Guinea, one of the world’s top 10 least visited countries, certainly doesn’t deserve the title. After spending a week here in late 2021, I can only say that I am totally amazed by the country.
Perhaps it started with low expectations. After a somewhat sour time in Guinea-Bissau, and having heard somewhat negative testimonials about Guinea “Conakry” (as some people call it to differentiate between the two), we expected the worst.
Why does Guinea (Conakry) have a bad reputation?
When you look into the negative reports, they often pertain mostly to overland travel into Guinea. There’s no lie there; it is really tough getting into the country by land.
If 14+ hours of driving isn’t enough, much of it on terrible roads during the dry season that turn into a pig’s paradise during the rainy season, you have corruption to deal with. A few police stops and bribes and you’ll make it through eventually.
And when you do finally make it to Conakry and feel that grin of satisfaction slowly emerge onto your face, reality sets in. Conakry, having only two main roads, has some of the worst traffic you’ve ever seen. It ain’t over just yet.
And one thing about West Africa: never trust Google maps time estimates.
That’s the fun of traveling across West Africa.
How we avoided most of the headache of traveling into Guinea
Traveling to Guinea doesn’t have to be a nightmare. There are a couple ways you can alleviate the bulk of the pain associated with it.
Private transportation and why it’s not perfect
One way to reduce the headache is to get private transportation from one country to another, or until the border and then from the other side of it.
But that can be very costly, and it doesn’t get rid of the corrupt police going through your suitcases or smoothen out the potholes on the road.
The main benefits of private transportation are:
- Air conditioning and being able to keep the windows closed and dust out
- Not being crowded into a hot, smelly, old van with 10 other people
- Saving valuable time and complication with switching vans, waiting for them to fill up, or having to take mototaxis
A better option: flying into the country
Those looking for adventure can skip this part. Though there is some West African corruption that seeps even into the airport experience (like we had in Bissau), flying is by far the most headache-free way into Guinea.
Between private transportation and flying, the costs are probably not so different – especially when you consider possible loss of prized possessions at corrupt police stops. We weren’t willing to give that to chance.
So we obtained our Guinea E-Visa online, both receiving a response the next day (though my partner’s was denied multiple times for image upload issues). After arrival, we proceeded to customs to get stamped in, and then were directed to a “Visa on Arrival” booth. Strangely enough, this requires turning around after getting stamped in.
At the booth, they simply take a picture and your fingerprints, and print out a Multiple Entry visa that lasts a couple years. Nice and simple.
There was a “health check”; the usual stuff; temperature checks, Covid test check, etc. before getting into customs.
The airport is located about halfway down the “corniche” of Conakry, which is a pretty ideal location. In fact, many locals use it as a reference point for directions. Overall, flying into Conakry is super easy – even during Covid-19.
Everything you need to see in Guinea
Before knocking it as a country of far and few, give it a chance.
Since tourism is not very well developed in Guinea, the usual tools – Google, TripAdvisor, etc. – don’t work as well here. That means you’re going to have to go by word of mouth and ask the locals, just like in the old days.
Time to be social, kid!
But hey, if you want to remain introverted, much like I am, here are the top spots to visit in the wonderful country of Guinea.
What to visit around Conakry, Guinea
Guinea’s capital, Conakry, is a busy and crowded complex of artisans selling homemade furniture, residential areas filled with towering apartment buildings, pharmacies lighting the streets green, mototaxis mixed with old French taxi cars buzzing by, and a whole lot of traffic jams.
Its traditional center, called Kaloum, is where you’ll find many hotels and restaurants – though it has a less local feel than much of the rest of Conakry.
We much preferred the residential area of Kipé for its more authentic, laidback feel. In any case, here’s what you can and should visit from Conakry;
Iles de Los
The wonderful islands of Los, situated about a 30-45 minute boat ride from the Kaloum district of Conakry, are a local favorite.
Often visited over the weekend, these dazzling islands offer a more laidback, fishing-town feel. You won’t be disappointed by the seafood here.
These islands are known for their long, and unfortunately sad history. They were important during the slave trade era but also used as a prison, boat repair factory, and even as an inspiration for Treasure Island.
To get there, you can take a “pirogue”, or small wooden canoe (with an engine) to Roume, Tamara, or Kassa. You will have to negotiate the price – expect to pay between 700K-1.5M GNF ($65-140 USD) total for a private pirogue round trip.
Markets of Conakry
The bustling and buzzing markets of Conakry offer some of the most spectacular handiwork in all of Africa.
Unlike many other markets with thousands of identical products shipped from China, the markets in Conakry primarily house high-quality and local crafts, furniture, and art for reasonable prices.
