Latin America has long served as an affordable getaway for travelers looking to escape to warmer weather, picturesque beaches, and secluded rustic retreats. Many have found that in addition to hiking adventures in the Andes or diving excursions off the Caribbean coast, the 33 countries that make up Latin America and the Caribbean offer just as much in cultural diversity as they do in signature landscapes.
There is often a misconception that Latin America is limited to Spanish-speaking locales, but, in fact, it consists of territories across the Americas where the Spanish, Portuguese and French languages prevail. During the Atlantic slave trade, more than 11 million African slaves were brought to the shores of Latin America and the Caribbean—more than anywhere else on the globe. This vast number not only shaped the demographic makeup of the New World, but it also infused a distinct cultural identity in everything from the cuisine to music, fashion and the arts.
Though the languages spoken throughout the region are inherited from the colonists, all are woven with the colloquial beauty of African ancestry, distinguishing them from their European counterparts. In recent years Afro-descendants in Latin America have increasingly owned the narrative that defines them by embracing their Afro-Latinx identity, whether through the glory of natural hair or their vibrantly colorful fashion featured on the global stage. As creative ambassadors, advocates, artists, innovators, and small-business owners, the five women profiled here offer an insider’s guide to the traditions, experiences and destinations that exemplify Afro-Latinx accomplishments and cultural pride.
MAGÁ MOURA ///BAHIA, BRAZIL
STYLE INFLUENCER @MAGAVILHAS
Moura stands out for her bold fashion and equally bright braids or voluminous curls, depending on the day. Based in São Paulo with roots in Bahia, this world traveler is inspired by the unique styles she spots on the streets of her homeland and across the world.
SEE: Comunidade Solar Do Unhão “Head to this beach to experience one of the most beautiful sunsets in Salvador. The community it’s located in makes the environment even better—you’ll find amazing people everywhere. On Saturdays just after sunset, there’s an event called Jam no MAM [Museum of Modern Art], where you can listen to jazz by the beach and just chill.”
EAT: RéRestaurante Dona Suzana “This restaurant is owned by Dona Suzana and has spectacular views of the sea. It’s very small, but the food is magical. When you go, order the popular local dish Moqueca [a flavorful fish stew].”
SHOP: Feira de São Joaquim “The largest and most traditional fair in Salvador, São Joaquim is the soul of the city. The place looks like a big maze, but the energy of the people will make you fall in love. You can find fabrics, traditional foods, handicrafts—the straw bags are everything—and a large collection of items from African-based religious rituals.”
STAY: Santo Antônio Além do Carmo area “This neighborhood, located in the historic city center, is one of the most beautiful places to be in Bahia. It has fabulous restaurants, great bars, and music—and it’s lots of fun!”
RAFAELA FRANCO///RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
BEAUTY CATALOGER @RAFAFRANCO2
Franco was named one of the Afro-Latinx influencers to follow on social media by People en Espa–ol. Her Instagram is a celebration of Black beauty, culture, and style while also showcasing the breathtaking landscapes of her native Brazil.
SEE: Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro “I try to go to the botanical garden at least two times a month. Every time I take this tour, I get energized. It’s all very green, and I feel close to nature. It’s also a great place to pose for pictures.”
EAT: Hamburgueria da Alfândega “My favorite thing to eat is hamburgers, and this place has amazing options. For those who love burgers like me, keep this spot on your list.”
SHOP: SAARA in downtown Rio de Janeiro “If you like to buy a lot and spend a little, SAARA, with its clothing and specialty stores, is a must. You’ll find everything you want and need through these downtown streets.”
STAY: Lapa neighborhood “This is very well-known here in Rio. I always recommend this place to those who want to visit the city. It’s cheap, has wonderful food and is another great area to snap photographs. It’s so picturesque!”
CALMA CARMONA /// PUERTO RICO
Carmona boldly infuses AfroLatina elements into her music and style. The video for her “100 Vidas” single highlighted San Juan’s dynamic nightlife and featured slices of Puerto Rican heritage for the world to enjoy. SEE: Piñones “Piñones runs about a mile long on the coast of Isla Verde and leads to Loíza. This place is rich in Afro-Caribbean culture. It has a party atmosphere day and night and is filled with local street food and music.”
EAT: Bebò’s Cafe “Loíza is home to one of the highest percentages of African descendants on the island. Bebò’s Cafe offers comida criolla, a cuisine that celebrates our African influence with a Puerto Rican twist.”
SHOP: Calle Loíza “Situated two blocks from the beach, this shopping strip features mom-and-pop stores, vintage boutiques and other fun places to discover.”
STAY: Finca Victoria “If you are looking to interact with new people and want a unique countryside experience on Vieques island, this is the place to be. It’s a perfect getaway for nature lovers, with all the amenities you need to relax.”
LIA SAMANTHA ///CALI, COLOMBIA
RAPPER AND FASHION DESIGNER @LIA_SAMANTHA
Recognized for her vibrant and colorful designs, Lia Samantha has a vision and an eclectic style that have made her a pioneer in Afro-Colombian fashion. As if placing Afro-Latinx identity at the forefront of the fashion world wasn’t enough, she is also a popular rapper.
SEE: Museo de la Salsa Jairo Varela “This museum serves to honor the musical contributions and memory of composer and director Jairo Varela. There are different exhibitions, guided tours and film forums, among other activities, that demonstrate the talent of the region.”
EAT: Restaurante Valle Pacífico “The cuisine here is a representation of the African influence by way of the Pacific coast. It is a creative alternative for visitors, who will also enjoy the attentive service and familiar sense of home.”
SHOP: The artisanal stores throughout Barrio San Antonio “This is one of the most traditional neighborhoods in Cali, with its colonial architecture and various restaurant options. The small craft stores house the works of local artists that make for perfect gifts to take home.”
STAY: Rossa Palma Hotel “When you’re here, you feel like you’re on a beach in Cartagena. This is a spot where a lot of locals come to spend their weekends and just relax. Tourists love it, too. What I enjoy most is the different activities and musical performances featuring artists from the Colombian Pacific. The food and drinks are also good.”
EXPERIENCE: Petronio Alvarez Pacific Music Festival “This festival is a celebration of Afrocentric culture and the most important of its kind in Latin America. It is dedicated to the folklore of the Pacific coast and takes place in Cali every August.”
CAROLINA CONTRERAS///DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
ENTREPRENEUR AND ACTIVIST @MISS_RIZOS
Contreras is a champion for women of Afro-Latinx descent around the world. Her message encouraging Black women to embrace their natural rizos (curls) has brought attention to voices in spaces where they did not exist before.
SEE: Montaña Redonda and Costa Esmeralda in Miches “There are two places you must visit: Montaña Redonda to take in picturesque views of the beach, lake and mountains and Costa Esmeralda, an isolated beach that feels like heaven on earth.”
EAT: Elsa Empanadas “They have the best empanadas and natural juices. Don’t leave without sampling the eggplant and cheese empanada. Bonus eats: Visit Italia for inexpensive home-cooked Dominican dishes, and head to Montaña Redonda for the fried fish and moro de guandules con coco with tostones [rice, pigeon peas and coconut].”
SHOP: El Centro Cultural Cayuco “Shopping in Miches means you are supporting a very small community that is only recently being discovered by tourists. Visit El Centro Cultural Cayuco and give back to local artisans and the local economy.”
STAY: Cocoloco Beach Club “When I visit Miches, I usually stay at Cocoloco Beach Club. It has small cabins right in front of the beach Playa Arriba. You can catch the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises while enjoying a delicious breakfast or dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.”