Guinea is a former French colony that borders Guinea-Bissau and Senegal to the north, Mali on the north and north-east, Côte d'Ivoire to the east and Liberia and Sierra Leone to the south. Unrest in Sierra Leone has spilled across the border, creating humanitarian emergencies and threatening the stability of this country.
Guinea is a remarkable country with very warm, genuine people but little infrastructure. While they have tremendous natural resources available to them (which includes around one half of the world's reserves of bauxite, and many major gold, jewel, and metal industries), they rate very poorly in the UN's quality of life index. Guinea is roughly the size of the United Kingdom.
Guinea belonged to a series of empires until France colonized it in the 1890s, and made it part of French West Africa. Guinea declared its independence from France on 2 October 1958 and has had only two rulers since. The first president, socialist Ahmed Sékou Touré, faced a lot of criticism from the West for alleged human rights violations and suppression of opposition parties. He believed in building a powerful, self-sufficient nation, without reliance on foreign powers.
When he died in 1984, General Lansana Conté took over. Under Conté's rule, Things did not improve, and the ideals of Touré were soon left behind. And also Conté, promised too many political promises, most of which were never fulfilled. In 1993, the first elections were held, though their results were disputed - as have those in all subsequent elections. Conté died in 2008 without appointing a successor, leaving chaos in his wake. Immediately following Conté's death, on December 23, 2008, a man by the name of Captain Moussa Dadis Camara took power as Guinea's new President staged by a coup d'etat. Even though Camara came in as a popular figure, this has proved to be another political blow for Guinea and Guineans. Civilian protests have been often met with open fire and physical abuse at the hands of military and police personnel. In December 2009, Camara was involved in an assassination attempt, and has been out of office since then.
The coastal region of Guinea and most of the inland have a tropical climate, with a rainy season lasting from April to November, relatively high and uniform temperatures, and high humidity. Conakry's year-round average high is 29°C (84.2°F), and the low is 23°C (73.4°F); its average annual rainfall is 4,300mm (169.3 in). The Sahelian Haute Guinee region has a shorter rainy season and greater daily temperature variations.
Visa inquiries must be made at Guinea embassies, and are not available at the borders or airport.
A one month, single entry visa costs around USD100.
A three month, multiple entry visa is double the price and is the only type available to citizens of the US.
Air France from Paris, France and SN Brussels from Brussels, Belgium. Air Ivoire flies to Conakry regularly from Abidjan en route to Dakar, as does Belvue. Expect to be asked for a "gift" by airport security.
Royal Air Maroc supplies the only direct flight from Montréal to Africa (Casablanca, with stopover in N.Y.) and many connections from Casa. to Conakry (also called Kry) and elsewhere.
Though cargo trains still run the old line between Conakry and Kankan, there are no passenger trains still operational in Guinea. The old station in downtown Conakry is worth a visit.
As of the summer of 2006 it was not safe to cross the Guinean border with Cote d'Ivoire. The rebel group there (the MJP) has made it a raison d'etre to expel the French military from Cote d'Ivoire.
In 2008 travel between Guinea and Liberia was safe, though time consuming. Hiring a motorcycle is the best option.
Crossing the Guinean border with Senegal is possible but very uncomfortable and requires patience. Inside Guinea, the road between Labe and Koundara is unpaved and very rough. It takes about 8 hours for the whole journey with only minor breakdowns. There are some decent and very cheap places to stay in Koundara. Between Koundara and Diaoube (Senegal) is a similar journey. The border is relatively hassle free. There is a 20km no man's land between border posts where one only knows they have entered Senegal by the improved quality of the dirt road. It is possible to change your currency at any hour of the night at the border towns on either side of the no man's land. Local transport from Diaoube to Tambacounda and on to Dakar is relatively easy.
Koundara is also the main jump off point for a trip to Guinea-Bissau.
There are no buses. Traffic in Conakry can be very heavy. The local transport vans in Conakry seem to be the most congested in all of West Africa. Taxis are very inexpensive, even if you want to rent one for a half or whole day. Expect to have to stop for gas almost immediately after you get in the car. The Government and business center of the city is unfortunately located at the tip of a long and narrow peninsula which is only connected to the rest of Conakry, which sprawls onto the mainland, by two roads. This can be particularly frustrating at rush hour. Line ups at gas stations in Conakry can be quite long and disorganized at certain times. Much of the infrastructure around the airport is being rebuilt, so trips to downtown or to la miniere might take unusual detours.
