More and more individuals of the African diaspora are exploring the world; however, many have never visited the lands of our ancestors. Many travelers are quick to hop on a flight to Paris or Bangkok but hesitate to book a trip to Accra or Kampala. We are constantly bombarded with negative imagery of Africa, including rampant disease, starving children and “ethnic” conflict. What the media do not share is that Europeans are vacationing in Africa in droves, and yes they are going beyond the usual safari locations. Africa, a continent made up of 54 countries and nine territories, all of which have unique cultures, should be at the top of your 2015 travel list (or 2016 for those who plan far in advance).
I lived in Benin and visited Uganda, Togo, Kenya, Egypt, Ghana, Senegal and Ethiopia. I have many more countries on my list. I was born in the United States, but Uganda is my home country. It happens to be the third country I’ve ever visited. My parents wanted to ensure that my siblings and I knew where we were from, and more importantly, to build a sense of pride in us for the beautiful country referred to as the Pearl of Africa. Uganda is home to the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas, Lake Victoria and source of the Nile. These features should put Uganda at the top of your African bucket list. I’ll admit, though, I’m a bit biased.
Your first trip to Africa may seem scary, but rest assured that many African countries have solid tourism infrastructures including five star hotels. Best of all, though, Africa has Africans. Africa is the source of all of humanity and is covered with natural resources and beauty.
So, where do you begin?
1. Find an African friend and tag along with him or her on the next trip.
I generally pick a country to visit based upon knowing someone who lives in it. I’ve found that travel experiences can be enhanced when you can couple typical tourist outings with restaurants that only locals know about. This is also a great way to get an intimate knowledge of the culture.
2. Only go when you have at least two weeks to explore.
Getting to many African countries can be a long journey depending on what continent you fly from and what country you go to. You’ll want to give your body time to adjust and allow yourself to experience the country, which may mean taking long road trips outside of the capital city. In addition, this is not an experience you want to rush.
3. Do not let the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and state.gov scare you.
There are certainly shots that you will want to take prior to your trip. Depending on the country you visit, you may also need to take malaria prophylactics.You may get diarrhea and a few mosquito bites. These are minor hurdles that you should not put you off. If you have questions about specific countries, ask someone who has been there. Use Travel Noire and the huge network of black travelers as your resource.
4. Sacrifice comfort for the experience.
You can travel to many African countries and have a sterile five star experience. I would encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Bathing in cold water never killed anyone nor did going without electricity for a night or two. This is how it is in my mother’s village. Get comfortable eating with your hands and eating food you cannot entirely recognize; it might be the best thing you’ve ever tasted. There will be a ton of restaurants and hotels you can go to for a taste of home if you grow tired of local food.
5. Be respectful.
Women in most, if not all, African countries dress conservatively. That means women travelers may want to opt out of short spaghetti strap sundresses, unless they are on a hotel property, even when it is 90 degrees. You do not want to draw any negative attention to yourself.
6. Get clothes made, and buy jewelry.
Whenever I visit an African country, I get clothes made. I consider this a must because you can buy cheap clothes from amazing tailors. Many people comment on my dresses and shirts made of African fabrics. I got them all made on the continent. There are several different types of jewelry available in various countries. No matter where you go, stop by the market and add a piece of African jewelry to your outfit.
7. Dance until you can dance no more.
Need I say more? Ok, maybe. People dance in clubs. There is no standing on the wall nonsense; people go to the club to dance, both guys and girls. So, put on your dancing shoes, and enjoy the night!
So which country should you visit? I would pick a country that does not have an active conflict, because sadly, many countries are still embroiled in domestic conflict. For your first visit you may want to stick to the below list. However, more experienced travelers may want to venture to other nations. This list, of course, does not mean that countries absent from it are dealing with conflict. I recommend the below countries based on my experience and information from friends that have vacationed in these countries.