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.