Tourism is more popular than ever. With flight prices falling all the time and digital media bombarding us with images of beautiful, exotic locations, those far-flung reaches of the planet seem closer than ever.
However, the huge increase in tourism has had negative consequences in certain parts of the world. Although it often brings economic benefits for the local people, this is sometimes accompanied by environmental degradation.
In Africa, in particular, parts of the world that were relatively secluded are now opening their doors to tourists. If you want to explore Sub-Saharan Africa with a clear conscience, here are a few handy tips.
Research your tour operator
When travelling around the Great Plains of Africa, you will find that many activities are best undertaken with a tour guide, as they will know the local area and can help keep you safe. However, some tour companies will exhibit high levels of environmental and cultural sensitivity and others will not.
Select a tour operator that has a strong connection with the local community, allowing you to meet the people and experience their way of life. So, whether you are looking for African Safari Tours or climbing up Mt Kilimanjaro, be careful who you book with.
Take personal responsibility
The first step to responsible tourism is a personal one. Treat your destination as if it is somewhere you’ll be living for the rest of your life and give it the respect it deserves.
Take care not to litter, use biodegradable toiletries if camping, and think carefully before taking any photographs. Many locals are happy to welcome tourists all over Africa, but you should respond to this welcome by being respectful and culturally sensitive.
If in doubt, try to remember that responsible tourism should leave the environment in the same state as it was before you arrived. If you follow this guidance, you’ll ensure that locals and subsequent tourists can enjoy the environment for years to come.
Image source: Lattitude Canada Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Giving a helping hand
If you’re interested in the good that tourism can bring to Sub-Saharan Africa, then perhaps a volunteer programme would be worth exploring.
These initiatives let you see the continent in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. You’ll immerse yourself in the indigenous culture, help with renovation projects and teach at local schools. You’ll spend the day volunteering with your particular project before being taken back to your accommodation to discuss your day with your fellow travellers. Depending on your location, you may also be able visit a local market and practise the native language.
Although these projects won’t solve any of the major issues facing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa overnight, you will be giving something back and expanding your horizons, all while seeing a new part of the world.
If you want to explore Africa’s Great Plains, then it’s important to carry out some planning first. It is understandable that you may want to visit new places and experience new things, but think carefully about how your tourist activities affect the local people and environment. As long as you do, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy an amazing trip that is also sustainable and responsible.