Traveling to Africa with Wilderness

Change-Making Travel to Africa

How Wilderness is Focusing on Impact First

While booking a trip to Kenya this summer for a couple, the wife consciously noted to me that she was looking for camps that focused on sustainability and environmental impact, something I appreciated so deeply to have laid out at the outset of the conversation. Most partners I work with do have a conscious approach when we talk about footprint, plus things like park and conservation fees help go towards these efforts. That said, there are very few operators like Wilderness – none that I’ve encountered – that operate with such a conscious approach to impact, with a dedicated team focusing on a swathe of efforts that are specific to each country and to each community’s needs. Our trip to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana with Wilderness allowed us to see first-hand how they operate, not just as a luxury camp outfitter, but also as a change-maker in communities.

Two of our ten days centered around community: one in Zimbabwe and one in Botswana. For travelers who are keen on seeing these efforts on the ground, these visits can be added to a broader itinerary (reach out for assistance with planning), with half-day excursions to see where tourism dollars are going and to hear about the impact firsthand.

Zimbabwe

Wilderness - Zimbabwe

Toka Leya, the first property we stayed at with Wilderness, sits near Livingstone, the gateway to Victoria Falls on the Zambian side, just at the border with Zimbabwe. We made the journey from Zambia to Zimbabwe to see the impact projects there first hand. Projects with Wilderness vary by location and by community need, and our visits in Zimbabwe alone reflected the broad range of projects the organization gets involved with. We visited a Literacy Center to start, where we began our morning with community children and their mentors, a visit that was arguably the highlight for everyone as we buddied up and practiced reading together. Each day on our trip to Africa, we’d finish with conversations about impact – what’s being done, and how to highlight the organization’s work for travelers. Community projects involving children can be tricky. Do these visits feel authentic? Is there a chance they’d feel exploitative (a major argument when visiting orphanages, for example)? In this case, everyone left feeling like we’d had the sweetest, most genuine interactions with kids who were proud to practice their skills with us, and teachers who were similarly excited to be engaged and proud to showcase what’s been accomplished.

Perhaps the project I was most excited to see in action was at our next stop: the Jafuta Foundation’s Center for Hope where their Mopane jewelry is made in collaboration with Children in the Wilderness. This project is such a thoughtful multifaceted undertaking that tackles a couple of issues simultaneously: snares, and women and youth empowerment. On every visit to Africa we’ve talked with guides and drivers about snares and desnaring work happening around the continent. Between Hwange National Park and the area around Vic Falls, nearly 200kg of snare wire is removed annually, and here, with Mopane, that snare wire is repurposed into beautiful jewelry (jewelry can be purchased at Elephant’s Walk in Vic Falls). We visited the center where men worked to repurpose the metal wire, and women worked in crafting pieces to sell in their storefronts.

Mopane Snare Jewelry Project

Our final stop in Zimbabwe was at a village in Jabulani to explore Children in the Wilderness’ income-generating community initiative focused on recycling and reusing paper waste. Here women use shredded paper in a multi-step process to create beautiful craft paper that can be used for cards, notebooks, and premium writing paper. Naturally, we participated in the project (dare I say I won’t be hired anytime soon), and were able to see some of the families benefiting from the initiative.

Paper Making Initiative Wilderness Zimbabwe

Paper Making Initiative Wilderness Zimbabwe

Botswana

Traveling to Africa with Wilderness Safaris

Botswana is the home of Wilderness, and we really took a deep dive during this part of our trip. One of Wilderness’ Botswana-based conservation ecologists joined us for four nights to help delve into the impact side of the organization and to generate discussions about impact and about travelers’ involvement in these initiatives. There is a huge range of work being done in Botswana and we had an opportunity to discuss the projects and visit a few to see the work first hand.

I have a full post forthcoming on our helicopter safari/transfer in the Okavango Delta where we visited these very projects (stay tuned) but suffice it to say that Wilderness’ investments in Botswana are incredibly multi-faceted and thoughtful. Their CLAWS program works to mitigate human-wildlife conflict for farmers in Botswana whilst regenerating land and helping increase the value of cattle for participating farmers. In a parallel vein, with an ever-increasing elephant population and human-wildlife conflict that has come from this, there are some great initiatives that allow farmers to understand elephant migration patterns, to adjust their farming accordingly, and to earn an increased income from what is farmed.


How to Make an Impact through Travel in Africa

Wilderness impact Tourism

One of my biggest takeaways and reminders from our trip to Southern Africa: even if we don’t actively donate to causes when we travel, just by choosing outfitters that prioritize sustainability, conservation, and developing communities, we’re helping by putting our tourism dollars in the right places to have that money go further.

Planning your trip to Africa? Reach out so we can chat and get planning!

For all Africa travel, I’m working on ways to donate 50% of the planning fee towards causes. Together, we can help create positive change and lasting impact in communities.

Shannon Kircher, The Wanderlust Effect

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. Additionally, Shannon is the founder of Compass & Vine, a luxury boutique travel design firm, and is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort. Shannon holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and is a current candidate for WSET Level 3 in Wines & Spirits.