For us, the most valuable part of a holiday often isn’t the feeling of the sun on your face or your toes in the sand. It isn’t even the awe-inspiring wonder you feel when you lay your eyes on a breathtaking view for the first time. It’s the enriching and long-lasting benefits that come from real, authentic interactions with the people who live where you’re travelling.
We sent a survey around at the end of last year (a big thank you again to everyone who filled it in!) and one of the most stand out responses was a desire for authentic travel – and we couldn’t agree more. We pride ourselves on our love of seeking out quirky, real experiences that really get you under the skin of a country. There are so many, but here are…
11 of our favourite authentic experiences to have around our wonderful world
1. South Africa – Uthando Philanthropic Cultural Tour
South Africa is a truly magnificent country, but its townships are renowned for representing the harder side of poverty, inequality and SA’s all-too-recent apartheid history. Township tours have developed as a way of exploring these issues, but all too often get it very wrong. Uthando is a charity that has got it very right, ensuring that visitors can see, directly, how the cost of their tour directly benefits projects in these deprived areas. Uthando is involved in so many projects, from working to provide fresh fruit and vegetables for families, working with orphanages and care homes, all the way through to theatre projects for local kids. This is a humbling and challenging day, but ultimately hugely uplifting as you’ll be able to see exactly how your contributions are giving hope and opportunity to these local people.
2. Costa Rica – El Trapiche Plantation Tour
This fascinating and interactive two-hour tour takes you to family-run plantation where sugar cane has been cultivated for nearly 70 years. You will meet the family who will teach you all there is to know about sugar cane cultivation (with crucial tastings along the way, of course!). You’ll also have the opportunity to sample the other crops that are grown here such macadamia, oranges, bananas and coffee. Your tour of the farm will include the opportunity to take a short ride in a traditional, colourful Costa Rican ox cart. We really think this day out makes the perfect addition to a Costa Rica itinerary as it really does offer something a little different in Monteverde, a real slice of authentic, ‘Pura Vida’ culture.
3. Sri Lanka – Local village activities in Tissamaharama
The small Sri Lankan village of Tissamaharama is the perfect place to befriend local people and enjoy a range of authentic experiences such as buffalo curd making, lake fishing with the local fisherman, learning the ancient art of weaving Palmyrah leaves and pottery making. That’s our very own Sri Lanka specialist, Rebecca, learning to weave in the photo above – those smiles speak for themselves!
4. Jordan – A day with a Bedouin shepherd
What’s the best way to learn about what it’s really like to live a certain lifestyle? Immerse yourself in the different way of life and experience it first-hand of course. Factor this ‘Day with a Shepherd’ excursion into you Jordan holidays for a real taste of authentic Bedouin culture. There will be an early alarm call to start your day, before you follow the shepherd and his family’s goats as they graze through the wilderness of Feynan. You’ll then sit down with over a fire with him, talking about life, baking the tantalizing ‘Arbood’ bread and sipping on traditional sweet Bedouin tea.
5. Argentina – Pampas Estancia Tour
This experience will see you leaving the bustle of Buenos Aires behind as you head to the flat grasslands of the Pampas, home to traditional cattle ranches and the heart of gaucho culture. In the small town of San Antonio de Areco, you’ll pay a visit to local workshops to learn about how the artisans craft intricate leatherwork and silver items used by the gauchos. You’ll then journey to a beautiful estancia where you will be met by your friendly hosts to feast on one of Argentina’s most famous foodie traditions – the asado barbeque and learn all about gaucho life and traditions. The delicious locally reared beef is matched with excellent red wine, empanadas (local savoury pastries) and warm hospitality – so do make sure you bring a hearty appetite! Perhaps then it’s time for a siesta before a swim, walk, ride or carriage ride around the estate and watch the gauchos at work as they demonstrate their skills with horses. This is a real enriching taster of the life of a gaucho!
6. Namibia – Meet the Himba
Namibia’s Himba people may be nomadic, but for much of the year a Himba community spend time in the Palmfontein area of Damaraland. Their settlement is close enough to the Grootberg Lodge to make it easy to add a day visit into your Namibia holiday itinerary. This is a unique opportunity to meet the Himba people, take some time to interact with the women and children of the settlement and learn about how they achieve their distinct, decorative appearance. You’ll also see their simple homes, at least from the outside, constructed largely from natural materials such as dung, grass and leaves.
