Guinea Bissau, a still unknown country where borders between water and land change with the changing of the tides, covering and uncovering mangroves, beaches and estuaries. A trip that will take us to pristine forests, remote villages, animistic ceremonies and the largest archipelago in Africa: the Bijagos. Most of the Bijagos islands have no permanent settlements and are a real paradise for many bird species and rare fauna. Finally, Bissau gives a great opportunity to experience the intriguing mix of Portuguese and African style, spreading unique vibes. An itinerary aiming at discovering nature and culture as well as some relax to enjoy the blue ocean and wild beaches where our footprints are the only tracks. For travelers who look for something new and very special in Africa!
Day 1: BISSAU, THE CAPITAL
Arrival in Bissau and transfer to the hotel.
Day 2: DIOLA DANCING MASK
Leaving Bissau, we move towards North-West.
We will assist to ritual dances of the Diola sacred mask; rarely shown to the foreigners. Masks leave the sacred forest to dance for an enthusiastic local crowd. Masks are part of the animistic Diola culture, people fear and respect masks, consider them spirits who play an important role in solving conflicts between villagers.
Late afternoon we reach the beaches of Varela.
Day 3: VILLAGES OF FLOODED FOREST
On the way back to Bissau, we will leave the main road for a track. We will reach a unique landscape of streams, salt swamps, flooded lands, clay dams and paddy fields. In this remote environment, some gigantic and isolated Kapok and Baobab trees give shade to tiny human settlements of Felupes and Baiotes tribes. These people live in an isolated and flooded ecosystem where they farm rice thanks to a complex “tribal technology” to desalinate the soil. People live in adobe large patriarchal huts built in a unique African architectural style: clay “buildings” surrounded by a shady veranda and covered with large and tall thatch roofs with opening trapdoors for the aeration. The whole building is supported by a complex structure of palm tree poles.
Back to main road and stop at Bula to meet a Manjaco king and learn about the culture of his tribe.
This ethnic group calls their traditions “Gendiman” and keeps them still alive. They worship wooden poles and statues called “Pecab” representing the spirits of their ancestors, which are kept in sanctuaries known as “Cab Balugun”.
Day 4: ANIMISTIC PEPEL
Visit an old colonial rum distillery (Cana).
We drive to Quinhamel. Let’s discover the magical and animist traditions of the intriguing Pepel group. In this region the forest hides a fetish endowed with feared powers: only the initiated young men can carry it on their shoulders…
Day 5: CARNIVAL
Bissau city tour. We will stroll around Bissau-Vehlo: the old Portuguese quartier, where the atmosphere reminds us of Portugal back in the days. Here you can experience the mix of African and Portuguese souls. Old wooden café where to drink Portuguese wine and watch Portuguese news. We continue to the Presidential Palace, the Catholic Cathedral, Fortaleza Amura, Independence Monument, Che Guevara Square to end in an open-air bar known for the best mojito in town…
In the afternoon we will attend for the spectacular Carnival parade.
Day 6: FROM THE GHOST CAPITAL TO THE BIJAGOS ARCHIPELAGO
Aboard a speedboat, we start 4 days of sailing to discover the Bijagos Archipelago with its remote islands and isolated human settlements. The Bijagos Archipelago is located approximately 40 miles off-shore and, with its 88 islands (of which only 21 are permanently inhabited), is the largest archipelago in Africa. With its wild and pristine landscapes, its genuine tribal culture and its unique fauna, Bijagos is a “geographical jewel”.
Due to the remoteness of the destination, the lack of transportation and the deep attachment to the local traditions, the Bijagos inhabitants have been little influenced by the external world: during ceremonies women still wear the saiya – a traditional skirt made of straw – and the rhythm of life in villages is given by initiations and secret ceremonies – for example young men have to go through a seven-year initiation rite during which they live in a “convent” without any contact with women..
Our first stop will be Bolama Island, the former capital of Portuguese Guinea from 1871 to 1941, before it was moved to Bissau. This transfer was needed due to the shortage of fresh water in Bolama.
