Though better known for its military coups and government crises, Guinea-Bissau’s swashbuckling charm, faded grandeur and stunning natural assets prove some things are above politics.
Sandwiched between Senegal and Guinea, this diminutive nation has a decidedly Latin vibe and is one of the few African countries to celebrate Carnival. Every February there is a riotous display of colour and culture when the streets of Bissau, the capital, are overrun with dancers festooned in traditional garb. They strut their stuff to drum beats that could raise the dead and rumbustious applause from adoring crowds.
Bissau’s roads are potholed and the electricity supply is erratic, but the dilapidated capital has rugged, timeworn charm. The grandeur of its Portuguese past is well behind it: like an aged model the city’s colonial beauty has faded, but there’s still a twinkle in its eye and an affable spirit that captivates visitors. It’s small and easy to navigate, too, with a few lively bars and restaurants serving up a traditional slice of local life.
For nature lovers the Bijagós Archipelago, which floats just off the coast, is a unique highlight. It is in this UNESCO-listed national park that visitors can search for rare pygmy hippos, which wallow in limpid lagoons. They’re not the only attraction: the ocean around the 88-island archipelago is home to sharks, manatees and turtles, not mention myriad migratory birds, which holiday here during the European winter. Pack your binoculars.
Travelling in Guinea-Bissau is not always easy, but for those with a sense of adventure and an open mind it can be extremely rewarding. Political instability and poverty may have beset this small nation, but the joie de vivre of its inhabitants endures and the country remains quietly brilliant.
36,125 sq km (13,948 sq miles).
1,888,429 (UN estimate 2016).
Head of state:
President José Mário Vaz since 2014.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Carlos Correia since 2015.
Limited electricity supply on 220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Crime rates in Guinea-Bissau are low but Guinea-Bissau is an extremely poor country. You should take sensible precautions, and avoid carrying valuables in public.
Land mines remain a problem in parts of the country and de-mining operations are continuing. The capital city of Bissau was declared mine-free in June 2006 by the national de-mining centre (CAAMI), which is responsible for de-mining operations and maintains lists of known minefields. Outside of the capital city, you should take local advice and stick to paved roads.
If you’re travelling to or from Guinea-Bissau by road through Senegal you should see our travel advice for Senegal.
Traffic is generally light but road conditions (including in the capital) and driving standards are poor. You should avoid road travel at night and take suitable precautions in the rainy season (June to October) when road and driving conditions can become particularly poor.
Guinea-Bissau is an inherently unpredictable country in which political instability can, and does, occur without warning. A military coup d’état in April 2012 established a transitional government which the UK did not recognise. Successful internationally recognised democratic elections (Legislative and Presidential) were held in 2014. Jose Mario Vaz was elected as President, and Domingos Simoes Pereira became Prime Minister. Tension between these two offices resulted in a political crisis in August 2015 when President Vaz removed the Prime Minister and a period of political instability followed, with the country having had 5 new governments in two and a half years. Umaro Sissoko was appointed as Prime Minister on 18 November 2016 and the new cabinet was named on 3 December 2016.