Bush Taxis ("504", for the common Peugeot 504 model) are used for transport from city to city. Travel after dark is extremely dangerous due to road conditions, unreliable vehicles, and bandits. If travelling by taxi remember that departure times are never set for local transport. In the early morning you might be told that a taxi will be leaving "toute suite" (right away) but will not get out of Conakry until well after dark. Intercity travel in Guinea requires a great deal of patience and a loose schedule. Air travel in the country is not available.
MotorTaxi/TaxiBike a much faster, and more comfortable way of travel is by motorcycle, which often serve as taxis. Keep in mind though that this is also one of the most dangerous ways to travel.
The official language is French. There are numerous ethnic languages, and the three most prevalent are Susu, Pular(Foulah, Peuhl) and Malinke. Susu is spoken in the coastal region and in the capital city. Toma, Guerzé, Kissi and others are spoken in the interior (Sacred Forest) region bordering on Mali, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Liberia. There are a lot of people who cannot and will not speak any English at all, even in the capital city.
In Conakry, there is the National Museum which highlights the distinct ethnic tribes in Guinea and various traditional instruments, masks etc.
The main port is located at the tip of the peninsula in Conakry, near the President's Palace. You can take a boat from there to the islands of Loos for a day or overnight trip. Its a bustling place where fishermen offload their daily catch.
In Conakry, one of the best places to grab a beer and hangout is the beach bar in Taouyah, a neighbourhood with a large market and mostly residential with some night clubs and restaurants. Many expats, including the Peace Corps headquarters, live in the neighbourhood and meet up at the beach around sunset for great pizza or fish or chicken dishes. There is a great breeze, live music, and lots of locals playing soccer games until the sunsets, especially on the weekends.
Music in Guinea is one of the best cultural activities the country has to offer. Some of the best Kora players in the world are from Guinea. There are many bars that offer live music.
The French-Guinean Cultural Centre has some great musical shows as well as movies, plays, ballets, and hosts exhibitions and conferences. It also has a library and multi-media center. Members can take out books and use the computers and internet. This is a great place to meet expats, and local musicians, and artists. Most people there will know the best places to go see a show that week.
Outside of Conakry, there are many attractive tourism destinations for the adventurous traveller. Infrastructure, such as hotels, roads etc is lacking outside of the capital but you can find basic places to stay with limited electricity powered by generators.
The Foutah Djallon area has superb hiking, sweeping vistas, waterfalls and cliffs. Fouta Trekking is a local non-profit that promotes equitable tourism. They offer hiking tours ranging from three to five days or tailored tours. Tourists stay in villages with part of the revenue going back to the villages for community development. Labe, the historical capital and seat of the Foutah Empire that reigned in the pre-colonial times, is a bustling city with some interesting history. You can buy beautiful traditional cloth in various navy blue colours. On the road from Conakry, via Kindia, is the city of Dalaba, where the major chiefs of the country met to determine the fate of the soon to be independent country from the French in 1958. There is an old mansion that you can visit and a ceremonial hut with amazing carvings inside. Kindia has some of the best vegetable and fruit produce and thus a lively market.
The coastline from Conakry up towards Guinea -Bissau also offers great tourism with beautiful untouched beaches, mangroves, and wildlife viewing. Bel Air is a well known tourism destination on the beach about two hours from Conakry on a well paved road. There is a large and usually deserted hotel where past political leaders have met. Its a very popular destination around major holidays. A much nicer place to stay if you like more eco-tourism is Sabolan Village which is a small hotel on a beautiful beach that is off the well paved road that leads to the Bel Air hotel. There are about ten modern huts there and a restaurant. Its a bit expensive for what you get but the setting is amazing. If you have a tent or want to stay in a more authentic and cheaper place, you can go down the beach or along the path, past the actual village, and stay in nice huts made by a local villager and now run by his son. Expats who work in the mining areas rent out the huts and come on the weekends but you can always pitch a tent. You have to bring your own food however.
