What best defines a dream beach?
Calm sea with warm water, fine white sand, few people, or even better, a desert beach, palm trees, vegetation up to the dunes and these protecting us from the wind. And sun.
And what if I told you that I have already found this beach and it is in Guinea-Bissau? It exists, it is real and it still has more than this to offer, in a totally untouched atmosphere of rare beauty. Varela is the name of this spot that I am introducing to you today. It is located in Guinea-Bissau.
Leaving the country’s capital, Bissau, we drive north for over 100 kms on a tarmac road, but one that has seen better days. The countryside is worth the drive. Very green, with “bolanhas” (flooded rice fields) on both sides, two large rivers crossed by two relatively new bridges that have replaced the old rafts that used to carry people, food, cars and cargo imported from Senegal, women producing iodine salt, children playing on the roadside and many girls carrying firewood or water on their heads to meet domestic needs.
When we arrive in São Domingos, the last town before the border with Senegal, we take a dirt road for a bumpy but unforgettable 53-kilometer journey to the Atlantic Ocean. The green of the trees almost covers the road where sometimes a motorbike full of passengers or a transport vehicle passes by, loaded with people, cargo and animals on the roof. The green of the trees almost covers the road where sometimes a motorbike full of passengers or a transport vehicle passes by, full of people, cargo, and animals on the roof.
We see peaceful cows grazing, birds of all colors, and kids playing football or playing in the shade of the trees and, if we are lucky, we can see a monkey or two crossing our path.
Varela is a village with a population mostly of Felupe ethnic group, which borders the street with its small houses and ends at the sea. The population lives from artisanal fishing and agriculture. They produce mainly rice and have a community vegetable garden created by women, which is next to the well and the local mosque. A few shops selling essential goods give the village the only life we know of. Then? The ocean!
On the left side of the village, we find the anglers’ beach, with wide tides where we walk for meters, meters with water around our ankles, and find rocks and mud that imitate them between mangrove roots. On the right side, after a small rocky promontory, the open ocean and the extensive sandy beach where cows stroll dully in the cool of the morning and wild pigs go to the sea to drink salted water.
We have to switch on the four-wheel-drive to get to the most beautiful part of the beach. A few km through the dunes and we reach an area of palm trees that gives us the shade to spread out our towel. The water is blue, calm, and warm. It invites you to take a dip as soon as you get there and it is difficult to decide to leave the sea.
Walking along the beach, we reach a lagoon where water lilies, pelicans, and dozens of species of birds coexist in a silence broken only by their singing. There we find the pure beauty and peace that only untouched places and in an almost wild condition know. And between the sea and the lagoon, we find a tongue of white sand where we just want to lie down, disconnect from the social networks and the phone, look around, and thank for so much beauty, so much positive energy exuded by this beautiful and unique land that is Guinea-Bissau.
Here we watch the most beautiful sunset in Africa. With a strawberry-colored sun setting over the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
And while you’re here, why not try some delicious oysters from Susana, the town 12 km away, which provides this unforgettable delicacy to those who come here and stay overnight? Or maybe the lobsters caught in this rich sea and that most of the time end up on the plates of neighboring Senegal? These are unique flavors not to be missed.
It is not easy to get here. However, I tell you, after getting to know Varela, it is difficult to remove its beauty from our memory and not want to come back again and again. Guaranteed by someone who has already made a round trip on the same day with a 10-hour drive just to take a swim and eat some oysters in Varela. Because there are crazy things that are really worth it!
How to get there: by private car (preferably 4×4) or public transport (take a “sept place” from Bissau to São Domingos and from there to Varela negotiate a transport by motorbike or the “Toca Toca” that makes the trip to Varela once a day).
Where to stay
Aparthotel Avó Anisa
Tel: +245 956 323 647
Casa Aberta Kasumayaku
Tel: + 245 955 301 373
Discovering Guinea-Bissau, Joana Benzinho and Marta Rosa, 2018