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A Guide to Sustainable Tourism in South Africa

Knysna Township in South Africa

What’s the go-to destination for sustainable and socially-minded travellers looking for wild ethical beauty? Why, South Africa, of course! This culturally diverse and affordable tourist destination has a wide choice of ethical, environmentally-minded practices, cultural heritage options, and social tourism benefits for many local communities. 

From mountain hikes, wildlife safaris, cultural and historical tours such as visiting Robben Island or the District Six museum, and community projects, such as township tours and supporting local communities; South Africa is a unique destination with so much to offer, even for those on a budget. 

What is Sustainable Travel and Tourism?

The World Tourism Organisation describes sustainable travel and tourism as policies that “respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities and provide socio-economic benefits for all.” Sustainable tourism should conserve the communities and areas that benefit from tourism. Sustainable tourists MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® by valuing their low environmental impact and aim to be socially responsible. 

Some other ways to travel sustainably are to buy locally, contribute towards a country’s conservation, avoid unethical human-animal interactions, support community projects, and research the country’s cultures and history. There is far more to the Rainbow Nation than the Big Five. South Africa is home to numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is a complex and multifaceted country, proud of its heritage and conscious of the need to display its history and hard-won lessons.

Image source:Contiki

South Africa is the Perfect Budget-Friendly Sustainable Destination

Sustainable tourism doesn’t have to be expensive. South Africa is a developing country with a currency conversion rate that highly benefits budget tourists, offering them incredible bang for their buck. This country also relies upon its tourism industry and has invested heavily in its ecotourism and the communities that support those resources. Ecotourism promotes the conservation of natural resources, and South Africa is not short on ecotourist choices.

15 best places to visit in South Africa

15 best places to visit in South Africa

Steve Powdrill
by Steve Powdrill Jan 28, 2022

Ethical Safaris

Like travelling in any country, you’ve got to do your homework. Not every wildlife experience is ethical and sustainable. Unethical farms may entice unwitting tourists to pet and feed animals. These well-intentioned tourists may unknowingly contribute to canned hunting practices where animals are raised for the sole purpose of hunting them. Thankfully, the South African government plans to end this unethical practice soon. 

The Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park is one the largest game reserves in Africa and is named after Paul Kruger. Initially established by Kruger in 1898 as The Sabi Game Reserve, it was renamed the Kruger National Park in 1926. 

The Kruger is an extensive conservation area overseen and maintained by park managers and is a protected home to hundreds of indigenous birds, insects, reptiles, plants, and animal species. Although it is a popular destination, it is the most extensive conservation in South Africa. It aims to balance its biodiversity and environmental sustainability with the number of tourists visiting it annually.

The conservation is only sustainable as long as it has visitors to fund that sustainability. Visitors, in turn, are rewarded with incredible safari experiences. In short, it is a symbiotic relationship between sustainability and tourism, each heavily reliant upon the other.

Kruger National Park

Image source:Contiki

Aquila Private Game Reserve, Cape Town

Aquila Private Game Reserve is a great safari destination near Cape Town, where tourists can see the Big Five without venturing too far from the Mother City. It was established to help conserve and rehabilitate South Africa’s wildlife. Aquila aims to create local job opportunities, support communities, help prevent poaching.

Aquila Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Conservation Centre is a non-profit organisation that treats and releases wild animals back into the bush. Here at Aquila, tourists can choose half-day, full-day, or overnight trips and safaris, accessed by car, quad-bike, or horseback.  

Sustainable Cultural Tourism in South Africa

Travellers looking for budget-friendly sustainable tourism options in South Africa should also consider the local communities and the diverse cultural heritage South Africa offers. It is a country known as a melting pot of African and European history. It is recognised internationally for its struggles and influence on how the world now discusses human rights. 

Knysna Township in South Africa

Image source:Contiki

Knysna Township Tour

When researching budget-friendly township tours, the ethically-minded tourist should consider how that particular tour benefits the communities it drives through. They are not just deprived neighbourhoods to be ogled and photographed. 

The Knysna Township Tour, led by local guides from the township’s community, financially supports that community directly. Crime levels are low because of the township’s high employment rate. Many in the community are involved in construction, the lumber industry, and tourism. This community thrives because of how reliant they have become on each other, the resources on hand, and the tourists that come to explore that community’s self-sustainability.

Eswatini (Swaziland)

Eswatini, formally known as Swaziland, is landlocked by South Africa and is one of Africa’s smallest countries. This African village tour is one of Contiki’s MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences and takes you to a village in Eswatini, where you get to meet the locals, learn siSwasti greetings, try on traditional clothes, and meet the village’s female chief. Tourists and locals alike get to explore different cultures and learn from them.

Cultural practices of Eswatini

Image source:Contiki

The District Six Museum, Cape Town

The District Six Museum in Cape Town offers former residents a communal space to gather and share stories of District Six – an area of Cape Town that was once a thriving community before the Apartheid government forced them out. Visitors interested in Cape Town’s cultural heritage can explore the area alone, opt for a guided tour with a former resident, or visit the museum and listen to stories about the area. 

District Six has been nominated as a National Heritage Site, which will preserve the area and history for future generations. District Six’s deserted streets will forever remind South Africa and the world that oppression and racial hatred can happen. It also reminds us that we can overthrow that oppression. It represents the evils of the country’s past, its redemption, and the promise of a better future for its many people and cultures. 

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