We’ve all seen Vietnam’s compelling rice terraces, coffee plantations, water buffaloes, pagodas, scenic coastlines and beyond-stunning countryside scenery in countless war movies. Yet nothing can prepare you for the exotic beauty and unique cultural heritage the country actually exhibits.

If you’re planning to travel in Vietnam by motorbike, then you should feel right at home – the majority of road users in the country are on two wheels. Furthermore, a motorcycle tour in Vietnam allows you to take in the scenery at your own pace, reach remote corners tourists rarely get to see, travel slow and mingle with the locals.

Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh cities are excellent starting points for your two-wheeled journey. After you’ve taken your time to fully explore their street markets and temples, you should aim to hit the road and let the true adventure begin.

Just as the US has its Route 66, Vietnam has its symbolic roads too. Join me as we explore some of Vietnam’s best road trips that you should definitely add to your bucket list!

6. The O Quy Ho Pass

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Photo by Khánh Hmoong

The longest mountain pass in Vietnam, O Quy Ho spreads for about 31 miles (50 km) on National Highway 4D, connecting Lao Cai to Lai Chau. Running along the Hoang Lien Song range, the pass’ peak reaches an altitude of 6,560 ft (2,000 m) in a place suggestively called ‘Heaven Gate’.

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Lao Cai, Vietnam

As visually stunning as it may be, this road has its fair share of dangers. Numerous hairpin turns lie perched over an abyss, passing by streams and waterfalls while offering breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. The O Quy Ho Pass is one of the major attractions in northwestern Vietnam, crossing the Hoang Lien Son mountain range covered in white clouds almost all year round. Hence the other nickname – ‘cloudy mountain pass’.

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Best time: summer months. You will pass from cool and cloudy weather in Lao Cai to the sunny, dry and warm weather in Lai Chau. This is also when the road will be surrounded by colorful wild flowers.

Length: 31 miles (50 km).

Top sights: Thac Bac (Silver) Waterfall, Tram Ton (Love) Fall.

5. Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai

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Rice terraces in Mu Cang Chai

The most beautiful rice terraced fields in Vietnam are said to be found in Mu Cang Chai, a highland commune in the Yen Bai province, about 170 miles (280 km) from Hanoi.

Before heading out to see the highlands of northwestern Vietnam with your own two eyes, make sure you take the time to explore the bustling Old Quarters of Hanoi and fill up on the vibrant city’s delicious street food.

One of the highlights of the trip is the Khau Pha Pass, one of the five great passes of northern Vietnam, alongside the above-mentioned O Quy Ho Pass. This high-mountain pass rises 4,900 ft (1,500 m) above sea level in the Mu Cang Chai district and is about 20 miles (32 km) long. The occasional thick fog, risk of landslide and numerous hairpin turns make the Khau Pha Pass one of the most dangerous roads in Vietnam. Of course, this only adds to the thrill.

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Rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai – Photo by Khánh Hmoong

Best time: autumn, between September and November.

Length: about 170 miles (280 km).

Time: minimum 3 days

Top sights: La Pan Tan commune and its rice terraces, Lim Mong village and valley, the hot spring baths at Tu Le.

Insider’s tip: glutinous sweet rice is a must-try specialty in these parts.

4. Saigon – Dalat – Nha Trang

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A quiet and scenic back-road that takes you along beaches and mountains without the hassle of the busy roads, this series of enchanting coastal roads through rural Vietnam, turns motorcycling from Saigon to Dalat into an unforgettable journey.

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Mui Ne Beach – Photo by josemarques

The first section of the road takes you from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne, passing by mangrove forests, pristine beaches, and mountain scenery. Mui Ne has long been considered ‘Vietnam’s Hawaii’, a laid-back beach resort. From Mui Ne to Dalat, the road takes you from sea level all the way to 1,500 ft (450 m), passing through the Dai Ninh and Prenn passes.

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If you have enough time on your hands, you can consider setting aside a day or two to explore Vietnam’s Central Highlands, starting from Dalat.

The section from Dalat to Nha Trang is one of southern Vietnam’s most scenic routes. You will pass by farmlands and rolling hills, and climb the Long Lanh Pass before reaching the coastal resort of Nha Trang.