When the Portuguese left, native people came to live in the town which is now falling apart and is partly invaded by tropical vegetation. It was originally built following the plans of a «Castrum Romanum» (roman citadel) so today we can witness its large sunny lethargic avenues, its empty squares, its dry fountains, its bush-like gardens and its large administrative buildings in neo Palladian style. In the Governor’s Palace we can still admire columns in the classic style … where now goats graze! The Bissau-Guinean government is aiming for it to be designated the nation’s first World Heritage Site.
Bolama, although inhabited, is plunged in the fairy-tale atmosphere of a still inhabited ghost town.
Arrival on Rubane / Bubaque Islands in the at the comfortable lodge that will be our base for three days of discovering Bijagos Archipelago.
Day 7: DOLPHINS & HIPPOES
By speed boat we will reach a special site and admire dolphins jumping in the waves around our boat, then we go to Orango island to watch hippos
Orango Island is a national park. Among several protected animals it includes a unique “saltwater hippos”. This extremely rare mammal lives in the saltwater of the mangrove forests and can sometimes decide to “go for a swim” in the ocean. Nevertheless, these animals are not the most daring kind and had happen that local guides lose their track for several days.
Return at our comfortable hotel.
Day 8: ISLANDER LIFE
Day to enjoy the archipelago way of life: relax at the wild beach and/or around the swimming pool
Visit the largest village in the archipelago, the only one connected to the continent by a ferry once a week: unpaved alleys, a tiny colourful market, local bars and traders, and the tiny ethnographic museum dedicated to Bijagos culture.
Optional: walking to explore villages and luxuriant vegetation.
Day 9: TO BISSAU
Arrival by speedboat in Bissau.
In the evening, transfer to the airport for the flight out.
At the end of this intense journey, we can recommend a few extra days in the Bijagos Archipelago. On request, we can arrange for some extra days in Ponta Anchaca Hotel on Rubane Island, in a comfortable ocean-front bungalow enjoying fine French and tropical cuisine. At the hotel you can relax at the pool, go for walks on the wild beach, discover the island lush vegetation or do some sport fishing – all in the natural paradise of The Bijagos Archipelago. Bijagos Archipelago is known for top game fishing.
Due to the limited quantity of available rooms, please book in advance.
VISAS: Guinea Bissau – single entry visa required and available upon arrival.
VACCINATIONS: Yellow fever – compulsory; malaria prophylaxis – highly recommended; cholera not necessary at the moment but to be checked upon departure
MEALS: lunch – restaurants (pre-selected menus) or cold picnic; dinner – at the hotel restaurant (pre-selected menus).
LUGGAGE: please contain the weight in 20 kg (45 lb) water-proof duffle bags are suggested, when on the speedboat, passengers may get splashed by water or foam, we advise to protect any camera equipment. We suggest to bring mosquito repellent.
TRAVEL INSURANCE: Not included. Mandatory for medical assistance, repatriation, material and physical damages. We are not responsible for any material and physical damage during the tour
Discover our insurance policy proposal: https://transafrica.biz/en/travel-insurance-en/
TRANSPORT: on roads and tracks by Minibus or 4×4, speedboat fitted for ocean crossing to the Bijagos Archipelago.
TIDES and WEATHER: With each departure, visits could be re-scheduled as per the tides; all will be visited but maybe in a different order. Bad weather condition can oblige to change, cancel, reschedule or delay the itinerary, the organizer cannot be hold as responsible for any change and delay.
ACCOMMODATIONS: Hotels and lodges are always chosen with maximum care, however due to possible lack of availability in some hotels, the Tour Leader may have to replace some hotels during the tour itself with others of similar standard. In some hotels single rooms are not always granted.
All our trips are designed to be flexible so that we can adapt to external conditions and take advantage of opportunities that arise once there.
Considering the special nature of the journey, some parts may be modified due to unpredictable factors and are based on unarguable decisions of our Tour Leader. Costs originating from such variations will be sole responsibility of the participants. Of course, the Leader will do his/her utmost to adhere to the original program.
Prices could change in case of major changes in services costs, beyond the organizer’s will