Grateful Lessons from Exploring Africa as a Travel marketer and photographer
Safari and Wildlife
Kim Paffen Travel Specialist & Photo Safari Tour Guide
Safari and Wildlife
8 min

Exploring Africa: 6 Transformative Travel Experiences

8 min

My journey working in travel has been nothing short of incredible. Mindfully traveling Africa surpasses sleeping in beautiful eco-friendly lodges, learning from local tribes, or spotting the Big Five. It rejuvenates me, creating a profound connection to the world and liberating me from daily habits & routines. Exploring nature shapes our character, fostering personal growth. Gratitude fills me for transformative travel experiences, not only in the wilderness but also through encounters with diverse individuals during my journey. As a seasoned travel marketer, photographer, and nature guide, these moments hold a special place in my heart. They define my journey, marking its uniqueness and significance.

From observing the prehistoric-looking Shoebill in the swamps of Uganda and the strength of cultural bonds in Swaziland, to the rhythmic wilderness of Zambia, where walking safaris echo the call for environmental stewardship. Every destination becomes a chapter in the chronicles of inspirational Africa experiences. My journey is an ongoing process of reflecting, learning, growth, and fostering a deeper connection with the beauty of our shared world.

Here are a few reflections of my explorations in 6 African countries in 2023, inspiring you to mindfully explore Africa:Β 6 transformative travel experiences.

1. Zambia: Walking Safaris and Environmental Stewardship

Inspirational lessons from Wonderful Wild Zambia

Zambia is the home of walking safaris. Each step in Zambia's wilderness encourages mindfulness, patience, and a profound understanding of the delicate balance within ecosystems. It’s a reminder that as travelers, we bear a responsibility to protect the environment. Sustainable exploration paves the way forward, and respecting wildlife contributes to the magic of these encounters.

Here are my key take-aways from a walking safari in Zambia:

  • Connection with Nature: Encountering wildlife on foot is a more intimate and immersive experience to explore the natural environment, fostering a deeper connection with wildlife (big and small) and the ecosystem. It teaches you the importance of coexistence (human/wildlife) and conservation. It's a great reminder that our species is the youngest visitor on this planet and that WE ARE NATURE.
  • Resilience and Adaptability: Navigating the bush on foot requires adaptability and resilience. Learning to overcome challenges in the wilderness can translate into valuable life skills, teaching you to face uncertainties with a positive mindset. Nothing is certain in this ever-changing world, except death. Until then, be grateful of your time on this planet, take nothing for granted, keep learning, loving, and respecting yourself, others, and the planet.
  • Mindfulness and Presence: The slow pace of walking safaris encourages mindfulness, allowing you to be fully present in the moment. This mindfulness practice can be carried into daily life, promoting mental well-being. Each day, slow down for a moment and look around you with the curiosity of a child. Never stop wondering. Without curiosity, what motivation do any of us have to explore, change, and grow?
  • Teamwork and Cooperation: Group dynamics play a crucial role in walking safaris. You learn the importance of teamwork, cooperation, and effective communication for a successful, safe, and enjoyable experience in the African bush.

One of the best places to stay in Zambia for walking safaris are Chiawa Camp in Lower Zambezi, and one of the wilderness camps of the Bush Camp Company or Robin Pope Safaris in South Luangwa. I also loved the remote North Luangwa and Kafue.

2. Uganda: Shoebill Encounters in Mabamba Swamp

What can we learn from the Shoebill in Uganda

The Shoebill is a long-legged wading bird native to Central and East Africa, found in countries like Uganda, Rwanda, and Zambia. The giant stork-like bird is also referred to as 'the king of the marshes'. In Uganda, the Shoebill is aΒ symbol of good fortune and protection; a good reason to take my chances on finding the Shoebill in Mabamba Swamp Entebbe; the best place to see the Shoebill in Uganda.

It is believed that the presence of a shoebill in the vicinity brings blessings and prosperity. To me, it was a blessing to see my first ever Shoebill and learn from its behavior. Finding the Shoebill is not an easy task and partly about luck.

Patience, mirrored in the Shoebill waiting for its prey, resonates in life's ups and downs. Embracing the wait and life’s rhythm enriches our extraordinary journeys. The Shoebill's prehistoric charm urges appreciation for timeless beauty in nature and personal experiences.

The journey through the swamp was a nice one, witnessing other wading birds, plants and flowers. Also a shoutout to the dedication of the local fisherman who took us through Mabamba Swamp to find the elusive prehistoric-looking Shoebill. For the fishermen, it's a way to profit from tourism. Once spotted, we respect nature and stay at a responsible distance to not disturb Mabamba's Shoebill in its daily routine. If you ever want to see the Shoebill, please don't push your guide or the fisherman to get too close. Always act according to the 'nature-first' principle.

Join me on a Uganda safari

Want to come on Uganda Photo Safari with me? I'm hosting a small group trip to Uganda. I will be your safari tour leader and together with a local professional driver/guide we love to teach you everything we know about Uganda. On top of that, I share my best safari photography tips that help you to take better photos on safari. Check my tours or join the waiting list and be the first to receive all details of my upcoming trip (limited spots!).

3. Eswatini: The Reed Dance and Cultural Resilience

The Reed Dance in Eswatini is about Cultural Resilience

There are a lot of things to do in Eswatini. Witnessing the Umhlanga Reed Dance Ceremony (accessible for tourists) is a must-visit if you are eager to learn more about Eswatini's cultural heritage.

