Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

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Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

Postby Ozymandias » Thu Nov 27, 2014 8:41 am

Hello All,

Just got back from spending a month in Equatorial Guinea doing research for the new Bradt Guide to Equatorial Guinea, which is coming out in November 2015.

Annobon airport.jpg
Annobon airport.jpg (47.74 KiB) Viewed 8066 times


I visited:

Bioko - including Malabo, Riaba, Moka, Luba, Batete.
Mainland - including Bata, Rio Campo, Mbini, Acalayong, Cogo, Monte Alen, Niefang, Micomeseng, Ebebiyin, Nsong, Mongomo, Oyala (Djibloho), Nsork, Aconibe, Evinayong.
Corisco Island
Annobon Island

Thought I'd answer some of the frequently asked questions on the forum here to help everyone out and encourage a few more visitors!

How do you get a visa? Isn't it really difficult?

In short, yes, getting a tourist visa to Equatorial Guinea is extremely difficult. It took me seven weeks of hassling the embassy in London to get one. I have heard similar tales from elsewhere in Europe. The main issue is that they always want an official letter of invitation, which has to have been signed off by the Ministry of National Security. This is impossible to get for anyone but a business working in the country. You can pay a tour company to do it for you (like Ruta47, Besari Bohopo or GuineaTur - infoguineatur@guineatur.com, bbohopo@bebotra.com or reservas@ruta47.com)but this is expensive, and they usually only help out people who are using their services on arrival.

Your best bet is to get in without an official invitation. You can do this by either applying at an embassy that is less fussy about their paperwork (some African embassies, and the Consulate in Gran Canaria come to mind), or by submitting a vaguely official looking letter of invitation that has not been accredited by the Ministry of National Security. I went for the latter option, using a letter of invitation written by some contacts who were working in an NGO in Malabo. Although they weren't happy about it, in the end the embassy in London issued the visa.

How bad is the corruption? Won't I get shaken down constantly?

Having heard all the horror stories, I was pleasantly surprised by the country when I arrived. Yes, there's a serious problem with corruption, and yes, you will be hassled by the police, but it's nowhere near as bad as people say and certainly not the worst place in Africa for it. As long as your paperwork is in order and you remain calm and polite, there is no reason to ever pay a bribe. I was asked for a "Fanta" on a daily basis at checkpoints for over a month (the subtle police way of asking for 1000CFA) and never handed over any cash. A couple of tips for avoiding corruption:

    Once you arrive and have your Tourism Permit (which also acts as your photography permit) get a colour photocopy made. Likewise with your passport, visa and entry stamp. Now get them all laminated. Hand these over at checkpoints, NEVER the original. This gives the police far less leverage over you.

    Carry your documents with you at all times. This is a legal requirement.

    If you're travelling a route where you know there are a lot of checkpoints (for example, there are six on the road from Bata to Mongomo) then do it early, before the police have a chance to get too drunk. Or do it in the pouring rain, when they're less willing to man the barriers!

    When taking a local taxi, ensure the driver has all the vehicle documentation in order. Once they have checked your documents and found them in order, they may start hassling the driver as an alternative route into your wallet.

    Be subtle when taking photos and never take photos of strategic objects. Even though I had a photography permit, I never got my camera out in front of police. I would line up my photo, check the coast was clear, take it then move on quickly. Despite being careful I was still detained for over an hour in Mbini for taking photos!

    When you arrive in a new town, go and present yourself to the Comisario de Policia immediately and give him a photocopy of your tourism permit. This is not a legal requirement, nor will the chief of police have any idea what to do with the paperwork you hand him. However, they are invariably friendly and thankful that you have acknowledged their status. You will then be free to roam the town in question with no hassle from their subordinates.

How do I get hold of money? Are there ATMs?

The Central African Franc (CFA) is the official currency and is accepted everywhere. Your next best bet is Euros. You can change these easily in any town, just head to the nearest shop. They will usually give you a good rate. There are Societe Generale cashpoints (ATMs) in many towns across the country, and these accept international Visa and Mastercard. I used cashpoints in Malabo, Bata and Mongomo while travelling, and was rarely at risk of running out of cash with a little forward planning. Do not count on any business beyond the five star hotels accepting your credit card for payment though!

How do you travel around the country?

The roads across the entire country are excellent and mainly empty. Local taxis and minibus services cover the entire country. They are cheap, crowded and plentiful. You can get from Bata to Ebebiyin on the mainland (the entire width of the country) for about 3500CFA. Likewise, heading from Malabo to Luba on Bioko Island is only a few thousand CFA. Turn up at the bus stop early, load up and wait until the vehicle is full.

