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History, Culture & Cuisine: Our Top Guided Walking Tours

Africa’s allure lies in its wide, open spaces and game-packed reserves. Many travel to this wild continent to get as far as possible from cities and buildings, people and noise. They come to seek out herds of elephant roaming free under a vast, blue sky; to feel their hearts beat faster as they watch a lion stalk its prey and to let life’s everyday niggles slot back into perspective in ink-black nights lit by the stars of the Milky Way.

Safaris are filled with moments such as these, but along with the tooth-and-claw thrills of raw wilderness, another highlight of any trip to Africa is certain to be the people you meet. This land is made up of a rich diversity of warm-hearted people with fascinating stories to share; stories about their countries’ violent pasts and hopeful futures, their everyday lives, traditions and beliefs.

Whether it be a few extra hours in the urban jungle of Johannesburg or that one Cape Town morning away from the beach, the relaxed pace and authentic interaction of a guided walking tour is one of the best ways to hear these stories and experience the soul of the place you're visiting.

Before you jet off to your safari lodge and waiting game vehicle, take time to explore on foot with one of our top guided walking tours.

History, Culture & Cuisine - Africa Safari Expert Emma Harrop
Africa Safari Expert Emma tucks into a tasty treat while enjoying a gourmet walking tour in Cape Town's Bo-Kaap suburb.

Cape Town: Gourmet Walking Tour

So much about a culture is expressed through its cuisine. I recently joined local guide Pam McOnie for a gourmet walking tour around Cape Town’s conveniently compact city centre. Pam really knows her way around the local foodie spots, and her energy and enthusiasm makes for easy and interesting conversation – she'll soon make you feel right at home in this beautiful city!

Between stories of the history of the Cape, Pam introduced us to a diverse selection of cooks and their gourmet treats: we chatted to Wardia about life in the Bo Kaap while snacking on her crisp, golden samosas, and learned about Victor’s township cooking school as he dished up helpings of his samp-and-beans soul food. 

History, Culture & Cuisine - Chiappini Street in the Bo Kaap
Chiappini Street in the suburb of Bo-Kaap is famous for its brightly coloured homes, making it a feature on most Cape Town city walking tours.
History, Culture & Cuisine - in the Bokaap
Festive cooking on a Cape Fusion gourmet tour.
History, Culture & Cuisine - Product Manager Carlien Parsons
Product Manager Carlien enjoys a quick coffee break on her walking tour.

From bunny chow to babotie, street food to artisan coffee shops, this tour celebrates the full range of flavours that make up the Cape. You do a fair bit of walking and a lot of eating so make sure you start the tour hungry!

Travel Notes: stay in the Cape Town city centre, a short stroll from delis and coffee shops, and ask your Africa Safari Expert to book your gourmet walking tour with Pam of Cape Fusion Tours.

Johannesburg: Urban Culture & Street Art

Most travellers see South Africa’s biggest city as a mere pit stop, a travel hub to pass through on their way to wilder destinations. Give the "City of Gold" a little of your time, however, and you’ll quickly discover that Johannesburg has a wonderful energy and vibrancy, and is the glamorous powerhouse of the new South Africa.

The best way to explore this city of contrasts is on an inner-city walking tour with Jo Buitendach from Past Experiences. I would never have recommended wandering about the Joburg CBD 10 years ago, but a lot has changed in the past decade. You can safely explore with a local guide who knows where to walk and which areas to avoid.

Past Experience’s inner city tours are as diverse as the city itself: discover secret shopping spots, see the positive changes resulting from the urban regeneration programme, explore the superb architecture or public art. A tour called Mandela’s Joburg explores where South Africa's great statesman and his contemporaries worked and carried out their resistance activities.

History, Culture & Cuisine - street art in Jozi
Eclectic street art, graffiti and culture combine in one of Johanneburg's most popular tours, the inner city art walk.
History, Culture & Cuisine - Jozi inner city art tour
The Jozi inner city art tour is interactive and informative.
History, Culture & Cuisine - on the tour in Joburg
Wall murals in Joburg's inner city will capture your imagination.

A good friend of mine joined Jo for a guided walking tour looking at the graffiti around Newtown, the cultural precinct of Joburg’s inner city. Her verdict: “All I can say is go and do this walk! I loved the streets of the Joburg CBD, the strange blend of derelict and up-and-coming architecture; the graffiti, wall murals and amateur art. Not only does Jo have great passion and enthusiasm for her city, but she’s also doing her masters in graffiti so she really is the perfect guide!”

Travel Notes: while I wouldn’t recommend staying in the CBD itself, there is some fantastic Johannesburg accommodation in the city’s leafy affluent suburbs, and whether your interest is architecture, history or art, you’ll find a guided walking tour to match your tastes with Past Experiences.

Stone Town: History of Slaves & Spices

Some people find Stone Town overwhelming: the intense spicy scents and confusing tangle of alleyways with buildings all on top of each other. Yes, it is bewildering, run down and bewitching! It is also a town with so much history and character that for the majority of visitors. Stone Town stands out as the real highlight of their Zanzibar beach holiday.

Stone Town is small enough to wander around without a guide, but you can’t be in a rush as chances are you’ll soon lose your bearings in the maze of narrow streets. If (or when) you do get lost, see it as part of the adventure: not knowing what lies around the next corner, dodging zooming motorcycles, discovering tucked-away coffee shops and wandering past intricately carved wooden doors.

History, Culture & Cuisine - a dhow off the coast of Stone Town
A lazy dhow sails past the Stone Town port - a common sight.
History, Culture & Cuisine - streets of Stone Town
When wandering the Stone Town streets, be sure to bring your camera.
History, Culture & Cuisine - aerial shot of Cape Town
Explore a Sultan's Palace, sip cocktails on Hemingway's favourite verandah and encounter the haunting slave memorial.

While you can stroll around Stone Town on your own, I really recommend a walking tour with a professional guide. You'll hear the fascinating stories behind this UNESCO World Heritage Site, like the Anglican Cathedral, which is built over one of East Africa's original - and busiest  - slave markets. The cathedral's timber cross is carved from the branch of the same mvula tree where Dr David Livingstone's heart is buried. Livingstone dedicated his life to ending the slave trade in Africa and was part of a group of missionaries who purchased young men and women from Stone Town's market, to free them, providing them with an education and the opportunity to start a new life. 

Other highlights of Stone Town include buying fresh spices in the market, original Tinga Tinga artworks and cool cotton kikoys (a must-buy on any safari shopping list!) and visiting the Forodhani Night Market for local “pizza” and perfectly grilled seafood skewers. Read more on Exploring Stone Town for some visual delights!

Travel Notes: stay in the heart of Stone Town at Jafferji House & Spa, an elegantly restored boutique hotel with true Zanzibari style. The hotel will happily arrange your walking tour with an excellent local guide.

Written by Sandra Mallinson. Connect with her on Google+.

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