authentic travel experiences

Meet the locals: 12 authentic holiday experiences you’ll love

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Travel is one of the most enriching ways we can spend our time. It gets us away from our day-to-day, moves us out of our comfort zone, and reminds us just how special our world really is.

Here at HA, we believe that one of the most valuable sides of travel is found in authentic interactions. These moments of magic with local people offer a unique opportunity to learn about the culture, history, and way of life wherever you are. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of a place’s traditions and, with it, invaluable insight into the perspectives and experiences of the people who call it home.

Whether you learn to cook a traditional dish with a local family or visit the homes of an indigenous community, these interactions can be such a source of enrichment and inspiration. By seeking out authentic experiences and connecting with people from different backgrounds, we believe that you can enhance your travel experience and broaden your horizons, creating lasting memories as you go. Plus, you’ll be supporting the small communities you’re visiting, too. So, it’s a win win really.

So, read on for 12 authentic experiences we love (and know you will too).

1. Meet the Himba in Namibia

Authentic experience in Namibia meet the Himba people

Namibia’s Himba people are one of the last remaining tribes still practicing their traditional way of life, despite the influences of the modern world. Their semi-nomadic way of life sees them move around the isolated regions of Namibia throughout the year.

For a few months though, a Himba community base themselves in Damaraland, close enough to Grootberg Lodge to make a cultural visit possible. Spend an afternoon here, learning all about their unique way of life; from their clothing and intricate hairstyles, to smoke baths, tribal traditions and ochre body paint. Their rich cultural heritage is testament to their resilience and determination to preserve their traditions. Spending some time with the Himba people would be a memorable highlight of any Namibia holiday.

2. Explore Argentina’s historic villages

Authentic experience in Argentina

Head to Argentina’s Jujuy province on your Northern Argentina adventure and don’t miss a visit to Argentina’s Humahuaca Gorge and the local villages.

The region is, understandably, famous for the vibrant colours of the geological rock formations of the gorge. But the charming villages and local people that live in the area are more than worth a visit, too. Head to the pretty colonial towns of Tilcara, Purmamarca and Humahuaca. Explore the traditional markets, sample the local cuisine and enjoy the lively music that hangs in the air down the quaint streets.

Whether it’s the warmth and hospitality of the locals or the surrounding awe-inspiring landscape, there’s no shortage of opportunities to be inspired and uplifted by this unique corner of the world and its people.

3. Visit a coffee producer in Costa Rica

Authentic experience in Costa Rica - coffee plantation

We love to include the beautiful Chayote Lodge in your Costa Rica itineraries. It might only be 45 minutes from San Jose Airport, but with its spot high in the hills of the central valley, it feels a million miles away.

Every corner of the property resembles a piece of the coffee picker’s story and lifestyle, with chairs made from coffee bags and the private bungalows themselves even inspired by the coffee receiving stations.

It’s a family affair here and you’ll fill your day with cultural local experiences. Head to a nearby coffee plantation and spend time with the coffee producers, before being welcomed into in doña Elida’s home to learn all about the Costa Rican life and culture through cooking and eating a wonderful homemade meal.  

4. Meet the indigenous communities in the Amazon

When you picture an adventure through the Amazon, we’d bet your brain goes straight to images of lush green jungle, raging rivers and abundant wildlife. This is very much the case, but it’s not all about the flora and fauna in the Amazon.

Whilst you you’re exploring this magnificent corner of the world, don’t miss a visit to a local indigenous community. You might be taken to see a local dance or be taught an age old craft or custom that continues to this day. You’ll share smiles that transcend language barriers and come away with an enlightened understanding of how these indigenous communities live their remarkable lives in the depths of the rainforest.

5. Spend a day in rural Mai Chau, Vietnam

Authentic experience Vietnam, spend a day in Mai Chau

Get off the beaten track on your Vietnam holiday and journey into the stunning Vietnamese countryside, you’ll pass emerald rice paddies and journey through stunning karst rock formations. At the end of your trip, the beautiful Mai Chau Valley awaits you.

First, you’ll enjoy a homecooked meal with a local ‘White Thai’ ethnic family in their stilt house. Your afternoon will be spent exploring the local roads and small villages peppered throughout the valley and its stunning landscapes. This region is mainly home to the White Thai locals, but there are other minority groups including the H’mong, Dao and Muong who call these picturesque valleys, rolling hills and shimmering paddy fields home. The Sunday market brings a lot of people from the surrounding countryside into Mai Chau itself.

Top tip: Time your visit for a Sunday to catch the local market.

6. Join a local family and learn to cook Lebanese

This rustic, authentic Lebanon experience will see you welcomed into the family home of Samil and his mother. After their warm Lebanese welcome, they’ll teach you how to make traditional dishes, all prepared with fresh local ingredients. You’ll chat and share stories as you work your way through each step – asking as many questions as you like along the way!

You’ll leave with a sense of achievement, an enriched understanding of Lebanese culture, new recipes in your cooking repitoire, and a full stomach!

7. Meet the locals in Misfah, Oman

Authentic experience Oman

We always recommend venturing into the mountains on your Oman holiday. The Hajar Mountains are home to many ancient villages, many still inhabited by friendly Omanis today. The mud brick village of Misfah, built into the rugged mountainside above Nizwa, is home to stunning traditional architecture and breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.

