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Port of Bissau city, Guinea Bissau, West Africa

Most recent update: September 2019

Guinea Bissau? Is that the same as Guinea Conakry? No. Equatorial Guinea? No. French Guyana? New Guinea? No and nope.

Guinea Bissau, a small development country in West Africa that is listed 7th among the 15 least visited countries on earth, is one of the best countries I have ever visited. This is a place where you can still experience the true and unspoilt Africa, far from large hotels and tourist resorts and among the local population.

In 2015 and 2016 I lived 7 months in one of the most remote regions of Guinea Bissau (called the Boé) to study chimpanzees and other wildlife for a non-governmental nature conservation organization. In this area, I met some of the most amazing people ever and I fell in love with this awesome African country.

When people ask me where I lived when in Africa I often answer 'West Africa', because when I tell them I lived in Guinea Bissau, I get asked the same questions over and over again (questions that are probably in your head as well now), such as'Where is Guinea Bissau?'.

To answer your questions: Guinea Bissau is a small development country in West Africa country, in-between Senegal and Guinea Conakry, and it used to be colonized by the Portuguese. I've added a google map of the country below.

Now you know where Guinea Bissau is, there are some other questions that often follow the ones above. These following are mainly about safety and life in the country, because countries that people have never heard about are often considered dangerous and unsafe.

Safety, however, is a very personal feeling, and everyone's idea of 'safe' differs. Where I feel perfectly safe navigating the crowded cycling paths of Amsterdam, foreign tourists panic and jump away startled when they hear a bicycle bell. I have never felt unsafe in Guinea Bissau though. However, I'm not going to tell you it's perfectly safe because anything can happen, but that's for anywhere in the world, so just use your common sense.

'And why did you visit Guinea Bissau?'. Well, I'm going to tell you that in a short paragraph below, just long enough to show that I know what I'm talking about before we arrive at what I think is the more important part of this post: why I think you should visit Guinea Bissau too.

Why I visited Guinea Bissau

As my frequent readers may know, I'm a biologist focussing on African wildlife. I have been intrigued by the African continent and its wildlife since I was young and I decided I wanted to work with African wildlife at an age of 15 after reading Dian Fossey's Gorillas in the Mist. For those that don't know it, it's a book about the life and work of a very inspiring woman that travelled to Rwanda to study the last remaining mountain gorillas. She is a hero, and because of her work we still have mountain gorillas today.

When I had the chance to do an internship abroad in university, I knew I had to get myself a position in Africa. By chance I met someone working for non-profit working in Guinea Bissau (a country that I had never heard of before) and via him I came in touch with the president of the organization and, long story short, a few months later I was on a plane to Guinea Bissau to study chimpanzees in the remote east of the country.

I've lived a total of seven months in a small village, often travelling to even smaller and more remote villages and places. According to some locals, I've even been places where no westerner had gone before (not even Portuguese colonizers). That's another check on my bucketlist.

If I was lucky I could travel to the capital Bissau once a month, where I could enjoy some luxuries such as foods that were no rice with palm oil, slow internet connections and cold beers. However, there were also times (especially in the rainy season) when we were unable to go because the cable of the old ferry across the Féfiné River snapped.

I've had an amazing time in those seven months. I've seen many great things, met wonderful people and was just embraced by the warmth of the country. I've seen some heart-breaking things as well (things I won't be sharing here), though the good things definitely outweigh the bad.

Enough about me now, and on to more important things:

Why you should visit Guinea Bissau

Reason 1: Just because!

The country is great! Even if you just stick to the city, it's impossible not to be captured by the great atmosphere of Guinea Bissau. It's a friendly and easy going country in which I have never felt unsafe. 


Maybe I did feel unsafe that one time...

One day during work I suddenly stood face to face with a huge warthog male (within ±10 metres) that as deciding whether or not to attack that weird white two-legged creature that spooked him. He luckily decided not to attack and moved off to somewhere in the tall savannah grass, exactly where I had to go next... 

Wildlife aside, people have always been open to me throughout the country. Despite struggling to provide for their families, they have often been willing to share whatever they had with strangers. 

Reason 2: Undeveloped and unspoiled

Traditional house in Dalaba village, Guinea Bissau, West Africa
Traditional home in Dalaba village, Boé Sector of Guinea Bissau.

