The Give-Back Factor in Africa
Updated: Nov 26, 2020
When it comes to giving back in Africa, it is a point of practice for many businesses in travel.
Countless African tourism companies and lodges make a positive social and environmental impact while providing unrivaled experiences for their guests.
From the plant conservation of the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve in South Africa to the protection of nesting turtles at White Pearl Resorts in Mozambique, these properties prove that eco retreats and stunning landscapes can coexist with mindful travelers.
Here are seven such companies and properties that are well worth exploring throughout the continent. When you stay with any of them, you, too, are supporting their programs.
Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club
The sprawling, deluxe resort in Nanyuki, Kenya, boasts a breathtaking view of Mount Kenya. Standing at 17, 057 feet, it is impressive upon arrival as it is the highest mountain in Kenya and second-highest in Africa, after Kilimanjaro. This is complemented with the 100 acres of natural landscape that surround the property.
Sitting atop the Earth's Equator, the 110 room resort offers three restaurants, a spa, and a nine-hole golf course, the only one in Africa to bisect the equator. Guests can also fish, walk, birdwatch, or ride horses through conserved land. It's not uncommon to share the trail with a herd of unexpected elephants. The only thing that can top a safari sighting mid-ride is the abundant bush breakfast that follows.
The Riuki Spa and Wellness Centre on-site provides a full spa experience with steam, sauna and three treatment rooms. The Spa focuses on sustainable practices and organic materials to ensure low environmental impact. Set up against the forest, it's an inspired spot for outdoor yoga and fitness sessions.
One of many notables on site is the fact that the equator runs right through the property. A club highlight is the Equator Ceremony, a unique celebration where you cross from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere. This ceremony comes complete with a bit of costuming, Kikuyu songs, and dance.
The Club sits near an Animal Orphanage, located in the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, where wild animals suffering injury or abuse are rehabilitated. The Orphanage works to release these animals back into their natural habitats after they're healthy and safe. The Mountain Bongo, a highly endangered antelope species, lives in the Conservancy. With less than 100 of these antelopes worldwide, the Conservancy's protection is vital to the species' survival.
Hollywood actor William Holden and his partners were the previous owners of the property. It was once the most elite private members club in the world. Members included Steve McQueen, Charlie Chaplin, Ava Garner, and Winston Churchill, to name but a few. The property's Hollywood heyday, which roared loudest in the 60's is evident with the iconic images that adorn the walls in the private dining room.
Today, the most revered stars on-site are the animals. The Safari Club sells tickets to visit the Animal Orphanage at their gift shop. Proceeds go directly to supporting animal rehabilitation.
Sabi Sabi Safari Lodges
National Geographic has included the Sabi Sabi Lodges as a part of their Unique Lodges of the World. That sets the tone for what one can expect with Sabi Sabi as Nat Geo lodges offer guests intimate encounters with the world they may not otherwise experience.
The Selati Camp, which has a vintage railroad-style, is one of their four lodging options. It is named for a disused railway line that used to run through the reserve. Twenty-five suites and a spa constitute the larger family-friendly Bush Lodge. The Little Bush Camp, set on the beautiful Msuthlu River, holds six luxury suites, perfect for an intimate group of travelers.
The final location, the Earth Lodge, is known as one of the most environmentally sensitive lodges in Africa. It contains thirteen luxury and contemporary-style suites. Each one comes with individually designed furniture and a private plunge pool.
The property's design focuses upon environmental synthesis; the suites, built into the surrounding environment, include wooden sculptures by South African artist Geoffrey Armstrong. The Earth Lodge also consists of the Amani Spa and a gym.
The Sabi Sabi Lodges sit within the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, a part of the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa. As a conservation area, the Game Reserve has protected the land and supported its animal species since 1979. Lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalo, and elephants call it home, along with 350 species of birds.
Sabi Sabi is committed to eco-tourism as they effectively link tourism with conservation and the community. A few of the practices that they adhere to is controlled burning, waterhole rotation, alien plant control, and a dedicated anti-poaching unit. Also, Sabi Sabi has an extensive community Empowerment Program, which helps support the local communities and employees.