The Umhlanga Reed Dance Festival in Eswatini is not merely a spectacle; it is a journey through the heart and soul of a nation. As the Kingdom continues to evolve, this annual celebration proves the enduring strength of tradition and the importance of cultural unity. The ceremony keeps ancient (zulu) traditions alive while the 8-day festival also raises awareness about respecting women, family values, and being proud of who you are. You can't start young enough to show respect and learn to be proud of who you are and where you come from. For those fortunate enough to witness the magic, Umhlanga is an experience that transcends time, leaving an everlasting imprint on the hearts of all who embrace its cultural embrace.

Vibrant traditions like the Reed Dance in Eswatini (Swaziland) illuminate the strength in cultural bonds arising from collective participation. Preserving our heritage fosters unity and understanding across borders. Dance to the rhythm of tradition!

4. South Africa: Melanistic Flamingo Wonders Chrissiesmeer

Lessons from a Melanistic Flamingo in Chrissiesmeer South Africa

In September 2023, we spotted a rare black Flamingo in Chrissiesmeer, South Africa. As a wildlife photographer and nature lover, I found it extremely special to see this gift of Mother Earth. It's a reminder that the world still holds mysteries, and in that moment, you become a storyteller for a bird few have witnessed.

Because Lake Chrissie's black Lesser Flamingo stands out, it's not accepted by the rest of the flamboyance. Just like us humans, this creature is trying very hard to fit in with the species it belongs to, and it breaks my heart to see it’s being repelled by its own kind.

Sounds familiar, right? The genocide in Gaza is another example where people are being repelled and killed by its own kind, but expressions of racism and hatred are not confined to large incidents; they persist on a subtle, everyday level. These occurrences may be less conspicuous, but their impact remains significant, affecting individuals on a personal and intimate scale. Recognizing and addressing these small-scale manifestations is crucial for fostering a more inclusive and tolerant society (read this paragraph again).

Another example of melanism is the black leopard spotted in Kenya. You can also compare it with the natural occurrence of albinism. Mother nature keeps surprising us.

Discovering uniqueness emphasizes the beauty of diversity. Celebrating individuality enriches our experiences and enhances our understanding of the world. And according to what’s going on in the world right now: Let’s treat every soul with respect because we are not so different at all.

5. Malawi: Shire River Camping and Forest Retreat

Forest Retreat and Shire River Camping in Malawi

Nature connection in Malawi teaches profound lessons. In the stillness of the forest and by the flowing river within the African wilderness, we find rejuvenation, inspiration, and a reminder of our interconnectedness with Earth.

I highly recommend engaging in nature-based activities. It fosters emotional resilience and helping you cope with life's challenges and uncertainties. Walking trails and camping on the banks of the Shire River in the middle of Liwonde National Park - the home of elephants, hippos, buffalos, and additional wildlife - can promote self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment, contributing to robust mental well-being.

Experiences with nature positively impact your attention levels and reduce stress. After a few days of slowing down in the middle of Zomba Forest, you will leave feeling restored and reconnected to nature- especially with no electricity and zero connection to the outer world. At least, that was my experience of spending a few nights at Zomba Forest Lodge, one of the best places to stay in Malawi.

6. Zanzibar: Skydiving Above Turquoise Waters

Lessons learned from skydiving in Zanzibar

The tropical paradise Zanzibar of the coast of Tanzania took me to new heights! Free-falling over Zanzibar reinforces conquering fears and gaining a fresh perspective on life. If you’re willing to step outside of your comfort zone, there's unparalleled growth and beauty when we take that leap of faith.

Skydiving in Zanzibar was an amazing adventure and among the best things to do in Nungwi. In 2009, I went skydiving in Cape Town (South Africa) so it wasn't the first time I jumped out of an airplane. Although I knew what was coming, the presence of extremely thick grey rain clouds and leaving the airstrip in a rain shower was a new experience and made me slightly nervous to jump. Without a door in the aircraft, we circled around for a bit to see what the weather would be doing. When we saw a small spot where it cleared up, with the sun peeking through the clouds, we jumped and I landed perfectly with two feet on Kendwa Beach.

Occasionally, I enjoy pushing my boundaries to observe how my body responds. Non-travel related, embracing an Ice Bath is also a great example to reset body & mind, offering an escape from the usual comfort zone. Other examples of thrilling adventure activities I did in Africa were jumping off the 111-meter high Victoria Falls Bridge in Zimbabwe, taking a dip in Zambia's Devil's Pool, and navigating Zambezi waters in a canoe while being chased by an agitated and irritated hippopotamus.

Inspirational lessons from exploring Africa

Inspirational lessons from exploring the African continent

Travel is about so much more than just sleeping in a different bed, or eating away from home. It's a chance to break free from your daily habits and routines, regenerate, and fully immerse yourself in new experiences with an open and curious mind, while respecting your environment. Humbled by the diverse inspirational lessons and transformative travel experiences in Africa, I keep learning, growing, and sharing the beauty of our planet Earth.

Want to join my small group safaris to for example Uganda and Tanzania? Check my tours or join the waiting list and be the first to receive information of my upcoming trips (limited spots available).

Follow me along on my adventures and reflections through this travel blog or my Instagram, Facebook, and Tiktok.