Tag Archives: African travel

MOVERS: Latoya Brown

One of an occasional series

Latoya's Namibia Tour

First, she moved herself from the US to Ghana as an expat and a solo Black woman. Now, she’s making moves on the African travel industry, organizing safaris for women of color.

When Ghana became the first Black African nation to win its independence from colonial Europe in 1957, it also became the first nation on the Mother Continent to formally extend a standing invitation to Black Americans to return to the land of their ancestors.

Latoya Brown
Latoya Brown. Photo courtesy & property of L. Brown.

Four years ago, Latoya Brown accepted that invitation, leaving behind the United States for a new life in Africa. That’s when IBIT readers first met her.

A few years later, she sent for her 11-year-old son to join her in the Ghanaian capital of Accra.

For all its goodwill and good intentions, taking up Ghana on its trans-Atlantic invitation to reset your life in Africa is not easy for Black Americans. Dealing with the country’s bureaucracy is enough to deter all but the most determined.

Which pretty which describes Latoya Brown. Which explains why she and her son today have a Ghanaian home address.

Now, she’s launching a venture through which she hopes to share the wonders of southwestern Africa with eight to 10 women of color — and perhaps, leave them feeling as empowered as she is.

It’s a 10-day trip to explore Namibia, near the tip of the continent on the southwest Africa coast, on the board with South Africa.

She’s calling it Soul Adventurer Safaris.

She organized this journey, she says, “to bring together ladies interested in an African safari — to see something more magnificent than ourselves. Small and quaint and still fun for us all to learn about each other, enjoy nature, and get some reawakening or refreshing in 2016.”

If that sounds good to you, give Latoya a shout on her Facebook page — and start preparing yourself for the journey of a lifetime.

The safari hits the main highlights of northern and central-western Namibia first, then heads south to the Namib Desert.

This is assisted comfortable camping, with participation limited to only helping with the tents.

See the highest sand dunes in the world, wildlife, cultural visits, the art of the San peoples and a trip to the seaside! You’ll get up close with the Big Cats at Okonjima and photograph amazing wildlife in Etosha National Park. Learn the tribal structures, religions and daily life of the Himba. Walk Namibia’s highest mountain, the Brandberg, to view the ‘White Lady.’ Drive through the beautiful desert landscape of Damaraland. Enjoy Namibia’s premier seaside town, Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast. A visit to the Namib Desert sand dunes at Sossusvlei.

Your flight and visa costs are separate and you will be responsible for securing this part. I have found flights for as little as $900 up to $1300 round-trip from the U.S. You may also use your traveler’s points if you have any. Hosea Kutako airport in Windhoek. Airport code is WDH. Contact Trips by Greg for flight information and booking.

Arriving at least the day before, and then staying in Windhoek, is ideal to rest after such a long flight. On the 1st, all will be picked up from the airport – that specific information (time) will be given to participants closer to the date. You may find a hotel on your own to stay in during that time. I have found 1 hotel at about $30 for the night.

FOR THOSE CAMPING — Total: $1500.

FOR THOSE IN HOTELS —Total: $2,000

Payments can be made in installments. Contact Latoya Brown as soon as possible for pricing and payment schedule, or any other questions you might have.

NOTE: VERY IMPORTANT that you place in the description for the PayPal payments that you are with ForBlackWomen Group. Payment email is Namediting@gmail.com. You will receive a formal receipt by email.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


Black America & Africa: Travel’s Great Divide


When it comes to Africa travel and the African-American travel market, it takes two to miss a golden opportunity.

On one side of the Atlantic, you can find a lot of Black Americans who say they’d love to see Africa someday. On the other side, you find a lot of African nations looking for more tourism that would love to welcome them.

In between, you find…not much.

Black Americans are traveling the world in growing numbers, but the numbers traveling to the Mother Continent are nowhere near what they could or should be — and the reasons why have nothing whatever to do with ebola.

So why haven’t the two sides hooked up in the name of travel and tourism?

On the whole, we Americans — and Black Americans, in particular — really don’t know Africa. What little we do know, we tend to draw from the crisis du jour menu served up daily in mainstream media and the world’s single greatest source of misinformation: “I heard.”

YouTube boasts a whole collection of videos devoted to asking people what they know about Africa, including African-Americans at HBCUs like Howard University. The answers range from head-shaking to embarrassing to downright cringeworthy.

Africa has always been an afterthought in the United States. Our social and business ties to the Mother Continent are sparse compared with the rest of the world.

America’s schools have never taught kids about Africa in the same way it teaches about all things European. And while African food, art, music, film are global staples, you find precious little representation of any of that in US mass media.

The gap of knowledge and understanding between Africans and African-Americans is huge. But the blame for that gap cannot be laid entirely on this side of the Atlantic. There are two uncomfortable realities here:

  1. The nations of Africa have put too little effort into developing the US market.
  2. Safari travel in Africa has been over-marketed and over-promoted, to the detriment of African travel and tourism overall.

You find the best evidence of the first point at travel trade shows.

The biggest ones are in Europe, and ITB Berlin in Germany is by far the biggest. We’re talking 10,000 exhibitors from 185 countries — and about 50 of those countries are African. Government tourism ministries, private tourism boards, tour operators, travel agencies. Africa represents at ITB Berlin.

Here in the United States, Unicomm annually puts on the Travel and Adventure Show series — seven travel trade expositions in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego and San Francisco.

The perfect chance for African travel providers and tour operators to connect with travel agents and potential visitors here in the States.

The total number of African tourism bodies, public or private, represented at those seven shows: One. Rwandan Tourism, with whom I’ll be meeting this weekend at the LA show in Long Beach, CA.

