Wedged between Senegal, Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean, Guinea-Bissau is a calm and peaceful country at odds with its turbulent political history. Home to over a quarter of the 1.8 million population, Bissau is the country’s beating heart.
Founded in 1692, the former Portuguese trading post of Bissau is 84 years older than the United States and became the capital of the newly independent Guinea-Bissau in 1974. It is by far the country’s largest city and biggest port as well as its political, financial, administrative and military centre. Yet, despite being the epicentre of Guinea-Bissau life, it is a capital city like no other: quiet, crumbling, airy and eminently walkable.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
At the core of Bissau’s central districts of Praça and Bissau Velho (Old Town) lies National Heroes’ Square: a giant roundabout consisting of bench-lined walkways, miniature pruned gardens and an imposing central monument. As quiet as a cul-de-sac and almost devoid of vehicular traffic, it is a central square like no other capital and provides the panorama for the recently-renovated Presidential Palace. With its cream facade, arched windows and wrought iron balconies guarded by towering palm trees, the Palace evokes the splendour of a Carribean Governor’s mansion, but until recently was solely inhabited by bats. A symbol of Guinea-Bissau’s political upheaval, the Palace was heavily bombed during the civil war of 1998-1999 and then suffered a chronic lack of investment as the country witnessed two coup d’états, eight presidents (one killed) and 18 prime ministers between 2000-2017.
The Amura Fort lies on the edge of the city’s old town: an urban planned grid of low-tiered buildings with metal-grilled windows, carved balconies and terracotta-tiled roofs. Built in the 1950s, the Velho was the Portuguese colonial centre and has remained untouched since. The tangle of telephone wires strung between the rooftops offer a nod to modernity, while the flaking, faded pastel exteriors of the colonial-style houses and warehouses are juxtaposed with the modern Jeeps and Nissan Micras that line the cracked tarmac streets.
The Fortaleza de São José da Amura has been operational since 1765. The trench-lined square fort is the current headquarters of the Guinea-Bissau military; its ramparts dotted with ancient artillery guns, its soldiers catching shade under leafy trees. Officially closed to the public, it is open for guided tours depending on the whims of the personnel. By either charming the soldiers on duty (between 10am and 4pm) or speaking to the enigmatic comandante known as Major Napoleon, a guided trip around the fort is a journey through Guinea-Bissau’s recent political history. From the mausoleum of Amílcar Cabral, the leader of the independence movement, and the car he was killed in (he was assassinated in Conakry in 1973, more than a year before independence) to numerous memorials and homages to the country’s patriots, it vividly brings to life Guinea-Bissau’s violent 11-year liberation struggle.
Bissau lies on the Geba River estuary, which flows westwards from the Fouta Djallon highlands in Guinea. Wide and deep for almost 50 miles (80.5 kilometres), the Geba provided the ideal channel for the Portuguese to transport gold, ivory, pepper and slaves to the Atlantic. Today, the port remains a hub of activity: from ferry services to the 90-island Bijagós Archipelago (17 of which are inhabited) and southern Guinea-Bissau, to the export of cashew nuts (which account for 60 percent of GDP) and a buoyant fishing industry. A stroll down Avenue 3 de Agosto provides great views of the port, the Geba and the Ilhéu do Rei (King’s Islet) – a small offshore island hosting a crumbling peanut factory – before reaching Pdjiguiti Harbour. Here, colourful pirogues, seabirds and eager fishermen all prepare to plunder the rich West African waters from one of the most historically-important spots in the country. On 3 August 1959 (hence the street name), 50 striking dock workers were massacred at the harbour by Portuguese police, igniting the independence movement. A giant clenched black fist known as the Mão de Timba (‘Hand of Timba’) stands to commemorate those who died on the adjacent Praça de Martires (Martyr’s Square).
Connecting the port and National Heroes’ Square is Avenida Amílcar Cabral, a street lined with various architectural styles. The Catholic Cathedral is built in medieval mode with its twin clock towers also serving as lighthouses. Opposite, the Ministry of Justice proudly displays white Greco-Roman columns, while the dilapidated Ministry of Finance writes its own metaphors. Ambling down this central avenue, there is an intoxicating calmness. There is no ‘buy this, buy that’ mentality; no shuffling shoals of tourists; no catcalling from souvenir shops. In fact, there are no souvenir shops. Instead, foreigners are met with even less than a cursory glance. Scooters gently roll underneath the Guinea-Bissau flags that adorn overhead wires like bunting. Even the blue and white taxis seem to cruise with a motorised hush. It’s a persuasive advert for the lethargy of Bissau life.
Part of Bissau’s charm comes from the view from a plastic chair as city life meanders by.
Central Bissau is dotted with bars and restaurants offering Portuguese-inspired tapas (think chorizo, croquettes and sardines) alongside West African specialties (keep an eye out for Mancarra – a delicious peanut fish broth).
Na Tábua by the port is the place to go for seafood, but when it comes to resting weary feet, check out the restaurant-bar of the Hotel Kaliste. Kaliste is nestled on the corner of Praça Che Guevara (known as Praça Bayana to taxi drivers) and provides a constant montage of Bissau life.
Meanwhile, the café at the Hotel Imperio provides a who’s who of Bissau as suits and briefcases mingle with uniforms and boots.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.