Exploring Culture across Africa, the Mother Continent

From street art in Soweto to visiting a traditional Maasai village in Kenya, here are the best ways to immerse yourself in the fascinating, rich, and varied culture that you will discover across Africa.

Scibono Discovery Centre, Miriam Makeba Street, corner of President Street, Newtown, Johannesburg, 2001, South Africa
On the western edge of downtown Johannesburg, a neighborhood named Newtown has emerged as the city’s cultural heart. Once a gritty industrial center, Newtown is now a gathering place for South African writers, artists, and musicians. Begin your exploration at the neighborhood’s hub, Mary Fitzgerald Square, where the community comes together for national holiday celebrations and outdoor performances such as Venda tribal dancing. At Xarra Books, an indie bookstore on the square that’s dedicated to African literature, you can pick up local author Lebo Mashile’s latest collection of poems and drop in on talks by such South African luminaries as anti-apartheid activist Albie Sachs. Next, walk to the nearby Bus Factory, a cavernous brick building that was once a bus depot and now houses a collection of traditional crafts and contemporary sculpture by local artists. Check out the murals of Jo’burg’s skyline and a “forest” installation built from African walking sticks. When evening comes, join the crowd at Bassline, a half-block south of the square. This live music venue features a mix of jazz, world, Afro-pop, hip-hop, and kwaito—a township-born music genre that combines hip-hop and house with lyrics sung in a blend of most of South Africa’s 11 official languages. For all the activity, Newtown is still a small scene where you can mingle with local heroes. One evening I ran into Pops Mohamed, a reserved South African world-fusion musician, at a music conference held on the square. “There’s always something going on here,” he said. In front of us, a gospel choir was just warming up.
Klapmuts - Simondium Rd, Simondium, Paarl, 7670, South Africa
About an hour outside of Cape Town, Babylonstoren is one of South Africa’s oldest werfs, or farmyards. In 2010, Karen Roos, a former editor at South Africa’s Elle Decoration, reimagined the property as a fantasy farm stay with an eight-acre garden that grows 300 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Guests are welcome to help the head gardener prune and plant, and to join the chef in his daily harvest. Some of the 13 laborers’ cottages that have been rebuilt as guestrooms feature kitchens for those who want to pick and prep their own meals.
“Zimbabwe” means “the house of stone” and is named after the 11th century kingdom and trading city we now call Great Zimbabwe. This National Monument is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the southeast corner of the country is one place not to miss when driving between Harare and Bulawayo and is only a couple hours from Pamushana Lodge. Walls made of stacked stones balance on top of boulders - the remnants of a Shona king’s fort. Here, look for the shouting cave, designed such that anything yelled into the space will echo down into the valley below. During your guided tour, you’ll also visit the Great Enclosure which is thought to have been a temple. There is not much wildlife in the area (due to poaching), so you’ll want to visit nearby Masvingo National Park to see wildlife while you’re in this part of Zimbabwe.
Overseas Adventure Travel’s Ultimate Africa itinerary lives up to its name. Travelers explore four countries—Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe—including opportunities to visit thundering Victoria Falls, spot majestic elephants in Chobe National Park, and see hippos in the lush Okavango Delta. Once you experience Africa, it’s easy to understand why people often say, “You go for the animals, you return for the people.” While the wildlife may be dazzling, the encounters with locals are often the most vivid moments of an Africa trip. On this trip, spend A Day in the Life in a village near Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. You’ll first drop by St. Mary’s Primary School, supported by Grand Circle Foundation, where you’ll interact with the students and teachers. Later, the village leader will show you around, invite you to participate in some farming activities, and teach you a few words and phrases in Ndebele. Small group travel provides access to local villages, encourages personal exchanges, and even offers a glimpse into the daily life of a destination’s residents.
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