Haggling for goods in markets, crafts shops and goods sold by street vendors is expected. It's done good-naturedly and not aggressively. You can also bargain for accommodation rates on longer-term stays and prices quoted to you by guides and drivers.
Dangers & Annoyances
In Guinea-Bissau periods of calm can be followed by violent flare-ups.
- Attacks and coup attempts rarely wound civilians or visitors.
- Shops, banks, businesses and, more rarely, borders may close during tense periods.
- Even with blackouts and scarce streetlights, you can generally walk most city streets with a modicum of care.
- Depending on weather and the boat, travel to and around the Arquipélago dos Bijagós can be uncomfortable or dangerous.
- Beware of stingrays swimming in the Bijagós.
- There are poisonous green mamba snakes and cobras.
- Land mines from past conflicts are scattered in the following regions: Bafata, Oio, Biombo, Quinara and Tombali. Most have been located and removed.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories)
- US State Department (www.travel.state.gov)
Supply is 220V and plugs are of the European two-round-pin variety.
Embassies & Consulates
All embassies and consulates are in Bissau. The UK and the Netherlands share an honorary consul. US interests are run out of the embassy in Dakar. The US does have a Bissau Liaison Office for basic services and hosts a 'virtual' Guinea-Bissau presence at http://guinea-bissau.usvpp.gov.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Guinea-Bissau country code||245|
|International access code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
All visitors, except nationals of the Economic Community of West African States, need visas. Costs and processes vary by nationality and point of issue, and depending on who you ask.
According to the Guinea-Bissau's Permanent Mission to the United Nations office in New York City, visas are not issued upon arrival at the airport in Bissau. However, we know of several travellers who were issued single-entry visas at the airport with little problem for €85. The only caveat is, because of the uncertainty and if there are issues, it might not be worth the risk, especially if arriving in the early morning on a Royal Air Maroc flight.
Travellers report it's possible to get a visa upon arrival at the airstrip in Bubaque for those flying on a small plane from Cap Skirring or Dakar in Senegal.
The UN office in New York City issues 30-day single-entry visas for US$100; two passport photos are required and the process generally takes three to five days.
Guinea-Bissau's embassies and consulates elsewhere (in Europe, there are embassies in Berlin, Brussels, Madrid, Paris and Lisbon) reportedly can do the same, though the price and time varies (eg it's US$73 for a single-entry visa in Madrid). At the embassy in Dakar, it's reportedly CFA45,000 and an average wait of two days for a single-entry visa. At the embassy in Banjul, Gambia, costs vary depending on how quickly you want it processed (it's double to have it processed in three days versus eight). In Praia, the capital of Cape Verde, a single-entry visa reportedly takes a week and costs US$52.
There is an official government-sponsored website (www.rgb-visa.com) that purports to process visa requests electronically for US$66 (single entry) and US$77 (multiple entry) prior to arrival. Its responsiveness and effectiveness is uneven, to say the least. Even with an email confirmation, you might have a long wait upon arriving at the airport in Bissau.
Single- or multiple-entry visas are available from most sources.
Coming from Senegal, Guinea-Bissau single-entry visas can be attained quickly and with little fuss at the Guinea-Bissau consulate in Ziguinchor for CFA20,000. Bring at least one passport photos.
Single-entry visas for Guinea at the much-less-travelled southern route from Quebo to the border crossing at Contabane cost around CFA12,500. At the embassy in Bissau, they can be issued on the spot for around CFA30,000.
Extensions are easy to obtain at Serviço de Estrangeiros. For virtually all nationalities, 45-day visa extensions cost around CFA4000 and are ready the same day if you apply early.
Live flora and fauna can't be exported out of the country.
- Photography Always ask for permission, especially in rural areas and the Bijagós; never photograph military installations or security around government buildings.
- Eating In rural areas, when eating by hand, always use only the right and don't be embarrassed to ask for a spoon.
- Greetings If visiting traditional villages, it's a courtesy to offer tobacco or brandy to the chief.
- Ceremonies & Rituals If invited to observe, be respectful and follow the lead of others.
Bissau-Guinean society is relatively tolerant, though no doubt there are still social taboos against homosexuality that discourage public displays of affection. No laws criminalise sexual orientation, and there are no official discriminatory policies or reports of violence or rights abuses targeting the country’s gay and lesbian community.
Wi-fi is increasingly common in hotels and restaurants in Bissau. Roaming is possible on phones, but connections are generally slow. Outside the capital internet is more scarce. Only a small percentage of Bissau-Guineans are connected to the internet.
Guinea-Bissau's legal system is based on French civil law. If found possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs, punishments are severe. If convicted, you may face long jail sentences and heavy fines.
- Radio National radio and TV stations broadcast in Portuguese. The best are Radio Galaxy Pidjiguiti, Radio Bombolom, Radio Jovem and Radiodifusão Nacional of Guinea-Bissau.
- Newspapers Newspapers come and go quickly (all printed by one government-owned publisher). Street vendors in Bissau are quick to offer copies of Ultima Hora, Gazeta de Noticias, O Diario de Bissau or O Democrata, among others. If you can read Portuguese or Crioulo, it's worth checking out the Friday editions for the serialised fiction.
Bring a supply of euros (preferred over US dollars). Some ATMs accept international cards. Banks and hotels in the capital can organise changing money.
ATMs that accept international MasterCard and Visa cards can be found at a handful of banks in Bissau, as well as several hotels, including the Malaika and Ledger Plaza. There is also an ATM immediately outside the arrivals hall of the airport in Bissau. Some ATMs work; others don't.
