Explore Africa’s rich history on safari

April 21st 2021  |   Unique Experiences, Miscellaneous  |  by   Richard Smith
Explore Africa’s rich history on safari

Exploring Africa’s exceptionally rich history adds a wonderful element to a safari holiday. Of course, wildlife viewing is likely to be number one on your safari list but it’s almost impossible to visit and not be touched by the culture and history of both the people and places you encounter. Given that most can be discovered in the great outdoors it’s more an ‘absorption’ than a ‘learning process’, so appealing to almost everyone.

Here are some of our favourite finds:

Anglo- Zulu Battle tours
The superbly powerful storytelling of the guides at Fugitives’ Drift Lodge will transport you right back to the chaos and drama of the famous Anglo-Zulu battles at Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift in January 1879. Hearing how the action unfolded – the incredible bravery and astonishing mistakes – while actually sitting on the battlefield is quite remarkable. Isandlwana has perhaps the more powerful setting with white stone memorial cairns scattered as far as the eye can see, while the intimacy of Rorke’s Drift makes the outcome of this battle seem even more extraordinary. It’s hard to sum up in words but you will be moved, enthralled, inspired and humbled in equal measure.

Exploring Africa's rich history on safari at Rorke's Drift

Learning about the battle of Rorke’s Drift – immersive history at its finest

If you are thinking of something a little different in South Africa, then do try this. I was lucky enough to hear the late David Rattray (at whose Fugitives’ Drift Lodge we’d recommend staying) speak at the Royal Geographical Society in London, and was  impressed with that, but actually being in-situ knocked the spots off a darkened lecture theatre.

Fugitives' Drift Lodge twin suite with South African decor Fugitives' Drift Lodge Kwa-Zulu Natal South Africa

Comfortable accommodation at the characterful Fugitves’ Drift Lodoge

Children are well looked after too, with dedicated tours for those under 12. The short, interactive tours on the Fugitives’ Drift property are designed to engage and inspire with stories of bravery and courage.

Our ancestry from Homo erectus, who may have been the first early human species to migrate out of Africa, is well documented. With this very early life, and continuous habitation ever since, it’s little surprise that pockets of the African wilderness are an archaeologist’s delight. Stay at Lewa House in northern Kenya and you can go walking across ancient landscapes with Calum McFarlane (owner and guide) looking for Acheulian hand axe sites, burial mounds, pastoral caves and rock paintings.

Combine wildlife viewing with archaeological walks at Lewa House

Head to Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans and you can explore the Kalahari alongside Zu/’hoasi Bushmen and discover an ancient people who braved the desert plains for centuries, expertly navigating the harsh and arid lands. Look carefully and there is plenty of evidence of early civilization with tool fragments scattered across the desert floor. Stay at the magnificent Jack’s Camp and you’ll find one of the most comprehensive collections of ancient artefacts in Botswana, collected and curated by the Bousfield family (who own the camp) over decades.

Exploring Africa's rich history on safari with Bushmen from Meno a Kwena

There is plenty of evidence of early life in the tool fragments spread across the Makgadikgadi Pans

Budding palaeontologists will enjoy a stay at Musango Safari Camp, a privately owned gem in Zimbabwe’s Matusadona National Park. Steve and Wendy Edwards have made their home here and know every inch of the area.  The proximity to Lake Kariba with its animalrich shoreline and easily approachable wildlife, especially by boat, ensures a superb safari. As if current wildlife sightings aren’t exciting enough, there are dinosaur fossils here too – with one of Steve’s finds a totally new dinosaur to sub-Saharan Africa.

Steve and Wendy Edwards’ lovely Musango Safari Camp

Political History
South Africa’s turbulent past might not be forefront of your reason to travel but if you are planning to spend time in Cape Town or Johannesburg then there is plenty to explore. Take the short boat cruise to Robben Island, just over 4 miles from Cape Town harbour, and you can experience a sense of hopelessness inside the prison cell where South Africa’s most beloved legend, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years hard labour. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could rise above the horror of incarceration to become arguably the most iconic and compassionate leader of our era.