Guinea Bissau seems to have been spared the past-colonial 'goodwill' (or guilt) of the western world. Development aid in ways that other African countries have seen seems to have forgotten Guinea Bissau. In some ways, that has been a blessing. For instance, the country has been spared the giving culture that has made other parts of Africa dependent on aid and the 'volunteering work' in which western children pay thousands of dollars to organizations just to 'care' for poor orphaned children that may not even be orphans after all.

I don't say that development aid is bad, far from that, but I do believe there have been (and still are) programs that have done more bad than good for local communities. I must add that I've met some great western aid workers in Guinea Bissau, all doing great jobs!

Most people in Guinea Bissau work hard and have little, but they're often proud and don't bother you asking to give them things. They rather seem to want to help you, maybe sell you something, but they don't have the idea that the westerner comes to give things.

Reason 3: Great wildlife

Temmincks Red Colobus checking out intruders in the Boé Sector, Guinea Bissau, West Africa
Red colobus checking out intruders in his patch of forest.

Where to start? Chimpanzee, colobus monkey, baboon, lion, leopard, hippopotamus, apparently some elephant in the south, manatee, buffalo, reptiles, amphibians, many species of birds that I can't even name, etc. Isn't this reason enough to go? For me it is.

Reason 4: Guinea Bissau has a great archipelago off the coast

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

The Bijagos are a tropical island paradise. White sandy beaches, palm trees, amazing sunsets and friendly locals, they have it all. Best of all, they’re not that touristy yet, so you won’t find those large tourist resorts claiming beaches or busloads of elderly tourists wearing their socks in sandals taking pictures of every child they see while trying to bargain with local salesmen to get a few cents of their prices ‘just for the fun of it’.
I have spent a few days on the island of Bubaque, the most populated island of the archipelago (still not densely populated though). After arriving with an ancient Russian or eastern European barge full of people, goods, goats and chicken, we met up with a friend of a friend who let us pitch our tent in his yard.

The following morning, after being waken by our host's huge pig snorting and puffing around our tent, our host helped us arrange some rental bikes in town. We drove the ± 10 kilometres to the other end of the island and pitched our tent on the most amazing and deserted tropical beach. Here we swam, relaxed, walked the beach, built campfires from driftwood and ate at a small nearby resort.

One thing I feel like I have to highlight here is the hippopotamus population of the island of Orango. This is one of the only populations of hippos that live their entire life in the ocean and on its shores. When visiting Bubaque, I was on a tight budget and constrained by time. Therefore, I was unable to visit Orango (which I still regret). Therefore, I highly recommend you to check out these amazing animals. Ask your hotel staff or any local, they'll probably know who can take you there.

Tip: When you stay on Bubaque, arrange a bicycle to be able to explore the island. Once on the other side, you can either spend the night in a small beachside resort or pitch a tent on the beach.

Reason 5: Tourism equals money equals development

Market of Bissau, Guinea Bissau, West Africa
Market of Bissau, my favourite place in the city.

Economic benefits of tourism can carry far. Imagine this: you spend your money earned at home on a place to sleep, pay the taxi driver to bring you to the market where you will buy a bread and maybe some souvenirs, etc. All the people you'll pay for goods or services will earn from it, that's just how economics work. With their earnings, these people can in turn provide for their families, which means income for the people that they buy from. This way your 50 cents paid for a bread can carry far into the local economy.

On the other hand, an increase in tourism may cause an increase in employment possibilities in a country. When the hotel owner sees his number of guests increase, he may decide to hire an assistant to help him in his chores. Without tourism, this assistant may not have had a job. However, because of the increase in the number of tourists, he now is able to generate an income which helps him provide for his family. 

These are just two examples of the many possible effects of tourism for a country, as there are too many to mention here. However, tourism also has possible negative effects, as you can read on this UNESCO website on sustainable tourism. Therefore, I ask you to make sure that your visit to any country is responsible, respectful and sustainable.

So, when are you going to Guinea Bissau? I highly recommend it, and with this guide, I hope I can make you consider Guinea Bissau as a possible future destination. Do you want to read more about this amazing country? Then hold on, I have a post on my full trip to Bubaque Island coming up!

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Why you should visit Guinea Bissau pin
5 reasons to visit Guinea Bissau in West Africa

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