If you're in a rush or want a bit more comfort, you can buy out all of the seats in a taxi and use it as your own personal rental. As an example, a seat in a taxi from Bata to Niefang is 2000CFA. I bought out all five seats and travelled there on my own for 10,000CFA as I was in a rush (about €15 total). You can talk most taxi drivers into giving you some sort of discount as they are heading off more quickly (so can cover more total fares in the day) and are using less fuel.

There are car rental companies in Malabo and Bata but they are very expensive and require a massive security deposit to take the car. I saw one offering rentals from the Ibis in Bata where the cheapest car was about 70,000CFA per day (€106) but they needed a 250,000CFA deposit (€380). Given the driving standards in the country, I would not be comfortable handing that over!

There are also local drivers available but I found them to be expensive. Anyone with a decent car and proper paperwork was asking around 80,000CFA per day minimum. I found a few cheaper than this (45,000CFA a day) but they were invariably unreliable (both in terms of their paperwork at checkpoints, their punctuality and the mechanical performance of their vehicle)! Also, going this route makes no sense when you can just turn a shared taxi into your own rental for much cheaper (I got from Bata to Mongomo for 52,000CFA split across four shared taxis that I bought out).

What are internal flights like?

There are about eight flights a day between Malabo and Bata, taking about 45 minutes. One way tickets start at 48,000CFA. I would recommend flying Punto Azul. They are slightly more expensive than Ceiba Intercontinental, but so much more organised! The airport in Bata is ok to hang out in. The internal flights section of the Malabo airport is a bit of a dump.

How do you get to Annobon?

You only have one air carrier: Ceiba Intercontinental. There are flights on Fridays and Mondays. The cost is around 120,000CFA from Bata and tickets can only be bought at the airport on the day of the flight (annoyingly). The journey takes 90 minutes and will invariably be delayed. They will probably also lose your bag somehow as Ceiba are useless! If you don't want to take the plane you can jump on a SOMAGEC (construction company)cargo ship from Cogo which takes three days. Departure times and dates are irregular. For this you will need a permit from the police station (which is free). You will need to take all your own food, drink and sleeping equipment. Good luck, as the boat is an old Greek car ferry and not exactly luxurious!

How do you get to Corisco?

You jump on a SOMAGEC cargo ship from Cogo. It's free but you need a permit from the police station. The ship can only dock in Corisco at high tide, so it leaves Cogo three or four hours before high tide. Check locally for times. Corisco is amazing and from there you can get speedboats to Libreville for 10,000CFA or rent a boat and visit Elobey Grande and Elobey Chico!

Is Equatorial Guinea expensive?

In short: yes. Don't expect value for money, especially when paying for accommodation. You'll be lucky to find anywhere for cheaper than 25,000CFA in Malabo or Bata, and at that price point you're not going to be staying in a very nice hotel! If you cannot stay with friends or a contact, I would recommend checking out Couchsurfing or Airbnb before you arrive. Failing that, it's going to be expensive.

Outside Malabo and Bata accommodation options are limited, but less expensive. In some provincial areas I found a room with a bed and a fan for 5000CFA per night, which is good value. Bring your own sleeping bag as the sheets tend to be musty. For 40,000CFA you can stay in a nice air conditioned room with en-suite, hot water, fridge and satellite TV etc. in most cities outside Malabo and Bata. An ok room with no AC will set you back between 15,000 and 20,000CFA.

If anyone's interested, the photos are here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100990499682859.1073741842.36812366&type=1&l=f860d5fa35

Any questions, let me know!
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Re: Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

Postby coldharvest » Thu Nov 27, 2014 8:41 pm

Nice one
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Re: Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

Postby south_sea_bubble » Sun Nov 30, 2014 5:38 pm

"the worst place in Africa for it."

What in your opinion is the worst?
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Re: Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

Postby Ozymandias » Mon Dec 01, 2014 2:55 pm

south_sea_bubble wrote:"the worst place in Africa for it."

What in your opinion is the worst?


