Cultural Villages, South Africa
Visiting Cultural villages on South African holidays is a convenient way to experience a taste of African life, lifestyle and history. In fact it may be more appropriate to call many of them "historical villages."
Generally, a cultural village will consist of a reconstruction of contemporary and/or historical dwellings and a display of artefacts. People, who may or may not be in traditional dress, who will show you around, explain the various displays, offer a taste of traditional food and perhaps perform traditional dances and music.
In some villages, people perform traditional crafts, such as weaving, woodwork, pottery and iron smelting. Some villages offer the opportunity to stay as a guest of the community. Almost all have gift shops on site.
Shakaland is one of the best-known cultural villages in the country with good reason. Two tours are run a day starting with a background to Zulu culture and traditions, an explanation of the traditional beehive homestead and building methods, followed by demonstrations of beadwork, pottery and beer making. Shakaland is also one of the few places you will see a spear or a skin shield in the making. There is also a demonstration and an opportunity to try your hand at spear throwing.
You can visit iSangomas or traditional healers and end your visit with a foot-stomping, ground shaking traditional dance and a meal of Zulu specialities or western food at the excellent restaurant. Originally built as the set for the television movie "Shaka Zulu", the beautifully constructed beehive huts have been transformed into comfortably modernised hotel accommodation.
Simunye offers much the same South African holidays programme as Shakaland but the venue is smaller and more intimate and the setting and visitor accommodation a breathtaking African fantasy. Another of Simunye's specialities is the option of attending an authentic traditional celebration in one of the nearby villages if any are taking place during the time of your visit. Enquire beforehand.
This is another excellent "living museum" where you are able to experience first hand how many traditional Zulu people still live their daily lives, cooking, making traditional beer, doing craftwork and dancing. There is also a crocodile park attached to the village and a snake pit with indigenous snakes - something you do not find at other cultural villages. Daily tours are conducted. The décor in the accommodation represents South Africa's different ethnic groups.
This cultural village is situated on the multi award-winning Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape but day tours are offered to non-residents. Guests are treated to an hour long programme in the village where there is dancing, singing, drumming and explanations of the differences between the traditional Xhosa culture of the eastern Cape and that of the Zulus, Sothos, Ndebeles and other ethnic groups in the country. You can spend time with a traditional healer and sample local dishes and traditional beer. The full day trip includes a game drive and a visit to the on-site animal orphanage. This is an easy day trip from Port Elizabeth, Port Alfred of Grahamstown.
Lesedi - or place of light - is one of the few cultural villages you will come across on South African holidays where you can experience a variety of southern African cultures, not just the one predominating in a particular province. Here you can see the different homesteads, traditional costumes of men and women, and traditional practices of Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Venda, Ndebele and others. There is a restaurant serving African cuisine as well as western food for those with more conservative tastes.
Basotho Cultural Village
The Basotho cultural village is set in spectacular surroundings near Golden Gate Highland National Park in Free State province. While people do not actually live there, they do enact many of the cultural practices and traditions for visitors. This village has a quiet charm that reflects the easygoing nature of the Sotho people. It is also different from many other villages in that it provides a historical timeline through Sotho culture, with buildings of different eras following a chronological order through the village, as well as real insights into contemporary Sotho life. Traditional games are played, musical instruments played and visitors can take a two-hour hike with a traditional healer who explains many of the medicinal plants found in the wild.