Happy New Year (we say that every time we great someone new for the first month of the year right?!)!
In January of 2017 I answered a Quora question, “As an African American where are the best places to travel without experiencing racism?”
That turned into a blog post that is the most trafficked on my site, 10 African American Friendly Destinations.
Every day, I have a comment, message or email pertinent to this article and it makes me so happy. Traveling is something that everyone has a right to experience and traveling as a person of color is a certain niche that does require extra research. This is why a guide like the Negro Motorist’s Green Book, a travel guide for African-Americans published from 1936 to 1967 that promised “vacation without aggravation” was created. Like many industries, the behind-the-scenes of travel industry content creation is majority white. They may have a VERY different experience in a destination than people of color. I’m a strong proponent of women traveling solo, I want to highlight my experiences about it. Recently, traveling to Jaipur, India as a black woman was hard. I can still picture the intense stares that went beyond curiosity more often than not into menacing. I was slightly prepped for this due to another influencer from Nigeria’s experiences in the country but never the less, confronted with the stares and the pointing and laughing, I had to keep reminding myself, “there’s beauty everywhere” and I had just as much right to see it as the next person. And I did; I savored those moments of beauty, and the smiles and positivity I did receive. I’m going to write about that experience but I bring it up to say, recently, due to this experience, even more-so did I appreciate and realize the value of this Black-Friendly Travel Destination list.
We deserve to explore the world, but let’s get our feet wet with some destinations that will embrace us first. So here are another 10 places that should be on every African American’s travel list (and for the most part, black people across the diaspora).
South Africa, particularly Johannesburg
Johannesburg might be popping up on your feed a lot lately with Afropunk and Mandela 100 (this year’s Global Citizen’s Fest) held in the South African city. “Johannesburg feeds the soul” seems to be the motto of many South Africans I met. This city is vibes. The food, the music, the people, the culture. If you’ve never been to the continent before, this should be your first stop! There is a lot more to South Africa than the recent history of apartheid but as they say “you’ve gotta know your history.” The country’s struggle for freedom during the apartheid regime will move you and also rip you apart because this was in many of our lifetimes. There is a strong initiative from the government to empower and re-enfranchise people of colour as well and you very much see it in the city of Johannesburg. Make sure to explore Soweto (SOuth WEst TOwnships). During apartheid, blacks were moved away from central Johannesburg to this area. It lives in South African history as the area with the heart of the struggle against apartheid. It also has the only street in the world to house TWO Nobel Prize winners: Vilakazi street is home to Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. And the amazing neighborhood has given us Trevor Noah as well… just saying.
Guadeloupe, French West Indies
Guadeloupe is similar to another island on this list, Martinique, as it is a department of France in the West Indies. I’d say the major difference is that Guadeloupe rebelled… A LOT…. The slaves there rebelled a few times and the island also rebelled to overthrow France. In that sense, and in the spirit of who they are, Guadeloupe is an awesome island for a vacation: beautiful beaches, superb food, luxury hotels AND Guadeloupe encourages visitors of all backgrounds to explore its historical sites. Take a tour of places like the slave steps in Petit Canal and the preserved slave market: the first entry point after Africa for many of the slaves in the Caribbean and their last sight of the shore. There’s also the new Memorial ACTe museum. On par, if not better than, the new African American history museum in DC, this museum has won many international awards, has wonderful interactive exhibitions and is part of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project, a global initiative to promote the rapprochement of peoples through the shared legacy of this tragedy. This is such a great trip for African-American families.
Another island in the French West Indies that you should visit, possibly on the same trip (Norwegian has super affordable flights) is Martinique. It’s such a beautiful island with a diversity of landscape: super lush and green in the mountains up north, beachy down south. It’s a beautiful territory of France and has that unique balance of a deep and rich local history (very proud of their African roots) while having the chicness (and structural development) as the South of France. Beautiful people, great beaches, delicious food, great cultural offerings (a former distillery with a modern Art museum) and cheap flights from both the US and Europe. If you’ve ever wanted to “do Carnival” but maybe get intimidated by the crowds or sheer intensity of it all, Martinique has a super fun, light-hearted Carnival in February. It is the PERFECT place for your first Carnival as it is the only one that’s really participatory: there are no barriers separating the spectators and the marchers, everyone is encouraged to participate and does. If you decide to book, check out my Martinique guide for Vogue.com!
Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
The weather is perfect, the water’s perfect, and you can catch some great waves. One of my favorite places in the world, my happy place, is Sayulita, Mexico, I’ve written about it for Vice, Duchess Meghan’s The Tig and tons of other places. A small fishing village-cum-surftown-cum-pueblo-magico Sayulita is abound with good energy, color and good vibes. The locals there are almost like beautiful merpeople, taken to a water at a young age, tan skin glowing; it’s just a beautiful place. The whole riviera is with the different towns being distinct, whether it’s a boutique hotel in Sayulita, airbnb and family vibes in San Pancho or the posh W hotel in Punta Mita. Take a vacation in Mexico, learn how to surf, break the stereotype and get your hair wet ;).
While I was in Hawaii, I often heard the island of Kauai praised as “Hawaiians favorite island.” Often called the Garden Isle, this place is truly breathtaking. Think Fern Gully or Avatar. There’s the north shore, home to the Nā Pali coast where emerald green cliffs, sprinkled with clay red rocks dipping into the sapphire ocean will leave you in awe or the majestic Wailua Falls in Lihue. Retaining a strong connection to their native Hawaiian past is a source of pride to locals. There is a strong connection to the land and appreciation of the creator; a truly beautiful spirituality. In my short time in Hawaii, I went to a lot of blessing ceremonies. I got blessed more times than in a black church! We deserve self-care and natural rejuvenation too! Go for that alone! I wrote about my love of this island for Vice and for ‘NAPW!