Some of the best markets you need to see in Conakry include:
- Le Bambou near Kipé, a large shop with incredible woodwork such as intricate chairs, beautiful masks, and incredible decorations
- The Marché Madina for a taste of local life. Not many touristy products here, but a good perspective on what it’s like to live here
- Maison du Meuble to see some of the finest wooden furniture such as headrests, nightstands, couches, and more
- Kobayah Marché, a super busy and crowded local market with small goods, snacks, and colorful clothing
- Makity in Lambagui for a truly local fish and crab market
Soumba Cascades and Mountain
About a 1.5-2 hour drive from the center of Conakry are a couple of tremendously beautiful waterfalls and cascades surrounded by unique, stunning volcanic mountains seemingly jutting out of the otherwise flat land.
Locals love to visit the Soumba cascades on weekends and after going there myself, I totally understand why.
Soumba makes a pristine natural swimming pool and exceptionally beautiful cascade for a fun afternoon. There are even naturally carved ‘seats’ under the cascades for the perfect secluded chilling-out area.
We paid 25000GNF per person, which is about $2.50.
The local market also makes for a great spot to stop for snacks and just to admire the countryside.
Beaches of Bel-Air
A little bit further down the road towards Guinea-Bissau, before it turns to complete crap, is the quaint town of Bel-Air and it’s fabulous beaches.
Lined with small local hotels and seafood serving restaurants, Bel-Air is a great place to wind down after a fun day or adventure.
For more adventure, head to Kamsar and hire a local pirogue, or canoe to explore the river and even go fishing.
Where to stay in Conakry, Guinea
Maybe surprising for one of the least visited countries on the planet, Conakry actually hosts a plethora of great hospitality options – from 5 star resorts to super cheap local B&B’s. Here are my favorites:
The nicest hotel in Conakry: The Sheraton Grand Conakry
One of few 5-star hotels in Conakry, the Sheraton Grand boasts a phenomenal sea view from oversized balconies with a pool, spa, and 4 restaurants.
You can expect the Royal treatment at a less-than-Royal price.
The best mid-range hotel in Conakry: Hotel Petit Bateau
With its ideal location right on a jetty in downtown Kaloum, Conakry, the Hotel Petit Bateau sports less formal but still charming accommodation and service.
Most importantly, the price: quality ratio here is impressive.
The best cheap hotel in Conakry: Maison D’Aceuil
At only $17 per night, Maison D’Aceuil offers simple, private rooms with showers and air conditioning for those on a budget.
What to visit around Kindia, Guinea
Located less than 4 hours outside the capital of Conakry, Kindia is a small town with a couple of hotels and not terribly interesting of itself.
However, the nature surrounding Kindia is quite spectacular. It makes for great hiking, swimming, and exploring.
This long, thin waterfall is known as Kindia’s forgotten treasure. It’s a great place for a picnic – and a shower.
The site itself is an abandoned hotel surrounded by forests of bamboo, and it’s a great place to cool down on a hot day.
Kilissi Falls is the bigger, madder waterfall of Kindia. More well-known and visited, Kilissi offers a wide, stunningly gorgeous cascade and great natural swimming pool.
There is an entrance fee for Kilissi Falls – at the time it was 5000 GNF ($0.50) per person.
There’s a cute hotel here with private rooms for those looking to enjoy the site just a tad longer.
Where to stay in Kindia, Guinea
There’s one place I’d highly recommend, it’s called Les Eaux de Kilissi and it’s located right at the waterfall!
You can stay in a cute hut with a mosquito net over your bed and enjoy the sounds of the jungle putting you to sleep.
What to visit around Labe, Guinea
A frequent stop for those traveling by land from Guinea-Bissau to Conakry, Labe is a cute town surrounded by impressive topography on the midlands of Guinea.
Perhaps the most spectacular falls in all of Guinea, if not West Africa, Kinkon (not King Kong) is a must see.
You can easily visit on a day trip from Labe or Pita by hiring (and negotiating) a taxi driver for about 100-300K GNF ($10-30 USD) for the day.
There’s a special viewpoint from the lower Kambadaga falls. It’s a moderately difficult hike to the falls – especially on the way down – but it’s totally worth it. Watch out; the hike to Kambadaga does become a bit treacherous in the rainy season.
On the way, you’ll see and hear baboons, birds, insects, and other animals hiding in the dense tropical forests.
This cute town, just outside the Kambadaga waterfalls, makes a fantastic place to stay the night.
Pita offers cute restaurants, lovely small markets, and nice little B&B’s for some great rest deep in nature.
La Dame du Mali
Almost on the border with – nope, not Mali – Senegal (ok, not that far from Mali either) is this strange natural piece of art.