Guests staying at the lodges help to support their many programs and the animals in the Game Reserve.
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve
The Grootbos Private Nature Reserve sits at a lush intersection of the sea, forest, and mountain in South Africa. Rated in National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World and Tatler’s 101 Best Hotels in the World, Grootbos serves as an “Eco-Reserve.” Its land houses 800 unique plant species. One hundred of these are endangered; six were discovered on-site.
In 1994, Michael Lutzeyer started a bed and breakfast on the site that would later grow into the Grootbos Reserve. He quickly expanded into wilderness preservation and eco-tourism. In 2003, the Lutzeyer family established the Grootbos Foundation. This non-profit organization seeks to conserve endangered plants and serve surrounding communities. It conducts a variety of projects related to conservation, education, and athletics.
Some of the Grootbos Foundation’s projects include Green Futures, an adult education program, and the Football Foundation, a youth sporting group. Siyakhula, or Growing the Future, provides resources and education for agriculture, early childhood care, and career development to local communities. The Growing the Future Farm caters to local people and guests at the Grootbos Lodge. The Masakhane Community Farm addresses food insecurity in the greater Gansbaai region.
The Grootbos Foundation was an original member of The Long Run, a sustainable development initiative launched in 2009 by Jochen Zeitz. The Grootbos Lodges hold The Long Run’s Global Ecosphere Retreats (GER) certification for environmental sustainability.
The endless amount of goodwill aside, the property, an hour or so away from Cape Town, is simply stunning. It boasts over 6,000 acres of land. There is no better immersion on-site than a sunrise jeep drive, an afternoon floral safari, a sunset cocktail on the deck of the lodge, or dinner in the forest. However, any meal with Lutzeyer in attendance rivals all. His stories about the region, the lodge itself, and his many passion projects are captivating.
The Lodges and the private villas are sleek and luxurious with lush views of the grounds and the sea as far as the eye can see. A visit to Grootbos, is a great addition to your South African travels.
White Pearl Resorts
White Pearl Resorts sits atop a shining bay on Mozambique’s Lagoon Coast. This beachfront oasis features 22 suites, set up into the hills and designed specifically to protect the ecosystems around them. Their clean modern, nautical styling highlights their oceanic setting.
White Pearl's beaches host yearly nesting sites for Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles. Resort guests can visit these sites with a $5 ticket, the proceeds of which go to turtle conservation research. The Resort bills each guest with a $22 Eco Charge to support the Peace Parks Foundation Turtle Nesting Monitors. The Monitors keep track of turtle activity, collect data, and ensure that the turtles can nest safely and naturally.
The property's commitment to eco-friendly tourism goes beyond helping the turtles. White Pearl uses re-usable and biodegradable dining materials, such as glass bottles and straws. It hosts a variety of conservation-related projects and events. The Save our Seas walks allow volunteers to enjoy the coastline while collecting debris from nearby beaches. White Pearl runs the Home Grown Garden Produce project with a local entrepreneur, and they help to support a Chili Farm in Salamanga.
The most prominent social responsibility program at White Pearl is Growing Pearls, a wide-reaching program for community support. It allows Resort guests to volunteer and connect with local villages.
As far as your on-site experience, the property changes your dining options daily. One night it could be on deck; by day after a boat ride, it may be on the beach. The attention to detail, the dining options, and the setting make the trip to White Pearl well worth the effort. If you don't get your fill of elephant viewing in the helicopter ride over, you can visit the nearby Maputo Elephant Reserve in one of your afternoons.
“Singita” means “Place of Miracles” in Shangaan, and the brand aims to create such places through its conservation and ecotourism efforts. Singita leadership believes in the unique potential of African landscapes to inspire visitors and prompt sustainability efforts. By protecting large swaths of the African landscape, they hope to preserve the earth for generations.
