In comparison to many other African cities, Bissau is a quiet capital. The city lacks the chaotic hustle and bustle of other capitals, offering a refreshing atmosphere that helps visitors relax and recharge. The pace of life is slow, and you will find more locals spending the evenings chatting on their porches than in any nightclubs or bars. There are also few traditional tourist sights in the city, but Bissau is constantly growing and evolving.
A civil war ravaged Guinea-Bissau from June 1998 until May 1999, and the capital is still recovering. An every-present reminder of the war is the Presidential Palace, whose once elegant neoclassical design is now ridden with shrapnel and topped with a bombed-out roof. Visitors today are welcome to walk through the grounds but are advised to avoid the interior of the palace because bats are its only inhabitants.
The country was a Portuguese colony before achieving independence in 1974 after a decade-long war. The colonial influence can still be seen in Bissau Velho, the old center of the city. Today, the dusty streets are usually empty, but a walk through the district provides visitors with an interesting glimpse into Bissau’s history and heritage. Most of the candy-colored buildings are in disrepair, but it is easy to imagine them filled with life during the colonial period.
Just past the Portuguese quarter lies the Fortaleza d’Amura, the fortress that today guards the colorful neighborhood dotted with Mediterranean-style buildings. The Guinean military still uses the fort, and it is supposed to be off-limits to visitors, but making friends with the guards can often sneak you a peek inside the imposing stone walls.
The most lively sight in the capital is Porto Pidjiguiti, the bust port where fisherman still bring in the daily catch and pelicans soar over the sandy coast. The port also has great historical significance. It was there that police killed striking dockworkers in 1959, igniting the resistance movement against the Portuguese. A monument designed like a huge black fist stands at the port to commemorate the massacre.
The city’s main market, the Mercado de Bandim, is also worth a visit. Thatched-roof huts hold all kinds of treasures, including wood carvings, hand woven textiles and cashew nuts. The busy atmosphere is a great place to immerse yourself in the local culture and score great deals on souvenirs.
Many of the country’s handicrafts are also on display at the National Ethnographic Museum. The small collection of wooden masks, baskets and statues can only be seen in the mornings, but it is worth getting up early, and the friendly staff is quite good at explaining the traditional spiritual beliefs connected with each piece.
The city has a surprisingly high concentration of good restaurants serving up everything from traditional meals to Belgian waffles and pizza. You can usually find a delicious meal for less than 10Ä, and many restaurants have courtyards or terraces for alfresco dining. The nightclub and bar scene is still developing, but there are a few places where you can dance the night away or shoot pool with locals. For a more cultured evening, visit the French or Portuguese cultural centers. The centers often put on free concerts, movies and lectures in the evenings.
Bissau Geographical Location
Bissau is located in the far west bordering the Atlantic Ocean and on the Geba River.
The approximate population of Bissau is 410,000 and is Guinea-Bissau’s largest city.
Portuguese is the official language of Guinea-Bissau but most speak Crioulo or an African language as their native language. French is also common as a second language due to its location.
Bissau Predominant Religion
- 50% Muslim
- 40% Indigenous Beliefs
- 10% Christian
The transition to practicing Islam is relatively recent, throughout the 20th century most Guineans practiced indigenous beliefs stemming from animism.
The West African CFA, which stands for Communauté Financiere d’Afrique, Franc is the official currency of Guinea-Bissau.
Bissau experiences a rainy season between June and October in which the majority of the year’s rainfall occurs. The temperatures are generally hot throughout the year with little fluctuation between seasons.
Bissau Main Attractions
- The Presidential Palace
- Bissau Velho
- Fortaleza d’Amura
Other Attractions in Bissau
- Mercado de Bandim
- National Ethnographic Museum
- Porto Pidjiguiti
- French and Portuguese Cultural Centers