Post pandemic, there is a growing global demand for experiential travel opportunities that take travellers on dynamic journeys filled with culture, meaningful encounters and immersive, authentic adventures.
This rise in experiential travel has been so impactful that from 2019 to the first half of 2023 Mabrian Technologies, a travel intelligence company, has found that there have been over 400 million tourism-related interactions on social media platforms relating to this travel trend. Further illustrating the demand for experiential travel, Research and Markets has projected that the tours and activities reservations market (which makes up a big part of experiential travel) is projected to be worth US$264.4 billion by 2030!
Different parts of South Africa already cater to travel trends like slow travel, bleisure trips and multigenerational travel - with experiential travel being no different. Below are some examples of Mzansi’s best experiential travel experiences that are sure to be a hit with local and international visitors alike.
The eclectic flavours of SA
Culinary tourism is a burgeoning trend within experiential travel as it’s a great way to have an authentic, cultural experience. Food is a universal language and every country or region has their own customs, flavours and connections to specific meals, and the rituals associated with savouring them. This form of experiential travel is even expected to be worth over $1,796.5 billion globally by 2027!
“Without a doubt one of the best ways to get to know a culture is to try their food. South Africa is an ideal destination to have culinary related experiential adventures as we have such a heterogeneous mix of culture. A tourist can try things like koeksisters, mopane worms, bunny chow or malva pudding with locals and learn as much about SA as they would in a museum or at a historical monument. Having the chance to try different culinary offerings on a guided tour is a great way to immerse yourself in others’ ways of life,” says Anton Gillis, CEO at Kruger Gate Hotel.
In Cape Town visitors can embark on a thrilling gourmet adventure in culturally significant areas such as Bo-Kaap and De Waterkant with Cape Town Essentials Tour, who offer participants four exciting food tastings that weave a tapestry of the Cape’s distinctive roots from the 1760s until present day. There’s even a 3.5-hour immersive social cooking class with Bo-Kaap’s Zainie Misbach, where attendees can connect to Cape Malay traditions by learning to mix masala and make rotis, samoosas, dhaltjies (chilli bites) and chicken curry from scratch.
Spend time learning how to cook a traditional potjiekos meal using fresh vegetables and herbs grown at Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, all while listening to stories about the history of Soweto township in Johannesburg. The potjie (meaning small pot) is a three-legged cauldron that originated in the Netherlands and was brought to South Africa in the 17th century. It’s used to make potjiekos, which is a stew consisting of meat and vegetables cooked over an open fire.
In Durban, indulge in a gastronomic expedition into Zulu culture by trying dishes of Inhloko (beef brain), beef curry, Usu (beef tripe, Inkhukhu (Zulu chicken), Isistambu and chakalaka and cream spinach and uPhuthu (pap) with Africonnection’s authentic Zulu food tour.
One-of-a-kind wildlife experiences
The magnificent Kruger National Park is a haven of natural wonders. Home to magnificent wildlife, the park also offers thrilling experiential adventure activities. It is an idyllic destination for explorers of any age, and time spent in SA’s official World Wonder will leave visitors spellbound.
“One of the best ways to have a truly unforgettable immersive Kruger National Park experience is to embark on a road trip to the park. It’s a 5.5 hour trip from Johannesburg, and there are various enchanting sights to see along the way,” says Watson. The jaunt begins as you head eastwards into Mpumalanga where panoramic views, rugged cliffs and the lush vegetation of the Panorama Route will welcome you. A visit to this part of the world wouldn’t be complete without stopping off at the iconic Blyde River Canyon, which is the largest green canyon in the world and third largest canyon globally. This 26-kilometre long stretch of serenity attracts avid bird lovers as it’s the only site in South Africa where the rare Taita Falcon breeds. And, it’s only a 2.5 hour drive via the R40 and R536 to get from the canyon to Kruger Gate to the park.
"Kruger National Park is the epitome of an experiential travel destination, offering an ideal blend of adventure, education, and unparalleled natural beauty. It's a place where travellers can create cherished memories and fully immerse themselves in meaningful experiences on thrilling guided safaris in our open-air vehicles. In this way guests can connect with awe-inspiring African wildlife while their guides reveal the secrets and history of the bush. Those who prefer self-drive safaris in their own vehicles can discover the park’s beauty at their leisure, too,” Gillis explains.
The Shangaan people have called the Kruger home since the 19th century. They are an indigenous group that came to be when King Shaka of the Zulu delegated Soshangane (Manukosi) to defeat the Tsonga people in the region of southern Mozambique. However, Soshangane stumbled on a community of harmonious people and settled with them.
Today, Shangaan people live between the park, the Drakensberg Mountains and throughout Mpumalanga. The last stop on your Kruger expedition could be the Shangana Cultural Village where for the last 24 years tourism has boosted job creation for the Shangaan people. A truly unique experience, visitors to the village can journey deeper into the Shangaan culture, purchase their art and hear their captivating stories passed down through generations.
“The interactions that visitors have in the park and with the Shangaan community will be sure to leave a lasting impression and foster a sense of appreciation for diverse cultures and wildlife. This is the kind of experiential holiday where travellers can escape the hustle and bustle of the city and find themselves captivated by the wonders of the Kruger’s untamed landscapes,” Gillis concludes.