The grand-daddy of US travel expos, the oldest and largest single show in the country, is the NY Times Travel Show. Their African exhibitors? Nine, maybe. Out of 55 sovereign African nations…nine.

Then, there’s the whole safari thing. Pick any ten people at random and tell them you’re contemplating a trip to Africa. At least seven out of ten will ask you: “Are you going on a safari?”

More likely, it’ll be all ten.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with safari travel. Done right, with respect for the environment and the local people who depend on it, it can be one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life. Small wonder that safari travel is the first thing that comes to mind among Western travelers.

The problem is that it tends to be the only thing that comes to mind.


Talk to Black Americans, especially younger ones, who have an interest in Africa, and you’ll find out that their interest often reach far beyond wildlife. They want to know about the history and heritage — not just as it relates to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but what happened before and what came after. They want a taste of Africa’s many cultures. They want to check out the music, the food, the styles. Everything.

And Africa has a mind-boggling amount of attractions to offer them in all of those areas. But Africa’s nations aren’t reaching out to tell them about it.

On the whole, the African and the African-American are much more culturally attuned to Europe than they are to each other, no surprise given our respective histories. And it shows in our disconnect when it comes to travel and tourism.

We’re like two blindfolded men sitting in a darkened room, each waiting for the other to get up and turn the lights on.

If Black Americans are going to take Africa seriously as a destination — and if Africa wants a bigger piece of the roughly $48 billion annual African-American travel market — that needs to change.

On our side, we need to insist that our schools and our news media do a better job of teaching us about Africa. And if they refuse to do it, then we need to start learning on our own. We need to reach out to the African expat communities we have in this country and start making some connections. They can teach us much, if we’re willing to listen and learn.

Meanwhile, Africa’s decisionmakers in the travel industry need to reach out to potential African-American visitors in the same way that they reach over to Europe. They need to show up at the trade shows here. They need to advertise on Black American media. They need to work with Black American expats in African countries and African-American travel professionals over here.

International travel markets don’t build themselves.

It’s time to close this great divide.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


Black History’s gleaming new home

A night shot of the African American History and Culture, set to open this fall.
The National Museum of The African American History and Culture, set to open this fall. Smithsonian Institution photo

The long-awaited National Museum of African American History and Culture is finally ready to open its doors, an event that will be celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sept. 24, 2016 is a day that’s been in the works for 13 years. That’s the date set by the Smithsonian Institution for the grand opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

President George W. Bush signed the legislation authorizing the museum’s creation in 2003. Thirteen years later, President Barack Obama will preside over its opening.

The $500 million museum is the newest in the stable of museums and exhibit halls of the Smithsonian Institution, America’s grand curator of art, science and history. It’s also the Smithsonian’s largest new facility in a decade and occupies the last space available on the Washington Mall.

But more meaningful to me is that, at long, long last, it gives Black American History a national headquarters.

Physically, it’s meant to leave a lasting impression. Five stories above ground, four levels below. In all, 400,000 square feet of exhibition galleries, an education center, a theater, café and store, office space for museum staff. Here’s a bit more description from the Smithsonian folks:

“Among the building’s signature spaces are the Contemplative Court, a water- and light-filled memorial area that offers visitors a quiet space for reflection; the Central Hall, the primary public space in the museum and the point of orientation to building; and a reflecting pool at the south entry of the museum, with calm waters meant to invite all to approach.

“The museum also features a series of openings—“lenses”—throughout the exhibition spaces that frame views of the Washington Monument, the White House and other Smithsonian museums on the National Mall. These framed perspectives remind visitors that the museum presents a view of American through the lens of the African American experience.”

Consider that. The building itself will be a lens through which to view the nation’s capital.

There will be 11 exhibitions in conjunction with the museum’s inaugural run, featuring some 34,000 artifacts, as well as art and photography from the likes of:

This is where you’ll be able to see the shawl worn by Harriet Tubman as she led escaped slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad, where you’ll see one of the airplanes in which the Tuskegee Airmen learned to fly.

This museum may have been built to provide Black History a national home, but its creation and debut are international in scope. Events celebrating the opening of NMAAHC will be taking place across the United States — and in Africa.

One of the principal members of the design team is the award-winning Tanzanian-born architect David Adjaye, named in 2012 as the most influential Black person in Britain.

The moment you see the building, you’ll see his influence on the design. The museum’s crown motif, inspired by sculpture from the Yoruba people of West Africa, was his idea.

So a giant African crown now sits gleaming in the heart of America’s capital, and a treasure trove of Black American history sits within it.

IBIT will publish more info on the plans and schedules for NMAAHC’s debut as we get closer to Opening Day, along with advice for getting around, where to stay, things to see and do. But if you want o be on hand for the grand opening, you need to start making your plans now.

This is going to be big.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


“Pieces” of Africa in the Americas


When it comes to heritage travel for African-Americans, maroon is — or should be — the new black.

About an hour’s drive inland from the Colombian port city of Cartagena de Indias stands the village of San Basilio de Palenque. Population: roughly 3,500. Dusty streets, small, one-story homes and shops. A humble Catholic church. At first glance, nothing remarkable.

But its very existence is remarkable.

When the Spanish began shipping African captives into slavery at Cartagena de Indias back in the 17th century, some broke free and fled into the wilderness. They returned — often — to free every kidnapped African they could. Eventually, they built their own little walled, fortified village. A palenque.

They were led by an African king named Benkos Biohó.

Ultimately, the Spanish not only did they opted to leave the town alone, but formally granted its occupants their freedom. Which is how San Basilio de Palenque became the first community of free Africans anywhere in the Americas — North, Central or South — a fact that won it special recognition from UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

To every descendant of every African ever enslaved in the Americas, this is — or should be — sacred ground.

