Equatorial Guinea is a small country in West Africa, divided into two parts, the mainland and the islands. The mainland is wedged between Cameroon and Gabon. Unique among sub-Saharan countries, it was a Spanish colony, whose only other African colony was Western Sahara. It is one of the largest oil producers in Sub-Sahara, behind Angola and Nigeria.
|Río Muni (Bata)|
all of the mainland
island in the Gulf of Guinea, includes the capital city
small island between Sao Tome Island and Principe Island out in the Atlantic
- 1 Malabo - the capital, on Bioko
- 2 Bata - the major city on the mainland
- Ebebiyin - a major access point in the far northeast corner
- Luba - another town on Bioko
- Monte Alén National Park - fantastic fauna in the center of the mainland
|Currency||Central African CFA franc (XAF)|
|Population||1.2 million (2015)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Type E)|
|Emergencies||112 (emergency medical services), 115 (fire department), 113 (police), 114 (police)|
|edit on Wikidata|
For travellers, Equatorial Guinea is infamous for its high prices and hard-to-get visas, at least for non-Americans. This is nominally a police state, akin to Turkmenistan and North Korea (minus the minders and organized persecution of its inhabitants). As a result, tourist infrastructure is sparse and it is not a high priority for the government. You are likely to face harassment by police forces curious of what you are doing in the country as a "tourist". Since the oil companies operating here are mostly American, Americans may receive marginally better treatment compared to other nationalities (e.g. visa-free entry, less suspicion by police).
Since the discovery of oil, Equatorial Guinea has—at least on paper—one of the highest per-capita incomes on the planet. Despite this, income and day-to-day life for many Equatorial Guineans has improved little, due to the endemic corruption siphoning off oil revenue into the hands of a small wealthy elite. Progress is moving along, though, and new infrastructure and modernization projects are under construction or even finished, especially on Bioko and around Malabo. And of course, what dictator's realm would be complete without a vast, lavish capital? Work is in progress (2016) building this new city, called Oyala or Djibloho, on the mainland between Bata and Mongomo. In spite of the impressive-looking new infrastructure, few Equatorial Guineans have access to it, and while the government throws billions of dollars at new construction, less than half the country's population (of fewer than 700,000) have access to clean drinking water. Multi-lane highways and vast new squares in Malabo remain empty.
In the Rio Muni region, there is believed to have been a widespread pygmy population, of whom only isolated pockets remain in the north. Bantu migrations between the 17th and 19th centuries brought the coastal tribes and later the Fang.
The Portuguese explorer Fernão do Pó, seeking a path to India, is credited as being the first European to discover the island of Bioko in 1472. He called it Formosa ("Beautiful"), but it quickly took on the name of its European discoverer. The islands of Fernando Pó and Annobón were colonized by Portugal in 1474.
In 1778, the island, adjacent islets, and commercial rights to the mainland between the Niger River and Ogoue Rivers were ceded to the Spanish Empire in exchange for territory in the American continent. From 1827 to 1843, the United Kingdom established a base on the island to combat the slave trade which was then moved to Sierra Leone upon agreement with Spain in 1843. In 1844, on restoration of Spanish sovereignty, it became known as the Territorios Españoles del Golfo de Guinea Ecuatorial. The mainland portion, Rio Muni, became a protectorate in 1885 and a colony in 1900. Between 1926 and 1959 all three regions were united as the colony of Spanish Guinea. Spanish settlers arrived and created plantations in the colony.
Paradoxically, the fascist regime of Francisco Franco allowed a short-lived experiment in democracy before independence. Equatorial Guinea gained independence from Spain in October 1968. Since then, it has been ruled by two men. Francisco Macías Nguema, the first president, was a brutal dictator who despised intellectuals, killed a large number of the ethnic Bubi minority, banned fishing, and awarded himself a huge number of grandiose titles (including President for Life). He was overthrown by Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in 1979 and later captured and executed by shooting. Obiang's rule has been less violent, but his regime is still brutally repressive. Political power is centralised in his small mainland clan, and most senior members of the government are related. The discovery of oil reserves offshore in 1996 has brought considerable wealth to the country, giving it one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world, yet much of the money goes into the hands of a thuggish and corrupt government, with the vast majority of the people remaining very poor.
Equatorial Guinea has two distinctive and very pronounced seasons: rainy and dry seasons. April to October are the wettest months of the year, and December to March are the driest.
The major ethnic groups are the Fang of the mainland and the Bubi of Bioko Island. Sorcerers are still among the most important community. The abira ceremony that helps cleanse the community of evil is fascinating.
Equatorial Guinea recognises the major Christian holidays. 12 October is Independence Day.
This is one of the hardest countries in the world to get a visa to. Citizens of the United States, China (including Hong Kong and Macau) and, perhaps surprisingly, Barbados, do not require a visa, but do need the following to present when entering: two visa applications, two passport photos, bank statement noting a minimum of USD2,000 in your account, as well as proof of yellow fever and cholera vaccinations. In Washington DC, the fee for the visa is USD100.
