Equatorial Guinea is a small country in Central Africa, divided into two parts, the mainland and the islands. A former Spanish colony, it borders Cameroon and Gabon. This country is one of the largest oil producing countries in Sub-Sahara, behind Angola and Nigeria. Since the discovery, the country has flown into economic stardom, but this country remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and it is very common to see officials asking for bribes around the corners of the country.
The locals are very hospitable and have a certain affection for almost everything related to Spain. Until 1968, the country was a Spanish colony, making it the only country in Africa that was colonised by Spain.
In the Rio Muni region there is believed to have been a widespread pygmy population, of whom only isolated pockets remain in the north. Bantu migrations between the 17th and 19th centuries brought the coastal tribes and later the Fang.
The Portuguese explorer Fernão do Pó, seeking a path to India, is credited as being the first European to discover the island of Bioko in 1472. He called it Formosa ("Beautiful"), but it quickly took on the name of its European discoverer. The islands of Fernando Pó and Annobón were colonized by Portugal in 1474.
In 1778, the island, adjacent islets, and commercial rights to the mainland between the Niger River and Ogoue Rivers were ceded to the Spanish Empire in exchange for territory in the American continent. From 1827 to 1843, the United Kingdom established a base on the island to combat the slave trade which was then moved to Sierra Leone upon agreement with Spain in 1843. In 1844, on restoration of Spanish sovereignty, it became known as the Territorios Españoles del Golfo de Guinea Ecuatorial. The mainland portion, Rio Muni, became a protectorate in 1885 and a colony in 1900. Between 1926 and 1959 all three regions were united as the colony of Spanish Guinea.
Equatorial Guinea gained independence from Franco's Spain in October 1968. Since then, it has been ruled by two men. Francisco Macías Nguema, the first president, was a brutal dictator who despised intellectuals, killed a large number of the ethnic Bubi minority, banned fishing, and awarded himself a huge number of grandiose titles (including President for Life). After a purge on his own family, he was overthrown by his nephew Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in 1979 and later captured and executed by shooting. Obiang's rule has seen less violence, but his regime is still brutally repressive. Political power is centralized in his small mainland clan, and most senior members of the government are related.
The discovery of large offshore oil reserves in 1996 has brought a considerable amount of money into the country, giving it one of the highest GDPs in Africa, yet much of the money goes into the hands of the ruling elite, with the majority of the people remaining very poor.
Equatorial Guinea has two distinctive and very pronounced seasons: rainy and dry seasons. April to October are the wettest months of the year, and December to March are the driest.
The major ethnic groups are the Fang of the mainland and the Bubi of Bioko Island.
Equatorial Guinea recognizes the major Christian holidays. October 12 is Independence Day.
Citizens of Barbados, China (PRC), Tunisia and the United States may enter Equatorial Guinea visa-free. However they do need the following to present when entering EG: 2 visa applications, 2 passport photos, bank statement noting a minimum of $2,000 in your account, & proof of smallpox, yellow fever, & cholera vaccinations. (Note: this information, while perhaps officially correct, is not accurate. In practice, if not by law, all you will need to present on arrival at the airport in Malabo is a yellow fever card and your passport. Processing occurs quickly, and without much fuss or even interest.)
Citizens of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of the Congo and Gabon may enter Equatorial Guinea visa-free, provided that they have a national identity card or biometric passport.
All other nationalities need to submit to an EG embassy all of the above (plus passport and letter of invitation which is only granted from a Equatorial Guinea resident and almost impossible to get) in order to receive a visa. In Washington, the fee for the visa is USD100. A number of people I know have had success in getting their EG visa in Libreville but the price can be very high depending on how corrupt or difficult the officials there want to be on any given day.
There are two paved airports, one a few miles from Malabo (SSG), and one in Bata (BSG). The country's main airline is Ecuato Guineana de Aviación, which operates national and international flights out of Malabo International Airport. Other airlines flying to Malabo airport include Lufthansa (from Frankfurt via Lagos), Iberia (from Madrid), JetAir (from Gatwick airport in London), Air France (from Paris), Ethiopian Airlines as well as Turkish Airlines. There is an infrequent flight from Malabo to Sao Tome with CEIBA intercontinental but good luck finding out when it leaves.
The capital is on an island. However, the mainland may be accessed from Gabon via paved(tarmac) roads and from Cameroon via paved roads (to the Ebebiyín border). Roads in EG are some of the best in the world as the government has spent a lot of money on road construction in recent years.
Note that the entry from any of the land borders can often be closed. The entry from Ebebiyín is one's best bet to enter the country by land but they may deny entry to anyone for whatever reason.
In Rio Muní in every town there are places where cars and vans wait for passengers and once full, leave for their destination. There are set prices between every town so be sure to ask what the price is before traveling to avoid paying extra. This makes traveling from place to place very easy if not a little uncomfortable (2 people to 1 seat is the norm- pay extra if you want more space).
