by SHAUNA BENI
Afrochella, now in its third year, is a one-day festival in Accra, Ghana celebrating Africa’s diverse culture, from cuisine to contemporary art, as well as the vibrant work of African creatives and entrepreneurs.
This year, it promises to be bigger than ever, with a jam-packed schedule of live music, exhibitions, and more. The programming aligns with the “Year of Return, Ghana 2019,” an initiative set forth by Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans to North America in 1619, and encourages those of African descent to make the journey back home.
The theme of this year’s Afrochella, which will take place on December 28 at the El Wak Stadium, is “Diaspora Calling,” and will highlight the process of various African cultures transcending across borders without losing their heritage, through events like the Afrochella Talks conversation series featuring panels discussions with the likes of artist Adjo Kisser and photographer Amarachi Nwosu. Last year, the festival had over 10,000 attendees and this year’s event will be the official closing for Ghana’s Year of Return.
Here’s what you need to know about the festival—and how to plan a trip to Ghana to experience Afrochella for yourself.
What to know before you go
If you are traveling to Ghana for the first time, check the travel entry requirements before booking flights, as everyone needs a yellow fever vaccination card to enter the country. U.S. citizens will also need a visa in advance: To apply, fill out an online application on the embassy site (there are both walk-in and mail options). It’s $60 for a single-entry visa, which takes seven to 10 business days to process, or there’s a rush option for $100 total, which you can get within three to five business days after mailing in your application. If you are not a U.S citizen, you should check prior to arrival if your country requires one.
Once you arrive in Accra, be sure to always carry cash as many vendors won’t accept credit cards due to extra fees. We suggest tapping Cherae Robinson, who founded TastemakersAfrica, a travel agency that connect travelers with in-the-know locals all around Africa, to help plan your itinerary. Book a personalized tour or day trip like the Year of Return Cape Coast Experience led by local guide Sebastian Johnson Tettey, and spend a day learning about Ghanian culture through activities including a tour of the Cape Coast castle, a drumming lesson, and a fireside dinner on the beach. Alternatively, turn to one of our travel specialists like Cherri Briggs of Explore Inc. to nail down all of the logistics, or contact Jessica Nabongo, founder of Jet Black and a member of Traveler‘s Women Who Travel advisory board, who can help plan a personalized trip as well.
What to know about Afrochella
Abdul Karim Abdullah, Afrochella’s founder and CEO, sees the festival as a way to encourage people to look at Africa as more than just a vacation spot. “It’s a festival celebrating all things African culture and helping to promote awareness and bring business to the African community,” Abdullah says. “It’s a place where African people get to showcase their creativity to the world.”
Leading up to the festival, there will be kickoff events like the Afrochella Talks conversation series, which will be held at various locations throughout Accra. The series is dedicated to discussing the future of African business, the creative industries, music, and food with experts from all industries. If you’re looking to purchase tickets, there are a few options to choose from: general admission is priced at $35, but you can also upgrade to one of the Afrochella Experience packages, which comes with a VIP ticket to the festival, plus access to major events and tours like the Royalty Night New Years Gala and awards ceremony. The events will happen before and after the festival from December 26 through January 3, with prices ranging from $450 to $1800.
Neville Hall, a member of Fool’s Paradise travel group based in the U.S, attended Afrochella for the first time last year and recommends staying in a hotel if you’re a first timer. “I think the Airbnb scene is progressing but you just have to understand and respect that the standards are completely different,” says Hall. “As far as hotels are concerned, Ghana has beautiful luxury hotels.” Some of his favorites are the Movenpick and Villa Monticello.
What to do during Afrochella
Don’t miss the At a Glance photo exhibit by the Nigerian photographer Amarachi Nwosu, which showcases the transforming narratives on slavery and will take viewers on a journey through Cape Coast Castle, where thousands of slaves were held by western colonizers along the coast. While you’re there, be sure to check out the graffiti exhibit by Ghanian street artist Mohammed Awudu and live painting by artist Dennis Owusu-Ansah.
Musical performances, meanwhile, will start around 6 p.m. with seven crowd-sourced artists performing in a Rising Star Challenge. The headliner will go on around 11 p.m. The official festival line up will be released to the public later this month.
What to do in Accra
Take a trip to the center of the city to visit Makola Market, a massive bazaar built in colonial times that’s considered the economic heart of Accra. There, you can shop and bargain for clothing, local produce, snacks from food stalls, and get custom-made clothing and jewelry.
When you’re ready to take a break, head over to the popular Labadi Beach, which is still within the city limits. There are dozens of bars and food stalls where you can dine on local favorites like fufu, spicy kebabs, and jollof rice. Kick back and watch the sunset until the beach turns into a huge nightlife hub filled with live bands and bonfires. The Afrochella team has also put together a list of recommendations, with nightlife options like Republic, The Soho Bar and Twist.
What to do beyond Accra
Along the Gold Coast of Ghana, approximately three hours away from Accra, you’ll find numerous ancient castles and forts. Among them is the well-known Cape Coast Castle, which is now a museum and historical site. It was a major hub for the development of the slave trade and served as a holding cell for enslaved people before they were shipped off to different countries, never to return home again. When visiting Ghana, it’s important to understand the history and suffering Ghanaians faced to truly appreciate how far the beautiful country has come—and with the help of festivals like Afrochella, many of Ghana’s descendants are finally returning home.
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