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Guinea Bissau

Photo © LIFAU

Travel Guide Africa Guinea Bissau

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Introduction

Bomba de Gasolina em Farim

Bomba de Gasolina em Farim

© All Rights Reserved LIFAU

Stuffed in the African armpit between Senegal and Guinea, Guinea Bissau is a low, wet land marked with swamps and an estuary-invaded coastal region. National parks are located around the coast, as well as offshore, where the islands of the Bijagos Archipelago block waves from reaching the mainland.

Unfortunately, the merits of Guinea Bissau remain largely undiscovered, since civil war and further violent unrest have made the nation a less-than-appropriate holiday destination. Recent elections, however, were conducted in a relatively democratic fashion, bringing hope that the future may be looking up.

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Brief History

Although the rivers and coast of this area were among the first places colonized by the Portuguese, since the 16th century, the interior was not explored until the nineteenth century. The Portuguese presence in Guinea was therefore largely limited to the port of Bissau and Cacheu, although isolated European farmer-settlers established farms along Bissau's inland rivers.
An armed rebellion beginning in 1956 by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) under the leadership of Amílcar Cabral gradually consolidated its hold on then Portuguese Guinea. Unlike guerrilla movements in other Portuguese colonies, the PAIGC rapidly extended its military control over large portions of the territory, aided by the jungle-like terrain, its easily reached borderlines with neighbouring allies and large quantities of arms from Cuba, China, the Soviet Union, and left-leaning African countries. By 1973, the PAIGC was in control of many parts of Guinea. Independence was unilaterally declared on September 24, 1973. Recognition became universal following the April 25, 1974 socialist-inspired military coup in Portugal which overthrew Lisbon's Estado Novo regime.

The country was controlled by a revolutionary council until 1984. The first multi-party elections were held in 1994, but an army uprising in 1998 led to the president's ousting and the Guinea-Bissau Civil War. Elections were held again in 2000 and Kumba Ialá was elected president. In September 2003, a coup took place in which the military arrested Ialá on the charge of being "unable to solve the problems."

In June 2005, presidential elections were held for the first time since the coup that deposed Ialá. Ialá returned as the candidate for the PRS, claiming to be the legitimate president of the country, but the election was won by former president João Bernardo Vieira, deposed in the 1999 coup.
In November 2008, President Vieira's official residence was attacked by members of the armed forces, killing a guard but leaving the president unharmed. On March 2, 2009, however, Vieira was assassinated by what preliminary reports indicated to be a group of soldiers avenging the death of the head of joint chiefs of staff, General Batista Tagme Na Wai. Tagme died in an explosion on Sunday, March 1, 2009 in an assassination. Military leaders in the country have pledged to respect the constitutional order of succession. National Assembly Speaker Raimundo Pereira was appointed as an interim president until a nationwide election on June 28, 2009, which was won by Malam Bacai Sanhá.

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Geography

Guinea-Bissau lies mostly between latitudes 11° and 13°N (a small area is south of 11°), and longitudes 13° and 17°W. At 36,125 square kilometres, the country is larger in size than Taiwan, Belgium, or the U.S. state of Maryland. The terrain of Guinea-Bissau is mostly low coastal plain with swamps of Guinean mangroves rising to Guinean forest-savanna mosaic in the east. The lowest point on Guinea-Bissau is at sea level at the Atlantic Ocean. The highest point on Guinea-Bissau is 300 metres above sea level at an unnamed location in the northeast corner of the country.

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Regions

Guinea Bissau is made up of 8 regions and an autonomous sector; the capital Bissau.

  • Bafata
  • Biombo
  • Bolama
  • Cacheu
  • Gabu
  • Oio
  • Quinara
  • Tombali

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Cities

  • Bissau, the capital
  • Bolama
  • Bubaque
  • Gabu
  • Bafata
  • Farim
  • Casheu

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Sights and Activities

Ilha de Orango

Ilha de Orango is located west of Bubaque and is part of the Orango Islands National Park, together with several other islands. Getting there is half of the adventure as it involves several boat trips before ending in Eticoga on the west coast of Ilha de Orango. From here, you can enter the beautiful park with palm groves and light woodland. Also there are mangrove areas and mud flats exposed at low tide. There is some extraordinary wildlife here including the the rare saltwater species of hippo and crocodile. To add, numerous birds species call this place home and it is also one of the largest green and Ridley turtle-nesting sites on the entire West African coastline.

Arquipélago Dos Bijagós

The island chain of Dos Bijagós is perfect getaway with beautiful white-sanded beaches, turquoise waters, fringed with palm trees. The islands are protected by swift tides and treacherous sandbanks and up until now the independent Bijagós people still retain a large degree of autonomy from the federal government. Although regular travellers make it to here, many people are fishermen or biologists, which gives an impression of how special it is here. It is a biosphere reserve and several islands fall under the national parks administration. There are salwater hippos at the Orango group and sea turtles at the João Vieira group.

Ilha de Bolama

Ilha de Bolama is also located just off the mainland, 40 kilometres from Bissau. The capital, also called Bolama, once was the capital but since then it has been decaying and nowadays there is nothing more left then colonnades and papaya trees sprouting from stately living rooms. Still, this is a good thing and only adds to the eerie charm of this fantastic little place. There are some beaches close to the village and yet better ones in the southwest of the island, reachable by 4wd only.

Cacheu

In this quiet coastal town in the northwest of Guinea Bissau you will find a fort dating back to the time of the slavery. There are also several bronze statues, among which is one of Lenin! The cannons that were used in the old days are still to be admired in their original state.

