Guinea Bissau Travel Guide
: compared to Senegal, Guinea Bissau is much more a bicycle country, as there is much less car traffic and a lot more bikes around.
: the Guinea Bissaueans are very soft, shy and calm people compared to the rather hard, verbal and businesslike people you meet in most parts of Senegambia. They are not pushy at all.
- rainy season
: Guinea Bissau, and especially the coastal area is VERY rainy during rainy season. Instead of the one hour shower a day we expected, it rained at the coast most of the day.
: the music of Guinea Bissau is very similar to the very popular music of Cabo Verde. Good artists are Antao Martins (Anos Ku No Guiné), Rui Sangara (Po Di Buli) and Mata Vieux.
: there are few (we did not see any) banks outside Bissau. Credit Cards are probably worthless in Guinea Bissau, although you could try in Bissau. Make sure you got enough CFA out of an ATM in Senegal (there are two ATMs in Zinguinchor) or that you have enough euro’s with you. In Gabu we got easily the black market rate of 670 CFA for a euro, although the CFA is supposed to be pegged to the euro at a rate of 656. In Bissau there were rumours that you could get 675CFA for a euro. There are Western Union offices in Bissau, Bafata and Gabu in case you run out of money. Watch out for fake 5000 CFA bills (without iron strip), better to ask for the brand new and very secure 10000 CFA bills.
: Portuguese Creole is spoken about everywhere. If you speak Spanish you will be able to understand a lot of words and communicate a bit. Educated people (doctors, engineers, …) will often speak very well Spanish as they have studied in Cuba during communist times.
: See my Gambia Travel Guide
for the for how we got our visa, See my Senegal Travel Guide
for the how we got into the country.
- electricity and running water
: two basic needs of the Westerner, but very rare in Guinea Bissau. Outside (and most of the time also inside) Bissau there is NO electricity and NO running water. Most hotels provide candles and buckets with water. If there is electricity in the hotel, it means they have a private generator and will only leave it on until their disco or cinema closes. No electricity means also that the fan does not work …
: Guinea Bissau is about as expensive as Senegal. Transport could turn out cheaper as there are less bush taxi’s (and more buses) around. accommodation and hotels in Bissau is expensive (at least 15.000CFA/dbl a night), the very basic hotels (bucket shower, no electricity) outside Bissau are not worth more than the 5000CFA/room.
: sending parcels from Guinea Bissau is rather expensive (and probably not so reliable) : 9000CFA for 1 kg and 16500CFA for 2kg by air.
: is a BIG problem in Guinea Bissau. Phoning to Europe is EXTREMELY expensive (we paid about 5750 CFA or almost 10 euro per minute !!) and there are only two internet cafés in the whole country, both in Bissau. The rest of the country has no electricity most of the time anyway.
- to see
: the roadside is packed with street food for the truckers and a perfect place to collect a breakfast of boiled egg, mango and bread.
: in this border town with Senegal there are a few new Indian mountain bikes on sale in a tiny shop for 70000 CFA a piece (first price, probably bargainable to 55000CFA).
: no name and not marked, two houses from the main roundabout, 4000CFA/room, no running water (bucket shower in dirty toilet room), no fan, no electricity, friendly but a bit noisy because of the pub-grocery store on the other side of the street. There is probably a second hotel somewhere in the village.
- transport to Bissau :
* by road
: will take longer than you expect as the road is in bad condition and there are a few ferries along the way (at Sao Vincente and a bit further, but the latter one will soon be replaced by a new bridge).
* by boat
: the pirogue leaves at 10-11am (or later depending on the tide) at the end of the street of the hotel. We left finally at 2.30pm and arrived two hours later in Casheu. The boat is faster than the road and a lot more relaxing. It also goes through a nice mangrove nature park. The ride costs 1500CFA and is popular with locals.
- accommodation and hotels :
: the 6 white bungalows next to place where the pirogue from Sao Domingos moors are unfortunately already 3 years closed.
