Phaka Dludla

As the name suggests, Zulu Nomad offers curated experiences across east and southern Africa for travellers hoping to immerse themselves in local culture, instead of just playing tourist. Immersive experiences are a passion for Phaka Dludla, who left the cushy corporate environment in 2016 to build a travel platform for 21-35-year-olds who are upwardly mobile and looking to travel with like-minded people and understand different cultures and places.

Dludla says the more established traditional “safari” experiences miss the fashion, media and food explosions taking place on the continent. “It would be amiss to come and just see the animals and fly home,” Dludla adds.

Budget travel is not really a culture in South Africa, as it is in Europe or Asia, according to Dludla. She discovered this when she returned home from working in a corporate job in Shanghai, China and backpacking though other parts of the world. “People on social media asked how I could afford to travel; the business started off as my own Instagram as a backpacker in my 20s.”

Zulu Nomad aims to educate people about backpacking and cheaper travel alternatives to Dubai or the pricey hotels in Bali. Mozambique is Zulu Nomad’s most popular destination and Dludla says social media has changed the way South Africans travel. Some people have seen a picture on Instagram in Mozambique and want to head there to take a replica of that exact photo.

“Those are not the travellers we are looking for … they tend to complain about the accommodation or food and put a dampener on the whole group,” Dludla comments.

Instead, Zulu Nomad has built strong relationships with the local community in Tofo, about six hours away from Maputo, and further north than most tourism operators venture.

The company tries to create a shift, especially for young South Africans, in the context of xenophobia. Interacting with local communities helps people learn empathy and realise people move to the continent’s economic hub out of circumstance, according to Dludla.

While working to educate locals about budget travel, Zulu Nomad also has a strong offering for international travellers and encourages people to visit Cape Town, while also visiting Mozambique and Botswana. “Travel in Southern Africa is relatively easy,” Dludla says.

Zulu Nomad has a small team of just four people, all playing the role of tour guide, cook and driver, including Dludla herself. She has invested around R250 000 of her own money into the business and is on a major funding drive to expand and scale the company, which will include buying larger vehicles to navigate some of the continent’s rougher rides.