All across the Caribbean and South America, African escapees built palenques, sometimes clashing with indigenous peoples trying to protect their lands from these strange newcomers, as well as the European plantation owners who wanted their “property” back.

They fell back on the knowledge of foods and medicinal plants they had brought with them from the Mother Continent. They kept alive their music, dance, religion, languages. They even raided European plantations for supplies, weapons — and more escapees.

Collectively, the Spanish labelled them maroons. Supposedly, the word derives from the Spanish word “cimarron”, meaning feral animal, fugitive, runaway. Or “outlyers.”

None had more success than in Haiti, where a force of free African rebels went toe-to-toe with the cream of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army and overthrew slavery altogether. But throughout Latin America, including Haiti, the maroons paid a high price for their defiance. Brutally attacked and suppressed in the past, discriminated against up to the present.

Add to that the need to migrate to big cities in search of jobs and you understand why San Basilio de Palenque is the only community of its kind left in the 21st century.

Still, the maroons themselves endure, and you can find them scattered across the Americas.

San Basilio de Palenque

They may speak Spanish in Mexico, Uruguay and Colombia, in the Dominican Republic and Cuba. They may speak Dutch in St. Maarten and Suriname or French in St. Martin, Haiti and Martinique, English in Belize and Trinidad.

Over time, some blended their native African languages with European tongues to create new languages spoken only by them.

Across the centuries, though, they all spoke a common language of resistance. For them, culture became a survival tool, a way of saying to the world, “This is who we are, and who we will remain.”

In Martinique, you can hear that pride and independence in the music of traditional artists like Sully Cally, who makes his own drums in the capital Fort-de-France with native woods he collects himself.

It may take the form of religion, santeria rituals in Cuba or in the practice of candomblé in Brazil, which has eclipsed Catholicism as Brazil’s most popular faith. In the conduct of weddings and funerals and births. Or in any of dozens of festivals across the Americas with their origins rooted on both sides of the Atlantic.

When you look at all that, you realize that there are many Black Americas, not just ours here in the United States.

Throw in great tropical climate, incredible natural beauty, food, music, beaches, nightlife and a lot of Latin American countries make great destinations. And slowly but surely, Latin America is catching on to that.

After centuries of persecuting maroons and their descendants, nations are starting to actively promote maroon-based tourism.

If Afro-Latin culture has a capital, it might be Salvador, the capital city of Bahia state in northeastern Brazil, where 80 percent of the population is of African descent.

For 300 years, Portuguese slavery in Brazil was both huge and brutal. The Portuguese referred to Africans as peças. Pieces. It doesn’t take long to get the picture.

Today, the Bahia state government is marketing African heritage tourism to the world. State officials even speak of promoting it as a form of — wait for it — reparations. Says Bahia state governor Jaques Wagner:

“We are aware that our debt to Bahian people of African descent is still great. Yet with faith, courage and determination, we will build a Bahia that is even more diverse, more just and more human.”

Time will tell how serious they are about the reparations bit, but Bahia state already has put out the welcome for visitors wanting to get a first-hand look at its Afro-Brazilian culture.

Put it all together and you’ve got new reasons to explore Latin American destinations to which you might not have given a second thought in the past. . For culturally conscious African-American travelers, maroon may well be the new black.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.


AFRICA: Of Christians and kings

Want to take your Christian religious travel outside the usual European box? Head for Africa.

When you think of religious travel for Christians, what destinations come to your mind?

Maybe those portions of the Middle East we’ve come to know collectively as the Holy Land? Perhaps Europe, starting with Rome and Vatican City, and working your way through France, Spain or Armenia, the world’s first officially Christian nation?

Africa may not leap to your mind when it comes to this kind of travel. And that’s too bad, because it should.

IBIT readers already know about Ethiopia, a country whose Christian roots go so deep that the country is mentioned by name in the Bible.

The country annually celebrates seven different Christian festivals, the two most important being Timket and Meskel: Finding of the True Cross.

Are you one of the many young Black Americans taking an interest in the Kushites, the Black African pharaohs who came up from what is now Sudan and ruled Egypt for a hundred years?

These days, tourism in Sudan is only for the most intrepid adventurous souls. But one day, you’ll be able to visit the ancient Kushite capital of Meroë, a UN World Heritage Site where you’ll find more than 200 pyramids.

Egypt’s Coptic Christians can claim to be among the earliest Christian churches in the world, and you can find Copts today in more than a half-dozen African countries, but in just as many European nations and as far away as Australia and the United States.

But perhaps nowhere in Africa is Christian commemoration more poignant — or more tightly melded with the bitter history of European colonialism — than in Uganda, where traditional kings felt their kingdoms under threat from three different alien religions — Catholics, Protestants and Islam.

While his predecessors tried to hold their kingdoms together by playing off the three different religions against one another, King Mwanga II apparently felt the Christians posed the greatest threat to his realm. He went at them head-on, expelling missionaries and even arranging the assassination of an archbishop from the Church of England.

To his own people who converted to Christianity, Mwanga offered bitter terms: Renounce the Europeans’ faith and return to the old ways, or die.

Twenty converted Ugandan Catholics chose the church. Mwanga had them taken to a place called Namugongo. There, they were bound, wrapped in bamboo reeds, thrown onto a bonfire and burned alive. That was in 1886.

They were among 45 Catholic and Anglican converts in Uganda between 1885 and 1887 who opted for martyrdom.

Mwanga eventually went to war twice against the British colonizers, losing both times, ultimately to die in exile in what is now Tanzania.

You know the rest of the story. Uganda ultimately became a British colony. But Ugandans would not forget those who had held onto their newfound beliefs to the death.