* Parque National
: if you walk half an hour along the main road out of town, you will find next to the big Guinee Telecom antenna (visible from far) the bungalows of the National Park (see http://www.iucn.org), 3000 CFA pp, running water and solar power. Unfortunately the director of the park was not there and the other people were not too much of information and very shy, but the guard showed us the small poster museum with info on the park.
: if you search very well you will discover two tiny restaurants close to the pirogue terminal which sell bread with omelette
- transport Casheu to Bissau
* Casheu – Canchungo
, 500CFA, 1.5hr
* Canchungo – ferry
(soon a bridge), 500CFA, 1.5hr
* ferry – Bissau
: 250CFA, 45 minutes
: shared city cab to hotel Ta Mar in the centre : 300CFA
- to see
: the old town of Bissau is full of nice colonial Portuguese houses, but is also very quiet, dark and deserted after sunset. Also during the day half of the houses seem to be uninhabited and half of the shops closed. It obviously has not recovered from the war yet. Most of the commercial activity in town happens in the big markets on the outskirts of town on the way to the bus station.
- accommodation and hotels
Finding budget accommodation and hotels in Bissau is a serious problem. We searched and searched, but could not find anything under 15000CFA/dbl. Most places charge 35000/sgl and 45000/dbl, which seems to have become the standard price for a night in Bissau !
* Ta Mar
, recommended as a cheap hotel in Lonely Planet, but now completely renewed into an expensive hotel, 35000/dbl
* Pensao Central
, probably the cheapest and best option in town for the moment, 15000/dbl in quite an atmospheric colonial building owned by an old Portuguese aunt and with breakfast included in the price. There is an ingenious kind of camping shower which gives you the luxury a real (but cold) shower, which feels so nice after the bucket showers in the hotels outside Bissau. There is also almost continuously electricity in the hotel, another luxury which is hard to find in Guinee Bissau.
* Aparthotel Galeon
, T 202705, very much a nightclub, casino and striptease bar, but our only option as a Portuguese tour group had occupied Pensao Central. Rooms are nice and clean, but had no water or electricity when we were there.
* Unnamed hotel nr. 30
, see Lonely Planet for the recommendation of this place, it obviously seemed to be a place which rents out rooms for a longer period an which is not interested in one night visitors as tourists. The owner was not there when we where there and the other inhabitants said he would probably not accept us.
: opposite Pensao central in the Post Office, 700CFA/hr, quick connection, about 40 computers; in the centre there is another private internet café which charges 1200CFA/hr.
- Cabo Verde
: although Bissau looks a good place to make a side trip to Cabo Verde, it will probably be too expensive to be worth it. Cabo Verde Airlines asks 278700CFA (about 500 euro) for their flight Bissau – Praia which leaves Bissau on Wednesday and Saturday. Bissau to Dakar costs 96100 CFA.
- visa Guinee Conakry
* See my Guinea Conakry Travel Guide
for more information on our trip to Guinea Conakry.
* embassy is open
: Monday – Thursday : 8.30am – 3pm, Friday (8.30am – 1pm), Saturday (8.30am – 12am)
: 30000 CFA for a one month multiple entry visa, which is expensive !
* you need two pictures
(scans accepted) and the visa is ready the same day if you come early
* Bissau – Gabu
: we made the mistake of taking a big coach bus (1500CFA) in the main bus station instead of a bush taxi (2500CFA). Although the bus looked like it was going to leave at a fixed time, it waited until it was full, and it took a long time before the last passengers were in. It also stopped a horribly lot of times along the way, and each time half of the bus (around 30 people) went out for a chat. Also at checkpoints it took a long time before all 60 passengers were checked. Finally we had a breakdown between Bafata and Gabu and had to hitch on a pickup truck.
Las Islas Bijagos
In rainy season the transport between the islands is limited, in high season (October – march) there should be more boats. The main ferry company in Bissau is Rodofluvial (T 212350/76), which operates ferries to Bubaque, Bolange and Catio.
* ferry Bissau to Bubaque
, 2500CFA pp, leaves every Friday at 10am (departure time depends on the tide and is announced in the port the day before), rusty old ferry; the second ferry is broken so on Wednesday there leaves a big pirogue instead from Bissau.