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Best time: all year round.

Length: around 370 miles (600 km).

Time: minimum 4 days.

Top sights: Mui Ne Beach, Ke Ga Hamlet, the Cu Chi tunnels (over 125 miles/200 km built by the Communist guerillas during the war), the Prenn Waterfall.

Insider’s tip: Mui Ne Beach is famous for surfing, kitesurfing and windsurfing. The best waves can be found between August and November.

3. Da Nang to Lang Co through the Hai Van Pass

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A tad bit shorter than the other roads on our list, this route is no less exciting. Lang Co is considered one of Vietnam’s most beautiful beaches and is located just 19 miles (30 km) from Da Nang. It may be close, but to get to it, you must pass through one of the country’s most stunning mountain passes – the Hai Van pass.

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Photo by Andy Kristono

Its name, ‘Sea Cloud’, comes from the mist that rises from the South China Sea. The 13-mile (21 km) long pass on National Route 1A is one of the most iconic roads in the world, with hairpin turns along lush jungles, the sea on one side and the rest of Vietnam on the other. In 2005, a tunnel opened beneath the mountain, meaning that only adventure lovers ride through the Hai Van Pass these days.

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Lang Co Beach – Photo by Nguyen Anh Tuan

Best time: between April and July. This is when the water is warm enough to swim.

Length: 19 miles (30 km).

Top sights: Chan May beach, Vong hai Dai (Sea Watchtower), Bach Ma (White Horse) National Park, Lap An Lagoon in Lang Co.

Insider’s tip: the sea food in Lang Co is as delicious as it is cheap!

2. The Ho Chi Minh Trail

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Photo by enjosmith

Pass by coffee plantations, scenic rice fields with their iconic water buffalos, reed-covered lakes and fascinating hill-tribe villages as you ride your motorbike from Saigon to Hanoi on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Built during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the Ho Chi Minh Trail used to be an intricate network of roads and tunnels in the western Truong Son mountain range. It connected the north and south of Vietnam through the neighboring countries of Laos and Cambodia. After the war, the trail was abandoned.

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Starting with 2004, the Vietnamese government decided to turn the old trail into a highway. It is now completely changed and no longer offers the off-road motorcycle rides that it was so loved for. Nevertheless, it is an exciting motorbike road trip through Vietnam’s remarkable countryside. Thanks to its light traffic, motorbiking the Ho Chi Minh Trail is on every biker’s bucket list.

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If you start in Hanoi and go south, the first major attraction you’ll encounter and one of the most spectacular runs on the Ho Chi Minh Trail is the Phong Nha to Khe Sanh road. The journey takes you near the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, which shelters the world’s largest cave discovered so far – the San Doong Cave.

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Dau Mau Bridge on the HCM Trail – Photo by manhhai

Best time: March to September. However, the Ho Chi Minh Road runs the length of the country and is quite mountainous, which makes it hard to determine the best time of year – severe weather changes may occur, which is why it is best to check the weather forecast before heading out.

Length: 1,168 miles (1,880 km) from Saigon to Hanoi.

Time: the average duration is 2 weeks, but the trail can easily be split into smaller sections.

Top sights: Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, the history-filled cities of Hue and Hoi An, Dau Mau Bridge, the small fishing village of Bai Xep, Dalat and Ho Chi Minh cities.

Insider’s tip: Dalat (supposedly) has some of the best coffee in the world.

1. The Road of Happiness: Ha Giang

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Its name alone is reason enough to get you to come here. Highway 4C, better known as the Road of Happiness, is a winding road in the northern Ha Giang province. The hundreds of hairpin turn over precipices are certainly not for beginners, but those who dare venture beyond the touristy routes and into the unknown are in for a treat.

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Photo by Khánh Hmoong

This remote, mysterious area of Vietnam that borders China’s Yunnan province makes motorcycling in Ha Giang the last frontier for bikers traveling through the country. To get from Ha Giang to the Dong Van karst plateau Geopark, you will pass by impressive limestone walls, granite outcrops, rice terraced fields and friendly local hill tribes like the proud Black Hmong.