They built a shrine at Namugongo, a few miles northeast of the Ugandan capital city, Kampala, to the men now known as The Ugandan Martyrs.

Every year, Catholics from Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and beyond the Mother Continent converge on the shrine for an annual pilgrimage that begins May 25 and culminates with Martyrs Day on June 3, a national holiday in Uganda. Millions of people take part, many of them walking for miles — and for weeks — to reach the shrine.

Vatican City didn’t forget its African converts, either. The 20 martyred Ugandans were canonized as saints in 1964.

For more information on the Martyrs’ Day pilgrimage and how you can take part, visit Trips by Greg or send an email to info@tripsbygreg.com.

If Ugandans did not forget their Catholic martyrs, neither did they forget their ancient kings, including Mwanga.

In what is now the Kasubi district of central Kampala, they built the Tombs of the Buganda Kings. It’s a UN World Heritage Site, and here’s how they describe it:

“The Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi constitute a site embracing almost 30 (hectares) of hillside within Kampala district. Most of the site is agricultural, farmed by traditional methods.

“The site is the major spiritual centre for the Baganda where traditional and cultural practices have been preserved. The Kasubi Tombs are the most active religious place in the kingdom, where rituals are frequently performed. Its place as the burial ground for the previous four kings (Kabakas) qualifies it as a religious centre for the royal family, a place where the Kabaka and his representatives carry out important rituals related to Buganda culture. The site represents a place where communication links with the spiritual world are maintained.”

The Namugongo shrine and the Kasubi tombs are close enough that a traveler could visit both on the same day.

Whether it’s Africa’s own unique and original strains of Christianity or European worship transplanted to African lands, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to witness both history and your faith on the Mother Continent. Because when it came to Africa and the world’s religions, people’s faith and their freedom were equally at stake.

Namugongo pilgrimage

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency.



To really get into Black history, you’ll need to go beyond the month of February, and travel beyond American borders, because Black history is global.

We’ve just left Black History Month, so this is as good a time as any to make this point.

Were we to insist on historical accuracy, we’d refer to February as “Black American History Month,” since in this country, those who celebrate it — and even those who are repulsed by it — associate it strictly with the history of African-Americans in the United States.

So why am I waiting to bring this up outside of February? Because an awful lot of “our” history took place — and is still being made — well outside American borders.

Where, then, do we begin in the search for that history? That depends on how we choose to approach the subject.

If we go chronologically, we need to begin where all human history begins, in Africa. The first peoples, the first kingdoms, the original “first nations.”

The footprints they left in history remain embedded the length of the Mother Continent. Some of those names — and their peoples — survive into the present. Some of them as cities, some of them as regions, and some as nations:


  • Ashanti
  • Benin
  • Ghana
  • Kanem-Bornu
  • Mali
  • Mossi
  • Songhay
  • Yoruba


  • Congo
  • Buganda
  • Luba
  • Lunda
  • Rwanda


  • Axum
  • Kush
  • Ethiopia


  • Kilwa
  • Lozi
  • Malawi
  • Merina
  • Monomotapa
  • Zulu

From Africa, the history of Black peoples spreads across time, and across the world. We can find its threads on every continent, if we look.

But instead of following Black history through the march of ages, perhaps we could go by geography instead. That would allow us Americans to begin a lot closer to home.

We could start in the Caribbean, where European slavery brought African captives more than a century before the first chained Africans arrived in what is now the United States.

We could focus especially on Haiti, site of the only slave rebellion to throw off its chains and defeat a European army (Napoleon’s, no less).

We could check out Panama, where an abused and underpaid labor force — mainly from Barbados and overwhelmingly Black — did most of the actual work to build the Panama Canal.

From there, we could head south to countries like Brazil, Guyana and Suriname, where the descendants of slaves have held on to traces of their African heritage, often in defiance of the formal European colonists.

If we feel like stretching our historical legs, we could cross the Atlantic to Europe, where we’ll find a whole pantheon of Black history that was never taught to us in American schools. We’ll also learn that Civil Rights movements were never limited to the American South.

By the way, the British have their own Black History Month. Theirs is in October.

And we can go farther than that, into Asia and the Pacific, to the islands of Melanesia. Put it this way: the resemblance between the words “Melanesia” and “melanin” is not coincidental.

At a recent travel trade show, a guy at the Indonesia booth was telling me about the Black peoples living on Irian Jaya, which is split between Indonesia and New Guinea.

There’s plenty of Black history in the US that has been glossed over, neglected, ignored, sometimes even denied. It’s why a concerted effort to preserve and teach it first came into being in this country back in the 1920s.

But if we really want go deep into “our” history, we’ll need three things — patience, persistence…and a passport.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency.



Five East African nations are preparing to welcome more visitors than ever before — and they’ve got the attractions to make the journey worthwhile.

Before it’s over, 2015 may be remembered as the Year of East Africa where travel and tourism are concerned.

At least five East African nations — Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania — have been steadily pursuing ambitious plans aimed at making themselves more attractive to international visitors.

Now, with travelers still leery of West Africa’s ebola outbreak, East Africa is poised to offer itself as Africa’s travel alternative destination, with attractions for almost any interest.

The famed mountain gorillas, of which only perhaps 700 remain on Earth, are found in only three countries. Two of them are in East Africa — Rwanda and Uganda. The region also is home to Africa’s famous Big Five: Lions, rhinos, buffaloes, leopards and elephants. Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and the largest tropical lake on the planet, is shared by Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.

But East Africa is also people, ancient cultures with stories to tell and hospitality to share, and cities growing in size and modernity. It also has something else going for it, a major, modern international air carrier that’s extending its reach around the world, Ethiopian Airlines.