* ferry Bissau to Catio
, leaves on Tuesday and comes back to Bissau on Friday
* ferry Bubaque to Orango and Uno
, leaves Saturday 3pm, back on Tuesday
* ferry Bubaque to Roxa
, leaves Bubaque every two days, back the next day
* pirogue Bubaque to Kamsar (Guinea Conakry)
, brings every two weeks fishermen to Guinee.
- mangroves and oysters
: you can find lots of oysters on the mangroves of Bubaque, try to arrange a pirogue which will bring you to some good picking places, Tity (see below) can help you with that. The stones on the beach in front of “Bubaque town” have lots of oysters attached to stones which are perfectly edible. Beat with another stone on the closing muscle to open them.
- giant turtles
: from july to November giant turtles bury their eggs on the beach on the north side of Bubaque island. You can get there by rented bicycle (18km on good road) or by rented pirogue.
: the main road looks terrible in the main village, but gets a lot better and is easy and flat just outside Bubaque village, so it is definitely recommended to rent some bikes to cover the 18km to the north of the island. Check with Tity who has bikes.
- accommodation and hotels on Bubaque
* Chez Tity
, T 821124, this active Senegalese from Zinguinchor has been around on the islands for 10 years and after the war collected now finally enough money to offer apartments for rent. He has big plans, is energetic, very friendly and has a lot of creativity. He rented us a double room with view on the water for 3000CFA, but he plans to increase the basic luxury of it and consequently ask more (5000CFA). He is a very good source of information on the region and can arrange a lot of interesting tours. He speaks well French and English and can find bicycles for rent. He owns also a restaurant – pub near the port “Le Balafon”, where he can prepare delicious Senegalese duck for you on special request, a nice variation on the (after a while) boring maffe which you find everywhere.
* Aparthotel Canoa
, very clean bungalows single (10000CFA), double bed (12000CFA), two beds (15000CFA), including electricity, shower, toilet in the bungalow and breakfast. Food is good at 3500 CFA. This is probably the nicest middle class option.
* Chez Raoul
, recommended in Lonely Planet, but it seems his disco has become a bit priority, the food was boring (they had only maffe …) and the rooms dirty, dark and small for 5000CFA/dbl; they are probably also extremely noisy when the disco is on.
- to see
: Gabu is a very busy and lively market town where you can buy about everything in the main street which is lined with shops and street food. The numerous bicycle shops made us decide to buy a bicycle and continue our trip on two wheels. Contrary to what Lonely Planet says, the market opens around 10am and closes at around 6pm, and after that time the candles are lighted (remember NO electricity !) and there is a bit of basic Senegalese food here and there available for the truck drivers which have to spend the night here.
- accommodation and hotels
* Residencial Djarama
: a nice and clean middle class option with character in an old colonial house with balconies, electricity and running water, 12500 CFA/dbl, T 511302.
* Pensao Miriama Sago
: the cheapest place in town, 4500 CFA/dbl, very basic (electricity until 11pm, ventilator, bucket shower), prostitutes in the bar connected to the Pensao.
: there is no bank in Gabu ! The Western Union office does purely that, so no cash exchange or cash advance on credit cards here. But they can send you to a man who has a shop of suitcases in the centre, which gave us a very good black market rate of 670 CFA for a euro.
- The bikes
The bicycle adventure starts in Gabu
: All bikes on offer in Gabu are Indian or Chinese and prices are 50000-65000CFA. Although we did not see any bikes on sale in Banjul, it seems all bikes of Gabu are transported from Gambia and should cost only half price in Banjul.
- The bike and bike parts salesmen and repairmen
In Gabu you will not find the kind of bicycle sell and repair shop. You will have to deal with 3 shops which all stick to their own business.
* bicycle seller
: purely sell the bikes like they would sell fruit. This means that the bikes are not ready for use when you buy them. There is still quite a bit of work to tension the spokes, connect the brakes, adjust the chain and gear system, and grease the steer wheel and wheels. The bicycle seller will recommend you a repair man which can do all this, but you are very free (and recommended) to chose your own. The cost of the adjusting is NOT included in the bike price ! Check very carefully if all bike parts are original and not second hand. There are NO bicycle shops in Gabu which sell second hand parts, but I suspect (one of my brake rubbers was used and the back wheel was of different quality and size than the front wheel) they change old parts for new on the new bikes. The fact that the bike is wrapped in paper does not mean anything ! Female style bikes are not available, but mountain bikes are common. All bikes are quite heavy steel bikes. We payed 55000 CFA per bike after bargaining from 70000.