For the more adventurous is a trip to the island archipelago near the Guinea-Bissau border called Tristao. You can drive from Conakry to Kamsar and from there you can get on a local boat to the Tristao islands. The boat takes four hours and usually runs once or twice a week. You can sometimes get lucky if there is a fishing boat going back to Tristao but they are usually very heavily loaded and may not be as safe as the passenger boat. Manatee, turtles, and many different bird types live in the Tristao archipelago. Its a very isolated place with many animist traditions still in existence.
Kamsar is the main bauxite mining export town, where major shipments of bauxite leave from the Boke region. There are some pretty good hotels and restaurants that cater to the mining executives and expats. The Boke region is the main bauxite mining area. Boke, the administrative city of the region, has an interesting colonial museum, some decent hotels, and a Lebanese store on the main road where everyone goes to watch the football games (soccer) and have cold Amstel lights (when the generator is on).
Local currency is the Guinean franc, symbolised as GNF and placed before the amount with no intervening space.
They do not sell a lot of trinkets in Guinea, but they do have wonderful clothing that you can purchase. The tailors there are very skilled and can create an outfit very fast (approximately within a week). Masks, wood statues, djembes (drums), traditional clothing, bags made in Guinea are sold in many of the areas outside of major hotels in Conakry and along the roadside. Always barter, especially if outside a major hotel as prices there are higher. A good rule of thumb is to halve whatever the opening price is and also to walk away if the prices don't come down. Negotiations are supposed to take awhile and are a way of figuring out the "walk away" price point for both buyer and seller.
The largest market in Conakry is Madina market. You can find everything and anything there. Be careful of pickpockets, mud (during rainy season) and traffic. Its a pretty hectic and chaotic place but you'll find the best produce, electronics etc at the best prices. You can hire a young boy to haul out your purchases for you if you are walking back to a parked car or where you're staying. Cost is about GNF5000 (USD1).
In certain parts of the country you can also find some nice carvings, many of which are created in the city of Kindia.
Many options are available for dining. For a mere GNF20,000 (roughly USD4), you are able to dine on delicious cultural foods from Africa. If your tastebuds would prefer something international, many other choices are available as well. The beef in Guinea is very good, and is highly recommended. Pork isn't served because of the religion. There are good restaurants that are Lebanese which has European styled breakfasts.
Outside of the Capital, Conakry, you can can often enjoy local dishes (consisting of Guinean style rice and one of the 4 main sauces with sometimes beef or fish in some cases) at a'hole in the wall' local restaurant for less than USD1 (GNF3,000-6,000 depending on the exchange rate). Trust me, you will leave full!
In Kankan, Guinea (Haute Guinee), there are few places to choose from if you wish to eat at a more decent restaurant. There is Hotel Villa and Hotel Bate. As of mid 2008, these were the top two places for lodging and meals. A typical plate can cost anywhere between GNF35,000 and GNF55,000. Prices of food and drinks can often dramatically increase at the spur of the moment and without any explanation!
Fruits are very inexpensive here, especially compared to the higher costs in neighbouring countries (Mali, Ivory Coast and Senegal). For those who love pineapples, on the national road (which literally goes from the North of the country to Conakry in the South) you can find people selling this tasty fruit very cheaply on the side of the road in and around Kindia. Mango fruits, oranges and bananas can also be found in abundance throughout the country and at a cheap rate, especially at road sides.
Another alternative to eating out is eating "IN". Since Guineans are generally welcoming and friendly people you may be invited to their home to share a meal. Most Guineans eat together from one big dish. Enjoy the experience and don't drink the local water if and when they offer it to you. Please have your bottled water handy (Coyah, Milo, etc).
Canned European beer is available as well as a local "Skol" lager beer.
Water bottled in the name of Coyah is available everywhere for about USD0.50 per 1.5 litre bottle and is very good. Conakry's tap water is generally not safe unless filtered/boiled.
Guinea is a rather unsafe nation, due to the fact that it is now one of Africa's unstable countries; therefore lawlessness and criminality are widespread. Most of the crime is done by officials in military uniforms, and usually targets foreigners for target opportunities. Most non-violent crime involves acts of pick-pocketing and purse-snatching, while armed robbery, muggings, and assaults are the most common violent crimes. Criminals particularly target visitors at the airport, in the traditional markets, and near hotels and restaurants frequented by foreigners. Stay vigilant, and apply common sense if stuck in a certain situation.
