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.
There are three major regions in Guinea - the coast is called Basse (low) or Maritime Guinea, the next section of the interior is called Moyenne (lesser) Guinea, the more mountainous area to the east is called Haute (high) Guinea, and the tail that drops down to the southeast is called Guinea Forestiere or Forest Guinea. These major division also provide broad cultural division as well - Basse Guinea is primarily Susu people and culture, Moyenne Guinea is more of the Pular people, who originate from nomadic tribes, Haute Guinea is primarily Malinke and Forest Guinea is home to the Toma, Kissi and similar groups who carry on strong traditional practices for medicine and religion.
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 achieved independence in 1958 and has only had 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. Things did not improve, and the ideals of Touré were soon left behind. 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.
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 $65. 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 route between Djenne and Nzerekore is controlled by rebels on the Ivoirian side. In June of 2006 Ivoirian headlines were reporting that the UN presence in that region was struggling to maintain calm. The rebel group there (the MJP) has made it a raison d'etre to expel the French military from Cote d'Ivoire.
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.
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.
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 a day). 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 20,000 Guinean Francs (roughly $4 USD), you are able to dine on delicious cultural foods from Africa. If your tastebuds would prefer something international, many other choices are available as well. The beef in Guinea is very good, and is highly recommended. Pork isn't served because of the religion. There are good restaurants that are Lebanese which has European styled breakfasts.
Canned European beer is available as well as a local "Skol" lager beer. The Mariador hotels that are run by the French are a good place to go. The prices are affordable, service is excellent, and the staff is generally very friendly. You can stay there for as long as you like (they won't kick you out). Water bottled in the town of Coyah is available everywhere for about US$ .50 per 1.5 liter bottle and is very good. Conakry's tap water (where there is such a thing) is from the same source and has occasionally proven to be perfectly safe.
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