Cultural/historical focused tours in Africa?
January 5, 2021 6:37 PM   Subscribe

I started looking through all the great-looking websites linked in this question and got frustrated again that I can't find many tours that aren't 90% safari, South Africa, or Morocco. Does anyone have city-focused tours of anywhere in Africa besides that?

Parameters are:
-I studied history, and lots of history of places all over the continent, so I would be happy to go to any country except Morocco or SA (I have done both countries already, and it kind of annoys me there are so many Cape Town tours but God forbid we show anything but giraffes in Kenya.) I know Africa is a GIANT continent with lots of varied cultures, but I truly would be game to go to anywhere safe enough to visit.
-Something like the Dar es Salaam/Stone Town days of this tour would be ideal!
-The thing that intimidates me about going to, say, Kenya on my own is running around Nairobi on my own as a white woman (I would stick out) and then trying to get around the country. That's why a tour would be nice: they would get me around to all the sights and I wouldn't be on my own.
-Some countries (like Kenya) I think I could probably manage on my own because they are well-trodden tourist routes, so if you have "easier" country recs feel free to mention, but I am most interested in tours.
-This would be after the pandemic, whenever that is :)
posted by clarinet to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You may be interested in looking for tours of Dakar and St. Louis in Senegal. However, these generally cater to French speaking tourists.

Ghana is better for English speakers and might interest you with Accra, Kumasi and Cape Coast

But a lot of the wildlife and natural parks are extremely remarkable and worth the visit! That being said, I think any trip to Tanzania needs to include Zanzibar (beaches and stone town).
posted by raccoon409 at 6:58 PM on January 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Hey, I'll be following the replies you get here as I'm interested in doing this as well. I just wanted to address one thing you said, about being wary of Nairobi. I spent some time - as a white woman, by myself - in Nairobi unexpectedly; I was worried about it beforehand. It turned out to not be a problem at all, and in fact was one of the highlights of my time in east Africa. I didn't feel I stood out there. OTOH, I definitely stood out and drew attention in some of the remote parts of Tanzania I travelled in (for example, attracted a crowd of people shouting at others about my hair colour in one tiny mountain town). So, I think you should always be careful when you travel, but Nairobi has a bad rep that didn't measure up to my actual experience.
posted by jacquilinala at 7:05 PM on January 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Lamu in Kenya is a UNESCO world heritage site on an island and looks gorgeous. I've never been but have seen pictures from a friend who lives in Nairobi.
posted by sepviva at 7:10 PM on January 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The wildlife IS remarkable and let's be real, if I'm in east Africa I will probably go on a safari. BUT...there have gotta be tours of small/medium towns too!

I speak English and Spanish, no French, but thanks for all the answers so far. Happy to hear about certain countries being less intimidating than I might think!!!
posted by clarinet at 7:12 PM on January 5, 2021

There are certainly city tours in Ethiopia. I’m not sure you’ll find those places on slick websites though. Maybe tour books?
posted by bluedaisy at 7:53 PM on January 5, 2021

Best answer: Okay, the political situation is a bit tenuous right now, but we're talking post-pandemic anyway, right? Ethiopia is extraordinary. It's a gorgeous country, the only African country never colonized, with an amazing history. I have traveled there as a solo white woman, or just with my child, and I find the folks warm and friendly. Of course you are going to look like a tourist. That's not necessarily a problem. There are excellent tour guides. It's just a matter of finding a reputable local company based in Addis, not necessarily one with a slick website that's just hiring local folks. And many people speak English there.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:24 PM on January 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Post-pandemic, the first thing to look for will be which tourguides and operators have survived, or are restarting operations. I expect many will--but it will take some checking. All the tourbooks and old discussion forums will be out of date.

I had an excellent experience with the Jolinaiko people a couple of years ago. They do tours in Ghana, Togo and Benin, and also up into Burkina Faso when possible.

My itinerary took me the length of Togo and Benin. There were plenty of historic and cultural sights and experiences along the way, notably in Abomey and Ouidah. Kpalimé, Togo, is a lovely town as well--there are several.

You're correct that a guided tour will help resolve or avoid any challenges related to safety or infrastructure (many of which, frankly, are overblown by the Western media and narrative anyway). If I were there on my own, I would have spent a lot of time dealing with my basic French and learning how things like local transport work, and I would have lost a lot of time I could have spent seeing the country itself.

I've also been to Senegal--I split my time there between a guided tour of the city and countryside and a few days spent by myself in Dakar. Dakar is a modern, fairly cosmopolitan city with a lot to offer--I was able to enjoy myself for a short time there (I do speak just a little French), but I was happy for the guided day to see the highlights as well.

Mali would be fascinating to visit for the history--not sure about the security situation there at the moment.

As we all get closer to reopening, I'd look at the situation country-by-country, and contact individual tour guides and operators to see how they're doing. Good luck!
posted by gimonca at 4:55 AM on January 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

This isn't a ton to go on and isn't perhaps as urban as you'd want, but I follow this trip reporter based in Dubai, and he's been on quite a few short trips to a variety of places on long-weekend-length cultural and nature (not just safari!) trips with what looks like a Meetup group (!) called Trekkup to African destinations like the Meroe pyramids in Sudan, Lalibela and Danakil in Ethiopia, the highlands of Eritrea, and Senegal and Gambia. Perhaps drop Trekkup a line and see if they can connect you with their local partners?
posted by mdonley at 5:43 AM on January 6, 2021

I've been on Imaginative Traveller trips to Morocco and Egypt and would recommend the company. They usually offer a variety of destinations in Africa, some safari, but some cultural including Ethiopia and Sudan.
posted by plonkee at 11:12 AM on January 6, 2021

Please do visit the Women on the Road site for some excellent travel advice. Specific to your interest, check out the essay on Best Places to Visit in Africa for Solo Women Travelers. Even if you’re not interested in going it alone, she offers a ton of great information and links to many other useful articles and resources.
posted by ReginaHart at 6:58 PM on January 6, 2021

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