Guinea-Bissau, (website in French), is a former Portuguese colony bordered by Senegal to the north and Guinea to the south and east.
Guinea-Bissau was once part of the kingdom of Gabu, part of the Mali Empire; parts of this kingdom persisted until the eighteenth century. Early reports of Europeans reaching this area come from the mid 15th century. The rivers and coast of this area were among the first places colonized by the Portuguese in the 16th century, the interior was not explored until the 19th century.
The Portugese tried desperately to hang on to their colony much longer than other European countries. An armed independence rebellion began in 1956, but it was not until 1974 that the Portugese finally accepted indpenendce for Guinea-Bissau.
Guinea-Bissau's post-independence history has been chequered. A civil war in 1998, followed by the imposition of a military junta in 1999 has been replaced with a multi-party democracy. The economy remains fragile, however hopes are high.
Guinea-Bissau is warm all year around and there is little temperature fluctuation; it averages 26.3 °C (79.3 °F). The average rainfall for Bissau is 2,024 mm although this is almost entirely accounted for during the rainy season which falls between June and September/October. From December through April, the country experiences drought.
Guinea-Bissau is divided into 8 administrative regions (regiões) and 1 autonomous sector (sector autónomo), and are subdivided into 37 sectors.
The US Department of State claims that there is no clear way of obtaining a visa for Guinea-Bissau. No Guinea-Bissau embassies have websites to obtain entry info. To complicate matters more, the GB "Diplomatic Representation" in Washington is "temporarily closed" (since Jan. 2007 & current as of Feb. 2009) and the US embassy in Bissau is closed. Visa-seekers are advised to visit the GB Embassies in either Dakar, Senegal or Lisbon, Portugal for visas. The US embassy in Dakar doubles as an embassy to GB. There are new rules for visa to Bissau as of April 2010. The visa costs 3,000 CFA, when requested and you must pay an additional 55,000 CFA when arriving at the airport.
Direct flights from Portugal with TAP every Friday, returning same day.
The Daily Air Senegal flight is no more, however TACV Carbo Verde Airlines have daily flights from Dakar, Senegal to Bissau every day. The flight time is 75 minutes.
There are no trains in Guinea-Bissau
Other main borderposts include Pirada (dirtroad from there to Gabú) to Senegal, and Buruntuma to Guinea-Conakry (also via Gabú).
There is a sea route between Dakar and Bissau. Additionally there are boats to and between the Bijagos islands.
In Bissau minibuses called toca-toca work for transports within the city. There are also regular taxis. For inter-city travel there are sept-places, (seven-seat Peugeot) and candongas, big commercial vehicles carrying ten to twenty passengers. Prefer sept-place or at least try to get the front seats. It is also possible to rent taxis to other towns and cities.
The main bus-station "paragem" of Bissau is situated behind the BCEAO (Banco Central dos Estados de África Ocidental) on the Airport Road. Are you heading for Biombo or Prabis, you need to go to another bus-station in Estrada de Bor. There are no time-schedules; cars leave when they are full. As most locals travel in the early morning (7.00 a.m.-ish), cars fill up quicker in the morning. It might be hard to get transport in late afternoon and evening.
To go to the islands, there's a choice between cheap, but rather unsafe, canoas (pirogues) leaving from Porto Pidjiguiti or Porto de Bandim, and expensive modern boats owned by french fishing lodges on the Bijagos islands. In 2007 a ferry started sailing between Bissau and Bubaque, leaving Friday and returning Sunday. Schedules depend on tides, so check in advance.
As Guinea Bissau is very flat and there is virtually no traffic on the roads outside Bissau, it's a good country for cycling. Bikes can be bought in the country, but will probably be chinese bikes of rather poor quality. (They last 10 miles or 10 minutes: whichever comes first.)
Portuguese is the official language and the language used for writing, however creole is the language spoken among the locals. There are several local languages such as Fula, Balanta, Mandinka, Pepel, Bijago etc. But you will always find people who speak English and French from other African countries(The Gambia, Senegal, Guinea Conakry, Mauretania, Nigeria). You can buy a Creole/English dictionary at the WEC Mission which is in Caracol, and in the Mavegro supermarket which is located right next to the Simão Mendes Hospital (on the road that passes on the right hand side, 300m forward on the right)
In December 2007 the first ATM's arrived to the country of Guinea-Bissau - in the BAO (Banco da Africa Occidental) branches of Bissau and Gabú. An ATM is also being set up in the Hotel Malaika in Bissau. These ATM's only function if you have a local account with that bank. So, leave your credit card/bank card at home because it will do you no good. Probably still safest to bring euros or FCFA enough to cover the time you plan to stay. Western Union is present in Bissau (eight locations), Bafatá, Gabú, Buba, Canchungo and Mansoa. (They will rip you off by taking 10%.)