Citizens of other countries must submit to an Equatorial Guinean embassy all of the above, plus passport and letter of invitation. If the stars are properly aligned this might be enough to receive a visa.
There are two paved airports, one a few miles from Malabo (SSG IATA), and one in Bata (BSG IATA). The country's main airline is Ecuato Guineana de Aviación, which operates national and international flights from Malabo International Airport.
Other airlines flying to Malabo airport include Iberia (from Madrid), JetAir (from Gatwick airport in London), Air France (from Paris) Swiss (from Zurich), and Lufthansa flies direct from Frankfurt to Malabo.
The capital is on an island. However, the mainland may be accessed from Gabon via paved (tarmac) roads and from Cameroon via dirt tracks (inaccessible in rainy season). Many roads in EG, however, are in a very dilapidated state (even for West Africa), and a 4x4 is necessary many months of the year. There are other roads that have been newly constructed.
The entry from Campo can be often closed. Also, the entry from Kye-Ossi and Ebebiyin may deny entry for visa-free Americans if sufficient reason for entry is not presented or if one is not ethnically Caucasian.
Extortion by security forces is not uncommon in Equatorial Guinea, even to the level of local police exacting bribes for trumped-up traffic violations.
Equatorial Guinea has 3 official languages: Spanish, French and Portuguese. The colonial language is Spanish, and the country is also a member of La Francophonie. There is an Anglophone population in Bioko that is historically linked to British commerce on the island. Languages such as French and Portuguese are of official use in the country as well. English is spoken by few people, even in the capital city. The Fang language and Igbo are widely spoken.
There are lots of beaches. Take the precautions listed in the 'Stay Safe' category.
Exchange rates for CFA francs
As of January 2020:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency of the country is the Central African CFA franc, denoted FCFA (ISO currency code: XAF). It's also used by five other Central African countries. It is interchangeable at par with the West African CFA franc (XOF), which is used by six countries. Both currencies are fixed at a rate of 1 euro = 655.957 CFA francs.
You can withdraw money with a Mastercard or Visa card at any Ecobank ATM in Equatorial Guinea.
Everything is extremely expensive in Equatorial Guinea. A decent room with very limited amenities (bring all the necessary stuff like towel, soap, and shampoo as the hotel may not have any) will be in the range of €100-400. A simple lunch will cost at least €30 (without drinks like wine, beer or soft drinks) in a clean and air-conditioned restaurant.
There are several good places to go to eat particularly in Malabo. The coffee shop at Hotel Sofitel (across from the Cathedral along the north coast) offers French cuisine. Hotel Bahia's main restaurant is also a favourite destination for locals and expats. For pizza and pasta, the Pizza Place is the best place in town. For Asian cuisine, Restaurante Bantu offers authentic Chinese cuisine. For Moroccan and other European food, try La Luna. Try Equatorial Guinean cuisine such a smoked beef with a black pepper. There is also a roast duck with cheese and onion leaf.
Ebebiyin is known for its many bars. They drink a lot of wine. Locally produced beer, Guineana is very good.
Due to the influx of foreign workers and foreign investment in Malabo and on the continent, there is an ample choice of hotels.
Taking photos of any government properties is strictly prohibited without permission. Don't photograph airports, government buildings, or anything of military or strategic value. Local folks including children are generally averse to foreigners taking their picture. As a general rule, don't bring a camera while walking around town as this can cause real trouble with the police. A permit from the Ministry of Information and Tourism used to be necessary to take photographs in public. Although this requirement has been lifted, police may unknowingly or not attempt to fine or even arrest persons trying to take photographs.
Equatorial Guinea has tropical weather and is normally very hot. It is best to wear lightweight clothing. Avoid wearing dark colors due to mosquito concerns.
Despite being a country with enough resources and the highest economic growth in Africa, Equatorial Guinea does not provide any legal certainty for foreigners working there.
Local people are very hospitable and have a certain familiarity for everything related to Spain, as the country was a Spanish province until 1968. In addition, half of the country's population emigrated to Spain between 1966 and the 1990s.
You must visit with a guide and need special permits in some locations. Consult the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. An organized tour is recommended to avoid unpleasant situations with military checkpoints on the roads especially in the island of Bioko, where the presence of Westerners is obvious and therefore the risk is particularly evident.
Food and water: There are no 'potable' or clean water sources in Equatorial Guinea. Travellers should drink only bottled water. Take care when consuming any fruits or vegetables that may have been washed or drinks that may contain ice cubes or 'water' additives such as coffee, tea, or lemonade.
Wear shoes: Beaches in Malabo and Bata are beautiful, however, due to discarded trash and unsafe sand bugs, it is a good idea to always wear shoes. This applies to walking on carpeted areas as well.
Malaria medicine: Malaria is a leading cause of death in this country. It is advised that visitors consult their doctor for malaria tablets. Plasmodium falciparum malaria is the most common strain in EG; it is resistant to the anti-malarial drug chloroquine.
According to the US embassy, the La Paz Hospitals in Bata and Malabo are the only two in the country to meet the medical standards of a hospital in a developed country.