The “Black Travel movement,” as some have coined it, has generated hundreds of millions of likes and views on social media platforms like Instagram. Browsing accounts like Travel Noire, Nomadness Travel Tribe, Black Girls Travel Too and Tastemakers Africa, among others, boast perfectly curated images of melanated travelers across the globe. Amidst the growing number of travel groups and digital communities arising throughout the decade is one focused on educating visitors on consciously exploring Latin America’s African roots: AfroLatino Travel.
After traveling to countries like Brazil, Peru, Colombia and the Dominican Republic to conduct interviews for her docuseries Negro, Dash Harris Machado was met with questions in the U.S. and, in many cases, shock that Blackness existed throughout Latin America. She grew tired of explaining something that was standard to her and many others.
“This is a normal thing. Blackness is normal,” says Harris Machado, a multimedia journalist and documentarian, to HipLatina.com. “As much as our countries try to make it abnormal, it isn’t. The basis of how our dialects are, our accents; how we say certain words all derive from Africaneity. The basis of our various cultures are derived from Africaneity, so this [our existence] is not something that is abnormal.”
In 2010, AfroLatino Travel was born. Led by Harris Machado and Javier Wallace, the travel company curates meaningful, ethical and healing travel experiences in Latin American and Caribbean countries. The duo has fused their personal and professional connections, as well as their collective travel expertise — each of them having lived in Latin America — to provide attendees with a unique experience all while circulating the local currency into the Black community.
“I used all of my contacts that I met and came across in these various countries to facilitate tours, trips and community-building exchanges with people who want to visit these countries,” she says. “What I found in every country without exception was that the predominantly Black areas were locked out of the tourism industry.”
Within minutes of your AfroLatino Travel-curated trip, you’ll see how their team is invested in creating pathways for Afro-descendants to sustain a living and provide a true cultural exchange between traveler and local. In Havana, Cuba, their most popular tour locale, travelers lodge at a casa particular, or bed & breakfast, and dine at local Afro-Cuban-owned eateries such as a paladar, a private, in-home restaurant. With Yoruba people first arriving to the Caribbean island in the 1500s, the Yoruba religion has been woven into everyday Cuban life. Tour attendees get the chance to visit the Yoruba Association Museum to learn about the principles of the spirituality and the Orishas, as well as observe a tambor presentation.
The itinerary taps on a variety of interests. For those seeking history, there’s the Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolución), private talk with a community elder and scenic views provided by a vintage car ride, and, those interested in art, can check out the work of Salvador Gonzáles Escalona in Callejón de Hamel or take in the views at Fusterlandia. Tranquil moments of the trip are provided by the beach or countryside excursion to Viñales for cigar rolling.
Their second most popular tour is the AfroPanama trip, which includes stays and activities in Isla Grande, Colón and Panama City. At the top of the year, they announced two new tour offerings: AfroPeru and AfroArgentina. While Brazil was under consideration, the election of president Jair Bolsonaro made them reconsider given his anti-Black and anti-indigenous agenda.
“Safety is a factor,” says the Panamanian-American. “There’s going to be Black people on the tour and this president is not friendly toward our kind.”
The political climate is just one of the many factors considered when deciding where, when and even who’ll be invited to join the experience. Given the social media-first society we live in, the emphasis on travel has become more of a what you can capture to post versus genuinely connecting with the people present and experiences taking place. Hence why Harris Machado says their trips aren’t for everyone.
“Over the years, we’ve zeroed in on what type of traveler we want to offer the tours to,” she says. “Not everyone is ready to receive the information that we’re giving. If you’re more focused on the Instagram picture, we’re not the organization for you to travel with.”
A conversation on the ethics behind travel photos resurfaced earlier this month when Gambonian image consultant and blogger Scheena Donia shared photos of herself posing in a village in Porto-Novo, Benin. She’s all smiles while those in the background — a majority of them children — appear as props and agitated by yet another visitor using their daily life as a backdrop for Instagram-worthy flicks.
The co-founder of Afro-Latino Travel says that’s a no-no and their focus is on creating authentic immersive experiences.
“On both sides, when you do see someone from x country speaking a different language than you, but looking like they can be from your family that sh*t is amazing,” affirms Harris Machado. “That’s completely amazing because you may see or hear in media; again, U.S. media is everywhere. You may see whatever Black celebrity or athlete, or whatever show, but to actually meet a Black person in your country is something else. Someone that you’re sitting next to, like, wow, is it true that…? People are connecting on that level. You see the differences, but you see a lot of the similarities.”
With South American experiences now added to their offerings, AfroLatino Travel is expanding in new ways — and they’re only scratching the surface of their vision. They’re collaborating with individuals like Ysanet Batista, chef and creator of Woke Foods, and organizations on their current and upcoming experiences, and there are plans to expand into the tech arena this year. The community arm of AfroLatino Travel, which includes their ongoing Brown Dolls and Books for Brown Children in Panama and annual Black Doll Fest in Cuba, continues to provide resources on an ongoing basis.
As African people, Harris Machado affirms we’ve always looked internally, amongst ourselves, to solve problems. Nearly 10 years after conceiving AfroLatino Travel, the co-founders continue to do just that within the travel space.