We sometimes get asked where people should go to experience local culture while on their safari in Africa. One person even wanted to know where she could "hang out with natives for a while" (her words). Perhaps she had been inspired by the book The White Masai by Corinne Hofmann?
Truth be told, encounters with local people in the Africa we see on safari are few and far between and almost all are of a commercial nature. Take the village visit in Masai country in Kenya and Tanzania. You pay a fee to enter a village and while you get to learn about the local culture, the encounter is definitely not in-depth.
For truly authentic experiences, you need to go further afield. Travel far from the game parks of East and Southern Africa, right into the heart of the continent. **
Here are some of the best places in Africa to experience local culture when travelling in Africa.
Ethiopia - Timkat Festival
Mysterious, deeply traditional and breathtakingly beautiful, Ethiopia is unlike any other country on the African continent. Its location at the confluence of civilisations and important trade routes means that it developed a rich history, culture and heritage which is still strongly felt today. This unique culture is framed within the rugged beauty of some of the finest mountain scenery in Africa.
Ethiopia’s Timkat Festival is one of the greatest celebrations on Earth and a great time to visit the country. We also have special departures during the Meskal Festival and Ethiopian Christmas.
See the Ethiopia in Depth Timkat Festival itinerary or read about the regular Ethiopia in Depth itinerary
Ethiopia's hidden tribes
Often overlooked, southern Ethiopia’s diverse tribal communities are ripe for exploration. Go off the beaten track and visit remote tribes in the Omo Valley. Get up close and personal with the people and the nature of Ethiopia – a place hidden from the rigorous modernity of the modern world.
Senegal and Guinea-Bissau - seldom visited West Africa
Travel through an incredible corner of Africa from the Sahel to the tropics on a remarkable journey, taking you through lands where few western travellers have visited. Spend time with the semi-nomadic Fulani before travelling to the holy city of Touba, centre of Senegal’s marabout movement and a fascinating place to learn about the spiritual traditions that dominate here. In the deep south you will find the Africa of old, where ancient beliefs and customs are still revered, and get to grips with the complex belief systems here. Finally, explore the villages of the Manjaco people, experiencing an Africa that few are lucky enough to see. West Africa Explorer
Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) - off the beaten track in Africa
Until recently off the map due to political upheaval, Cote D'Ivoire is now back and calling out to intrepid travellers and lovers of West African culture. Our small group tour focuses on the incredible diversity of local culture within the country. We will visit remote villages, home to different ethnic groups where age old traditions, rituals and customs hold sway. We spend time with these ethnic groups and witness vibrant and colourful mask dances and initiations. Cote D'Ivoire offers the opportunity for a true adventure in a country that can quite rightly be classified as one of most off the beaten track in Africa and indeed the world. Ivory Coast Revealed
Ghana - Kingdom of the Ashanti
One of Africa’s most underrated travel destinations, Ghana is a country rich in culture and natural wonders. Sometimes called ‘Africa for beginners’, it boasts affable inhabitants and is arguably the continent’s great success story. On this itinerary we explore its colonial castles, bustling markets and welcoming beaches as well as attend the Ashanti Kingdom’s most celebrated event - the Akwasidae Festival. Travelling north is like arriving in a different country. Here we meet the people of the Tongo Hills, visit the mud mosque at Larabanga and search for elephants in Mole National Park. Highlights of Ghana
Benin & Togo - Cradle of Voodoo
Benin and Togo offer the opportunity to understand tribal cultures and a unique chance to witness the intriguing and esoteric rituals of Voodoo. Visit local villages and experience the smells and sounds of the colourful markets and witness a traditional Fire Dance. Meet the Tamberma people in their fortified dwellings, some of the most beautiful examples of traditional African architecture. Visit with the Somba whose traditions have not yet been changed by outsiders and meet the Fulani people, a pastoral community renowned for their beauty and tattoos. Witness several mask ceremonies and a Voodoo ceremony. Finally, meet a local oracle, a village soothsayer who guides the lives of these traditional people through the drums and dancing of voodoos haunting rhythm. Cradle of Voodoo
Burkina Faso - Festival of the Dancing Masks
In light of recent events we suggest you do not travel to Burkina Faso at this time.
Burkina Faso really is West Africa’s hidden gem, a small landlocked nation with a wealth of attractions that belie its modest size. The country is rich in proud and ancient traditions that accompany the visitor wherever you go. Visit the stunning painted houses of the Kassena people, some of Africa’s most impressive architecture. Travel through the homelands of the Lobi and Dagarti, discovering their incredible fortress houses, uncovering a set of mysterious ruins in the forest, and meeting the king of the Gan people. The highlights of this tour are the incredible local mask festivals, a colourful display of local culture that shows Burkina Faso at its best. Burkina Faso - Festival of the Dancing Masks
Mali - Mud Mosques & the Dogon
In light of recent events we suggest you do not travel to Mali at this time.
Mali is one of the most rewarding countries in West Africa, a colourful and vibrant destination. Visit the Senoufou people and their unique customs and Djenne with its imposing mud built mosque. Meet Fulani, Songhai and Bozo people before heading to the lands of the Dogon people. Spend time exploring their villages around the Bandiagara escarpment, learn about their traditions and see them perform an elaborate mask dance. Finally, take a pinasse out on the Niger to discover riverside communities. Mali - Mud Mosques & the Dogon
Chad - The Gerewol Festival
An epic trip, recently showcased in Wanderlust Magazine, through the colourful tribal life of Chad. Each year the semi-nomadic Wodaabe people gather for a week of incredible celebrations known as the Gerewol, a colourful festival that is one of Africa’s most spectacular. Few westerners are privileged to see this, but with our excellent local contacts we travel to a remote part of the Sahel to stay with these intensely traditional people, joining them as they congregate for feasting, racing, dancing and finding lovers. Immerse yourself in a culture that lives very much outside of mainstream society, with traditions that stretch back centuries. The Gerewol Festival
** An important note on safety and security
Travelling to some of the destinations touched on in this article is not without risk. Before booking any of these trips you should familiarize yourself with the latest travel advisory of a country, issued by the Canadian Government.