A trip to Bubaque Island, a forgotten tropical paradise island off the coast of Guinea-Bissau

Tropical island beach with palm trees, Bubaque Island, Bijagos Archipelago, Guinea Bissau, West Africa
Off the coast of Guinea Bissau, an often forgotten West African country, lies a tropical island paradise called the Bijagos Archipelago (also often forgotten). In the Bijagos, you can experience the true and unspoiled Africa, far from large tour operators and busloads of elderly tourists. It offers all you want from a tropical island vacation: white sandy beaches, interesting cultures, relaxation, and most of all, no crowds!

As far as I'm concerned, Guinea Bissau is one of the best travel destinations of 2018 (and 2019, and 2020, and 2021, etc.). Why? Well, where to start. It is still unspoiled, people are great, wildlife is amazing, a tropical island paradise off the coast, do you need more reasons? Still wondering where to go for your next vacation? I'd recommend Guinea Bissau, including a trip to the Bijagos! 

Also read: Why you should visit Guinea Bissau, a West African country often forgotten by travellers (and the world)

In this post, I write about my trip to Bubaque Island, the largest of the Bijagos, back in 2016. Hopefully, this will inspire you to add Guinea Bissau and the Bijagos to your list of future vacation destinations, as it deserves a spot on your list.

Journal of a trip to Bubaque Island

Day 1: Taking the boat to Bubaque, the lifeline of the Bijagos

Boat from Bissau to Bubaque Island, Bijagos Archipelago, Guinea Bissau, West Africa
Barge that would take us to Bubaque Island.

We left the port of Bissau at high tide, about 1:00pm, with an old Russian or Eastern European barge that looked like it could sink any minute... This boat makes the return trip to Bubaque once a week, often around the weekend. Being the only large boat to the Islands, this boat ferries both passengers and merchandise.

On the car deck, piles of merchandise, sacks of rice, goats, chicken and what not were stacked. Third class passengers made themselves comfortable among these goods. As we travelled second class, we were could sat on the top deck, offering great views over the ocean and the islands we passed. I recommend travelling second class, it's not too expensive and just look at the photos!

The departure time depends on the tides. As high tide was late on our departure day, we would be sailing into the sunset, literally! And what a sunset it was. I couldn't stop taking pictures. 

Downside of the late departure was that we would arrive at an unknown destination in the dark, where we would have try and locate our host (a friend of a friend) that we had never seen before in the midst of a huge crowd in the dark... Shouldn't be that difficult, right?

Sailing into the sunset with the boat to Bubaque Island, Bijagos Archipelago, Guinea Bissau, West Africa
Sailing into the sunset on our way to Bubaque Island.

Our trusted barge was able to bring us safely to Bubaque Island. I never doubted you for a minute! 

Well, okay maybe a little...

But it kept afloat, and we made it! Just a little spoiler: we made it back as well. Sorry I doubted you, my trusted barge.

We found our host quite easily in the dark. We followed him to his family home somewhere in the maze of little muddy streets that are the suburbs of Bubaque village. Once there, we pitched our tent in his yard among his chickens and a huge hog, and we went out to town to grab something to eat and get a drink.

After dinner at a little hotel owned by a Frenchman, we had a few drinks in town. What I really like about going out in Guinea Bissau is that you don't have to enter any bars to get a drink. The nightlife takes place outside. You'll find women selling beers, home made booze and caipirinha cocktails on the streets. I love caipirinha!

Day 2: Cycling the only road of Bubaque to the white sandy beach on the west side of the island

The next morning, our host's huge hog woke us up by snorting our tent. Not the best wake-up, but it could have been worse. Friends that went to Bubaque earlier were waken up when the same hog entered their tent to steal their peanuts.

Our host arranged two bikes that we could rent from friends of his, and we set off to cycle the only road of the island: a ± 10 kilometre road crossing the island from Bubaque village (east) to the beach of the west. After seven months in the country, this was the first tarmac road I cycled. In addition, these bikes had gears and brakes, something we weren't used to when cycling in Guinea Bissau. It was like Paradise!

I highly recommend exploring the island by bike or scooter, as it gives you the freedom to take your time and get anywhere. Just ask anywhere in town, there is always someone renting out their bike or scooter. Alternatively, you can take the public transport (West African style), though I was unable to discover any logical planning in that. 

Main road of Bubaque Island, Bijagos Archipelago, Guinea Bissau, West Africa
Main road of Bubaque Island.

We weren't even gone for 5 minutes when we had our first trouble. A huge nail (± 10 centimetre) sprung up from the road by a passing motorcycle and miraculously pierced a tire. What did we do to deserve such bad luck?

Luckily, another motor driver saw it happen and offered to take both my girlfriend and her bike to his place to fix the tire. I followed by bike. We quickly fixed the tire at his place, thanked him and his family, and moved on.

The road led through villages and past farms and fields. People on Bubaque were more used to westerners than in the remote east of Guinea Bissau where we worked. Despite, we were still stared at by locals, shouted at by children and barked at by dogs. You'll get used to that though.

