Travel Africa like an African

2019-05-08 12:30 - Gabi Zietsman
Post a comment 0

You're proud to be African - but how much of Africa have you actually seen?

When you plan your next big holiday you would rather start off exploring the cheap countries of Asia or - if you have a little more saved up - the iconic European countries with their well-known monuments.

But despite it being the second largest continent in the world, African countries end up, most of the time, at the bottom of the list of possible destinations. 

SEE: Rampahosa: Tourism is the new gold in Africa despite challenges

A South African that's been everywhere

According to one avid South African traveller, you can't really talk about anywhere unless you've been there.

Thebe Ikalafeng, a brand builder and champion of African Excellence, has been to every African country in the world thanks to his ability to blend his work with his travels. 

"As South Africans, we have an amazing passport for the continent," said Ikalafeng at this year's Africa's Travel Indaba on a talk about leveraging culture as a driving force for the continent. 

QUICK GUIDE TO EGYPT: Walking like an Egyptian in the land of Pharaohs 

Travelling for authenticity

"I don’t like advance notice of countries, I want to arrive and the country must happen. If they say don’t go there, that’s when I pack my suitcase faster."

Ikalafeng's travel style is one of authenticity - he seeks out locals to eat with, forge friendships and take on experiences that your average traveller might flee from - be it seeing the pyramids of Sudan, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at 50 or taking on the Tazara train that runs between Tanzania and Zambia. 

For him, Africa's traditional storytelling discloses unique ideas, systems and culture, and you need to foster a human connection to really understand a place.

One of the best tips Ikalafeng can give travellers is to not treat people like tourists attractions or workers - treat them as individual human beings with agency and you'll find yourself immersed in a truly authentic experience.

QUICK GUIDE TO TANZANIA: Visa-Free travel for South Africans 

The food of Africa

One of the ways to find this connection is through food. It is an amazing cultural path to meeting fellow Africans.

Ikalafeng's philosophy on cuisine is that he might want five-star at night, but he wants zero stars during the day. He wants to eat where the locals eat, and normally asks his driver or someone at his accommodation to direct him to where that is.

"Never be a snob - this is not your country. If the people eating it are breathing, then the food is excellent."

Africans also take great pride in their foods - in West Africa you can start a war by asking who makes the best jollof rice.

QUICK GUIDE TO SENEGAL: Visa-free travel for South Africans 

How heroes are honoured

Africa as a whole has a turbulent history with the bloody legacy left behind by colonial powers, and is still struggling today to reconcile the past with the present.

Ikalafeng makes an effort wherever he visits to see how the different countries honour their heroes and remember those that have been lost to war and disaster. 

When it comes to colonial monuments, he believes that history should not be wiped away, but instead integrate these controversial sites with sites of liberation and tell a new story from an African perspective.

"We always have to remember where we come from and we also have to look at where we’re going."

QUICK GUIDE TO KENYA: Visa-free travel for South Africans 

The need for African home-stays

Another way to connect with not only fellow Africans, but fellow South Africans as well, is through home-stays, says Lilizela winner Cameron Murray of Traditional African Homestays South Africa. 

Murray used to organise cycle tours through South Africa, and while travelling through Limpopo he found a land filled with myth and legend. He wanted to create a more sustainable initiative for the local communities that's not a one-off benefit.

"Doing one or two events a year is not sustainable for the community and how dare I go into the community and tell them I want to do a cycling event and we're going to stay in your community."

Instead, he and his partner spent time with them, going through the proper channels via chiefs and elders and started developing homestays and workshops by providing them with a platform to access the tourism industry.

"Travelling on this continent and South Africa, it's so important to include our communities in that travel experience. People underestimate the power of human connection."

QUICK GUIDE TO BOTSWANA: Visa-free travel for South Africans 

Flying might be easier than in Europe

But what about flying in Africa? The term 'Open Skies' has been thrown around the last few years, an African Union initiative to open the continent's skies to more flight routes and reducing the red tape for airlines.

While there are still many challenges that face the industry, one European that's zigzagged across the continent thinks it might be better than flying in Europe.

"Flying in Africa is fun. Flying in Europe is because you have to get from A to B," says Hilton's vice president of Africa and Indian Ocean Jan van der Putten, who also attended the Indaba.

His first trip to Africa was in 1975 to visit his sister in Kenya, when it was still quite colonial, and where he experienced his first safari. Since then, he's been all over, noting Kenya, Nigeria and Cameroon as some of his favourite places to visit.

SEE: Open skies: Hopes high for single African air market to fly

"I think air travel in Africa is so much better than people think and talk about. In any European environment you get delays because of fog, storms and planes breaking down, and they can be grounded for a whole day for whatever reason."

"In Africa we don't have as many problems like that."

On the other hand, Van der Putten believes flying in Africa make for some amazing stories to tell.

"I once landed in the middle of the Central African Republic on an impromptu stop and there were children playing around the airport and on the landing strips. As we came to a stop the plane was suddenly surrounded by people coming out of cars with Kalashnikovs to protect the plane.

"Another time with a smaller plane I've landed on airstrips where we've had to take off again because there's an elephant on the landing strip - and that kind of thing doesn't really happen in Europe."

So the next time you think about your next big adventure, perhaps try something a little closer to home that will make you claim to you African identity just a little stronger.

WATCH: SAA vs Ethiopian Airlines, which is the best? 

Find Your Escape by searching and comparing flight prices hereYou can also sign-up for the Traveller24 Weekly Newsletter – Subscribe hereOr download the News24 App hereto receive expertly curated travel ideas and deals directly to your mobile.