Other sights and activities

  • Bafata - a pleasant town with an interesting colonial centre
  • Varela - reachable by a bumpy two hour ride, but with pristine and beautiful beaches, a decent hotel and quietness
  • Saltinho Waterfall
  • Forests of Jemberem - Cantanhez Natural Park, where you can see chimpanzees with a little luck and help of a guide
  • Centro Artistico Juvenil - young artist in Bissau
  • Avenida Amílcar Cabral - Bissau's mainstreet, visit the side streets with beautiful Portuguese colonial architecture and the Fortaleza d´Amura, home to the mausoleum of the African hero Amílcar Cabral

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Weather

Guinea Bissau has a hot and humid tropical climate with temperatures around and sometimes well over 30 degrees Celcius during the day most of the year. Night temperatures are above 20 degrees but can drop below more inland, although it rarely gets colder than 15 degrees. The rainy season lasts from June to October with most rain falling from mid-July to September. The hottest months are February to April when temperatures can rise above 40 degrees Celcius in the east and well above 35 still in the western part and the coastline. The best months are probably November to February with sunny and dry days and still not overly hot.

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Getting There

By Plane

Guinea Bissau Airlines is the national airline of Guinea Bissau, based at Osvaldo Vieira International Airport (OXB) near the capital Bissau. International destinations to and from Bissau include Dakar (Air Senegal International), Lisbon (TAP Portugal) and Dakar, Lisbon, Praia, Sal with TACV Cabo Verde Airlines.

By Car

The border crossings with Guinea and Senegal usually are open but not always (see below). Be sure to have a 4wd, papers, insurance and all the right documentation regarding the car and yourself, and humor: it can take long across these not-so-hasslefree borders.

By Bus

To Guinea, bush taxis usually go to the border daily from Gabú and Koundara, just a 100 kilometers which can take most of the day. A less-travelled route, open only in the dry season, links the southeast of Guinea-Bissau with the west of Guinea via Quebo and Boké.
To and from Senegal, most traffic passes through Ziguinchor and the Guinean border town of São Domingos and on to Bissau. Sometimes the border regularly closes due to government clashes with Cassamance separatists so be sure to check safety situations. Crossings are also possible at the border between Farim and Tanaf by shared taxis. And there might even be transport from Gabú to Tambacounda (via Vélingara), though road conditions are poor and journeys long.

By Boat

Boats travel between Kamsar in Guinea and Bissau in Guinee 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 or Bissau, depending on weather you are going to Guinea or Guinea Bissau.

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Getting Around

By Plane

There are few domestic services in the country, but there are regular flights (mostly daily) between the capital Bissau and Bubaque and Orango Island.

By Car

The road network in Guinea Bissau is surprisingly good, although minor roads might be impassable during the wet season. Tarred roads connect Bissau with the towns of Gabú, Cacheu and Farim, as well as with the border crossing at São Domingos. Most other roads are gravel but are being paved or improved during recent years. Cars can be hired in Bissau but at a relatively high cost. Traffic drives on the right and you need a national driver's licence or international driving permit. Many connections involve crossing rivers by ferry, so don't expect to travel fast either.

By Bus

Minibuses and shared taxis (Peugeots 504 usually, sevenseaters) travel around the country between the main cities and towns. They leave when full and can be overcrowded. Still, they are relatively fast and cheap. Trucks travel along the minor roads between smallers towns but are very uncomfortable, but adventurous!

By Boat

Canoes and pirogues connect Bissau to several offshore island, including Rubane, Bubaque, Galinhas and Bolama. Since 2007, there is a faster ferry between Bissau and Bubaque as well, travelling there on Fridays and going back on Sundays.

By Bike

Guinea Bissau is a pleasant country to travel around by bike. Roads are ok, you can rent bikes in smaller towns as well and many parts of the country are flat or just a bit hilly. People are friendly and it is generally safe, though avoid biking at night.

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Red Tape

Almost any national needs a visa. Visas are available upon arrival, but only on the international airport near Bissau, costing around €20 and usually valid for one month. Check the Guinea Bissau Governmental website for more information about embassies and consulates of the country.

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Money

See also Money matters

Guinea Bissau uses the CFA Franc as a currency. The CFA Franc is divided into 100 centimes. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 500 francs while banknotes come in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 francs
The exchange range is fixed at aproximately 656 CFA Francs for one Euro.

In Guinea Bissau the West African CFA Franc (XOF) is used which has the same vallue as the Central African CFA Franc (XAF), but it's not possible to use both currencies in the same country.

Fourteen countries in Africa use this currency, eight in West Africa and six in Central Africa. The West African CFA Franc can only be used in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, while the Central African CFA Franc can only be used in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

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Language

See also Portuguese

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Health

See also Travel Health

Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is only required upon entering Guinea Bissau when you have been to an infected country within 7 days of entering the country, or if you have been to Zambia, Belize or Costa Rica. This requirement does not apply when you are travelling via Argentina or Paraguay. 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 Bissau overland.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Guinea Bissau. 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.

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.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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Quick Facts

Guinea Bissau flag

Map of Guinea Bissau

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Local name
Guiné-Bissau
Capital
Bissau
Government
Republic
Nationality
Guinean
Population
1,161,000
Languages
Portuguese
Religions
Indigenous beliefs, Islam, Christianity
Currency
West African CFA franc (XOF)
Calling Code
+245
Time Zone
GMT (UTC)

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This is version 16. Last edited at 9:03 on May 3, 13 by Utrecht. 9 articles link to this page.

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