Cultural tourism can feel fraught with ethical issues, but when done right it can be an eye-opening experience of connection that can also benefit communities who welcome tourists. Additionally, it can be a driver to preserving cultures and traditions. It must be approached with respect for the area and people and should be enriching for both parties. It is critical to use a local guide who can advise on regional customs and appropriate ways to interact with people to ensure that the experience is beneficial for all parties. At Africa Travel Centre, we only approach cultural tourism with a trusted group of local guides we work with throughout Africa.
Ethiopia’s Omo Valley is a remote destination with incredibly rich cultural diversity. Made somewhat easier to reach in recent years with the introduction of regular flights to the area, it is gaining more attention from tourists to the country. Visiting the local tribes is high on many travelers’ lists and we recommend it to our interested clients.
Our experience in the Omo Valley was one of discovery and exchange. We were thrilled to see so many people observing their traditions contemporarily – from how they dress to their roles in society. The variety among the tribes throughout the valley is also astonishing. Their customs and practices range widely, as do their standards of beauty, and getting a glimpse into this living culture was an exceptional experience.
The lip plates worn by the women of the Mursi and Suri tribes may seem odd to us, but they are a sign of beauty, while the skin scarification practiced by the Kara and Dassanech tribes indicates bravery. It’s an easy reaction to judge these practices from our Western viewpoint, but a much more interesting path is to learn the background and values of the people from a knowledgeable guide, and to interact with the locals and to try to relate to and understand their customs in the context of their environment.
Thoughtful tourism can be a force for good and visiting the tribes in the Omo – done right – has been beneficial to the communities while introducing a sustainable income stream. It has also opened travelers’ eyes to the area’s cultural diversity and helped to preserve tradition. Ethiopia is a stunning destination overall and adding the cultural experience of visiting the Omo Valley and meeting its people to your Ethiopia trip provides a complex and fascinating contrast to the historic North.