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Guinea-Bissau is a tiny country on the coast of West Africa bordered by Senegal to the north and Guinea to the south. Very few people holiday in Guinea-Bissau but those that do describe it as one of Africa's true gems, a land of great beauty, variety, and warm welcomes.
Guinea-Bissau is a flat country characterised by two distinct terrains. The coast is lush and forested, while the interior is dry and dusty, although intersected by myriad rivers, pools and lagoons. The country's best natural splendour can be viewed in the celebrated Cantanhez Natural Park in Jemberem, while the Bijagos Archipelago offers some of Africa's best island experiences, including incredible snorkelling and diving, and indigenous tribes with rich traditions. Other chief highlights include the beautiful and mostly unspoiled beaches, abundant wildlife including significant populations of chimpanzees and rare salt-water hippopotamuses, and elegantly decaying colonial architecture from the Portuguese era
The capital, Bissau, has the country's best tourist facilities although these are still very limited. The roads of Guinea-Bissau are notoriously rough, making getting around the country challenging. In general the very limited tourist infrastructure makes Guinea-Bissau a destination that attracts only adventure travellers and overlanders.
A terrible civil war broke out in 1998 and although hostilities have ceased a succession of military coups since then has ensured the country remains somewhat unstable. Travellers are therefore strongly advised to stay abreast of current developments before departure.
Guinea-Bissau has a tropical climate, meaning that it is hot and humid all year, with little variation in temperature from season to season. The average temperature in the country is about 79°F (26°C) and generally daytime temperatures range between 77°F (25°C) and 86°F (30°C). Guinea-Bissau has a monsoon-style rainy season between June and October that travellers generally avoid (particularly as the roads are poor and can become impassable when wet), but very little rain falls outside of this period. The country is usually at its most hot and humid in the months immediately preceding the monsoon (April and May), when the temperatures frequently rise above 86°F (30°C). During the dry season, between November and May, the hot, sandy Harmattan winds blow in from the Sahara Desert, but this is seldom a big inconvenience for travellers.
The best time to visit Guinea-Bissau is between late November and February, when weather conditions are dry, pleasantly cool and comfortable. The land is still nourished by the recent rainy season in November and December, making the country comparatively lush and green.
The West African CFA franc is the currency of Guinea-Bissau (and seven other West African countries). Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world and banking facilities are limited. There are few ATMs in the country and credit cards are very seldom if ever accepted. The easiest foreign currency to exchange is Euros, although US dollars are also usually exchangeable. It can be difficult to convert foreign currency of any kind outside of the capital, Bissau.
Portuguese is the official language of Guinea-Bissau, but Kriol is the most widely spoken language. French is also understood and spoken by many locals.
Electrical outlets in Guinea-Bissau supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts. European two-pin plugs with round pins are standard. The electricity supply is not reliable.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Guinea-Bissau. A visa is required and can be purchased upon entry for a maximum stay of 90 days.
UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Guinea-Bissau. A visa is required and can be purchased upon entry for a maximum stay of 90 days.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Guinea-Bissau. A visa is required and can be purchased upon entry for a maximum stay of 90 days.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Guinea-Bissau. A visa is required and can be purchased upon entry for a maximum stay of 90 days.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Guinea-Bissau. A visa is required and can be purchased upon arrival for a maximum stay of 90 days.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Guinea-Bissau. A visa is required and can be purchased upon entry for a maximum stay of 90 days.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Guinea-Bissau. A visa is required and can be purchased upon entry for a maximum stay of 90 days.
Foreign passengers to Guinea-Bissau must hold proof of sufficient funds to cover their stay in the country, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. Entering Guinea-Bissau on a one-way ticket is permitted. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Guinea-Bissau, if arriving in the country within 6 days of leaving or transiting through any yellow fever risk areas. It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Medical facilities in Guinea-Bissau are extremely limited in cities and virtually nonexistent outside urban areas. Travellers should ensure that they have comprehensive health insurance and should bring along any medications they may need, in the original packaging and accompanied by a signed and dated letter from their doctor detailing what the medication is and why it is needed.
Tap water should never be drunk unless it has been boiled, filtered or chemically disinfected. Ice in beverages should be avoided. Cooked meals should always be eaten while still hot and fruit and vegetables should be peeled or cooked.
Malaria is a problem throughout Guinea-Bissau and prophylaxis of some kind is recommended for travel in all areas. A yellow fever vaccination is required for all travellers arriving from a yellow-fever-infected area, and is recommended for all travellers to Guinea-Bissau. Vaccinations are also recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid and, if visitors are travelling in the dry season (November to June), meningococcus. Those who may be at risk of animal bites or will be coming into contact with bats should consider a rabies vaccination. Travellers are generally advised to be up to date on vaccinations for polio, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and tetanus-diphtheria.
Tipping is optional in Guinea-Bissau but small amounts for good service are highly appreciated. Ten percent is a good rule of thumb for service in restaurants.
Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in West Africa and lacks the resources to ensure stability and safety for foreigners: the unstable political situation and lack of police presence has allowed criminals and drug cartels to thrive and corruption is widespread.
The political situation is currently fairly calm, following a military coup in April 2012, but this can change fast and travellers should closely monitor political developments and avoid all political gatherings and street protests.
Unexploded military ordnance and landmines are a problem in Guinea-Bissau and visitors should remain on well-travelled roads at all times to minimise risk.
Crime rates are fairly high in Guinea-Bissau but most crime against foreigners is opportunistic and petty, taking place mainly in crowded urban areas and at night, but armed banditry does occur on the main highways throughout the country. Victims of crime may struggle to get consular support as very few nations have embassies in Guinea-Bissau.
Travellers to Guinea-Bissau will find a generally open, relaxed society, which values friendliness and camaraderie. Social conduct and dress codes will be familiar to Western travellers, although among the Muslim section of the population (thought to be about 40 percent), more conservative values are upheld. Travellers should not photograph military buildings; when in doubt always ask permission to take photos.
Guinea-Bissau's economy depends heavily on foreign aid and is predominantly agricultural. Business etiquette is quite formal: men should wear lightweight suits (ties are usually optional rather than expected) and women should wear skirts of modest length. It is customary to exchange business cards and shake hands upon greeting. Formal titles and surnames should be used unless invited to use first names. Business hours are generally 8am to 12pm and 3pm to 6pm Monday to Friday.
Telecommunications infrastructure is limited in Guinea-Bissau and landline use is very low, but mobile phone usage is more common and constantly on the rise. The vast majority of the population has little or no access to the internet, but travellers should be able to find internet cafes in Bissau and other major urban centres. The international dialling code for Guinea-Bissau is 245 and city codes are in use.
Visitors to Guinea-Bissau may import a reasonable quantity of tobacco products and perfume in opened bottles.
Guinea Bissau Tourism Office: www.gbissau.org
Guinea Bissau Embassy, Washington, United States: +1 301 947 3958
Guinea Bissau Embassy, Johannesburg, South Africa: +27 11 622 3688
Representative Office of United States, Dakar, Senegal (also responsible for Guinea Bissau): +221 33879 0000
United Kingdom Mission, Dakar, Senegal (also responsible for Guinea Bissau): +221 33 823 7392
Canada Embassy, Dakar, Senegal (also responsible for Guinea Bissau): +221 33 889 4700
Australia Mission, Lisbon, Portugal (also responsible for Guinea Bissau): +351 21 310 1500
South Africa Embassy, Bissau, Guinea-Bissau: +245 665 5444
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