The unit of currency is the West African CFA franc. This currency is also used by its neighbours in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, Mali, Niger and Côte d'Ivoire. CFA stands for 'Communauté Financière d'Afrique' (Financial Community of Africa). It was adopted in 1997 when the country abandoned the Guinea-Bissau peso.
It's best to change money in Bissau at Ecobank, BAO or Casa Cambio Nacional, one of the moneychangers. You can also ask your hotel, though these tend to have the worst exchange rates. It's probably best to arrive in Guinea-Bissau with a bundle of francs already on hand.
MasterCard and Visa are accepted at top-end hotels in Bissau. Cards are mostly useless elsewhere else, including in the Arquipélago dos Bijagós.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
You'll often be asked for a cadeau (gift), whether you've been helped or not. It's up to you to decide whether it's appropriate in return for services rendered.
- Hotels At top-end hotels, one gratuity for cleaning staff, completely at your discretion.
- Restaurants None expected at basic places; upscale, with decent service, 10% to 15%.
- Taxis Loose change appreciated.
- Guide & Driver Always expected, around 10% or more if especially good and for multiday trips.
Banks and government offices Usually 8am to noon and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday, although hours vary.
Shops From 8am or 9am until 6pm Monday to Saturday. Some close for lunch.
Corner grocers In most towns you can find ones open until 10pm or later.
The postal service is slow. You're better off posting mail home from Senegal or The Gambia. Post offices generally open Monday to Friday mornings only, but the main post office in Bissau is open 8am to 6pm Monday to Saturday.
Islamic feasts, such as Eid al-Fitr (at the end of Ramadan) and Tabaski, are celebrated. Guinea-Bissau also celebrates a number of public holidays.
New Year's Day 1 January
Anniversary of the Death of Amílcar Cabral 20 January
Women's Day 8 March
Labour Day 1 May
Pidjiguiti Day 3 August
Independence Day 24 September
Christmas Day 25 December
A relatively small percentage of Bissau-Guineans smoke: 12.5% of men and only 2% of women. There are no official prohibitions against smoking in any public place, including restaurants and offices. Some restaurants, however, have smoking and non-smoking areas. Some of the top-end hotels have non-smoking rooms available.
Taxes & Refunds
Guinea-Bissau has a value-added tax (VAT) of 17% that is usually only applied at midrange and top-end accommodations. It's always already included in price. No refunds available.
If you don't have your own mobile telephone, try your hotel or the call centre at the main post office. Guinea-Bissau's country code is 245, and its international access code is 00.
Orange and MTN are the two major mobile (and internet) networks; Intercel and Cellcom (recently launched 3G service) are two others. You can pick up a SIM card for an unlocked phone, and buy top-up credit on the street. Service can be unreliable in remote areas, including the Arquipélago dos Bijagós.
Travel with Children
Children younger than nine months should avoid travel to Guinea-Bissau because the yellow fever vaccine is not approved for them. For older children, check the relevant travel advisories and make sure all relevant vaccinations have been completed. Otherwise, you can generally expect hospitality and warmth from Bissau-Guineans. Baby-changing facilities are mostly non-existent and footpaths are unsuited to strollers. A couple of high-end hotels in Bissau have outdoor swimming pools, but there are few other child-oriented facilities. It's best to avoid feeding your children street food. Bring child-friendly mosquito repellent.
Greenwich Mean Time (GMT/UTC + 0). Daylight-savings time is not observed – London and Lisbon are one hour ahead from the end of March to the end of October. Time differences:
|New York City, US||-5hr|
- You’ll mostly experience Western-style sit-down toilets with a bowl and seat at accommodations throughout the country.
- Outside major cities and towns, you might encounter squat toilets.
There are no functioning official tourism offices in Guinea-Bissau. An unofficial website that might prove useful is www.gbissau.org. But your best bet is asking for information at your accommodation.
Check out Lonely Planet's Accessible Travel Project for more information: www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-tips-and-articles/travel-for-all-join-lonely-planets-accessible-travel-project. Download the related document for helpful resources: media.lonelyplanet.com/shop/media/accessible-travel-online-resources.pdf. Also download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Only high-end hotels in Bissau are likely to have lifts or other amenities designed for travellers with disabilities. Streets and footpaths are potholed or uneven and ramps scarce. Accommodation at some budget hotels is on the ground floor; however, bathroom access can be difficult. Challenges like these are only partly offset by the fact that Bissau-Guineans are usually very accommodating and helpful.
As for local transport, none are wheelchair equipped. Pricey 4WD vehicles are available for rent in Bissau.
Several organisations might be able to help you find volunteering opportunities (Portuguese fluency is likely a requirement):
- Tostan (www.tostan.org) An impressive organisation based in Dakar, Senegal, that focuses on long-term village-based projects addressing health, community empowerment and governance.
- Afectos Com Letras (www.facebook.com/afectoscomletrasongd) A Portuguese NGO that has several projects dealing with education and public health.
Other organisations might offer opportunities:
- Plan International (www.plan-international.org)
- Cooperaizione Internaziole (www.coopi.org)
- International Executive Service Corps: Volunteer Experts
Weights & Measures
● Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
Compared to other West African countries, Guinea-Bissau is bliss for women travellers. There's none of the whistling or aggressive catcalls that can make other places tough terrain for lone female travellers. It's best to bring all the tampons you need. They're hard to find up-country, and in Bissau, if you can find them, they're expensive.
One glance at the alphabet soup of acronyms painted on SUVs and signage fronting buildings in Bissau and you know international organisations have a robust presence in the country. However, it's generally career professionals, and certainly Portuguese speakers who staff the plethora of ongoing projects. Sponsorship by an employer is necessary.