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Guinea is the world's second poorest country, has tourist facilities to prove it, but is a friendly destination for budget travellers looking for a West African holiday. When France offered its West African territories the option of independence or autonomy as part of a Franco-African community of nations, Guinea embarked down the road less travelled and took its independence. Alienation from France broke the country, suspending it in a downhill journey through socialism, gross human rights offences and terrible poverty. Democracy's been around for about a decade, but prospects remain dim.
Fouta Djalon is Guinea's nicest area, with rolling hills and tall peaks making for some fine Kodak moments. There's a couple of excellent beaches, though you'll probably have to make your own way there (on the plus side, that means they won't be too busy either). West Africa's largest market operates here - the market has the further distinction of being home to Guinea's only public toilet.
The slave trade came to the coastal region of Guinea with European adventurers in the 16th century. Slavery had always been part of everyday life but the scale increased as slaves were exported to work elsewhere in the triangular trade. Guinea's colonial period began with French military penetration into the area in the mid-19th century. French domination was assured by the defeat in 1898 of the armies of Samory Touré, Mansa (or Emperor) of the Ouassoulou state and leader of Malinké descent, which gave France control of what today is Guinea and adjacent areas.
France negotiated Guinea's present boundaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the British for Sierra Leone, the Portuguese for their Guinea colony (now Guinea Bissau), and Liberia. Under the French, the country formed the Territory of Guinea within French West Africa, administered by a governor general resident in Dakar. Lieutenant governors administered the individual colonies, including Guinea.
In 1958 the French Fourth Republic collapsed due to political instability and its failures in dealing with its colonies, especially Indochina and Algeria. The founding of a Fifth Republic was supported by the French people, while France's colonies were given the choice between more autonomy in a new French Community and immediate independence. The other colonies chose the former but Guinea — under the leadership of Ahmed Sékou Touré whose Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG) had won 56 of 60 seats in 1957 territorial elections — voted overwhelmingly for independence. The French withdrew quickly, and on October 2, 1958, Guinea proclaimed itself a sovereign and independent republic, with Sékou Touré as president.
In 1970, rebel forces from neighbouring Portuguese Guinea, supported by the Portuguese, invaded Guinea. The Portuguese wanted to get rid of Sekou Toure because he supported the guerrilla movement PAIGC in Portuguese Guinea. Sékou Touré died on March 26, 1984 after a heart operation in the United States, and was replaced in an interim role by Prime Minister Louis Lansana Beavogui. A military junta headed by Lansana Conté and Diarra Traoré seized power on April 3, 1984 in a bloodless coup, ending Beavogui's brief rule. Conté assumed the role of president with Traoré as his prime minister.
By despotic means, Conté clung to power until his death in 2008. On 23 December 2008, Moussa Dadis Camara seized control of Guinea as the head of a junta. On 3 December 2009, an aide shot Camara during a dispute about the rampage of September 2009. Camara went to Morocco for medical care. On 21 January 2010 the military junta appointed Jean-Marie Doré as Prime Minister of a six-month transition government, leading up to elections.
At 245,857 km2, Guinea is roughly the size of the United Kingdom and slightly smaller than the US state of Oregon. There are 320 kilometres of coastline and a total land border of 3,400 kilometres. Its neighbours are Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone. It lies mostly between latitudes 7° and 13°N, and longitudes 7° and 15°W (a small area is west of 15°). The country is divided into four main regions: the Basse-Coté lowlands, populated mainly by the Susu ethnic group; the cooler, mountainous Fouta Djallon that run roughly north-south through the middle of the country, populated by Fulas, the Sahelian Haute-Guinea to the northeast, populated by Malinké, and the forested jungle regions in the southeast, with several ethnic groups. Guinea's mountains are the source for the Niger, the Gambia, and Senegal Rivers, as well as the numerous rivers flowing to the sea on the west side of the range in Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire. The highest point in Guinea is Mount Nimba at 1,752 metres. Although the Guinean and Ivorian sides of the Nimba Massif are a UNESCO Strict Nature Reserve, the portion of the so-called Guinean Backbone continues into Liberia, where it has been mined for decades; the damage is quite evident in the Nzérékoré Region.
The Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site that straddles the border of Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire. The park has a wide range of animal life and plant life that are protected in the area that include Chimpanzees, several big cats, duikers and many types of viviparous toads. The reserve is labeled Strict meaning that no tourism is allowed. It is possible to see the reserve from a distance.
The National Park of Upper Niger is a large park covering around 6,000 square kilometres in the northeastern area of the country. The park provides protection for forest and savannah areas. The Mafou Forest is a dry forest, which the park covers and is an interesting area. 600 square km is considered the core area and is completely protected, while the rest of the park locals can collect natural resources from, although in a sustainable way. This is one of the few dry forests left in West Africa. It is possible to spot Giant Pangolins, Chimpanzees, Gambian Mongooses, Kob and Spot-necked Otters. Lions have also been recently scene in the park.