Robben Island is just a short boat ride from Cape Town’s buzzing harbour

In Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela’s house, the Hector Pieterson Museum and Regina Mundi Cathedral are part of the historical appeal of any Soweto visit, where the importance of South Africa’s stormy history and hard-won democracy is evident.

Religious and Cultural history
Ethiopia takes centre stage here, with its long, complex and fascinating history a wonderful mix that gives a cultural integrity, richness and depth that is missing from most of the countries to the south. It’s a fascinating place for many reasons but is truly rewarding for anyone interested in authentic and ancient societies. Francis’ blog outlines some of the key highlights.

Exploring Africa's rich history on safari in Ethiopia

A rich cultural history makes Ethiopia an especially fascinating country to visit

A darker slice of history can be experienced on Zanzibar where Stone Town was host to one of the world’s last open slave markets until it was shut down in the 1870s. Today, the town is a World Heritage Site, but the atmosphere of the old city is clearly evident with its winding alleys, bustling mosques and grand Arab houses. It’s well worth a half day tour if you are staying here. The island itself is characterised by beautiful sandy beaches with coral reefs and the warm Indian Ocean which is ideal for diving, snorkelling and water sport activities including deep sea fishing. Most of the resorts here are small and intimate, each with a character of its own.

Stone Town is a fascinating place to explore with old merchant houses converted into hotels, like this at Emerson Spice, lovely places to stay

Ancient art
There are several sites in Southern Africa where it’s possible to view early Bushmen art. The wonderfully well-preserved etchings depict the life of one of mankind’s earliest tribes who are known to have wandered the mountains in parts of South Africa’s Western Cape over 120,000 years ago. Bushmans Kloof is the custodian of over 130 unique rock art sites, some dating back 10,000 years. The lodge’s heritage centre houses an extraordinary collection of artefacts, jewellery, dancing sticks, hunting kits and musical instruments and offers a wonderful source of insight into the lives and culture of the ancient Bushman people.

Exploring ancient rock art close to Bushmans Kloof

Namibia, too, is rich in bushman art, with the rocky outcrops of Twyfelfontein, Namibia’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to some 2,500 distinctive rock carvings and paintings considered to be some of the best preserved etchings on the continent. There are several places to stay in the area, of which Mowani Mountain Camp, set amid the characteristic rock kopjes, is a great spot for a few days and within easy reach of the rock engravings.

Mowani Mountain camp nestled into the rocky kopjes characteristic of Twyfelfontein area

Parts of Zimbabwe combine a rich history with fabulous wildlife and Malilangwe, spread across 100,000 acres of privately owned Lowveld, is an especially rewarding place to visit. Steeped in history, with Bushman rock art dating back at least 2,000 years it is today home to elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino, many antelope species and varied bird life. You’ll find unspoilt wilderness and great scenery here and staying at Singita Pamushana you get the added bonus of knowing that every penny of profit from your stay goes back into conserving the wildlife. Combine this with Amalinda Lodge in Matobo Hills where you’ll find huge granite outcrops, Bushman rock art and Cecil Rhodes’ grave alongside the chance to track rhino on foot.

Enjoying the spectacular scenery close to Amalinda Camp

If you have time, Great Zimbabwe, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe is well worth a visit (and accessible from both the camps mentioned above). Built between the 11th and 15th centuries it is estimated that at one time it boasted a population of between 10,000 to 20,000 people. Today, the stone remains of this remarkable medieval city offer a glimpse at what life was like in days gone by.

What next?

We would be delighted to help you plan a safari to explore Africa’s rich history. Our team of experts has travelled widely throughout Africa and can offer expert advice on every type of safari from family and beach holidays to riding and primate safaris. Do get in touch – chatting to people by phone or email is what we do best. We listen, we explain, we answer all sorts of questions even those you didn’t know to ask, and finally we make suggestions. If this is your first time to Africa or your twenty first, we have a team standing by to help make the planning easy and the journey the best ever. Please get in touch whatever stage you’re at.


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