Singita began in 1993 with the Singita Ebony Lodge, located on 30,000 acres of family-owned land in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa. Over the past 27 years, Singita has grown to include 15 lodges and camps across four African countries. Tanzania has the highest number of lodges and camps. Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Rwanda host several as well.
The Singita company centers all operations on three pillars: Biodiversity, Sustainability, and Community. It supports rhinos, lions, and leopards through anti-poaching and conservation programs. It runs education and development programs for various communities. The Malilangwe Trust’s Nutrition Program provides food to schoolchildren in Zimbabwe. The Kambako Living History Museum, located outside the Malilangwe Reserve, celebrates Shangaan culture.
Singita’s partner organization, the Grumeti Fund, runs several projects related to Singita’s aims. Its Canine Unit prevents illegal hunting in the Serengeti. Its Ikorongo Black Rhino Re-establishment Project works to translocate endangered rhino to their natural habitat within the Singita Grumeti Reserve. Singita hopes to raise $500,000 for this work.
In recent months, Singita has made efforts to adapt to the pandemic. They’ve hosted Virtual Game Drives on Instagram and Facebook, in which viewers can go on virtual safaris and join in on morning patrols from anywhere on the globe. Also, it has released a variety of content. Photos from Singita locations are available as backgrounds for Zoom meetings. Singita’s Soundcloud hosts music from the Singita Lebombo Choir and Sounds of Singita, a soundscape of animal noises for meditation.
Time + Tide
Time + Tide operates nine safari properties in Madagascar and Zambia. Its locations have made the Condé Nast Hot List, the New York Times’s 52 Places to Go in 2018, and TIME’s 100 Greatest Places to Visit. The Madagascar camps are centralized in Nosy Ankao, while the Zambian camps spread across South Luangwa, the Liuwa Plain, and Lower Zambezi.
Time + Tide came together as an organization in 2019, but its contributors have a long history in ecotourism. Norman Carr, a foundational explorer in conservation tourism, established a photographic safari company in South Luangwa in 1950. In 1996, Chris Liebenberg created Chongwe Safaris in the Lower Zambezi. Starting in 2006, Theirry Dalais and his family began to invest in both. In 2019, Time + Tide synthesized the two organizations and Dalais’s vision into a single project.
The Time + Tide Foundation supports the conservation aims of Time + Tide lodges. It focuses on youth education, providing programs to various schools and communities in Madagascar and Zambia. Its female empowerment initiatives aim to increase confidence and literacy among girls in nine primary schools. Its medical program employs a doctor in Madagascar’s Loky-Manambato Protected Area, providing 2,500 people with weekly medical access. The Home-Based Education Programme creates individual academic plans for children with disabilities to enroll in primary schools. The Foundation’s efforts make a broad-reaching impact in several fields.
Zambia’s Tongabezi Lodge sits upstream of Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River. It contains six Houses and five luxury River Cottages, built near the beautiful waters. Nearby is Tongabezi’s Sindabezi Island, a luxury bushcamp without wifi, where visitors can get a closer to the landscape. Tongabezi has earned recognition from a variety of media outlets, including Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast. In 2019, it won Zambia’s Leading Hotel award.
Like all ecotourism organizations, Tongabezi gives back to its environment. As a member of Green Safaris, it focuses on sustainability. It relies entirely on solar energy, uses biodegradable cleaning products, and sources wood from sustainable forests. Tongabezi’s sustainable garden feeds Lodge visitors with organic vegetables.
In nearby communities, Tongabezi programs provide educational and medical services. The Tongabezi Trust or Tujatane School, founded in 1996, serves children from underserved rural communities in the Simonga area. It educates 280 students from ages two to seventeen. Tujatane’s resources support students in an academic and extracurricular context. The School also assists alumni going forward into secondary school and professional fields.
Tongabezi Lodge is part of the AIDS Council of Zambia and SHARE, a large organization for HIV and AIDS education in southern Africa. Tongabezi runs a program to “break the silence” about AIDS in local communities, aiming to raise Zambia’s life expectancy.
Written by Olivia Cipperman