Guinea Bissau Travel Guide
If you have never heard of Guinea Bissau before, we don’t blame you. A former Portuguese colony in Western Africa, this tiny country has a story that is sadly familiar to many of its neighbours: a back history of exploitation during the slaving and colonial days, followed by a period of strife and civil war during the 20th century.
These days, Guinea Bissau is a peaceful nation, but it still ranks as one of the poorest countries on Earth. Generous amounts of patience will be of great help to you here, as it will give you a chance to discover secrets that hesitant travellers will never see with their own eyes.
Currency: West African CFA francs
Languages: Creole, Portuguese, French
What To Do
Begin your visit to Guinea Bissau by touring Igreja Catolica da Bissau, its most significant church. Located a short distance from Bissau’s port, it is relatively easy to find. If you are looking for a way to connect with the local culture, foreigners are welcome to attend masses here.
Just keep in mind that there is little in the way of cooling inside, so be prepared to sweat if you decide to show up for Sunday prayers.
If you want to take a peek into the lives of everyday people in the capital city of Bissau, a trip to Mercado Central will allow you sit back and watch them gather ingredients for their daily meals, clothing for their kids, and tools to maintain their homes.
The appearance of this place may appear modest compared to what you are used to seeing back home, but the people are friendly and genuine. Do watch out for pickpockets, though, as they will likely see you as a mark.
While Guinea Bissau might not be the wealthiest country in the world, it makes up for it with the exuberance of its people. You’ll get a chance to see this on display at the Centro Artistico Juvenil, where programs aim to pass on a love for the arts to this country’s youth.
Founded by an Italian expat more than a generation ago, the leadership of this centre has since been passed down to the locals, who carry on its mission of promoting arts and crafting education to the young people of Guinea Bissau.
If you want to bring home a souvenir which has profound meaning, chances are good that you will find something amazing here, as each piece is sold with an explanation as to its significance to Bissauan culture.
If you are willing to brave travel outside the capital city of Bissau, there are a couple of natural attractions in the countryside that are worth the time it will take to reach them. Cantanhez Forests National Park is one of those places, as it is home to a population of wild chimpanzees.
These protected reserves are becoming rarer in a world where poachers have trapped them to sell them to zoos or as pets to private collectors, or as bushmeat to feed hungry residents in rural parts of Guinea Bissau.
While it takes many hours of slow, arduous travel to reach this park from the capital, very few tourists make it out here, giving you the opportunity to connect with these special mammals without having to deal with crowds.
Think that there aren’t any undiscovered paradise isles in the world anymore? The existence of the Bijagos Islands disproves that hypothesis, as this archipelago will stoke your castaway dreams.
As you land, you’ll note the lack of package tourists, which seems odd considering the brilliant white (if a bit rough around the edges) sand and clear waters. The culture here has remained largely the same over the centuries, meaning that visitors will get to witness traditional ceremonies that are still done for their own sake, not as a show to please outsiders.
Also of note is a population of saltwater hippos that inhabit the waters in and around the Bijagos, which is a species that stands apart from its freshwater cousins.
With over 21 populated islands to choose from, this archipelago is the anti-venom to everything that is wrong with modern tropical paradise tourism.
What to Eat
As with many other countries in Western and Central Africa, Fufu is a major source of energy for everyday residents of Guinea Bissau. Crafted using cassava or plantain flour, or made by boiling cassava root until it is pliable enough to be mashed into a thick porridge-like consistency, it is often paired with dishes like peanut soup to grant a touch of flavouring to this otherwise bland source of carbohydrates.
If peanut soup is not something you are comfortable with consuming, try ordering some Egusi Soup to go with your Fufu instead. Made from the seed of the same name, this popular side dish often comes with beef, goat, and fish, and vegetables like bitterleaf, spinach, okra, and tomatoes.
Those looking for a robust main dish that will fill them up will want to track down some Yassa during their time in Guinea Bissau. A spicy chicken or fish dish that is prepared with onions and lemon, it is a satisfying meal that will make for the perfect end to the rough and tumble days you are bound to have traveling in this challenging nation in Western Africa.