* the bicycle repair man
: it is very important to chose this man well (Idrisa Dialo at the end of the street is good). We took first the man where the bicycle seller took us to, but there were a bunch of 14 year olds working on our bikes which lost (and stole) more parts than they adjusted. He also was not able to get the spokes tensioned right. You should also stay the whole time with your bike when they adjust or repair it. Contrary to the West, where repairmen don’t like to be looked on the fingers the whole time, in Guinea Bissau they only work when you are there. This is probably because you agree in the end a price with them based on the time they have spent on the work, not on the work itself. Prices are very cheap, they expect 500-1000CFA per hour, the adjustment of a new bike should be about 2500CFA. Bicycle repair men also don’t have or sell parts, even for the nuts and iron they use you have to pay extra. If you want to have extra parts (bell, reflectors, back carrier) put on, you should buy (and bargain) them yourself in a bicycle parts shop. Bicycle repair man will get a bit confused if you force them to buy and install the stuff, and as they don’t know the prices of parts they will quote a too high price to be sure.
* the parts sellers
: there are about 10 shops which sell parts and everyone has a few “exclusive” parts. There is only one shop which sells reflectors, one shop which sells modern straps, … Most things are available, but we could not find the following : helmets, lights, back mirror, bicycle bags, front bucket.
Let me present you : Our Bike’s
Bicycle : ACM Tango Classic, 55000CFA
Bell : Bee Brand, China, 1000 CFA
Saddle : OK, China, 2250 CFA
Gears back : Xundah, China
Gear switch : Shimano, Japan
Reflectors, 750CFA per piece
Back carrier, 3500 CFA, our (second and good) repair man, Idrisa Dialo, arranged for us an extra big and very solid back carrier welled on the size we requested with solid steel (the kind of rusty steel they use in armed concrete).
Let me present you : Our Toolbag
Pump : Luma Colt, Spain, 1000 CFA
Inner tire : Eastman, India, 1000CFA
Brake cable, 250CFA
Big plastic bag, 250CFA (the big food bags are not waterproof !)
Rope 3m, 150CFA
Tools, 500 CFA a piece
Let me present you : Our outfit
Raintrouser : 5000CFA (but don’t take the very waterproof but also very hot and sweaty
yellow fishermen trousers
Gabu – Buruntuma
(Border Guinea Bissau - Guinea Conakry)
- the road : 67 km, more or less flat, asphalt in the beginning and hard red earth in the end, a lot of other (African) cyclists, almost no cars.
- Pitche : no hotel, passport check and exit stamp Guinee Bissau
- Buruntuma : a few grocery stores with very little on sale, pushy and annoying border guards asking the whole time to get presents (your T-shirt, watch, …), while we had to count on them to arrange a place to sleep for us. The woman of the pub-hut, on the left side of the street just before you reach border post (which is on the right side), has a few very basic rooms. We paid 3000 CFA for a mattress on the ground in a big room full of insects and rats. But, except for a place in the army barracks which also seemed to be possible, this is probably the only place in town. Better to go here first yourself before you reach the border guards or to sleep in one of the villages full of very friendly people along to road before you reach Buruntuma.
- Border Guinee Bissau – Guinee Conakry
* Guinee Bissau border post in Buruntuma : you have to go into a dark room where the military asks for a “cadeau” while they are checking your luggage, quite annoying, but they stayed friendly when we friendly refused to pay any bribe.
* Guinee Conakry border post in Kandinka : a visa is not available at the border, friendly and quick border post, no requests for bribes, the “permit de fotographier” was not available here. We had hoped to get this permit, which should be issued for free by the ministry of tourism, whish hopes to prevent this way the requests for bribes by policemen to tourists.
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