There are a few ways to obtain your visa for Guinee-Bissau – this is the way we got ours. If you would like to see the different options, please scroll down to the end of this blog.
Our journey towards deep West Africa started in Brikama, the Gambia. While there, enjoying Gambian hospitality, someone told us we could reach Guinea-Bissau – and the capital of the same name – in one day. All we needed to do was take the taxi from Brikama to Ziguinchor in Senegal, get your Guinea-Bissau visa by going to the embassy, and then hop into another taxi headed to Bissau. The entire trip would take just over six hours they said. Because you're never certain of anything in this part of the world – how quick a taxi fills up, if the embassy is easy to find, how many times drivers decide to take prayer breaks – we decided to pace ourselves and do the trip in two days.
The right decision, because we got to experience Senegal in a different way then when visiting Dakar. We didn't enjoy the vibe there at all, and discovered that solely stopping over in the capital is far from seeing the countries' culture. So we were happy to find that the lifestyle of people in Ziguinchor is somewhat slower, friendlier and without the continuous hustling you find in Dakar. Where we felt people from Dakar saw us as nothing more than two wallets, the Zig's – as I now decide to call them – treated us like people. That was, at least, our experience. We even struck a conversation with a couple of Zig's who spoke decent English.
As we made our way to the Brikama bus station, we remembered the crazy low fares for traveling between cities there. Sitting in a small white van, crowded with good-natured Gambians, for 45 minutes might only set you back € 0,12 cents. So when the ticket vendor, a guy seated at a table scribbling receipts, of the Brikama-to-border terminal told us we needed to pay 50 Gambian Dalasi's – a whopping 90 cents – we thought we were being ripped off. After consulting with a local we met, and him trying to barter for us, we found that's what everyone pays. So we reluctantly handed over the money, because we had spend most of our Dalasi's already - we didn't want to take any of the currency into Senegal. Now we worried we didn't have enough.
A realistic worry, it turned out. We waited for the car, a Peugeot seven seater so characteristic of West African travel, to fill up and then had to cough up another 25 GMD (€ 0,45) for our bags. As the last passenger joined us we left for the border, which we reached within an hour. There, after the mandatory stamping in and out of countries, we were guided by two French-speaking co-passengers to the ticket booth (or rather table) to pay for the next leg of our journey. They, a young guy wearing a football jersey and the other, an older gentleman, wearing a robe indicative of a devout muslim, explained us we'd need to pay 3000 CFA. We didn't have any of the Senegalese money yet, so showed our Dalasi's which they accepted. Now we only had 100 GMD left and were relieved that we made it.
They took us to the taxi, the driver – or maybe just a helper, you never know – loaded our bags into the car and came with his hands up. Another 200 GMD, please. We withdrew our last bill of 100 GMD and sheepishly looked at the guy. First he waited for another bill to appear, but when he saw my empty wallet he shook his head and accepted our apologies.
While we waited for yet another taxi to fill – an activity we'd been doing a lot over the coming weeks – we again found out that if someone from Senegal is shouting at you it doesn't necessarily mean he's angry. The muslim gentleman had retired to a tree trunk and witnessed us using Dalasi's to pay for everything. He shouted something in, to us, incomprehensible French and the young guy tried his best to translate him: "You can't pay with that money from here on out." Though the gentleman was being nice, concerned we would not be able to pay for anything, neither his body language or tone showed any of his friendliness.
Though the road we drove on was good it didn't take the prescribed three, but five hours to reach Ziguinchor. We were already happy we'd decided not to go to Bissau in one day. The seven seater, here called a 'sept place', dropped us of at the bus station, here called the 'gare routiére'. As is custom a handful of taxi drivers swarm around every new sept place and being white doesn't help. We battled our way out of the gare and went to find a bank. After speaking English for three weeks in The Gambia going back to French was a challenge, but using our arms and legs we were shown the way to the centre of town and found the Ecobank.
After withdrawing a wad of cash – one Euro is 650 CFA and the big notes make you feel rich – we decided to first go and find the embassy for Guinea-Bissau and go to our Airbnb after. Online we'd read the embassy was very close to Hotel Le Flamboyant which we easily found, yet there was no embassy to be found. So we asked a student, perched on a bench, who told us (through our little understanding of French) that he was from Guinea-Bissau. He tried to show us where the embassy was, but quickly gave up and signalled that we should follow him. It was a 15 minute walk and, we found out later, really close to the gare routiére. Not only did he bring us to the embassy, for when we were there he also asked the cleaner how we could get our visa and called the number on the front gate. The student signalled we should sit and wait and so we did.
