Ghana: Your introduction to Africa

For a first visit to The Mother Continent, this English-speaking nation of proud and friendly West Africans, with its link to America’s slavery past and its comfort level with Black American expats, makes a sensible choice.

You’ve made up your mind: You’re finally going to Africa.  But where?  

That’s no small question, because Africa is no small place. With 12 million square miles, this continent is big enough to swallow Europe, China and the continental United States whole, and still ask about desert.

We’re talking 1.2 billion people divided among  3,000 distinct ethnic groups speaking 2,000 languages in 55 sovereign nations. 

And for too many reasons to chew on in one blog post,  traveling around those 55 African countries isn’t nearly as easy as, say, Western Europe, where you can cruise virtually the entire region on one visa.

Even ruling out Africa’s conflict zones still leaves you close to 50 countries from which to choose, including tropical paradise islands like Cape Verde in the Atlantic and Mauritius, Reunion Island, the Comoros or the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.

So when it comes to travel planning for a newcomer, Africa’s sheer size and scope is always the elephant in the room.

It’s also the lion, the leopard, the rhino and the cape buffalo.

Those animals are known collectively as The Big 5, and they’re a tourist attraction all by themselves.  So if the wild is what’s calling you to the continent, you might want to focus on a well-organized safari tour in  East or southern Africa.

Maybe wildlife is not your thing. Maybe you’re more interested in African history and heritage. I mean way back, before the Europeans or even the Arabs came. If so, Egypt and Ethiopia need to be at the top of your bucket list.

Looking for urban Africa at its best — or at least, its most intense? Lagos, Nigeria, the most populous in Africa, or Johannesburg, South Africa could be calling you.

Maybe religion is what you want to tap into, especially African Christianity. That’s Ethiopia again, home of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.

If you want to get to the roots of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, you’ll find them in the coastal nations of West Africa, where the slave ships loaded up millions of captive Africans for the nightmare cruise to the so-called New World.

Or maybe you’re about something else entirely — adventure hiking or mountain biking, or surfing, or art, or music, or food, or dance, or…well, you begin to get the idea.

What if you just can’t make up your mind?

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For my clients who find themselves stuck for a choice, I always recommend Ghana.  It makes a lot of things easier for the first-time visitor to Africa.

Being on the West African coast, it’s in the part of Africa closest to North America, which means a shorter trans-Atlantic flight for you. No need to fly first to Europe and then south to the continent.

Its official language is English, so no worries about being able to communicate.

There’s another element that makes Ghana attractive for the first-time African traveler.  It’s one of several West African countries where people take pride in being friendly and welcoming to visitors. A definite plus for the newbie.

If you’re African-American, Ghana has a special advantage for you.  Even though you haven’t set foot there yet, you’re already familiar to many of the locals.

The country has officially welcomed Black Americans to relocate there, and thousands have done so. That means there’s a permanent community of expats in Ghana, mainly in the capital city, Accra, who look and sound just like you.

You know that expression, “Get in where you fit in?” You fit in here. You won’t feel people staring at you because you’re such an oddity, or find people sneaking pics of you or even walking straight up to you and ask to have their picture taken with you because you’re so — you know — “different.”

The more you travel elsewhere in the world as a Black American, the more you will come to appreciate that.

For all of these reasons and more, Ghana makes a great introduction to Africa.