The Iles de Los are a group of islands off the coast of the capital of Conakry. These islands offer great places to explore and relax. There are several beaches to spend time on along the coast and forested interiors to explore by foot. Apparently these islands were the inspiration for the novel Treasure Island.
Guinea has a tropical climate with hot and humid weather year round, but there are some differences between the wetter coastal area and more dy border areas with Mali. From October to March, the weather is generally dry with many fine, hot, sunny days. From April to September is the rainy season. The rainfall increases to a peak in July and August and then decreases until rain has almost ceased by November. In the north of Guinea the rainy season is a little shorter, mainly from June to September, and there is less than 2,000 mm of rain annually. Along the coast, however, total annual rainfall is usually between 3,500 mm and 4,000 mm. July is extremely wet in Conakry for example with around 1,300 mm of rain during this month! Temperatures usually average around or slightly above 30 degrees Celsius during the day, and well above 20 °C at night, with little variation. Border areas of Guinea with Mali are warmer, especially from March to May when temperatures over 40 °C are possible.
The higher temperatures inland are to some extend a bit more bearable by the lower humidity. The harmattan, a persistent northeast wind, which blows during the dry season, is often dust-laden, which is extremely annoying as well.
Conakry International Airport (CKY) near the capital of Guinea, Conakry receives all departing and arriving international flights. Destinations include those to and from Bamako (Slok Air, Air Ivoire, Benin Golf Air), Dakar (Benin Golf Air, Slok Air, Afrinat International Airlines), Freetown, Paris (Air France), Brussels, Abidjan and Lagos, among a few others.
You can travel along most of the border crossings mentioned below and at least a dozen more if you have your own transport (traffic is scarce at some roads). A 4wd car is recommended for many of that latter roads. Be sure to have your papers and documentation (insurance etc.) in order and expect some hassling: this is Africa!
There is transport to and from Cote d'Ivoire, but safety situations in that country remain unstable at the moment. The main route is between Lola and Man either via Gbakoré and Danané or via Sipilou and Biankouma but there are other routes with less trafic though. If coming from Kankan, it's better via Bamako as roads directly to Cote d'Ivoire are bad.
To Guinea Bissau, public transport goes to Bissau via Labe and Gabu, but transport is infrequent and roads between the two countries are in a very bad condition still.
To Liberia, the main route is south from N’zérékoré and shared taxis go frequently to the border town of Diéké. From here you can get a motorcycle taxi or walk the remaining 2 kilometers to Ganta to get a taxi to Monrovia. It takes most of the day to get there. There are more routes but with bad roads and little traffic and thus reliable transport.
To Mali, the best route to Bamako goes from Kankan via Siguiri and the border at Kourémalé along very good roads most of the journey. From Conakry it's also possible but it takes 24 hours, better to break it up in stages.
To Senegal, there are several shared taxis a day for Diaoubé from Conakry but it takes up to two days!
Finally, to Sierra Leone there is transport betweeen Conakry and Freetown which is quite easy actually and roads are generally ok. It takes around 7 hours by shared taxi. A bus also goes to Freetown and you can break up the trip in stages if you like though it's not too long. All other routes are not recommended because of bad roads, little traffic and sometimes a lot of hassling at the borders.
Boats travel between Kamsar and Bissau in Guinea Bissau. The boat stops in Cacine and Kamkhonde in Guinea Bissau as well. There is no set schedule so check in the port of Conakry.
There are also boats between Conakry and Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
During the rainy season there are also boats along the river between Siguiri and Bamako, the capital of Mali. It takes a day in that directions, but two days coming from Bamako upstream.
Guinee Airlines is supposed to operate domestic services to between the capital Conakry and cities like Boké, Conakry, Labé, Kankan, Kissidougou, Koundarg and Siguiri. Schedules are erratic though and many airlines come and go.
Although there are in fact railtracks and even plans to upgrade them, there are currently no rail services in Guinea.
The roads between Conakry and Kissidougou and from Boké to Kamsar are both paved and in a reasonable condition. Some others are paved but in bad shape and many roads are unpaved and impassable after heavy rains. Few people rent cars but there are several companies offering cars in Conakry. They can be accompanied with a driver, which is recommended. Traffic drives on the right and you will need an international driving permit.
Large coach buses operate between a few main cities, but buses are slow and break down often. Still, they are relatively comfortable and not overcrowded. They are cheaper than the smaller minibuses, which in turn are cheaper again than bush-taxis. Still, minibuses and bush-taxis can be overcrowded and only the bush-taxis compensate this with faster services, minibuses are almost as slow as regular buses. To add, there are also post buses between Conakry and Dabola, Kankan, Faranah and Kissidougou. They are the most comfortable option but require you to book seats well in advance.