You can also barter with any car or taxi owner to take you around for the day. I spent 25,000 cfa ($43) for a full day tour (7 am to 11 pm) (Mongomo to Piedra Bere to Añisoc to Oyala and the Djibloho hotel back to Mongomo where I had previously stayed in a hotel for 5000 cfa. My second night I spent in my taxi driver's house for no extra cost as he invited me to. I didn't have a tourist permit which caused problems with some government officials who tried to get me to give them 200,000 CFA over 4 hours at Piedra Bere but was ultimately freed because I am an American which I used against them. I'm putting this here so you get an idea of what it is like to budget travel around the country on your own). The hospitality can be great in EG as in other African countries but the corruption by intimidation can be extreme. Best to have a local with you who knows how to navigate it.
Spanish is the language of education and administration, and is spoken fluently by roughly 68% of of the population, it is national language.
On the island of Annobón, Fa d’Ambô (a Portuguese creole), replaces Spanish as the main language. The language is widely spoken in Malabo and among some people on Equatorial Guinea's mainland. Many residents of Bioko can also speak the local trade language Pichinglis, an English-based creole.
Despite the fact that French and standard Portuguese are official languages, they are not widely used. If you can only afford one phrasebook, bring a Spanish one.
The country also has a large number of indigenous languages, including Fang, Bube, Benga, Ndowe, Balengue, Bujeba, Bissio, Gumu and the nearly extinct Baseke. Most African ethnic groups speak Bantu languages.
Although there is an Anglophone ethnic group in Bioko, standard English is spoken by few people, even in the capital city.
There are lots of beaches so that would be a good thing to take in mind when considering sight-seeing. It would be advised to take precautions listed in the 'Stay Safe' category.
There is little tourist support in Equatorial Guinea. Prices for a ‘tour’ of the island are shocking ($400/day), but keep talking until you get to $150. Equipment can be a clapped out van. One needs to get at tourism permit in Malabo, Ebebiyín or Mongomo from Ministry of Tourism and submit a detailed letter of request, then wait a minimum of 2 days for permission to be granted.
There are many things to see on both Bioko island and the continent such as Piedra Bere, Oyala "city" and the Djibloho Hotel, Parque Nacional Altos de Nsork, Parque Nacional Monte Alen among other sights. The Bradt Guide gives ample details (there is an electronic copy worth buying and downloading) on how to navigate the EG bureaucracy to be able to see the country's surprising and little known natural beauty.
Hotel prices are similar to neighboring Cameroon. They can range anywhere from 5000 CFA ($8.50) a night to 200000 CFA ($340) depending on the amenities one wants. As in other African countries the cheapest hotels are often little more than brothels. Street food can be quite cheap whereas in a nice restaurant you can easily spend over 10000 CFA ($17).
There are several good places to go to eat particularly in Malabo. The coffee shop at Hotel Sofitel (located just across the Cathedral along the north coast) offers French cuisine. Hotel Bahia's main restaurant is also a favourite destination for both local and expats. If you like pizza and pasta, the Pizza Place is the best place in town. For Asian cuisine, Restaurante Bantu offers authentic Chinese cuisine. For Morrocan and other European food, try La Luna. Try An Equatorial Guinean cuisine such smoked beef with a black pepper. There is also a roast duck with cheese and onion leaf.
Ebebiyin is known for its large number of bars. They drink a lot of wine.
Due to the influx of foreign workers and foreign investment in Malabo as well as in the continent, there is an ample choice of hotels.
There are very few tourists. Nearly everyone who travels to EG is on an expense account, so nice hotel prices reflect this. There are however plenty of cheaper options that poor locals use for a night out with their girlfriend or when they need to stay in another town. Traveling in Equatorial Guinea truly is off the beaten tourist path and in Rio Muní especially you will probably be the region's only tourist.
Don't photograph airports, government buildings, or anything of military or strategic value. Local folks including children are generally averse to foreigners taking their picture. As a general rule, it is not advisable to bring a camera while walking around town as this can cause real trouble with the police.
Avoid any and all conversation related to politics. Criticizing the government, and especially the president, will lead you into trouble. Your local contacts will most likely suffer an even worse fate. If you feel that you are being dragged into a political conversation, or if you are asked for your opinion regarding local politics, stay neutral and don't offer your opinions.
Equatorial Guinea has tropical weather and is normally very hot. It is best to wear lightweight clothing. Avoid wearing dark colours due to mosquito concerns.
Equatorial Guinea despite being a country with enough resources and is the country with the highest economic growth in Africa, does not provide any legal certainty for European, American or Asian working within the country.
You must visit with a guide and need special permits in some locations. Consult to the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where information using extended over the areas of risks.
An organized tour is recommended to avoid unpleasant situations with military checkpoints on the roads.
Equatorial Guinea is, overall, a safe place to visit, especially in Malabo and Bata.
Food/Water: The government has invested in clean water infrastructure though you can never be 100% sure it is clean. Bring an steri-pen just in case.
Wear Shoes: Beaches in Malabo and Bata are beautiful however, due to discarded trash and unsafe sand bugs it is a good idea to always wear shoes. This applies to walking on carpeted areas as well.
Malaria Medicine: Malaria is a leading cause of death in this country. It is advised that visitors consult their doctor for malaria tablets.
There are Chinese and North Korean run clinics in most of the towns. The North Korean I saw for my foot fungus was prompt, professional and prescribed the same medication for me that an American doctor would have for only 3000 CFA medication included.