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Photo by Peter Garnhum

The highlight of the trip is the 12-mile (20 km) section between Dong Van and Meo Vac. This ride is said to be the most splendid in the entire country, climbing through the Ma Pi Lang Pass with numerous viewpoints above vertical cliff walls. Twisting and turning while perched on the side of a massive gorge, the road connecting the town is not for the faint-hearted.

Best time: summer (June-July) and autumn (September-November).

Length: around 200 miles (330 km) round-trip.

Time: minimum 3 days.

Top sights: Dong Van rocky plateau, Palace of King H’Mong, the many hill tribe villages on the way.

Insider’s tip: plan your trip around the Dong Van Sunday Market and have freshly cooked Pho (traditional noodle soup).

Source: BookMotorcycleTours

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Is Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro Really for You?

By Octavia Drughi

Each year, around 25,000 people travel to Tanzania in the hope of reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is on top of many adventure seekers’ bucket-list. Is it on yours as well?

The symmetrical snow-capped volcanic cone is synonymous with Africa and is all about superlatives – the world’s largest freestanding mountain rises in perfect isolation above Tanzania’s open plains and savannas. You’d be surprised that Mount Kilimanjaro is not considered a technical climb. This is because you don’t need an oxygen tank, ropes or prior technical climbing experience. Especially when compared to the world’s tallest and deadliest mountains, it is fairly accessible for the average trekker. But it’s not exactly a walk in the park either! You might want to think twice before taking on the challenge, so here are some aspects to consider before deciding whether climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is an adventure you ought to pursue:

An introduction to Mount Kilimanjaro

In northern Tanzania, at the border with Kenya, the Kilimanjaro National Park is home to the largest freestanding volcanic mass in the world. Rising 19,341 ft (5,895 m), Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain on the African continent, which also makes it one of the Seven Summits (the highest mountains on each of the seven continents). It consists of three volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira. The summit, Uhuru Peak, is found on Kibo, a dormant but not extinct volcano, its last volcanic activity having occurred some 200 years ago.

There are seven major routes to the summit, which take anywhere between four to eight days. However, the success rate depends on the number of days spent on the trek. The more days, the better you will be acclimatized. Five-day routes have a far lower success rate than eight-day routes.

The Marangu Route is the only route on the mountain with hut accommodation, which makes it one of the most popular. It is also the shortest and the most crowded. It can be completed in five days, but climbers are advised to take an extra day to acclimatize at Horombo Hut in order to increase their chances of reaching the summit.

According to statistics from the Kilimanjaro National Park, around 50 percent of climbers choose the Machame Route to get to Uhuru Peak. The route is indeed scenic, passing through varying landscapes. It is, however, more difficult than others, as climbers are faced with the Barranco Wall, which they must climb on day four of the trek. No climbing skills are required, as the wall is often described as climbing a staircase, but a good fitness level and mental preparation will help you feel much more at ease during the climb.

Preparation

As with most high mountains, training, planning and careful preparation are key. Before the 1990s, you could just head down to the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro with nothing but a good old pair of boots, a backpack and some crackers, and attempt the summit on your own. Since 1991, it is compulsory to sign up with an agency if you wish to climb Kili, as it is affectionately called. The agency will provide a guide, porters and a cook. Food is usually healthy and wholesome, and vegans/vegetarians can easily be catered for as long as they give the agency notice in advance. The national language is Swahili, but up on the mountain, you will hear Kichagga, spoken by the Chagga people. English is spoken among the guides and the more educated crewmembers.

Kindly note that signing up with a company does not guarantee your success. The average time to complete the trek is six days, which is quite short for a mountain this tall, but the trails are steep and you should prepare yourself months in advance, both physically and mentally. Physical endurance is a must, but mental stamina is even more important. After all, you will be trekking 5 to 10 miles (8 to 16 km) each day.