This jutting rock appears to look exactly like a lady, or “dame” for short in French (from “madame”).
Quite an interesting sight.
Where to stay near Labe, Guinea
There aren’t many options near Labe, but Hotel Djamtum (+224620025530) offers spacious, cleans rooms and even has hot running water.
Reviews here rave about the owner, Roger, and his warm welcome to the area.
What to see between Guinea and Liberia
For those looking to continue the adventure into Liberia (or perhaps Sierra Leone), there are a couple highlights worth visiting.
National Park of Upper Niger (River)
An expansive protected reserve of inlets, savannah, forests, and tons of exotic animals, the upper Niger River is where it all begins.
2,600 miles of river extending over almost all of West Africa.
At the National Park of Upper Niger, you can find mongoose, giant forest hogs, caracals, chimpanzees, giant pangolins, hares, and more.
Nimba Mountain Range
Right at the border between Guinea, Liberia, and Côte D’Ivoire is the fabulous Nimba mountain range.
These dramatic mountains, reaching over 1750 meters (5500ft) of elevation, offer fabulous valley views, fantastic hikes, refreshingly cold weather, and lots of exotic wildlife.
It’s the perfect place for nature lovers.
Getting around Conakry
As the city of Conakry has no official public transportation, visitors might not know how they can get around town. But it’s actually quite easy;
A generally more fun way to get around Conakry, mototaxis have their advantages and disadvantages;
- Cheapest way to get around
- Plenty of mototaxis around Conakry, they’re very easy to find
- They get around more quickly since they’re smaller
- They have limited distances and routes, so you may need to take more than one
- You will get very dusty, hot, and sweaty as they are open-air
- They can be crowded
Private taxis in Conakry are a more expensive way to get around, but certainly more comfortable and quick. Taxis generally cost 25K GNF per person ($2.50 USD), maybe more if you’re white or appear touristy.
Shared taxis are a great, cheaper alternative to getting around Conakry as you split the cost. However, they work like a public bus does in other cities; from one specific spot to another with stops in between.
We were able to ride one for only 3K GNF per person ($0.30 USD). Note that they do fill up.
Another way to get around Conakry is to rent a car. You can find rental cars for $60-100 USD per day, for everything from a moto to a 4×4.
However, rental cars tend to be in bad condition and driving around town can be very hectic.
Getting around Guinea
Getting around the country of Guinea can seem daunting and complicated. That’s because it is.
By far the easiest way around the country – but also the most expensive – private transportation can be arranged with taxi drivers, hotel operators, or even companies such as Black Cab Guinea.
A cheaper alternative is to join in on a shared taxi (usually a minivan) from one city to another until you reach destination. However, these take awhile to leave as they always wait to fill up.
They tend to be hot, crowded, and uncomfortable. And as a tourist, you’ll likely pay more than others.
Mototaxis are a great alternative for shorter distances where the roads are notoriously bad, such as the stretch between Gandembel and Boke.
You will need to pay extra for river crossings on wooden bark ships.
Guinea Travel Requirements/Restrictions
In general, the best way to find the latest travel restrictions is using the US Embassy website. As of December 2021:
- You need negative PCR test results within 72 hours of arrival, vaccinated or not
There is a note about “people coming from countries with certain variants” getting tested on arrival in Guinea, but in practice this doesn’t happen. We never saw or heard of it.
Getting a covid-19 test in Guinea (Conakry)
We found that it is very easy to get an RT-PCR Covid-19 test in Guinea.
- A good idea is to sign up for your Covid test appointment online. A local phone number is required.
- Head to an EcoBank, preferably the one in downtown Kaloum, with 650,000 GNF (equivalent to $65 USD) and your passport to pay in advance for your test. Note: we were able to pay a local driver an extra 50K ($5) per person to go pay for us so we didn’t have to go to the bank.
- Head to the “Palais du Peuple” before 2PM for your test. Bring your passport and a local phone number where you will receive your results.
We were told it would take 2 days (by 11AM the second day after our test) to receive the results, but we received them the next afternoon around 4PM.
The results were sent to our local phone number, with a website and test ID to download a PDF.
We hired a local mototaxi driver to pick up our results for 50K GNF, but you can also just go yourself. He went in the evening and had to negotiate to get the results – try to go before 5PM if you can.
Guinea: a country you need to visit
Our experience in Guinea proves that you should never judge a book by its cover.
We shouldn’t have based our expectations on our poor experience in Guinea-Bissau. Instead, we should have been open to new adventures with no preconceived biases.
Guinea ended up being one of our favorite countries in West Africa; not only is it magnificently beautiful with lots to offer, the people here are amazingly friendly and welcoming. It’s truly heartwarming to feel like people want you to be here and love sharing their country and culture.