After about 10 kilometres, the road ended abruptly at the western beach of the island: a narrow white sandy beach flanked by palm trees. Exactly what you'd expect from a tropical island beach, minus the shiny red elderly tourists smelling like sunblock. 

As there is a small tourist resort to the right of the road end, we decided to go left and cycle further along the coastline in search of a spot to pitch our tent. We found the perfect spot under the palm trees flanking the beach, just look at it! 

Camping the white sandy beach of Bubaque Island, Bijagos Archipelago, Guinea Bissau, West Africa
Our amazing spot camping on the beach of Bubaque.

After pitching our tent, we spent the afternoon swimming, relaxing in the sun, reading and walking the beach. What else could we want?


Dinner would be nice though.

So when the sun started to set, we drove back to the resort at the road-end. Though it had not officially opened for public yet, they were open for dinner. We had great chicken with potato chips and vegetables on the beach, with the sun setting in the ocean. Some of you may find it romantic i guess, yuck!

Sunset on the beach of Bubaque Island, Bijagos Archipelago, Guinea Bissau, West Africa
Sunset at the beach of Bubaque.

After cycling back in the last light, we built a campfire and relaxed some more. Too bad we had to catch the boat back to Bissau the next day, as I would love to have spent longer in this place.

When the tide came in, we started to doubt whether we picked a good spot. So, before going to bed, we dug canals and built dams (how Dutch can we get) to divert the water in other directions. We also moved the campfire to the front of the tent as a sort of early warning system.

Protecting tent from tides with dams while camping on the beach of Bubaque Island, Bijagos Archipelago, Guinea Bissau, West Africa
Our Dutch style protection from the incoming tide.

Day 3: Don't miss the boat! Cycling back to Bubaque town to catch the boat back to Bissau

Eventually, the water did not reach our tent. Despite all our protective measures, I had a terrible night worrying about it. However, when you wake up on such a paradise beach as this, your mood will quickly improve. Lesson learned for future beach camping though.

We drove back to town to catch the boat, which left at about 11:00 am. After buying our ticket, we had a last meal with our host at the Frenchman's hotel and said our goodbyes. 

Whenever you're at Bubaque and want to catch the boat back to Bissau, make sure to buy your ticket in time. Not only because the boat can be full, but also because you'll have to buy it from a casually dressed guy hanging around somewhere in the crowd of casually dressed people on the docks. Without our host, I would not have known where to look for him. In the picture below, I believe he is sitting on the purple chair next to the pole (behind the cool guy with the red beret).

Crowd awaiting departure of the boat to Bissau on the dock of Bubaque Island, Bijagos Archipelago, Guinea Bissau, West Africa
Crowd on the dock of Bubaque awaiting departure of the boat to Bissau.

Our trip to Bubaque lasted 3 days (2 nights). I wish it had lasted longer, as this place was amazing. However, we had to catch the boat as we had our obligations on the mainland the coming week. Some weekends, depending on the tides, a weekend trip may last 4 days (3 nights). I highly recommend to take at least a week to enjoy the entire archipelago.

Practical information about the Bijagos and Guinea Bissau

Languages: Portuguese (official), Portuguese Creole (most spoken), various tribal languages.
Getting to Bissau: Almost daily flights with Air Maroc from Casablanca.
Getting to Bubaque: Weekly boat, leaving Bissau for Bubaque friday or saturday, returning sunday or monday (depending on the tides).
Where to stay in Bissau: Check Tripadvisor* for accommodations in Bissau.
Where to stay on Bubaque: Check Tripadvisor* for accommodations on Bubaque.
Highlights of this trip: The boat trip from Bissau to Bubaque and back, nightlife in Bubaque Village and the remote western beach of the island.
What else to do: One great trip, that I still regret not taking, is a boatride to the Island of Orango, where hippos live in the lagoon and on the beaches of the island. These are the only hippos living their entire lives in and around the ocean. One day, I'll return here to see them! 

So, are you looking for an unspoilt tropical island paradise for your next vacation, far from large tour operators and hotels claiming beaches? Bubaque Island may be it. With an additional 80 something islands in the Bijagos Archipelago (many uninhabited), Bubaque Island may also be the starting point for many more adventures. 

Did you like this post? Help me by sharing it on social media! You may also pin one of the images below to Pinterest for later re-reading. Feel free to comment on this post if you have any questions or additions, I'd also like to hear your experiences in the Bijagos!

A forgotten tropical paradise, Bubaque Island, Bijagos Archipelago, Guinea Bissau, West Africa
The Bijagos Archipelago, a forgotten tropical island paradise off the coast of Guinea Bissau, West Africa

* This post may contain affiliate links in the text. This means that when you click these links and buy something, I will receive a little percentage for referring a customer to their store. I make sure that all links I place are trustworthy and only refer to real and trusted websites. Don't feel forced to buy something, but if you plan on buying, make sure to do it via one of my links to help me keep this blog up and running. Check my privacy policy for more information.