Do you want to immerse yourself in culture and connect more deeply with your roots on your next travel adventure? Perhaps you haven’t allotted enough time to secure a tourist visa and get the necessary vaccinations to make the pilgrimage to a West African country like Ghana, Mali, Senegal or Nigeria. But you can still heed the call of the motherland with a trip to one of these four dynamic Black diasporic destinations in South America, the Caribbean and stateside. Each city or region is overflowing with rich history, traditions and foodways that hark back to our regal, resilient and resourceful ancestors.
Salvador de Bahia, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro is the place to frolic on the beach like a girl from Ipanema, sip caipirinhas and samba into the wee hours. But in Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia, the spirit of Mama Africa is palpable. Stroll through the popular Pelourinho arts and nightlife district with its colorful colonial buildings and cobblestoned streets. This historic area, however, has a painful past. The word “pelourinho” means whipping post in Portuguese, and the town square was the site for slave auctions. While in the Pelourinho, watch a capoeira class (a martial art disguised as a dance); visit the landmark Our Lady of the Rosary of Black People, where mass is a lively mix of Catholicism and Bahia’s Candomblé religion, which worships African-derived deities called orishas; and peruse the maze of stalls at the Mercado Modelo for handcrafted items and unique souvenirs. Travel tip: June through September is winter in Brazil, and temperatures are milder.
Loíza, Puerto Rico
A short drive or taxi ride from Puerto Rico’s bustling capital city of San Juan, Loíza is a hidden gem and home to the island’s largest Black population. The area is peppered with murals of the horned vejigante masks that are worn during the annual Festival of Saint James in July. Pick up frituras (fritters and fried turnovers) and fruit frappés from a roadside food stand in Piñones and picnic at the chill, family-friendly beach, La Posita. To soak up more of the Afro–Puerto Rican culture, take a peek at the Afrocentric art inside artist Samuel Lind’s home studio. To experience la bomba (the dance of the slaves) on the beach, kick off your flip-flops and slip into a full skirt for a spirit-conjuring class with drummers and a circle of sisters, led by teacher Sheila Osorio.
New Orleans, Louisiana
From music to food to spiritual practices, the influence of both enslaved and free people of color helped shape this fascinating former French city, which before the Civil War was the largest slave market in the United States. New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and you can visit where it all began at Congo Square in Armstrong Park. Just north of the French Quarter, explore Tremé, the oldest African American neighborhood in America, at the Backstreet Cultural Museum, which houses the city’s largest collection of Mardi Gras Indian costumes. You can also soak up Black history and culture at one of Nawlins’ poppin’ food and music festivals, like the longstanding New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in the spring and the annual Essence Festival of Culture in the summer.
The Sea Islands, South Carolina
The Gullah-Gechee people of the Southern Atlantic coast are descendants of the enslaved West Africans brought to the region to farm rice and cotton. To this day, these proud people have preserved more of their African heritage than any other African American community in the United States. On the beautiful Sea Islands of Hilton Head and St. Helena in South Carolina’s Spanish moss–dripping Lowcountry, take time to experience this unique Gullah culture firsthand. You’ll hear folks speaking the distinctive English-based Creole language; you can sample soulful rice-and-okra-heavy dishes; and you can bring home a coiled basket fashioned from local sweetgrass. On Hilton Head, take an insightful heritage tour with fourth- and fifth-generation Gullah guides, and on St. Helena, visit the Penn Center on the campus of one of the country’s first schools for formerly enslaved people.