How to be a Sustainable Tourist in Africa

“When travel is done the right way – the sustainable way – then local people and vistors alike benefit from the power and promise of travel to alleviate povery, protect nature, and safeguard cultural heritage for future generations.”

– Costas Christ, Senior Advisor for Sustainable Tourism, National Geographic

Are you planning a trip to Africa? Have you considered how to be a more conscious, sustainable traveler? It’s time you did, because tourism, when done correctly, can be a powerful force for good in the world.

Sustainable tourism involves visiting a place as a tourist and attempting to make only a positive impact on the environment, society, and economy. Sustainability is a broad concept, and encapsulates a variety of efforts such as the use of renewable energy, community development projects and charity, or the protection of endangered wildlife. Overall, it is accepted that sustainable tourism is a positive concept; it promotes community pride, increases job opportunities for local communities, and helps protect the environment and the local people among a long list of other positive impacts… but how do we put it into action in Africa?

Leave no trace

Leave the spaces you travel through like you left them. Clean up all trash and dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way, like recycling or composting. Do not take things from the environment. Do not attempt to feed wildlife, or dump things out of your vehicle. Consider carbon neutral parks like the Lower Zambezi National Park. Carbon neutral parks generate no greenhouse gas emissions from their operations. Consider lodges that make recycling efforts. We like: Serian and Imvelo for this reason.

Respect local people, customs, cultures and lifestyles

The Golden Rule applies here; treat local people the way you would like to be treated. Be sensitive to the intrusion of photographing people and places, especially without permission. Do not dress in ways which might offend local beliefs, especially in places of religious or spiritual significance. Respect the rights of people and be courteous, even to those who ask you for money. If you haggle in marketplaces or with street vendors, make sure you are not exploiting them by trying to pay as little as possible; pay fair prices. Ask local people questions, listen to them, and learn. Attempt to make meaningful connections while listening with an open mind.

Choose eco-friendly and sustainable options while traveling

Choose a hotel, lodge, or camp that runs an environmentally sound business. Try to eat at local restaurants and promote as many locally owned businesses as you can while travelling. Do not choose souvenirs or participate in activities that harm the wildlife, such as riding elephants, or purchasing ivory.

Questions to ask before choosing a tour, lodge or activity:

Do they hire local people and pay fair wages? Do they hire women? Do they respect and protect the enviroment animals? Do they dispose of trash in a sustainable way? Do they promote or partner with programs that enable community development? How do they give back?

Some places and programs we like for their sustainability:

Chobe Game Lodge and their all female guiding teams, African Bushcamps, Little Chem Chem, Grootbos, and Asilia 

Educate yourself about the location

Understanding the history of the location you visit not only enriches your travelling experience, it allows you to develop a more complete understanding for that country and how to help. If you visit South Africa for instance, understanding it’s incredible, traumatic and diverse history is paramount to understanding the country as a whole; from the food you eat, the languages you hear, to how you can make a positive impact. If you would like reading suggestions that pertain to the places you will be visiting, please check our library. 

Promote the good by aiding it. Do not contribute to harmful practices. 

Many children begging in the streets are not working for themselves, and are forced to give the majority of what they earn to the people who put them there. While it may be tempting to hand out things like candy to children on the street, there are many more useful things you can donate, which do not promote a culture of begging. Such places can help guide you to what a specific community’s needs are. We like:

Pack for a Purpose – help for tourists who want to give back, but aren’t sure what to bring

Days for Girls – Empowers women and girls around the globe providing sustainable feminine hygiene solutions and health education.

Kilamanjaro Porters Assistance Project – Established in 2003, KPAP’s mission is to improve the working conditions of the porters on Kilimanjaro.

Keep your experience going and spread knowledge once you return home

Join environmental groups and support human rights organizations that help Africa. Once home, be an educator and a promotor of sustainability for the people you met and the animals you saw. We like: UNICEF, World Wildlife Fund, African Conservation Centre, and Wildlife Protection Solutions.