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Tips for Your First Trip to Africa

Unfiltered/unedited sunset in Uganda on Lake Victoria

As you’re sitting in your office (or cubicle), staring out of the window, daydreaming of faraway places, followed by looking for cheap flights, may I suggest a jaunt over to the vast wonderful place that is THE CONTINENT. As an avid travel, I have been to all six continents and without a doubt, my favorite is Africa.  As travelers of the African diaspora continue to globetrot more and more, it saddens me that many have never visited the lands of our ancestors. Many people are quick to hop on a flight to Paris or Bangkok, but hesitate when it comes to booking a trip to Accra or Kampala. We are constantly bombarded with negative stories about Africa, a narrative laced with disease, starving children, and “ethnic” conflict. What they do not tell you is that Europeans are vacationing in Africa in droves, and yes they are going beyond the typical safari locations. Africa, a continent made up of 54 countries and nine territories, all of which are unique, in terms of language, food and culture, should be at the top of your 2015 travel list (or 2016 for those that plan far in advance).

Lake Nakuru in Kenya.

I have visited eight African countries and lived in one, with many more on my list. I lived in Benin and visited Uganda, Togo, Kenya, Egypt, Ghana, Senegal and Ethiopia. Uganda was the third country that I ever visited and it also happens to be my home country. Yes I was born in the US, no that does not make my blood any less Ugandan! Starting with my first trip at the age of six, my parents made it a priority to ensure that we knew where we were from and more importantly built a sense of pride in us for the beautiful country that is referred to as the Pearl of Africa. With the source of the Nile, the majority of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas and the beauty that is Lake Victoria, Uganda should be number one on your African bucket list, but I will admit, I might be a little biased.

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A taxi park in Senegal, outside of Dakar

Traveling to Africa may seem scary to some, but I assure you that many African countries have solid tourism infrastructures and yes even those five star hotels that you prefer to stay in. But best of all, Africa has Africans! I don’t know about you but I love being surrounded by people that look like me and that are so full of life. Africa is the source of all of humanity, the source of the gorgeous black people in the African diaspora that have sprung forth from her vast lands, the lands of endless natural resources and natural beauty.

 

1. Find an African friend and tag along with them on their next trip.

When I travel to any country, I generally pick places where I know someone that lives there or a friend of a friend lives there. I find that it makes for a better experience when you can couple typical touristy outings with restaurants that only locals know about. It is also a great way to get a more intimate knowledge of the culture.

2. Only go when you have at least two weeks to spare.

Getting to many African countries can be a long journey depending on which continent you are flying from and which country you are going to. You also want to give yourself time to adjust and soak up the experience which often times means taking long road trips outside of the capital city. Plus this is not an experience that you want to rush.

3. Do not let the CDC and state.gov scare you.

There are certainly shots that you will want to take prior to your travel and you should take prophylactic for malaria, depending on the country, but these are minor hurdles that you should not put you off. The CDC and state.gov are trying to scare you away from going to the Continent, but do not be deterred. Aside from a little diarrhea and a few mosquito bites, I promise you will come out alive. If you have questions about specific countries just ask someone who has been there.

4. Sacrifice comfort for the experience.

You can travel to many African countries and have a sterile five star experience. It is possible if that is what you’re looking for. I, for one, 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, read more here) Get comfortable eating with your hands and eating things that you cannot entirely recognize, it might be the best thing you’ve ever tasted. Plus when you are tired of local food there will be a ton of restaurants and hotels that you can go to for a taste of home, if that is what you desire.

Surfers in Dakar

5. Be respectful

Most, if not all, African countries are conservative when it comes to the way that people dress, especially women. That means even when it is 90 degrees you may want to opt out of wearing that short spaghetti strap sundress, unless you are on the property of a hotel. You do not want to draw any negative attention to yourself.

6. Get clothes made and buy jewelry

This is a MUST! Whenever i visit an African country I get clothes made, firstly, because you can find amazing tailors and secondly, because it is CHEAP!! Many people comment on my dresses and shirts made of African fabrics and I got them all made on the Continent (or by Africans, off of the continent). There is an abundance of different types of jewelry depending on the country that you are in, but no matter where you go, stop by the market and add a piece of African jewelry to your Outfit of the Day.

7. Dance until you can dance no more

Need I say more? Ok, maybe. In the clubs that I have gone to in African countries, people DANCE. There is none of that standing on the wall nonsense, people go to the club to dance, guys and girls. So put on your dancing shoes and enjoy the night!

A young boy dancing on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Toubab Diallo, Senegal.

So which country should you visit?! I would pick any country that does not have any 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, though more experienced travelers may venture to other nations. This of course does not mean that the countries not on the list are all dealing with conflict, but based on information from friends that have visited these countries for vacation, I recommend them. If you have any questions about countries with an asterisk (the ones that I have visited) feel free to ask!

Angola
Benin*
Botswana
Cameroon
Cape Verde
Comoros
Egypt*
Ethiopia*
Ghana*
Kenya*
Lesotho
Madagascar
Mali
Mauritius
Morocco
Mozambique
Namibia
Rwanda
Senegal*
Seychelles
South Africa
Swaziland
Tanzania
Tunisia
Uganda*
Zambia
Zimbabwe

Have you been to Africa? What is your favorite country? What tips do you have for newbies traveling to the Continent?

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. I went to Uganda and Kenya back in 2003/04 for 8 months and it was life changing. I'm a black American and it broke my heart when people asked me what tribe I was from and I didn't have an answer. I wasn't expecting this big homecoming but I definitely thought I would feel more connected. I felt American most of the time, and struggled with that a little bit. But I was mostly in small villages and with families so I wasn't around a lot of other travelers. I loved the dancing and the food and the hospitality. Looking forward to many return trips.

    1. I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed your time in East Africa. I think as black Americans travel to Africa more and more and understanding of black Americans and their culture will increase.

  2. My boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Africa in December for 3 weeks. Honestly we’re pretty inexperienced travelers (I’ve only been to Argentina through a volunteer program for 2 weeks.) and have no idea where to even start planning.
    It sounds pretty cliche but we’re planning for a safari like trip where we can see a lot of animals. Any suggestions? Advice?
    I really do want to immerse myself in the different cultures and if possible travel to multiple countries in one trip.

    1. Hi Mikaela,

      If you’re looking for safaris, the best countries are Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa. Traveling between regions in Africa can be expensive but traveling within regions is relatively inexpensive. Hope that helps.

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