Great food, good weather, cool people. I recently took a trip to Thailand with my boyfriend, exploring both Bangkok and the North and found it to be such an amazing and welcoming country. There’s a lot of innovation in the country and we spent the most time in the university city of Chiang Mai, where the openness, inclusion and frankly just the dopeness of the next generation lead the way. Sure, there were moments that I was met with curiosity, generally at temples in the North where Chinese tourists wanted to take photos with me and complimented my hair but it was genuine, good hearted fascination — though it’s OK to say no to a selfie. Throughout our travels in Thailand, I saw a solid amount of fellow black travelers and even happened to be on an excursion with a West Indian couple from my neighborhood in Brooklyn, small world huh?!
I spent my birthday in Morocco and besides not really feeling Chefchaouen (which was beautiful nonetheless) I absolutely loved my time in the country. Yasiin Bey / Mos Def seems to have his hand in all of the amazing places on the continent (his recording studio in Johannesburg launched this past fall) and the Moroccan city of Marrakesh holds a special place in his heart. Before you head there, take a look at the show, The Getaway an Esquire travel series showcasing his Marrakesh. As for my time in Morocco, As you can probably tell from my most recent posts, I fell in love with the vibes of the city of Fez, the cultural and spiritual capital of the country. There I was called an “African princess.” Fez not only has the oldest medina in the Arab world, but the oldest university which draws millions of religious pilgrims (including those from Sub-Saharan Africa) every year. Another place that we loved was Imlil Valley where we were ensconced in the beauty of the Atlas mountain and the world-famous hospitality of the Berber people. There is so much to see in Morocco and I would definitely recommend it for a black traveler.
As I mentioned in my original black-friendly travel post, France, especially Paris has a love affair with black Americans but what about exploring the smaller, yet cosmopolitan city of Bordeaux? It the capital of this wine region so Bordeaux is also a great base point for fun vineyard exploration. The city is in the midst of a rebirth with younger families opting for Bordeaux and its more relaxed way of life over Paris. It’s chic, it’s young, it’s hip, dare I say, I prefer Bordeaux to Paris at the moment! I wrote about it a few years ago for the Duchess of Sussex Meghan’s former blog, The Tig.
Lisbon & Porto, Portugal
With Brazil, Cape Verde and African countries like Angola being former Portuguese colonies and the immigration patterns that come with this, while not perfect in race relations, the Portuguese are used to seeing people of color and they have been integrated in Portuguese society for centuries. Portugal clung to it’s colonies a lot longer than other European powers (1975) BUT they were supposedly considerably more casual about interracial marriage and intermingling in society leading to a “browning” of the population and in my opinion, some awesome flavor (though there are no “good” colonizers and I would never want to add to that myth)! Lisbon and Porto are really cool cities and compared to other well-traversed European capitals they are very affordable in terms of food and accommodation. Portugal also has a very robust wine region as well so it could be an alternative to vineyard hopping in France! As a Black American, traveling there with my mom and also spending time there with my boyfriend I found myself welcomed in Lisbon and I’m definitely looking forward to going back.
Now here’s an interesting one: Finland. I went to Finland on a press trip with 7 other influencers of color and our Norwegian Airlines PR representative. I had an AMAZING time and was eager to put Finland on the list. Helsinki is a cool city that Lenny Kravitz apparently frequently visits: the design is on point and it has a contemporary food cuisine. We then went up to the Arctic Circle, the Laplands, and snowmobiled, ice fished and did lots of cold weather activities that black people aren’t normally pictured doing. We were warmly received — you know, as warm as the Finnish can be (they seem to be a very quiet people) — and it’s a great alternative to Iceland for seeing the beauty of the Northern Lights. Naturally, given all of this, I was eager to add Finland to the list but this list is not just based on my experiences but also my colleagues in the black travel community, friends, family and the current socio-political climate. That’s where Finland gets, well, complicated. I had great experiences there but according to the Being Black in the EU report (https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2018/eumidis-ii-being-black) published by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) among the 12 western EU states in the survey – including Ireland, Austria, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, Malta, Sweden, France, Italy, the UK and Portugal – Finland topped the list regarding perceived racial discrimination as well as harassment speech and gestures. Some 14 percent of black respondents in Finland said they had been the victim of a physical attack, which was the highest figure among all 12 of the countries overall. However, at the same time, the respondents from Finland reported among the highest level of trust in police and least examples of racial profiling by the police vs. the other countries. Digging more into it, I found Far Right street gangs street gangs have been on the rise in Helsinki terrorizing the Somali population there. If you do enough digging, you can find incidences of racism for most countries in the world, black countries included, so, I had a good experience in Finland but I want to give you the BIG PICTURE.
Speaking of FRA, on that list, the country with the least discrimination that’s been on my bucket list for a while is Malta. We do have to take these numbers in context because it is an island with about half-a-million people and few minorities, most of whom are Brits. But still the ones there are feeling pretty good about their situation! I’ve always wanted to go to Malta. Pre Game of Thrones fandom I was a Degrassi-stan and one of the characters, Jay, mentioned his family was from there. After looking it up, I decided I wanted to head to this beautiful island nation. It’s on my list for 2019 so you’ll see a post from there soon!
Another disclaimer I want to mention is this list is for places to visit. It is a far different experience being a visitor in a place, seeing tourist attractions, etc than living there and being firmly entrenched in daily life. For better or worse, a place really starts to show it’s true colors then.
Let me know if you have questions about other places that you’re thinking about going and feel free to share your experiences in the comments below. The last post created a great community, with even more insight and suggestions. I’m here for you guys!
Be sure to follow my travels on instagram @Nneya