-winning lodge for visitors to savour this extraordinary saga. You arrive to be ensconced in history and incredible storytelling, and you feel as if you have stepped back in time to that era when the Zulus, Boers and British were all fighting! The best battlefield guides lead you on provocative and stimulating tours to Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift which you can break up with nature hikes into the reserve to see birds and wild animals. 

The battlefields with graves in KZN
Thousands were killed, their bodies in some cases buried beneath piles of white stones that you can still see dotting the landscape.

Vibrant Capital City, Maputo, in Mozambique

The historical cultural experience of Mozambique is overwhelming and educational, linked to all traditions in this diverse country. Mozambique was a Portuguese colony and had a very turbulent history which is still ongoing – she gained her independence in 1975 but the Marxist government clashed with the anti-communists and there was bloodshed and division for years. Millions of people suffered and died during the war which only ended in 1992. 

A walk around the historic centre reveals fine colonial-era architecture and an attractive natural setting alongside the deep-water harbour of Maputo Bay. Maputo is the commercial and cultural centre of the country, so enjoy the sidewalk cafés, bars, and discotheques. In Maputo, your historic experience includes visits to the many museums and landmarks that make Mozambique what it is today. The arts and crafts fair, the many restaurants and bars, and the Paroquia Santo Antonio – the old famous church with unusual and wondrous architecture and stained-glass windows. If you can get to Mozambique on a safari you can also enjoy the culture and the history, so intertwined with nature and the coastline.  

Go to Africa on the safari of a lifetime and connect also to the deep history and cultures so embedded in the continent’s heritage. Ecotourism is about the merging of people and planet, community and biodiversity conservation as one. Be sure to experience the cultural experiences and traditions of Africa when you go game viewing in Africa!

The vibrant and colourful streets on Maptuo in Mozambique
Maputo has a vibrant cultural scene, with many restaurants, music and performance venues!

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