We’ll be looking at all of this in greater detail over the course of the year. For now, let’s look at the highlights.

If there’s something inside you pushing you to re-connect with nature at its most unspoiled, East Africa’s Big Five of nations have what you need.

Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania have been them 56 national parks. That’s only two fewer than the United States, a land two-thirds larger in area.

And that’s not counting 26 wildlife sanctuaries (six in Ethiopia, 11 in Uganda), 13 wildlife reserves (Uganda), 12 controlled hunting areas (Uganda), five community wildlife management areas (Uganda) and nine sites set aside for wetlands preservation (Uganda).

Uganda, a country whose total land area makes it smaller than South Dakota, boasts some 40 different ethnic groups, each with its own history, its own culture, its own story to share with the world, a cultural memory going back centuries. Neighboring Ethiopia has more than 80.

Within Kenya’s population of roughly 41 million people, you’ll find 69 different languages spoken. In Ethiopia, there are 80. In Tanzania, more than 100.

In all these countries, you will find remarkably warm and friendly people who are ready and eager to welcome visitors.

Some of Africa’s great kingdoms of ancient times were found in East Africa — Axum (sometimes written as Aksum) and Abyssinia in Ethiopia, the Kitara empire in Uganda, the kingdom of Rwanda formed by the king Rwabugiri.

Many of these ancient kingdoms were thriving on advanced international trade and creating centers of learning while Europe was still trying to find its way out of the Dark Ages.

Centuries later, Uganda and Rwanda would go through their own dark times, Uganda under the terrorizing Idi Amin and the tragic Rwandan genocide, which the Western world saw fit to ignore while as many as 1 million people were slaughtered in the space of 100 days.

Today, you can learn about what happened and the origins of those tragic events — especially in Rwanda, where Belgian colonizers a century earlier set the stage for genocide by issuing ethnic identity cards and deliberately favoring the minority Tutsis, reducing the majority Hutus to second-class citizens in their own land.

Both Islam and Christianity thrive in this region.

Ethiopia can trace its Christian roots back to the year 1 AD. Yes, one. While Islam was absorbing the rest of Africa, Ethiopia remained predominantly Christian, and still is.

East Africa is home to several modern, thriving cities, most of which double as national capitals, such as Nairobi in Kenya, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Kampala in Uganda, Kigali in Rwanda.

Of the scores of African airlines, only six are allowed to fly directly between the Mother Continent and the United States. One of them is Ethiopian Airlines, one of the largest airlines in Africa and definitely the fastest growing. It was among the first airlines in the world to adopt the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Natural and cultural, past, present and future, East Africa has a lot to offer the travel. And 2015 may be the year that the rest of the world sits up and take notice.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency.


the IBIT Travel Digest 1.25.15

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

The Roaming Gnome has crossed the road, and gone over to the other side…sort of.

The online booking site Expedia has bought up its rival, Travelocity, for $280 million in cash, part of a buying spree that has Expedia looking to become the alpha dog of the online travel world.

Expedia already owns 11 other online travel bookers, including Hotels.com, CarRentals.com, Hotwire,Venere and Trivago, as well as Egencia, a giant firm specializing in corporate travel and China’s hotel booking site eLong.

It looked liked all these various online booking sites were fierce competitors, didn’t it? Sorry, they’re not.

If you’re a longtime user of either Expedia or Travelocity, you probably won’t notice a difference. Expedia has been powering Travelocity’s Web sites in the US and Canada for the last two years, among other services. So in that sense, this purchase just finalizes a merger that was already a reality in all but name.

Microsoft created Expedia in 1996 as an airline booking engine, and later spun it off as an independent company. It since has expanded to include hotels, rental cars, cruises and resorts.

Travelocity originally was the creation of Sabre, world’s first computerized airline reservation system, which was in turn created by American Airlines.

Expedia’s real rival these days is Priceline, owner of Kayak, agoda.com, Booking.com, rentalcars.com and OpenTable.

What does this all mean for the consumer? More on that in a later edition of IBIT. Watch for it!


Remember those reports that the Marriott hotel chain was seeking the US government’s blessing to block wi-fi signals from providers other than its own? It was a bad idea, silly, shortsighted and just plain wrong.

And now — at least for now — it’s history.

According to multiple media reports, including Travel Weekly, Marriott has announced it will no longer seek to block non-Marriott wi-fi signals in its meeting rooms and convention halls.

It says it never really did want to block guests’ personal wi-fi.

Had the Federal Communications Commission given them the go-ahead to do this to meetings and conventions in their hotels, you know they would’ve been going after hotel guests next.

But presuming it’s true that they only wanted to block meeting and convention wi-fi — and for the record, I don’t believe that for a minute — the idea was even sillier than I thought. Nice way to send your business/meetings clients to your competitors.

Honestly, who thinks of this stuff?


And now, here’s The Digest:


from the Associated Press
Are the airlines saving billions of dollars in lower fuel costs these days? Absolutely. Does that mean you can look forward to lower airfares? Don’t bet on it.

from MarketWired
Cathay Pacific is expanding service between San Francisco and Hong Kong.

from the New York Times
JetBlue’s Mint versus Virgin America’s Main Cabin Select: Which offers the greater creature comforts in return for your pricier ticket?

from the Washington Post
Ever wonder what happens to all those Swiss Army knives and other banned objects the TSA confiscates in US airports? Wonder no more.


from the New York Times
The NYT’s list of 52 must-see places for 2015.

from USA Today
Lodging with attitude. Some of the quirkiest hotels in the United States.


from Travel Weekly
An IMAX theater? A nearly full-scale amusement park ride? Its own craft beers? Cabins with hammocks? Say ahoy to Carnival’s newest mega-ship, the Carnival Vista. But if you want to be among the first to sail aboard her, you’ll have to go to Europe.