Few services exist, but you might be able to travel along the coast with locals or check the local port authorities if services do exist at all.
Almost every national needs a visa before arrival in Guinea. Single-entry visas are around $65 and are valid for one month. Multiple-entry visas are twice the amount and are the only ones available for US citizens! For more information check the Guinea Visa website.
See also: Money Matters
The Guinean franc (French: franc guinéen, ISO 4217 code: GNF) is the currency of Guinea. Banknotes circulate in denominations of 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 and inflation is rampant.
The official language is French. There are numerous ethnic languages, and the three most prevalent are Susu, Pular (Foulah, Peuhl) and Malinke. Susu is spoken in the coastal region and in the capital city. Toma, Guerzé, Kissi and others are spoken in the interior (Sacred Forest) region bordering on Mali, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Liberia. There are a lot of people who cannot speak any English at all, even in the capital city.
Many options are available for dining. For a mere GNF20,000 (roughly USD4), you are able to dine on delicious, nutritious food. If your taste buds would prefer something international, many other choices are available as well. The beef in Guinea is very good, and is highly recommended. Pork isn't served because of the dominance of Islam but is eaten among the forest people of the South east (Guinee Forestiere). There are good restaurants that are Lebanese which have European-styled breakfasts.
Outside of the Capital, Conakry, you can can often enjoy local dishes (consisting of Guinean style rice and one of the 4 main sauces with sometimes beef or fish in some cases) at a hole in the wall' local restaurant for less than USD1 (GNF3,000-6,000 depending on the exchange rate).
Fruits are very inexpensive here, especially compared to the higher costs in neighbouring countries.
Conakry and a few other larges towns have decent options, but outside of the capital and a few other places, there is little choice and rooms will be basic but cheap.
Canned European beer is available as well as a local "Skol" lager beer.
Water bottled in the name of Coyah is available everywhere for about USD0.50 per 1.5 litre bottle and is very good. Guinea's tap water is generally not safe unless filtered/boiled.
See also: Travel Health
Note: A major outbreak of the deadly Ebola viral haemorrhagic fever erupted in Guinea in March 2014 and there have been hundreds of confirmed cases, most resulting in death. The government has admitted the outbreak is out of control, including in the capital Conakry. All travellers are recommended to maintain strict standards of hygiene.
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is only required upon entering Guinea when you have been to an infected country within 7 days of entering the country. Still, it is recommended that you take the yellow fever vaccination anyway. Also you have to have a cholera stamp (proof of the fact you don't have the disease) when entering Guinea overland.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Guinea. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people and time of year.
Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Dengue is present as well, especially in urban areas, but there is no vaccination.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
Guinea is a rather unsafe nation, due to the fact that it is now one of Africa's most unstable countries; lawlessness and criminality are widespread. Most of the crime is done by officials in military uniforms, and usually targets foreigners. Most non-violent crime involves acts of pick-pocketing and purse-snatching, while armed robbery, muggings, and assaults are the most common violent crimes. Criminals particularly target visitors at the airport, in the traditional markets, and near hotels and restaurants frequented by foreigners. Stay vigilant, and apply common sense if stuck in a difficult situation.
Visitors should also avoid unsolicited offers of assistance at the airport and hotels because such offers often mask an intention to steal luggage, purses, or wallets. Travellers should arrange for hotel personnel, family members, or business contacts to meet them at the airport to reduce their vulnerability to these crimes of opportunity.
When taking photographs, avoid military bases and political buildings, as it can be considered espionage in Guinea and can land you in jail.
The police are completely ineffective. Low salaries and improper training contribute to the lack of professionalism of the police. If you are the victim of a crime, consult your embassy.
Corruption is extremely widespread - Corrupt police and soldiers target foreigners for bribes in just about any place in the country. Policemen will demand bribes at any checkpoint. Policemen will often intimidate you to pay bribes by confiscating a particular item.
Business trips to Guinea are strongly discouraged. Business frauds and scams are rampant, and if you are going for a business trip in Guinea, it is strongly recommended that you do not go.
See also: International Telephone Calls
Guinea's international telephone code is 224.
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Ask dwierda a question about Guinea
I lived in Guinea from December 1986 till October 1999 and my job took me all over the country in those years. I stay in touch with some Guineans and people working in Guinea and so stay somewhat current on how things are now.
Ask magass a question about Guinea
I live there and I am sorry that we don't have more people who want to visit my country to see the beautifull things Guinée can give. It is still real Affrica there ! try it and contact me !
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