Guinea-Bissau is that West African country, between Senegal and Guinea, which few people know, even fewer people are curious to meet and which leaves completely in love those who visit the country. And they come back. Or they dream of coming back one day.
A country with less than two million inhabitants and almost a hundred islands. A country that loses 30% of its continental part in rainy season, with its banks flooded along the eight large rivers that cut through the territory. A country with more than twenty ethnic groups and several national languages in addition to Portuguese, the official language spoken only by around 13% of the population, and Creole, the unofficial language spoken by everyone.
A country that suffered from colonialism until the 1970s and, as if that were not enough, had a hard civil war two decades later, which decimated people, destroyed families, infrastructures and many dreams. But even so, it is a country that keeps the most beautiful smiles we can find. A safe country that reinvents itself every day with wonderful people who fight tirelessly in search of better days. Who have the most beautiful landscapes that a camera may want to keep in memory. A very different country from north to south, with very distinct characteristics and beauties in each region and from which it is impossible to highlight just one reason to know it.
Nevertheless, I will try to give you the main 10 reasons to visit Guinea Bissau.
1. Bijagós archipelago
Guinea Bissau has an archipelago, the Bijagós archipelago, with 88 islands, of extraordinary beauty and which is protected as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO; believe me, a real paradise not to be missed.
2. Multi-religious mosaic
It is composed of more than twenty ethnic groups that offer an exclusive multicultural and multi-religious mosaic that coexists in a peaceful and harmonious way, exchanging and merging traditions and customs.
3. Cacheu River Mangroves Natural Park
It hosts the largest continuous mangrove block in West Africa, offering a habitat of excellence for the various marine species and migratory birds that coexist in the beautiful Cacheu River Mangroves Natural Park.
4. Green turtles
Guinea Bissau constitutes a privileged observation point of the most important nesting colony of the green turtle on the Atlantic coast of Africa, in Poilão Island. The archipelago has been recognized as the most important site in Africa for Chelonia mydas to lay their eggs, with nearly 10,000 adult females. A real spectacle of the celebration of animal life, as we well know, at risk of extinction. A wonderful celebration of marine life not to be missed.
5. Marine hippos
This country gives us the possibility to get to know closely a community of about 200 marine hippos that live in the Anor lagoon on the Island of Orango, with the particularity of living between the lagoon within the island and the salty ocean waters that bathe. Not being the only country in the world where hippos live both in the sea and in fresh water, here it stands by the fact that they can live permanently at sea (just need fresh water to drink) and traveling between the islands of Bijagós, making great distances.
6. Natural lagoon Park of Cufada
Provides us a unique picture, with the south of its territory painted green by extensive rice paddies and clump forests with some of the country’s best-preserved forest patches, probably housing the most dense northern forest area in West Africa. Here we can also find the Natural lagoon Park of Cufada which enjoys the status of RAMSAR site, a World Wetland Zone and has the largest freshwater surface of Guinea-Bissau on the south bank of the Corubal River with an extension of 890 km2 and point of passage of many species of birds, a must for lovers of ornithology.
7. Wild beaches of Varela
The wild beaches of Varela, in the north of the country and near the Senegalese border, absolutely deserve a visit, where the connection between man and nature is full and the intervention of human hands is only denounced by the maritime erosion that is beginning to devastate this virgin coast in a worrying way.
8. The hills of Boé
The warm aridity of the East and its hills of Boé, where unilateral independence of Guinea-Bissau were declared in 1973, hosts isolated communities from the modern world and justify the hours of a dirt road, with a raft passage by the beautiful Corubal river that transports us to an almost extra-terrestrial scenery, with hundreds of natural buildings of black earth in the shape of mushrooms scattered on the hot and bumpy ground covered by rock.
9. Colonial architecture
Guinea-Bissau has a capital, Bissau, small and even a little parochial, although it is home to a large part of the country’s population, with traces of colonial architecture and the beautiful estuary of the Geba River which bathes the city. The neighbourhood around the harbour is in an advanced state of dilapidation, but it’s worth a walk to enjoy the façades and the predominantly colonial architecture.
10. The People of Guinea-Bissau
Last but not least, people make a country, and Guinea-Bissau could not have found better ambassadors to invite to a visit. People with open and frank smiles, helpful, supportive, resilient and welcoming.
Guinea-Bissau contains in its matrix all the necessary ingredients to delight a tourist who arrives there, as I did the first time in 2008, without expectations or prejudices. A country in a pure condition with a phenomenal biodiversity and a very sustainable tourism where I never stopped coming back. Where I feel at home every time I visit and from where I always return with my heart and soul full of good memories. As I imagine you too will return the day you dare to know this secret so well kept on the West African coast.