from the New York Times
Exploring Mexico’s Sea of Cortez on a historic — and very small — cruise ship.

from USA Today
Bring your own wine and do your own laundry. Two of the tips for saving money aboard a cruise ship.

from Travel Weekly
What do river cruise ships in France, Germany and the Netherlands have in common with drivers in Manhattan and San Francisco? ANSWER: They all have a helluva time finding a place to park.


from USA Today
If coffee and chocolate are uppermost on your list of basic food groups, your destination is Turin, Italy.

from USA Today
On the trail of Mexico’s liquid cultural icon, tequila.



from allAfrica.com
In the works, a single plan to allow travelers to visit 15 central and southern African countries on a single visa. It’s called UNI-visa, and it can’t come soon enough.

from allAfrica.com
Defying the downturn in African tourism driven by ebola hysteria, a lakeside city in Ethiopia is beating the odds and drawing visitors — not with safaris, but with urban attractions.


from the New York Times
Q&A: Sorting out the new realities of Cuba travel.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Some top-end vacation apartments and villas in Cuba.


from the Washington Post
Want to get a feel for the cultural heart of Japan, and maybe lower your stress level at the same time? Forgo the ultra-modern high-rise hotel and stay in a ryokan.

from the Japan Times
A city the size of Tokyo has hundreds of neighborhoods worth exploring. One of them is Sarugakucho.


from The Guardian (London UK)
In Pamplona, Spain, they’re hoping that an ultra-modern new art gallery by a prizewinning architect will give visitors reasons to stick around after the bulls have run their rowdy, dangerous course.

from BBC Travel
One of the most horrific battles of World War 1 took place in Slovenia. But with Slovenia behind the Iron Curtain for so long, few here in the States ever knew of tha horror — nor of the spectacular beauty that has long since replaced it.

Spotted something you’d like to see in the next IBIT Travel Digest? Send me a message using the handy form below:


the IBIT Travel Digest 12.21.14

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel



That’s right, I said it!

Last week’s surprise announcement that the United States and Cuba are normalizing their relations raises the prospect that the half-century-old trade embargo that blocks American travelers from freely visiting the island might disappear.

Since 2009, IBIT has advocated exactly that right here on this blog.

So now that it finally seems possible, why am I changing my mind? I’m not…really. But insofar as tourism is concerned, it might be in Cuba’s best interest not to see the embargo go away right away.

If you listen closely to the buzz in the travelsphere since Washington and Havana made their big splash, a common theme emerges:

“I better visit Cuba soon before the Americans get their en masse…and ruin it.”

We know where this comes from. Mass-market tourism may do great things for a nation’s economy, but it also can have a corrosive effect on a nation’s culture.

Greatly impoverished over the decades, in no small part because of the embargo, many aspects of Cuban life seem to have been frozen in time — and it’s not just the 1950s vintage cars that Cubans somehow keep running because they can’t get new ones from Detroit.

An influx of cash from a fresh wave of tourism could help modernize the island and its crumbling infrastructure.

That same wave, however, could leave Cuba looking like a living caricature of itself, a Hiltonized, Disneyfied, golden-arched version of Cuba, its culture diluted to the point that Cubans don’t recognize their own country anymore. A theme park where a nation used to be.

And that would be a shame.

But if the impending tidal wave of mass-market tourism from the US presents a challenge to Cuba’s physical environment and cultural integrity, it also presents an opportunity.

Cuba is in a position to develop a new kind of 21st century tourism, one that’s financially profitable, environmentally sustainable and culturally respectful. If it succeeds, it could — dare I say it? — revolutionize tourism worldwide.

It will take a shared commitment by the Cuban government, those of us in the travel industry and the Cuban people themselves to make that happen.

Keeping a loosened trade embargo in place could give all concerned the breathing room they need to formulate that concept, and put it in place.

Just in time to absorb a tsunami of American visitors.

So yeah, I still want to see the embargo go away. Just tap the brakes lightly for a year or two.


Among the Maasai people of East Africa, the title of “warrior” is neither symbolic nor ceremonial. It’s real. And you earn it by hunting and killing a lion, with a traditional Maasai spear.

That’s one reality. The other is that between loss of habitat, poaching, poisoning and traditional hunts, Africa’s lion population has been cut in half over the last half-century.

Result: the African lion are officially listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. That puts it three steps from extinction in the wild.

If you’re the Maasai, what do you do? Well, you’re the Maasai community in Kenya, you hit “Reset” on your tradition.

The result is the Maasai Olympics, a biennial event held recently at Kimana Sanctuary in Kajiado, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak.

Here, the hunt is for medals, not lions.

The events are based on traditional Maasai tests of strength, skill and stamina, held at three levels — local, regional and throughout the famed Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, on Kenya’s southern border with Tanzania.

Included in the Maasai Olympics is an education program designed to move the Maasai away from lion hunting.

I don’t know if any thought is being given to eventually including Tanzania’s Maasai community in these events, but wouldn’t it be great if they did? Perhaps the two countries could alternate as hosts every two years.

This is something to be encouraged.

I’m pretty sure the lions wouldn’t mind.