7. Burma – Making a difference in Yangon
This is your chance to explore and support Yangon’s up and coming social enterprise. Yangon is the largest city in Burma and over recent years, entrepreneurs have set up the business determined to make a positive social impact in the city. There are many activities that you can enjoy spread across several of the city’s diverse townships. You can pay a visit to ‘Amazing Grace’ in the Yankin Township, where local people with hearing and physical disabilities are trained to make unique handmade fashion accessories using recycled materials. There is a traditional puppet show to enjoy, a gold workshop, craft marketplaces and delicious local restaurants where you can sample the delicious local cuisine. Whatever authentic experience you enjoy, you’ll meet interesting and dynamic people who are all doing what they love and working to benefit Burma’s communities and cultures.
8. Vietnam – Hoi An Organic Farm Cooking Class
Nestled just 3km outside of the beautiful Old Town of Hoi An, you’ll find this tranquil farm. Established by an expert in all things nutrition, with a big passion for food and local cuisine, this is the perfect place to learn all there is to know about Vietnamese cuisine. Their food contains a brilliant balance of heat, sweetness and sourness, as well as the umami flavour that comes from the use of fish sauce. On arrival at the farm you’ll be greeted by the friendly team, then led on a stroll around whilst learning about how this unique setting supports the local community. You’ll listen to inspiring stories about how food and vegetables can be used for healthy living, before picking-up some ingredients before heading to the lovely kitchen to make your five unique dishes with a hands-on cooking class. Once finished sit down and savour the flavours of your creation before heading back to Hoi An.
9. Cambodia – Working to improve the lives of street children
This truly unique experience offers you the chance to meet with the inspiring locals who are working to break the cycle of poverty and provide a brighter future for the youth in Cambodia at Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (For the Smile of a Child).
Your day begins with a sobering look at the darker side of Cambodia as you travel into one of the poorest Phnom Penh neighbourhoods to learn about local ways of life. Many of the children living here are orphans, having lost their parents to disease or abandoned due to financial concerns. Until recently, their only way to get by was to scavenge the rubbish dump for food and items to sell.
You’ll meet with the volunteers who run Pour un Sourire d’Enfant and are helping to improve the daily lives of the street children in this part of Cambodia. You’ll learn about the struggles of daily life in poor urban Cambodia and how history has impacted the present. Be inspired by the work being done at the centre through its education, vocational training, and job placement programs for street children before enjoying a delicious lunch at Lotus Blanc. This is a special opportunity to enjoy a delicious home-cooked Cambodian meal all whilst supporting the training of these local children.
10. New Zealand – Maori Tour of Auckland
Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, and their culture is an integral part of life in the country, influencing everything from customs and language to cuisine. Today, as many as one in seven New Zealanders identify as Māori, so it’s clear how central their history, language and traditions are to New Zealand’s identity. This tour of Auckland will get you up close and personal with the indigenous culture and you’ll learn how inextricably linked it is to the environment. This small group tour with a local guide will see you wandering through lush rainforests, walking over volcanic black sand beaches, marvelling at intricate Māori carvings and learning all about the historical monuments and artefacts around the city and the west coast.
11. Sri Lanka – Vedda Walk with the chief in Gal Oya
The Vedda people are an indigenous community in Sri Lanka and this excursion gives you the opportunity to go on a walk through the forest with the chief and his second in command, learning all about these ancient people and their great knowledge of nature. Some parts of this experience have been designed to help tourists better understand the Vedda culture, however the time you spend walking and talking with the chief and learning about their ancient community, is about as authentic as it gets.
As you walk through the jungle, you’ll learn all about their traditional methods of storing food, how they use plants medicinally and, if you play your cards right, you might just be lucky enough to be invited into the chief’s home – the ultimate honour.
As always, if you have any questions at all about your well-deserved adventure, our team are ready to take your call on 01242 253 073. We are so happy to be back designing holidays for you, our fantastic clients again. Let’s make 2022 a year to remember, for good reasons this time!