Geographically closer to Bissau than any other island in the Bijagós, eerily beautiful Bolama feels worlds away, both aesthetically and socially. The shores of Bolama town, Portuguese capital of Guinea-Bissau from 1879 to 1943, are awash with crumbling relics that were abandoned after independence. Tree-lined boulevards are mapped out by lamp posts that no longer shine, and the colonial barracks have been recast as a hospital, now – like much of the island – in a dark and desolate state.
The former town hall, flanked by Greek style pillars, was built in 1870; these days huge splinters hang like stalactites from its ceilings. The turrets of the once grandiose Hotel Turismo sit in an overgrown nest of lianas, 3m-tall weeds and snakes. It's worth walking out to Ofir Beach, around 3km from the town, to see the spooky sweeping staircase of a beach hotel that no longer exists.