I've had far more hassle in Africa! In no particular order my list of shame would include:

1. Angola's Rapid Intervention Police (the Luanda Ninjas)
2. Guinea's traffic police in Conakry (although this was a few years ago)
3. The frontier border control in Guinea Bissau
4. Security forces in the Kivus (Democratic Republic of Congo)

In all these cases I was not so much subtly requested to pay a bribe, as extorted at gunpoint.
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Re: Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

Postby buffybot_in_beirut » Thu Dec 11, 2014 10:14 pm

Ozymandias wrote:I visited:
Bioko - including Malabo, Riaba, Moka, Luba, Batete.
Mainland - including Bata, Rio Campo, Mbini, Acalayong, Cogo, Monte Alen, Niefang, Micomeseng, Ebebiyin, Nsong, Mongomo, Oyala (Djibloho), Nsork, Aconibe, Evinayong.
Corisco Island
Annobon Island


Ha! I win! I've been to Elobey Chico, you haven't!
Well, maybe I don't win because you've been to Annobon. Could kill you for that. I backpacked around Equatorial Guinea in 1995. Annobon was that impossible-to-reach, luring island I just wanted to set foot on even though I was convinced there would be nothing to see. Back then the only option to get there was a ferry that ran every couple of months, or you could theoretically charter a plane for USD 5000 or 10000 or whatever. Guess now it's all easier with the new airport and scheduled (gasp) flights! At least back in 1995 - before the oil boom - you could still get a tourist visa quite easily. But even then it was one of the weirdest, most challenging, but also most fascinating countries in Africa.

Congratulations, and I think I'll buy the book even if I might never visit again...
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Re: Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

Postby Ozymandias » Fri Dec 12, 2014 7:27 am

Elobey Chico? Good work! I went past it and the big brother on the ferry, but never got out there. Shame because I heard there are some interesting ruins out there, German trading posts or something? Read about it in this article: http://ojs.gc.cuny.edu/index.php/lljour ... /1331/1398

Annobon is ok to get to now. You can either jump on the SOMAGEC boat from Cogo which takes three days, or you can buy a ticket with Ceiba for about €160. Only a 90 minute flight, and yes, the new airport is beautiful (but overkill given it only accommodates that one flight per week!)

Visiting in 1995 sounds like an incredible trip, before everything changed. Do you have any photos? I'd love to see what Bata and Malabo were like before the oil boom.
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Re: Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

Postby buffybot_in_beirut » Fri Dec 12, 2014 3:21 pm

Elobey Chico was densely forested. I found a small jetty of unknown age (no more than a few metres long), a few gravestones (including a sailor's with, surprisingly, English inscriptions) and the ruined shell of a two-storey building so covered in vegetation that I only noticed it as I was about to run into its wall. I was armed with a historical map copied out of a book at the SOAS library and I recall I went to EC because the article alongside mentioned its interesting history. By contrast, there did not seem to be much to see on E. Grande. Corisco was too far and too expensive to get to, plus I did not fancy crossing miles of open ocean in a dugout. (A few weeks earlier I had had a slighly scary canoe crossing in wind and rain from Sao Tome to Ilheu das Rolas.)

I was nowhere near a pioneer though. Have you read the mini-essay "Tourist visa no. 001"? It's in the EG chapter of a mid-1980s "Africa on a Shoestring." Hilarious.

All my photos are slides, but I have the equpiment to scan them. Maybe I can gather a sample of emblematic shots. PM me your e-mail in the next few days, before I return to my workplace overseas where my BFC access is double-censored by the BFC website settings (which think I am a spammer in China or Burma - both wrong...) and my employer ("Websense", that dictators' favourite toy - need I say more?).
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Re: Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

Postby south_sea_bubble » Fri Jan 09, 2015 5:07 am

I met a EG diplomat recently. He held a junior diplomatic title (second secretary) although he appeared to be about 50. So he must have been some flunky sent away to Beijing on a nepotic connection.

He was the most unconsciously rude person I've met. The whole time we were talking he ate and sprayed his food out of his mouth all over the place with casual ease. If that's what their diplomats are like at formal events...
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Re: Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

Postby ReptilianKittenEater » Thu Jan 15, 2015 3:42 am

great stuff.
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Re: Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

Postby Ozymandias » Tue Apr 21, 2015 3:33 pm

If anyone's interested in keeping up to date with the guidebook (I just finished the final draft) check out the Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/BradtEGguide
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Re: Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

Postby coldharvest » Tue Apr 21, 2015 11:12 pm

Superb.
Cheers for that.
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Re: Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

Postby Ozymandias » Tue Dec 01, 2015 7:24 am

Finally published and available to buy in ebook and print versions from here: http://www.bradtguides.com/shop/equatorial-guinea.html. Grab a copy before the EG government collects them up and has a book burning!
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Re: Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

Postby RYP » Sun Dec 06, 2015 6:21 am

How is is selling?. Great book. Tiny country.
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Re: Trip Report: ALL of Equatorial Guinea - November 2014

Postby Ozymandias » Sun Dec 06, 2015 5:35 pm

About as well as you'd expect for a country with less tourists than Libya or Afghanistan! Hopefully things will pick up in the run-up to Christmas. What better stocking filler?
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