You don’t have to be a marathoner, but you should be an active person. Short runs through the park, long walks, a little bit of mountaineering will help you get prepared for the challenge ahead. The idea is to increase lung capacity. Still, being fit does not mean you will not have trouble with altitude sickness. That’s a whole different story…


Acclimatization

The altitude is not to be messed with. In fact, it is the thin air that often stands between mountaineers and the summit. Acute mountain sickness (AMS), also known as altitude sickness, is triggered when going too fast to high altitudes, not giving the body enough time to acclimatize and adapt. Symptoms include fatigue, nausea, dizziness, diarrhea and nasty headaches, all caused by the lack of oxygen. Walking slowly and spending more time in each camp helps prevent acute symptoms. Altitude sickness is nothing to joke about, as it can lead to pulmonary or cerebral edema, which can prove fatal.

The weather

I’m sure we all associate Africa with sunny days and warm weather. Mount Kilimanjaro is here to tell you otherwise. It inspired Ernest Hemingway’s short story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, written 1938 after having been on a safari in Tanzania, in which he questions morality and philosophy, even his own existence as a writer. Contrary to the title, it is not as snow-covered as one would expect. Nevertheless, the weather can be tricky.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro will take you from 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) to under 20 Fahrenheit (-7 Celsius) up on its alpine meadows, with strong winds making matters even worse. This will make you put on layers over layers of clothes. Still, you must make sure you don’t pack too many, as there is a limited weight and volume porters will carry.

Best months for trekking are January through mid-March and June to October. March, April and November are the wettest months. The cold season usually lasts between December and May, and snow levels are at their highest between November and May.

Why climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

This is a matter of personal choice and you are the only one fit to answer this question. If you are a mountaineer, climber, or simply someone who has always dreamed of reaching the summit, then, by all means, go for it! Other things you might enjoy, or at least find interesting, are:

Encountering strange animals that are simply out of this world.

Experiencing four different seasons in one week.

Reaching a serious altitude.

Taking amazing photographs while crossing farmlands, lush rainforests, alpine meadows and lunar landscapes.

Watching incredible sunsets.

Should you think twice?

Yes! No matter your training and dreams, you should think twice. Adventure-addicts might think of it as a perfect getaway, but remember this is not your average holiday. If you’re looking to relax, forget about it! It might not be a difficult summit, but you will have to fight for it!

It is estimated that between three to seven people die each year on Mount Kilimanjaro, mainly due to acute mountain sickness, falls and hypothermia. Altitude sickness and poor physical and mental training cause hundreds to abandon the trails each year. Not to mention the air will get thinner as you go higher, it will be uncomfortable, even painful at times, and you may have second thoughts.

You might not reach the summit, and you have to be okay with that. Most people who do not make it to Uhuru claim they still enjoyed the trek. But disappointment can easily creep in, and you must be prepared to face it. Even if you do reach the summit, you might still experience nausea, dizziness, dehydration, diarrhea and other nasty symptoms that can make the experience pretty painful.

Reaching the summit of a baffling natural wonder, a snow-capped mountain at the Equator can become more than just a dream. As long as you do not underestimate the challenge and are ready to step out of your comfort zone, you too can place your foot on the roof of Africa.

About

Octavia Drughi

Octavia is a travel writer for BookAllSafaris.com. She is a passionate mountaineer, tree hugger and adventure addict who believes every living creature deserves care and respect.

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You planned your summer break months in advance, thought about hitting the beaches and doing some quality surfing while you’re at it, but you’re not sure whether the time and place coincide with the season. Choosing the right surfing season and destination makes the difference between an unforgettable surf holiday and possibly the worst time away.

Have you ever wondered when is the best time to catch the waves in the world’s most popular surfing destinations? From beginners to experienced and pro surfers, the ones who like to spin the globe and pick a spot to those who prefer to do thorough research before deciding, there’s a season for all. The team at BookSurfCamps.com is here to lend a helping hand, and has put together the ultimate surf seasons guide that will show you when and where you need to be!

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Thousands of years before the Europeans began colonizing Africa, the continent’s inhabitants set out to colonize the world. Today, it remains a culturally rich territory, with the majority of its people of indigenous origins, quite different from one another in terms of language, culture and traditions.

We all associate the African safari with amazing wildlife and landscapes, and we often overlook the essential. A safari is about the voyage. There are more than 3,000 tribes in Africa, speaking around 2,000 different languages. Although many ethnic groups have adopted organized religions brought by Europeans, more than 100 million people still follow traditional African religions and worship secondary deities.

