Sustainable and Responsible Travel Programs in Africa

More Eco-Friendly and Responsible Travel Organizations in Africa

By Victoria Schlesinger, GoNOMAD HELPS GUIDE

Mountain Gorillas, Uganda

Imagine yourself 15 feet from a hulking mountain gorilla. No bars, no trainers — out in the forest, tracking them on foot, just you, six other travelers, and your guides. Crouched amidst the dense rain forest underbrush, you watch a family of gorillas as they climb, eat, and play. And basically, they don’t watch you. They hardly care that you’re there. These gorillas, in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of Uganda, have been habituated to humans — meaning they don’t feel threatened by you — through a special conservation project started in 1991.

The world’s mountain gorilla population has dwindled to about 650 due to poaching, spread of disease, and reduction of environment.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was established for the sole purpose of protecting the remaining population of gorillas, about half of which lives in the park.

Visits with the gorillas were created as a means of alternative income to locals; rather than poaching, people have become tour guides for the park, porters, and service people in the tourism industry. Regulations for seeing the gorillas are strict — six people for one hour a day. That’s it.

And if you’re sick, you’re not allowed to go (don’t want to pass your cold on to a gorilla). The permit alone will cost you about $250-300. But rest assured that this money goes directly to the national park, whose mission is to protect the gorillas.

Bwindi is about 500 km from Kampala. It’s a full day and partial four-wheel drive to reach Buhoma and the park’s headquarters. Accommodations range from camping to luxury; make your plans to visit — on your own or via tour operator — at minimum three months in advance.

Intu Afrika, Namibia

When faced with the expansive savannahs and rain forests of Africa, it can be easy to overlook the red sculpted dunes of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa as an equally amazing habitat to visit. Camelthorn trees and acacias dot the land. Weaver birds build their giant communal nests amidst the tree branches, and herds of wildebeest roam the land. The !Kung San, the indigenous people of Southern Africa, have hunted in the desert for centuries.

The Intu Afrika Kalahari Game Reserve is a 23,000 hectacre reserve found north east of Mariental and is the site of a pioneering ecotourism project between the reserve and a !Kung village. Relocating part of the village to the reserve, the !Kung are now shareholders in the reserve and earn revenue via travelers visiting the Intu Afrika Kalahari Game Lodge. You can meet with !Kung in their village for a day, take a nature walk through the desert with an !Kung guide, or plan a 2-3 day hiking trip with them.

Matemwe Bungalows and Mlango Dive Centre, Zanzibar

Where the Indian Ocean meets the northeastern coast of Zanzibar sit sixteen bungalows. Glass-clear water stretches ahead and bush forest behind. There are coral reefs to dive and white powdery beaches to lounge on.

Does this sound like a classic tropical vacation? Well it isn’t. Matemwe Bungalows, while amidst all the elements of an oasis vacation, has its roots sunk deep in ecotourism.

Len and Katrine Horlin, sisters from Sweden, bought land here in 1987 with the intention of starting a business that worked harmoniously with the near-by Muslim village and natural habitat.

Today most of the hotel’s employees come from the village, local goods are bought from them and various local businesses have received seed money from the hotel. Ultimately Katrine and Len would like the hotel to be co-owned by the village.

Constructed in traditional style — the walls of limestone and coral, the roofs of palm fronds — the bungalows are lit by kerosene lamps and the showers heated by solar panels. If you want the relaxation and beauty of a tropical vacation, but don’t want to contribute to the tropical mega-resort phenomenon, check out Matemwe.

Friends of Tanzanian Schools, Inc.

In 1996 Judith and Richard Johnston set out on safari with Thompson Safaris to explore Tanzania. They visited teeming-with-wildlife Amboseli National Park and watched giraffes, black rhinos, and elephants. And then visited near-by Arusha and some of its grade schools. There they met kids and teachers working without basic school supplies — pens, paper, books.

While wildlife viewing thrives in Tanzania and a few tour operators make out quite well, travelers often don’t see the state of poverty and illiteracy of many Tanzanians. Kudos to Thompson Safaris for presenting their travelers with the various facets of Tanzanian life.

Still, moved by their experience in the schools, the Johnson’s returned to the United States and started a non-profit organization that raises funds to assist schools in Tanzania, specifically those around Arusha. They raise money for the construction of classrooms, books and supplies, and cultural exchange between Tanzania and the United States.

You can volunteer at one of the schools they’ve worked with in Tanzania or contact the organization with any other innovative ideas you have for furthering their cause. Or maybe on return from your trip, you’ll decide to start an organization of your own. For more info, contact:
Richard Johnson
(617) 526-6282
60 State Street,
Boston, MA 02109

Tamu Safaris, Kenya

“Small is beautiful” is their motto: a walking safari for two; a village homestay for a family of four. Costas and Sally Christ, Tamu Safaris’ founders, have backgrounds in ecology and anthropology and were pursuing education through travel and ecotourism long before it became a buzz-word. Having lived and worked in Africa, they now create custom trips to a slew of eastern and southern African countries — Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles, Botswana, Madagascar, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe — and specialize in ecotourism.

“We believe that only through small, customized travel can the negative impact of tourism be prevented. We also believe that ecotourism — responsible travel that promotes the protection of nature and sustains the well-being of local peoples — can help to achieve important conservation goals worldwide.” Costas and Sally assess the places they recommend personally and determine their commitment to ecotourism. They also have helped finance local community projects and worked with government organizations to develop ecotourism strategies. And, the philosophy works: past clients have included ABC News and Conde Nast!


When people own the rights to their land, they have a stake in its health. In many ways this is the cornerstone of sustainable development, but unfortunately, land ownership by poor or indigenous people is uncommon.

In Zimbabwe, however, where 42% of the country was designated communal land, the people living on these lands were granted proprietorship. Under those innovative circumstances a model for sustainable land use was born.

CAMPFIRE was started by Africans in 1989. The group educates communities about resource management and, to date, has worked with close to a 1/4 million people. CAMPFIRE is run by various groups, all of which contribute important knowledge and resources to communities participating in CAMPFIRE.

Communities develop a myriad of projects that draw on the resource rights that they own and conservation principles. Projects vary from selling photo and hunting opportunities to tour operators, to working the land themselves, to selling other resources such as timber, and developing tourism projects. CAMPFIRE, while it facilitates natural resource management, also serves as a model for democracy in which people have control of their own futures.

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