The city was first founded by the British in 1827, who leased the island from Spain during the colonial period. Named Port Clarence, it was used as a naval station in the effort to suppress the slave trade. Many newly freed slaves were also settled there, prior to the establishment of Sierra Leone as a colony for freed slaves. While many of them later relocated to Sierra Leone, some of their descendants, called Fernandinos, can still be found in Malabo and the surrounding area, where they constitute a distinct ethnic group, speaking their own Afro-Portuguese pidgin dialect. When the island reverted to complete Spanish control, Malabo was renamed Santa Isabel. It was chosen to replace the mainland town of Bata as the capital of the country in 1969, and was renamed Malabo in 1973 as part of President Francisco Macías Nguema's campaign to replace European place names with "authentic" African ones.
During his "reign of terror," Macías Nguema led a near-genocide of the country's Bubi minority, which formed the majority on Bioko Island, and brought many of his own tribespeople, the Fang, to Malabo. In the final years of his rule, when Equatorial Guinea was sometimes known as the "Auschwitz of Africa," much of the city's population fled as, indeed, did about one-third of the country's population. Malabo has yet to recover from the scars of that period.
Despite its status as the capital of Equatorial Guinea for several decades, Malabo's street network remains poorly developed. Malabo itself has few paved roads leading into it, and fewer than one hundred paved and developed streets. Many of the street names reflect an African nationalist or anti-colonial theme, with names such as "Independence Avenue" or "Patrice Lumumba Road" being main roads. The few large roads not named for an African nationalist ideal or person are named for cities in Equatorial Guinea or other places or countries in Africa, as well as the road leading to the presidential palace. The palace and grounds consume a substantial part of the eastern side of Malabo, and are off-limits. The heart of the city is the colonial cathedral at Independence Place. Many buildings in the city from the Spanish colonial era are still standing. The south of Malabo is bordered by the Rio Consul. Across this lies the hospital to the southeast. To the west is the recently renovated airport. The coastal northern region of the city is pierced by headlands and bays. The largest headland is the crescent-shaped Tip of African Unity behind the presidential palace. Encompassing the entire eastern side of Malabo Bay, it is almost as long as Malabo is tall. Malabo is part of a wider bay that represents most of the northern coast of Bioko; it stretches from Europe Point in the west (home to the airport), to barren lands in the east. Notable buildings in Malabo include Malabo Cathedral, Malabo Government Building and the Malabo Court Building. The city is served by Malabo International Airport, while ferries sail from its port to Douala and Bata.
Malabo is well served by several international carriers including Iberia, Air France, KLM, Astraeus (charter to Gatwick), Kenya Airways, Aero Contractors, Royal Air Maroc and Lufthansa as well as a few regional airlines offering service to surrounding counties as well as to the mainland (Bata). Travel on these internal carriers should be considered carefully, as there is no capability of enforcing airworthiness standards in Equatorial Guinea and air traffic control is marginal at best. Ethiopian Airlines, the airline with the highest number of International destinations within Africa, will launch service to Malabo three times a week (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays) starting on Tuesday, June 2, 2009. Flights will be operated to/from Malabo to/from Addis Ababa via Douala using Boeing 767 or 757. Delta has announced that they intend to service Malabo weekly starting on Tuesday, June 16, 2009. Service will be from Atlanta via Sal Island, Cape Verde.  Aero Contractors flies to Malabo from Lagos, Nigeria en route Libreville every Tuesday and Saturday. Boeing 737-400 planes are currently being used for this route.
Malabo is quite walkable. Taxis are cheap. 500 cfa during the day should get you anywhere within the city.3,000 cfa should get you from the city to the Marathon Oil compound. Be prepared to pay more at night or when the police are out enforcing traffic laws.
Many Equatorial Guinea-based airlines are blocked from operating inside the EU, and thus only a few international airlines operate from Malabo, including, but not limited to, Air France, Lufthansa, Iberia, Kenya Airways, and Danish air transport.