Their practices, as strange and out of this world as they might seem, all serve a purpose. At least the tribe members strongly believe they do. After all, belief is key. If it’s authenticity you’re looking for, Africa’s tribe chiefs are bound to show you a fascinating world governed by the unwritten laws of nature.

The Hadzabe, Tanzania

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The Hadza peope - Photo by Frans Peeters

No rules, no calendars, complete and utter freedom... The Hadzabe, or Hadza People, depend almost entirely on wild food. They don’t raise livestock and don’t grow food either. Often referred to as the Wandering Bushmen, their lifestyle has not changed much over the past 10,000 years. They continue to live as nomads, and oral traditions influence their life choices. During the dry season, they fall asleep under trees, listening to stories about their famous ancestors.

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The Hadza peope - Photo by Frans Peeters

A bow and arrows, a knife, a cooking pot, an ax, a water container and a pipe are all the possessions a Hadzabe could ask for. The string on their bow is made from giraffe or impala tendons, and the arrows are smeared with poison made from desert rose. Women gather berries and tubers. Men hunt and collect honey.

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The Hadza peope - Photo by Frans Peeters

The Hadza People do not believe in weddings. If a man and a woman sleep by the same fire, after a while they consider themselves married, no strings attached. They are both free to leave if they do not feel comfortable in their arrangement.

Around 1,000 of Hadza tribespeople live today on reservation lands south of the Equator, concentrated around Tanzania’s Lake Eyasi, a soda lake south of the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro.

The San Bushmen, Botswana

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Group of San Bushmen - Photo by Mario Micklisch

Renowned for their deep connection with the land, the San people are believed to be the first inhabitants of Southern Africa. Genetic evidence suggests they are among the oldest peoples in the world, placed at the root of the human tree. What’s more, these Bushmen are one of the 14 known existing ancestral population clusters from which humankind descents.

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For millenniums, they have maintained a delicate balance with the environment. Today, their existence hangs by a thread. Traditionally, the San people are hunter-gatherers. Colonization and land redistribution decimated their population. They were evicted from their ancestral land during the 1980s diamond trade boom, were forbidden to hunt and forced to apply for permits. Some pursued farming, yet most of them still gather medicinal herbs and plants for food, set animal traps and make tobacco from zebra dung.

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San Bushwoman smoking - Photo by Mario Micklisch

There are around 100,000 San Bushmen scattered throughout Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Angola. They prefer to be identified using the name of the country they live in, as each tribe has its own identity, different language (all involving a clicking sound) and traditions. Botswana’s Kalahari Game Reserve and Makgadikgadi Pan remain their main residences.

The Himba, Namibia

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In northwestern Namibia, a tribe of nomadic hunter-gatherers and pastoralists have managed to adapt to the harsh, unfriendly environment of the Kunene region. The Himba people move from one waterhole to the next. Also known as the “Red People of Africa,” around 20,000 – 50,000 aboriginals inhabit these realms today. Their nickname comes from the mixture they use to cover their skin, made from butter fat and ochre (natural earth pigment containing iron oxide). Called otijze, it protects them from the sun, giving their skin a reddish tone.

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Himba woman - Photo by igrodo

The Himba breed cattle. Men deal with legal and political matters, while women are responsible for most household tasks and are particularly noted for their beauty. A strange custom among these people is that women are not allowed to wash with water. Instead, they take daily smoke baths for personal hygiene.

A visit to one of their villages will provide insight into the structure of their community and architecture of their houses, and travelers can learn more about their animistic religion and their holy fire – Okuruwo. Continuously kept alive, it symbolizes their ancestors and helps tribespeople meditate with their god Mukuru.

The Samburu, Kenya

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The Samburu tribe - Photo by Aftab Uzzaman

Close relatives of the Maasai people, the Samburu came to the plains of northern Kenya from the upper Nile region. They are a Maa-speaking tribe of semi-nomadic pastoralists – they grow cattle, sheep, goats and camels, taking their livestock from one water source and grazing area to the next. The Samburu people are considered even more remote and traditional than the Maasai.

