Although I generally avoid shopping, I love to buy things when I travel — especially in Africa (which is most of my traveling these days). So when Afristay asked me to write a post about traveling in Africa, I decided to take a look back at some of the best arts and crafts I’ve found in my explorations around the continent.
I’ve been to 13 African countries and I’ve come back from every one of them with something amazing. But for brevity’s sake I’m limiting this list to six favorite spots in five countries.
African Arts and Crafts: My Top Six Picks
1) Teyateyaneng, Lesotho
Teyateyaneng (or TY for short), a small town about 30 minutes from Lesotho’s capital city of Maseru, was one of my first African craft discoveries. There are several weaving cooperatives in TY, in which groups of women work together to create Basotho-themed mohair tapestries.
Teyateyaneng is an easy drive from Maseru and close to several South African border crossings. You can literally visit on a day trip from Clarens. So do it — just don’t forget your passport.
2) Malkerns, Swaziland
I wrote an entire post about crafts in Swaziland several years ago but it’s time to revisit.
The Malkerns Valley, also easily accessible from Swaziland’s main cities (Mbabane and Manzini) and a quick hop over the South African border, has two must-visit craft spots: Swazi Candles and Gone Rural.
Elephant-shaped candles from Swazi Candles.
Swazi Candles is a crafts paradise, with a flagship candle-making factory/shop surrounded by a smattering of other craft shops selling, clothes, jewelry, and paintings. There’s also a nice café on the premises.
Gone Rural, just up the road from Swazi Candles, is based at House on Fire, the quirky venue where the Bushfire Festival takes place. Gone Rural is another women’s cooperative producing handmade woven grass baskets, rugs, and all kinds of woven crafts.
The top floor of Gone Rural. The blue and gray rug pictured here is sitting under my feet as I type this post. These rugs are affordable and incredibly durable, even when cats use them as their personal scratching pads. (The Melville Cat, who is also resting on the blue and gray rug as a type, can attest to this fact.)
3) Accra, Ghana
Global Mamas, a fair trade clothing and accessory company in Ghana, sells colorful, handmade products made with batik fabric. I had a massive shopping spree at the Global Mamas shop in Accra when I went there in 2014. Apparently I was so focused on shopping that I forgot to take pictures inside the beautiful store.
I do, however, have pictures from a few days earlier when my friend Michelle and I took a batiking course in Cape Coast, a couple of hours away from Accra. The course was organized by Global Mamas, whose operations are based around Cape Coast.
4) Nairobi, Kenya
Kazuri is a huge fair trade factory in the Nairobi suburb of Karen, producing finely crafted clay beads and pottery.
Amani Ya Juu, right in Nairobi, produces clothing and accessories along the lines of Global Mamas. The beautiful clothes there, made mostly from East African fabric, hammered a big dent in my wallet.
5) Limpopo, South Africa
Last year I visited the Ribola Art Route in northern Limpopo Province and watched Shangaan and Venda artists produce intricate wooden sculptures and clay pots. I also learned to make batik in the Southern African style, different from the West African style I learned in Ghana.
This part of South Africa has some of the richest artistic traditions in the country. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Tours of the Ribola Art Route can be organized through Open Africa.
6) Mpumalanga, South Africa
I just blogged two weeks ago about my visit to the Ndebele artists in Mpumalanga Province, so I won’t repeat myself.
Visiting the Ndebele artists in Mpumalanga is a little tricky to do on one’s own, as it’s not really an organized tourism route. But I wanted to use this post as an excuse to show off the new shoes I bought from Mama Sophie at the Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market in Joburg last weekend.
If you’d like some of your own authentic Ndebele art, keep an eye out for announcements about next year’s Mpumalanga Traditional Art Market.
This post was commissioned by Afristay, an accommodation booking site with listings in most of the African destinations in this post. Opinions expressed are all mine.