Visitors should also avoid unsolicited offers of assistance at the airport and hotels because such offers often mask an intention to steal luggage, purses, or wallets. Travellers should arrange for hotel personnel, family members, or business contacts to meet them at the airport to reduce their vulnerability to these crimes of opportunity.
When taking photographs, avoid military bases and political buildings, as it can be considered espionage in Guinea and can land you in jail.
Of significant concern to note down is that the police are completely ineffective. Low salaries and improper training contribute to the lack of professionalism of the police. If you are the victim of a crime, consult to your embassy.
Corruption is extremely widespread - Corrupt police and soldiers target foreigners for bribes in just about any place in the country. Policemen will demand bribes at any checkpoint. Policemen will often intimidate you to pay bribes by confiscating a particular item.
Business trips to Guinea are strongly discouraged. Business frauds and scams are rampant, and if you are going for a business trip in Guinea, it is strongly recommended that you do not go.
The medical system in Guinea is in a very poor condition, and is not well equipped and is very limited. Some private medical facilities provide a better range of treatment options than public facilities, but are still well below western standards. There are no ambulance or emergency rescue services in Guinea and trauma care is extremely limited.
If staying in the country for a long time it is advisable to bring high quality anti-malarial drugs, and anti-diarrhoea drugs (Cipro) as well as aspirin and a medical kit with you if you are coming from Europe or the US as the drugs found in Guinea are usually of lesser quality and strength albeit much cheaper.
The best insider's tip for eating fresh vegetables is to soak them in a big bowl of water that has one drop of bleach in it. This will kill any bacteria and you'll be able to have a salad or eat vegetables and fruits that can't be peeled such as tomatoes or keep the skin on cucumbers, etc, for added fibre and vitamins.
As with most of West Africa, greetings are very much a part of daily life in Guinea. A simple, "Ca va" will often suffice. However, Guineans appreciate if you ask about their family, health and job/studies: "et la famille, la sante, le boulot/les etudes." Before getting to the point in a conversation, e-mail, etc it is common and expected to greet somehow and ask how they are doing.
Greet, eat and exchange money only with your right hand; the left hand is used for bathroom purposes and is considered unclean.
The gender issue is quite complex in Guinea to say the least. Even though Guinea is a slightly conservative, Muslim, male-dominated society, foreign female travellers will rarely face any sort of difficulties. Don't be surprised if you are proposed to a million times! Cat calls, whistles and other similar forms of harassment are rare in Guinea and frowned upon. Guinean males often give up their seat to females as a sign of respect, especially in people's homes, outdoor settings, etc.
In general, men are still higher up the social ladder than women and this is prevalent in all aspects of Guinean society (education, jobs, etc). Don't be surprised if men are shown more consideration than women in daily life. Once it's known that you are a foreign woman (especially if you are a Black foreign female coming from the US, Europe, etc.), and not a local, you will usually be granted a higher level of consideration).
For women it is NOT advisable to wear clothing showing anything from the stomach to the knees! Shorts, see-throughs, mini skirts, bare midriffs are considered tasteless if worn in public. It's not uncommon to be met with hostile stares or looks of disapproval from local Guineans or even worse. Tattoos and body piercings are not common and visitors are advised to cover them up when possible. A head scarf, however, is not necessary. Jeans (while still not very popular among Guinean women), long skirts and dresses, tank tops and short or long sleeved shirts are perfectly acceptable.
There is a Christian minority (mostly concentrated in the southern forest region); however, Muslims, Christians and others tend to co-exist peacefully with tolerance and respect.
Guineans will often invite you to eat at their home. This is a sign of respect and consideration for the visitor. Accept the invitation where possible. If you are unable, it's better to politely respond with a simple "next time" or "prochainement". Simply showing up without an appointment at the home of a Guinean is not considered rude or impolite as it can be in the West. Don't be alarmed if you find Guineans popping over to see how you are.
Overall Guineans are warm, friendly and hospitable and will come to your assistance where appropriate.