The narrow alleyways and stone houses of Misfah have remained virtually unchanged for centuries, and will give you a real glimpse into the rich history and culture of this incredible region. Despite its small size, Misfah has a vibrant community of friendly locals who are proud of their heritage and eager to share it with visitors: Just what you want from an authentic day of exploring.

8. Head to a small Sri Lankan village and share lunch with the locals

Authentic experience in Sri Lanka

This experience is about as authentic and local as you can get. First, you’ll take a ride on a traditional bullock cart along a dusty track. Keep your camera handy as you journey through rice paddies all the way down the the picturesque Hiriwaduna Lake.

Then it’s time to leave dry land behind with a catamaran ride across the shimmering lake. With views of the surrounding forest, marshland and farmland, this cruise is a beautiful one. Plus, the region is home to a huge variety of birdlife, so keep an eye out!

You next mode of transport is the traditional Land Master tractor, or walking tractor, which was designed by the Sri Lankan engineer Dr. Ray Wijewardana to assist local farmers in their work.

Finally, your guide will take you on a rickshaw ride to a local home. Here you’ll have the chance to meet a traditional family and help prepare a delicious Sri Lankan lunch, using traditional Sri Lankan methods of cooking. Authentic interactions, beautiful locations and tantalizing food. What’s not to love?

9. Learn the ancient art of bread making at Petra

They take bread very seriously in Jordan. No meal is complete without it – and we’re very much behind this mentality… we can smell it just writing this. After you’ve been wowed by the world wonder that is Petra, you’ll join the locals to learn all about their traditional bread making techniques. From baking taboon in clay ovens that have been in use for hundreds of years, to watching the skillfulness of shrak being stretched and thrown over skillets, this is a special experience. Whilst the smell of baking bread fills the room, you’ll have the chance to enjoy real interactions with Jordanian people, learning about their lives and traditions before sharing a meal (with your very own freshly baked bread, of course). Perfect.

10. Meet the Orang Asli Villagers in Malaysia

Authentic experience in Malaysia

On your Malaysia holiday, it’s so worth venturing to the remote Belum Rainforest. There are so many activities to keep you busy amidst the ancient trees. Enjoy a spot of bird-watching, head off on a fishing adventure, venture into the rainforest for some independent trekking and even learn the ancient art of blow darting!

For a real, authentic experience, cruise Lake Banding and head in to the wilder parts of upper Belum on this full day discovery. You’ll head off on a search for the magnificent ‘rafflesia’ flower, that only flowers for up to seven days before dying. Considered to be the largest flower in the world, these unique blooms can grow as wide as a metre. They are said to smell like rotting flesh though, so the magnificence ends there!

Trek rainforest trails through jungle terrain until you find yourselves at a remote Orang Asli village deep in the Belum State Park. You’ll spend some time exploring this village, meeting its people and learning all about their unique way of life in this isolated corner of the world.


11. Visit the remote villages of Ratanakiri, Cambodia

This authentic adventure takes you to Cambodia’s remote villages. You’ll travel along bumpy, dusty roads by crashing waterfalls (don’t miss the impressive Teuk Cha On!). As you head northwest, you’ll journey through bamboo forests to the village of Voeune Saï, a Chinese enclave on Cambodian territory where most villagers don’t even speak Khmer. The scenic village is located on the left bank of the Sé San River and the views over the surrounding countryside are truly beautiful.

After visiting the village and learning about its people and their lifestyle, a short boat trip takes you upstream to visit the Tampoun villages. This hill tribe maintains a way of life and traditions that are untouched by the modern world, including the making of funeral statuary. Stop at the village of Ka Choan, home to some of the most superb and striking totems.

This day of exploration will give you a real insight into the different ways of life lived in this remote corner of Cambodia.

12. Experience a day in the life of a local family in Morocco

Authentic experience in Morocco

This is a brilliant authentic experience to add to your Morocco holiday. Join your local riad guide on a walk down the labyrinthine streets of Fez’s old Medina. He’ll give you a list of Arabic phrases and help you practice them as you make your way to the home of a local family. You’ll be welcomed in, introduced to the family and then your local experience really begins.

You’ll start with learning the art of traditional bread-making before baking it at the communal oven, all the while using your newly-learnt Arabic phrases to help you communicate with the local family.

You’ll then all walk together to the nearby food market and buy fresh ingredients for your authentic lunch – another great opportunity to practice some simple Arabic words and phrases (with the local family to help!) Back at the house, you’ll cook and eat together before sharing more about your lives over a cup of Moroccan mint tea.

In conclusion, when it comes to travel, authentic experiences and interactions are essential for a fulfilling and meaningful experience. While the temptation to check off all the major tourist attractions can be strong, taking the time to connect with locals, learn about their culture and customs, and explore hidden gems off the beaten path can lead to transformative experiences that will stay with you for a lifetime.

By embracing authentic experiences and interactions, you’ll not only gain a deeper understanding and lasting memories of the places you visit, you’ll also create lasting memories and meaningful connections with the people you meet along the way, whilst supporting local communities as you go. So the next time you travel, make sure to step out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in the local culture – we’re here to help you with that!

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