And now, here’s The Digest:


from USA Today
What your choice of airline seat says about you, at least according to Expedia. VIDEO

from USA Today
The Etihad Airbus A380 double-decker jumbo jet. Suite dreams are made of this…and no, that’s not auto-correct.


from Travel Weekly
The UN’s World Tourism Organization predicting a record year for tourism worldwide, with North America being the strongest draw.

from USA Today
Want to get away…from your smartphone, your tablet and all the rest of your digital balls and chains? Six great places around the world to unwind, and unplug. SLIDESHOW

from the New York Times
Call it ski mountaineering, or Alpine touring or whatever else. This is old-school skiing, the way they did it before chairlifts and comfy lodges. You earn that downhill thrill.

from About.Travel
Five ways to pack lighter.


from USA Today
The best destinations to get your river cruise on in 2015, or so say these guys.


from USA Today
Want to spice up your annual Christmas feast — and maybe turn it into a global cultural experience at the same time? Get some recipe ideas from these holiday dishes from around the world. Season’s eatings!

from The Guardian (London UK)
Just what my holiday diet needs, an edible Christmas tree. Danke sehr, Dresden!

from SFGate (sponsored article)
A taste of Macau, where Chinese cooking meets the flavors of Portugal.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Singapore’s top 10 restaurants — presuming you can tear yourself away from the city’s famous food courts.

from USA Today
Know what a Reveillon is? You’ll have to go to New Orleans during the Christmas holidays to find out. Your tastebuds will thank you, profusely, later.



from The Guardian (London UK)
Christmas in Ethiopia. They celebrate theirs on Jan. 7, and they do it in some of the world’s most cherished UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the rock churches of Lalibela.

from The Guardian (London UK)
South Africa’s budget beach escapes.

from IPPMedia
A novel idea being floated in Tanzania — turning the former camps of Africa’s anti-colonialism guerrillas into tourist attractions. Several, apparently, already are drawing visitors.

from eTurbo News
City tourism is important for East Africa. Nairobi and Kigali are two cities with ready-made attractions for foreign visitors.


from The Guardian (London UK)
For those who can, or simply choose to, travel freely to Cuba right now: vacation apartments in Havana.

from USA Today
Bar hopping in Puerto Rico. The bars are called chinchorros. Good beats. Good eats. Cheap beer and air-conditioning. from The Guardian (London UK)
Oakland… Brooklyn West? Yes, that Oakland, as in Oakland, CA. It’s becoming — dare I say it? — hip. That’s right, I said it. Even on the other side of “the pond,” they’re starting to recognize.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Now here’s an idea I could get behind globally. Jakes Hotel, one of Jamaica’s more popular destination hotels on Treasure Beach, opens up a hostel right next door? Cool.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Long before it became a well-known brand of outdoor gear, Patagonia was a land of stark, rugged and spectacular beauty shared by Chile and Argentina. It still is.


from the New York Times
Thailand’s “Gong Highway.”

from The Guardian (London UK)
In Thailand, eco-tourism — highlighted by village homestays — is leading a comeback of the coastal regions devastated by the 2004 tsunami.


from the New York Times
How to spend a weekend in Strasbourg, the capital of France’s Alsace region. A treat any time of year, but an absolute joy at Christmastime. Half-French, half-German, wholly delightful. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/travel/things-to-do-in-36-hours-in-strasbourg-france.html?ref=travel

from the New York Times
Ireland on the cheap, thanks to Dublin’s public transit.

Spotted something you’d like to see in the next IBIT Travel Digest? Send me a message using the handy form below:


AFRICA: Travel and tourism in focus

Photo by Africa Travel Association
Photo by Africa Travel Association

One of a series

This year’s ATA Congress in Uganda highlights the challenges of the ebola scare and the emergence — or re-emergence — of great destinations and investment possibilities.

The annual congress of the Africa Travel Association, the pre-eminent organization promoting travel and tourism across the Mother Continent, is underway in Kampala, capital city of Uganda.

Hundreds of stakeholders and decision makers from government and the private sector are taking part in the four-day session that runs Nov. 11-16. And if we use the issues facing African travel and tourism, they will be busy.

Start with the ebola outbreak — and just as important, the media-driven hysteria over it in the West.

The former has cost some 5,000 lives since the outbreak was identified at the end of last year. The later has cost African nations millions of dollars as travelers have cancelled both vacation and business travel — despite the fact that their destinations were thousands of miles from any country caught up with this viral scourge.

This is hardly the first time that the mainstream media in the United States and elsewhere — which I sometimes refer to as “the mainstream fear machine” — has beset Africa with needless grief and sowed unjustified fear outside the continent.

What is needed is a cooperative, comprehensive and long-time effort among Africa’s 54 nations to provide a counterpoint, to use mass media to educate the world about Africa in a more balanced, nuanced way.

It may not be easy to organize, but if African travel and tourism are to reach their full potential, without being constantly whipsawed by Western media frenzy over the next crisis du jour, this eventually must happen.

Meanwhile, Africa’s travel and tourism picture is hardly all gloom, for in the face of fear-mongering and year of faltering global economies and uncertain recoveries elsewhere, African travel overall has grown.

Airlines are adding routes to the continent. A hotel building boom is underway. Not only that, but even as African tourism ministries and private tourism trade groups aggressively seek from travelers from Europe and the United States, the Mother Continent is reaching beyond those traditional markets to the so-called BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — as well as the Middle East.

Once this latest ebola outbreak is beaten back, there is no reason for anyone to doubt that all of this will continue.

The fact that this year’s ATA congress is being held in Uganda highlights one of the continent’s resurging regions for leisure and venture travel.

If all you know of Uganda is Idi Amin and the raid on Entebbe, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

And that’s next.

NOTE: Greg Gross is a founding member of the San Diego chapter of the Africa Travel Association.


AFRICA: The high cost of flying

 © Gordon Tipene | Dreamstime.com
© Gordon Tipene | Dreamstime.com

Air travel to Africa isn’t expensive. It’s just being taxed and surcharged to death.

I know a lot of people who would love to visit Africa, but they won’t. Not because of ebola, but because of the high cost of travel there, starting with the four-figure airfares.