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Samburu warrior - Photo by Njambi Ndiba

Circumcision is still practiced in the Samburu tribe, both in boys and girls. For boys, it marks the beginning of their warrior life. For girls, it symbolizes becoming a woman. Once circumcised, a girl can be given away in an arranged marriage. Traditional diet consists of milk and blood from their cows. Meat is reserved for special occasions. Dancing occupies a special place in Samburu culture, as men gather in a circle and jump high from a standing point.

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Samburu men jumping high - Photo by Wendy Lin

The Samburu People are a gerontocracy, a society governed by old people. Their leaders are the eldest members of the tribe, believed to hold the power to curse younger tribe members. They are very religious too – their god Nkai is considered to be the ultimate source of punishment, and the tribe elders follow his word to the bone.

The Zulu, South Africa

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Zulu people - Photo by Willem van Valkenburg

South Africa is impressive for a great number of reasons. Its diverse culture and traditions are among the first. The Zulu people originate from East Africa, from where they migrated to South Africa during what is known as the Bantu Migration. Today, they are the largest ethnic group in South Africa.

The largest concentration of Zulu people can be found in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, an agriculturally fertile region, where their numbers range between 10 and 11 million. Smaller groups are scattered around Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho.

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Zulu people - Photo by Willem van Valkenburg

The Zulu wear western clothing just like us. Traditional attire is only worn on special occasions and during rites of passage (birth, puberty, marriage, death). While most Zulu people are now Christian, they have kept their belief in their ancestral spirits and in their supreme being, or creator, called Unkulunkulu.

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Zulu People - Photo by Pe_Wu

In South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, cultural villages like Shakaland and Simunye Zulu have opened their gates to visitors. Tourists can experience their culture first-hand, observe various crafts, dance and chant. Travelers are invited to participate in their daily activities – tending livestock, building and decorating huts, brewing beer, making pottery, weaving baskets, ritual dancing and occasional visits to the traditional healer.

The Maasai, Kenya and Tanzania

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The Maasai - Photo by Paul

Renowned warriors and herders, the Maasai once roamed vast territories in East Africa. Nowadays, their remaining villages in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania are open for visitors to have a peek into their daily lives, traditions and culture. The image of a Maasai warrior watching over his herd from atop a hill near the settlement is a memory to last a lifetime.

Traditionally a nomadic people, most tribes are now rather sedentary. The Maasai depend on their livestock – they keep cattle, goats and sheep. They are strictly against killing wild animals.

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Maasai child in Kenya - Photo by CIFOR

They ignore the comforts of the modern world and repel its influences, thus having managed to maintain their traditional values. The Maasai have remained a tribe of warriors. When boys come of age, they must fulfill certain tasks. One of them is called adumu – ten or more days of singing and dancing.

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Maasai warriors - Photo by alison-jane

The second most popular African tribe after the Zulu, the Maasai’s language is Maa, but most of them speak Swahili and English too. They are easy to recognize, with their pierced, stretched earlobes, bright colored ornaments and the red cloths they wear called Shuka. They live in shelters made from branches and grass. A strange custom visitors might notice is spitting as a form of blessing. They spit on newborns to protect them from evil spirits and spit on their hands before shaking the hand of an elder.

Tribal visit” is a term that is beginning to catch on. Unfortunately, most cultural safaris are a bit shallow – a show for travelers with some traditional clothes and dances. For a true sense of authenticity, go deeper. Participate in daily activities, observe the lives of tribespeople and support their tribal culture.

The truth is many tribes now depend on tourism, the same tourism that created problems in the past. Unable to sustain themselves in their villages, tribe members are moving to the city. Lacking social skills and education, they are finding it hard to adapt and survive. Not to mention they are away from their families. Opening their villages to tourists might offer a solution to preserve their traditions and keep the families together. Tribal visits now provide income to help tribes survive in our harsh world, wilder than the wildest plains of Africa.

Source: BookAllSafaris.com

Octavia Drughi

I'm a travel writer for BookAllSafaris.com. I'm a passionate mountaineer, tree hugger and adventure addict who believes every living creature deserves care and respect.

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