Africa’s hottest travel trend? Finding wellness in the wilderness

The rapidly growing African “wellness in the wilderness” concept harnesses traditional safaris to activities such as yoga, meditation and spa treatments.
Kapama Spa (19)
The spa at Kapama Karula.

In November, “wellness in the wilderness” was identified as the most significant new trend to emerge in African travel by the World Travel Market Global Trends Report 2016.

The concept combines a traditional safari with activities such as yoga, meditation and spa treatments.

Such experiences, the report said, are typically booked by older, moneyed holiday makers yearning for “more than just a typical African getaway” – these travellers want to “gain life-enhancing skills through mindful activities that can be applied to everyday life, offering a richer holiday experience”.

The emergence of this trend in Africa has been a long time in coming. The New York-based Pravassa, which claims to be the world’s first wellness travel company, was founded by Linden Schaffer in 2009, when she traded a fashion career to take travellers on “healthy experiential journeys” to the likes of Vietnam and Costa Rica.

Pravassa’s success forms part of a groundswell that has seen the global growth of wellness travel outpacing conventional international travel by a whopping 74% in 2014, according to The Global Wellness Summit.

It’s an apt time for the first Africa-based wellness-focused travel company, Satori Africa, to open its doors. Headquartered in Cape Town, the company puts together custom-made itineraries that combine sightseeing, luxury accommodation and gastronomy with as many as 40 different wellness experiences including yoga, life-coaching, Ayurveda, Reiki, Pilates and meditation — all guided by the leading experts.

“We want to help people to be inspired to find their own place or way of wellness. It can be about moving the body, stilling the mind, becoming attuned to nature, connecting with the earth, finding your inner child, resetting, detoxing or simply just more ‘me’ time,” says Satori Africa founder Mark Bland.

For him, setting up Satori Africa meant the merging of his two great passions: hospitality and wellbeing. A trained chef, he has also worked at Londolozi Game Reserve and helped with the 2013 relaunch of MannaBay, a boutique hotel in Cape Town, before joining Spier wine farm, where he was the brand manager for its hospitality wing until June 2016.

After reading about yoga teacher and life coach Sharni Quinn, he started attending her classes as a means of coping with the anxiety and stress with which he has long struggled. He found weekly yoga sessions helped him “to still my mind and shut off the inner voices of my ego and anxiety”.

After sustaining a number of injuries from boxing, trail running and bad office posture, he kicked it up a notch: his yoga practice became more frequent and serious. This inspired him to leave Spier, complete a yoga teacher training course in Thailand and launch Satori Africa as a means of inspiring others to reap similar benefits.

“Yoga and other forms of wellness give you the tools to be able to deal with whatever life may throw at you — skills that you can use for the rest of your life,” he says.

Satori Africa founder Mark Bland.

Bland believes that connecting with Southern Africa’s natural beauty is a significant source of wellbeing. “There is something truly restorative and soulful about just being immersed in and feeling the beautiful simplicity of Africa – the sight of the sunsets, the smell of the ocean air, the taste of the local produce, the touch of the sand and the sounds of the bush,” he says.

Best-selling author and mindfulness coach David Michie agrees: “Some places lend themselves quite naturally to mindfulness. The fascinating wildlife and ever-changing environment of a safari is one of these. You are very aware of the present moment sitting on the back of a Land Rover when there could be a herd of elephants around the next corner.”

Since 2015, the Perth-based Michie has been hosting six-night “mindfulness safaris“. This year’s, which runs at Clive’s Camp and Xidulu lodges on the edge of the Kruger National Park from August 12-17, will host 20 guests participating in mindfulness workshops, meditation sessions and game drives.

Not to be outdone, Mhondoro Game Lodge, in the Waterberg’s Welgevonden Game Reserve, will be hosting a detox and yoga safari led by Dutch yoga instructor Monique Christiaans from June 10-24.

“During these six days, you can recharge your batteries completely and at the same time become more aware of nutrition and the importance of food and what it does in your body,” says Christiaans.

Mhondoro Game Lodge has expansive decks, heated pools, a yoga room, two gyms and a spa.

While at some lodges, wellness feels like an obligatory add-on (with an excruciating panpipe soundtrack to match), others have incorporated it as a core offering to guests.

The famed Londolozi in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve offers daily classes involving Iyengar, Ashtanga and Jivamukti postures on its yoga deck beneath the branches of a huge, 500-year-old jackalberry. Guests can also enjoy different kinds of massage in their rooms (or on their decks) and the gym is open 24 hours a day.

Birkenhead House in Hermanus and Ellerman House in Fresnaye, Cape Town, offer comprehensive spa treatments that go above and beyond the usual — as does Bushmans Kloof in the Cederberg, where the spa won Best in Africa at the 2016 Wellness Travel Awards.

An outdoor treatment at Birkenhead House.

Kapama Karula in Hoedspruit has a wellness centre offering a comprehensive range of spa treatments including those using the South African skincare range Healing Earth.

“The days of overstocked buffet tables, one-size-fits-all experiences and standardised offerings are over,” Bland says. “Travellers are looking for real experiences. They want to feel the energy, connect with the world and sense the pulse of human existence.

“Not to say that this cannot be tinged with touch points of opulence and the occasional indulgence, but the way that people are travelling is changing. And for the better.

“We believe in achieving the balance of health, beauty and discovery. How can you tick off your big 2017 bucket list items, but in the process come out a happier and healthier person for it?”


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