But that’s only fair, right? I mean, Africa’s a long way from North America. Yes, I know, Senegal is a mere seven hours or so from the East Coast, about the same time to fly from New York to Paris — and in some cases, less.

And yet that NYC-Paris flight, if you made it about two weeks from now, would cost you at the high end of $800, while the flight from JFK to Dakar, Senegal’s capital, would cost you more than $1,200.

The answer to your next question — Why? — becomes all too clear when you closely examine that JFK-DKR fare, flown in this case by Royal Air Maroc, the national airline of Morocco.

For an airfare of $1,1221, you get not only a flight from New York City to Dakar, but a layover each way in Morocco’s capital city, Casablanca — 15 hours on the trip to Dakar and a whopping 30 hours on the return, more than enough time to take in the sights in a fascinating North African capital.

Not a bad deal, right? But we haven’t started the fare breakdown yet.

Start with the base fare each way between NYC and Dakar — $236. That’s $472 round-trip. There are folks who will be paying more than that to fly from NYC to LAX. And yet the total airfare to Dakar is $1,221, for a single passenger.

So where does that other $749 come from?

It comes from 17 different taxes, fees and surcharges imposed on top of that $472 base fare. Seven of these are levied by the US government, six by Senegal and three by Morocco, for the cost of airport security, immigration, customs and agricultural inspection fees, airport improvements. Altogether, they total $258.

All of which pales in the face of the $491 fuel surcharge tacked on by Royal Air Maroc.

No need to give “the side-eye” to the Moroccan airline when it comes to that fuel surcharge. They all do it.

I’d seen international airfares burdened with a dozen or more add-on charges that added up to hundreds of dollars, but it was the first time I ever saw the add-ons add up to more than the base airfare.

I randomly checked a dozen more airfares from North America to various destinations in Africa, to see if that Royal Air Maroc fare to Dakar was some sort of aberration. It wasn’t.

The number of add-ons varied slightly — a few more on this fare, two or three fewer on that one — but the results were always the same. The base fares were spectacularly cheap, and the add-ons invariably blew up the final price.

One Emirates flight from Washington-Dulles (IAD) to Addis Ababa(ADD) in Ethiopia cost $880 round-trip — a pretty reasonable fare, relatively speaking. The base fare — $50 each way. That’s not a typo, people — five zero.

It adds up to $100 in base fare and $780 from nine add-ons, of which Emirates’ fuel surcharge accounts for $688. The seven taxes imposed by Washington and the one from Ethiopia make up the remaining $92 — chump change by comparison.

I also checked airfares between Canadian gateways and African destinations, just to see if our northern neighbors were getting a break from this nonsense. They’re not.

Add to these inflated fares the cost of visas for each country you wish to visit and you begin to understand why African travel seems financially out of reach for many people.

You also begin to realize that it doesn’t have to be this way.


AFRICA: The hotels are coming

Western tourists may be staying from Africa because of ebola, but the world’s hoteliers are rushing in. That bodes well for the future of African travel.

The Africa Hotel Investment Forum is an annual two-day meetup of African governments, business leaders and hotel operators. This year’s event was held last week in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa.

This isn’t one of those conventions held mainly to give business people an excuse to party. Deals get done here. And the deals coming out of this year’s forum were major.

Nine hotel corporations signed to build 41 new hotels across Africa over the next six years, nearly a dozen in the next three years.

We’re talking Wyndham, Inter-Continental, Accor, Marriott. Also in the mix, Best Western, Starwood (the folks who own the Sheraton brand), W Hotels, Carlson Rezidor (the folks behind the Radisson Blu hotels) and Hilton Worldwide.

All of them household names among the world’s travelers. All of them heavy hitters in the hospitality industry. And all of them looking to step up their game on the Mother Continent.

Meanwhile, you now have multiple African nations all but climbing over one another in hopes of hosting this forum next year.

This is part of an ongoing hotel building boom across Africa. There were more than 200 hotel projects — to create some 40,000 new rooms — in the works even before last week’s deals became public.

If I sound excited, it’s because I am. While there’s no guarantee that all of these places will actually get built, enough of them will to perhaps change the face of African travel and tourism.

Clearly, the world’s hoteliers are looking past the current ebola outbreak and are making plans for the long-term. That in itself is a good thing.

Most of these new hotels are being built with business travelers in mind, as well as MICE tourism.

(MICE has nothing to do with rodents. It stands for Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Events.)

Business types aren’t the only ones who need nice places to stay. So do diplomats. The African Union has its headquarters (seen above) in Addis Ababa, where this year’s forum was held. And several of those hotel deals were for new hotels in Addis.

So what does any of this hotel boom have to do with you, the potential Africa visitor who’s not looking to swing business or political deals?

Potentially, a lot.

Currently, the top form of African vacation travel by far is safari travel. Has been for decades. The best safari operators have it down to a science, an art form, and it annually draws travelers from around the world.

But not everyone interested in Africa is necessarily interested in safaris. And those who aren’t often forgo Africa for other destinations.

The other reasons to visit the Mother Continent are almost too many to list — history and heritage, music, art, food, fashion, film, education, adventure, culture, religion.

But the travelers looking for those things need places to stay, preferably in the cities where they’re most likely to find what they’re looking for.

For this kind of traveler, even the most luxuriously appointed safari camp out in the bush probably won’t work.

Having more and better hotels means that African countries will be able to offer travelers more lodging in their urban centers. Keeping those rooms filled — and adding more of them — will give those nations incentive to do something they have long needed to do — diversify their attractions for the leisure traveler.

African travel and tourism will never reach their full potential until they can offer the traveler a broader range of options and attractions. Building new and better hotels could be an important first step toward achieving that.