The largest market in the country is Bandim Market, which is on the main road going into town. You can buy many things there and the atmosphere is nice. Otherwise there are small vendors on most roads of the capital. In the villages (Tabankas) you will also find small vendors selling the necessities. In the main towns in the countryside there are larger markets called "Lumo", which give farmers and merchants the possibility to sell/trade their goods. Don't forget that Guinea-Bissau is a poor country and as such the possibilities for shopping are smaller than in the Gambia or Senegal.
Useful creole shopping phrases: Ke ku bu misti? (what do you want?) N mistil (I want it) N ka mistil (I don't want it)
Most Guineans eat rice with fish, because the country is rich in fish, and rice (homegrown or imported from Thailand) is relatively cheap. The more costly meals contain beef, goat, chicken or pork. Meals are also made with palm oil and peanut sauces and diverse vegetables. Guineans also eat wild/game meat (deer, monkey, beaver etc.) but these animals are considered to be in danger of extinction and so it is not recommended to support this. Guineans are known for their warm heartedness and so you will always be asked to come have a bit with a group of people (it is common to eat from a large bowl)..."bin kume, no kume"
Fruit available depends on the season, but mangos, papayas, oranges, grape fruits, bananas, cashews and peanuts are abundant. Also try the sour "fole" fruits and the baobab fruit juice (sumo de cabaceira). Imported fruit can be bought in "fera de prasa" in the center of Bissau (apples, pears, pineapples, watermelons etc) but is more expensive than in Europe.
Vegetables sold in the markets include lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell pepper, parsley, okra, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, chili, sweet potatoes.
Street snacks are typically sandwiches with hardboiled egg, omelete, fish or beef - or donuts, cake or hardboiled eggs. Frozen juice in small plastic bags is popular among locals.
The people of Guinea-Bissau love to drink a sweet green tea known as "warga", the non-muslims also enjoy drinking cashew wine or palm wine. There are also possibilities to buy Portuguese beer, wine and soft drinks but these are more expensive. It is recommended that foreigners only drink bottled, filtered or boiled water.
Hotels in Bissau are generally overpriced - but some hotels were undergoing renovation in 2007, giving hope for more competition and lower prices.
In most of the towns outside the capital, there are possibilities to find hotels or other rentable rooms.
There are also mainly french-run hotels on the Bijagos islands which are recommendable.
There are numerous NGO's, missionaries and international organizations (UN, EU, WHO, UNICEF, The Global Fund) working in Guinea Bissau.
You must be careful around the wildlife because they may be dangerous and you must respect the animals at all times. Do not attempt to feed or touch an animal. Remember: Take nothing but photos, Leave nothing but footprints, and kill nothing but time. Having fun and being safe makes your trip the best it can be.
Before traveling, make sure you have the yellow fever, hepatitis A, tetanus and typhoid vaccinations up to date. Malaria prophylaxis is highly recommended - consult a medical doctor for advice on which type to choose.
Depending on the length and purpose of your stay, also consider vaccinations for typhoid fever, hepatitis B, rabies, meningitis and tuberculosis.
If bitten by a dog, cat, monkey or bat - seek a doctor as fast as possible, no matter if you've been vaccinated or not. Everybody needs post-exposure rabies prophylaxis - but if vaccinated beforehand, you'll need less vaccines. Rabies can be prevented with vaccines and immunoglubulin, but once the symptoms present, there is no cure and about 100% die.
Always use a condom when having sexual relations with new partners.
Make sure you drink only bottled/filtered water.
Muslims are very relaxed about their religion, and should not create any problems.
Some people (especially children) will ask you to take their photo, while others will get upset if you take photos - always ask in advance, if taking close-ups. Avoid taking photos of military installations without asking, though sometimes you'll be allowed to.
There are numerous internet cafés in the center of Bissau, but ask around, more of them are hard to spot from outside. Other options are Lenox or go wireless in Restaurant Phoenicia or hotel Bissau Palace.
There are three mobile companies in Guinea Bissau all with prepaid mobile cards, that can be bought all over. It's easy to call abroad or other mobiles of the same company, but can be hard to call from one company to another (e.g. MTN->Guinétel).