A motor stopped outside the compound after twenty minutes, but instead of an employee it was a fellow tourist. He told us he was traveling West Africa by motorcycle and that he was headed for Bissau. As we were sharing travel stories a staff member of the embassy came. He spoke zero English, but lucky for us, the German man was well prepared and had brushed up on his Portugese. Due to his translations we were ready to go, with a shiny visa sticker in our passports, 10 minutes later. We went back to the center of town to find wifi to locate our Airbnb. In a nice restaurant, called 'Le Kassa', we refreshed ourself with some juice and a sandwich and pinpointed where we needed to go.
Uncharacteristic to us we employed our time to plan ahead for our stay in Bissau. As Booking.com revealed the best picks, we were dumbfounded by the prices. We assumed traveling to one of the poorest countries in the world wouldn't break the bank, yet the cheapest hotel we found was € 74,- per night. Pinch yourself, check that again...yes, seventy four euro and that's the budget option. We swiftly switched to Airbnb and chanced upon a room for just € 11. We booked it and left.
That night we slept in a mostly abandoned building known throughout the area as l'etage – so, known for the fact that it had more than one floor – and toured the city searching for a place to copy our Guinea-Bissau visas, which we needed to get our Guinea-Conakry* visas later on. Electricity was out and so we wandered around and got something to eat.
The next day we were in for a strange surprise when we went to Le Kassa to check if our Airbnb-host had accepted our booking. Instead of a confirmation we got a message stating the host couldn't accept the price we offered – odd, because we had offered no price, but had accepted the price that was on Airbnb. We replied that it was very weird for him to say, but after his response we knew this was going nowhere and notified support to get a refund.
After trying to find a new place, we spent a little too much time reading rumours about the dangers in Bissau and all of a sudden were dreading to go. It took some time, but we composed ourselves and decided to not book anything, just go, and see what would come of it. We grabbed our stuff and headed back to the gare routiére.
Arriving at the station we quickly surrendered to the torrent of 'helping' hustlers and were guided to the bus headed for Bissau. We paid 3500 CFA (€ 5,40) each for a place in the back of a 22-person bus and sat down to wait, while numerous hawkers passed the open door of the bus.
It only took 1,5 hours before the bus had filled, and up until the last moment we were the only tourists in the bus. We were joined by sleepy mothers with quiet babies, stern men, chattering girls, overdressed boys and suddenly another white tourist appeared at the bus. He pulled money from his shirt pocket and was guided to the only empty spot left – next to us. As the bus left we greeted each other and a great friendship began.
Kristoffer, an amiable Swede with a penchant for traveling the unfamiliar, already had an eight hour ride in the bag. He came from Kalak in Senegal, crossed two borders to go in and out of The Gambia, and now jumped aboard to hit his third country for the day. Together we shouldered the ride to the Senegal and Guinea-Bissau border where we were warned we needed to pay CFA 1.000 to cross. This wasn't just for tourist, but for everyone. As we went in and out of border control posts we shuffled along, Kristoffer paid CFA 50.000 for his Guinea-Bissau visa, but there was no CFA 1.000 fee to be found. We crowded back into the bus and continued our journey.
On the website of the Dutch Foreign Ministry we read there would be no banks in Bissau that accept our cards. Stubborn as we are, we didn't believe them. Rightly so, because after leaving the bus we hopped on a taxi together with Kristoffer, said 'Ecobank' and were withdrawing money without problems fifteen minutes later.
At Ecobank we found out that Kristoffer also didn't have a room booked, and met Jens from Denmark who was also looking for a place, so all of a sudden we were crossing the street to the Chinese-looking Hong Da Apartments to inquire after two double rooms. Although a double room still set us back CFA 25.000 (€ 38), which was considerably more than the majority of places we had slept so far, we were relieved to find a somewhat decently priced place. We booked two rooms, removed all the red dirt from our bodies with a quick shower and went out.
We had arrived in Bissau.
Although we'd read horrid things none of it seems to based in reality, for we felt safe and welcome. Though Bissau isn't a charming place by any standard, it's a nice and quiet town and so far the one of the only capitals we didn't want to leave immediately.
*Officially just Guinea, but here called Guinea-Conakry for clarity.
Summarising the facts:
You can get your visa for Guinee-Bissau in:
- Zichenchor, Senegal
- Banjul, the Gambia
- at the border from Senegal to Guinea-Bissau
- maybe in your own country
For a visa for Guinea-Bissau you need:
- 1 copy of your passport
- 1 copy of your yellow fever paper
- cash (amount depends on where you're obtaining your visa)
Costs of a visa for Guinea-Bissau that we know of, according to Februari 2019:
- Embassy Guinee Bissau in Zichenchor Senegal = 20.000 CFA (+/- €30) (if there is nobody there, call the number that is written on the door)
- Embassy Guinee Bissau in Banjul The Gambia 3.000 dalasi (+/- €53)
- At the border from Senegal-Guinee Bissau = 50.000 CFA (+/- €77)
- In Bissau there are different ATM's (we used EcoBank)