Guinea

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Introduction to Guinea

In Guinea you can trek through beautiful highland scenery and travel along new roads into the jungles of the southeast. But its bleak past has scorched its earth. It still reels from a regime that turned its back on liberté, égalité and fraternité and embraced Maoist ideology in the 1950s.

Much of the accommodation for travellers is substandard and the food is basic. Transport timetables, if you can find them, are ignored. And rain and creeping jungles are reclaiming the ruined railway tracks and the last vestiges of colonial rule.

Ghosts of French bwanas sip absinthe in the cool Fouta Djalon highlands, and catch steam locomotives that have long since ceased running. Most of the teeming wildlife of the jungles and plains is a faint glimmer of what it once was. Phantom Islamic armies swoop down from the north and turn the gorgeous Fouta Djalon into a slaughterhouse in the 17th century, then are drowned out by the insistent clamour of European slavers in the 18th and fiercely nationalistic rebels in the 19th. Maoist cadres from the 20th century despair at forced collectivisation's abject failure, and thousands of citizens flee across the borders to escape the el supremo delusions of a despot drunk on his own juice.

Caution

The southern regions of Nzérékoré, Kankan and Faranah border Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire. The conflicts in these countries spill over into southern Guinea in the form of banditry, smuggling and refugees. A high level of personal security awareness is recommended if travel in these areas is necessary.

Full country name: Republic of Guinea

Area: 245,855 sq km

Population: 9.73 million

Capital City: Conakry (pop 1.743 million)

People: Malinké (Mandingo), Fula (Fulani), Susu and 15 other ethnic groups.

Language: French, Fulah, Susu

Religion: Muslim

Government: military republic

Head of State: President General Lansana Conté

Head of Government: Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo

GDP: US$8.3 billion

GDP per capita: US$1,100

Annual Growth: 4.8%

Major Industries: Mining: bauxite, diamonds, gold; alumina refining; light manufacturing and agricultural processing

Major Trading Partners: Europe, USA

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Everyone needs a visa except for citizens of countries belonging to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Visas cost between 25.00 and 50.00.

Health risks: diarrhoea, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS

Time Zone: GMT/UTC 0

Dialling Code: 224

Electricity: 220V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

The main events celebrated in Guinea are tied to the Muslim (lunar) calendar, and the dates vary from year to year. Tabaski, also known as Eid-al-Kabir, is the most important celebration, when Muslims kill a sheep in commemoration of the time God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, then interceded at the last moment and suggested a sheep instead. The second major Islamic holiday is the end of Ramadan, or Eid-al-Fitr. Mohammed's Birthday, about three months after Tabaski, is also celebrated.

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Best time to Visit

The cool, dry period between November and February is the best time.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Syli or Guinean Franc

Meals

Budget: US$.50-$1

Mid-range: US$1-5

High: US$5-8

Deluxe: US$8+

Lodging

Budget: US$5-10

Mid-range: US$10-15

High: US$15-25

Deluxe: US$25+

Conakry is expensive, but out in the country you can get by on the smell of an oily rag. You'll need about US$15 or $20 a day if you regularly stay in the cheapest hotels and eat street or market food. Because some of the lower end accommodation can leave a lot to the imagination, you may want to move up a few rungs and pay more for luxuries like running water and electricity, in which case you should budget on spending around US$50-60 a day. If you want to stay in international-style hotels - although there are precious few of them outside Conakry - and eat at the best restaurants, count on spending around US$150 or more a day.

Service in banks in Conakry is usually good, although in banks up country it can be a lot slower. Black marketeers usually offer a rate about 5% better than the official exchange rate, but only for cash. In the banks you'll get a better exchange rate on travellers cheques and cash for euros or US dollars than for any other currency. There is a bank at Conakry Airport, but the exchange rates for travellers' cheques there are very low. None of the banks will change Guinea francs back into hard currency, but the street changers will; it all seems above board but you would be wise to be discreet. Most of the larger and western shops, restaurants and hotels accept credit cards, but you should rely on cash in the smaller towns.

In the more 'European' restaurants you normally tip about 10% of the bill, but otherwise try and find out what locals are tipping, if they are at all. Bargaining is normal in the markets, and even in some places to stay, but not, of course, in top-of-the-range hotels.

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Attractions

Conakry

Full of strong African spirit, it is not uncommon on a Sunday stroll through Conakry to find street celebrations and dancing led by groups of men playing local instruments. The city hugs a narrow peninsula, squeezed on three sides by the sea, forcing growth back into the mainland.

The main north-south street is the Autoroute, called the Route du Niger closer to the centre and the in the heart of town. The attractively landscaped Ave de la République in the heart of town is where the banks, airline offices and restaurants are clustered.

Faranah

At night Faranah comes alive with several cafes and restaurants serving drinks and cheap meals. It has wide boulevards, a conference centre, a large mosque and an impressive private villa now used as a hotel. Faranah is only 150km (93mi) from the source of the Niger River.

Fouta Djalon

This plateau is in the heartland of Guinea's Fula population, an area of beautiful green hills and 1000m (3280ft) peaks. It is far cooler than the lowlands and is one of the best places for hiking in West Africa. The town of Mamou is small and lively, with an open-air cinema and good street food.

Dalaba is on the main route from Mamou and is an excellent base for day hikes into the surrounding country. Hot and bothered colonials would come for the therapeutic 1000m (3280ft) altitude, and put their feet up and sip cool drinks at the Centre d'Accueil on the town outskirts.

Guéckédou

Guéckédou is a major smuggling centre. The Wednesday market is enormous, with traders from Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and Mali. You can buy virtually anything there and exchange several types of currency. The town itself is not much to speak of, but has several reasonable hotels.

Kankan

Guinea's second city is also a spiritual home to Guinea's Malinké (Mandinka) people. Even as far away as Senegal and the Gambia, the Malinké see it as a sort of capital, and many have relatives there. It was capital of the former Mali Empire, but these days it's very quiet.

The open market with its arched entrances, the covered market and the Grande Mosquée are all worthy sights. For a small fee the caretaker will show you around the mosque and the small sculpture workshop just opposite. Also to be seen is the old presidential palace, which overlooks the Milo River.

Kindia

Kindia is a good one-day excursion from Conakry if you have your own wheels, but a possible stopover if you're on public transport. Strip-cloth weavers work in the area, and you can visit their workshop behind the old railway station. Nearby is an indigo dyeing centre and a cloth market.

Bridal Falls (La Voile de la Mariée) is the main attraction at Kindia, 14km (8.6mi) outside of town, but is only impressive during the rainy season, when the flowing water resembles a bridal veil. You can get cheap meals at a small restaurant nearby and can rent a bungalow there as well.

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Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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