Equatorial Guinea Tours
As Seen in…
Places to visit in Equatorial Guinea and on our West Africa tours
Why visit Equatorial Guinea?
A pinprick of 28,000 km² on the map of mighty Africa, Equatorial Guinea boasts the title as richest country per capita in the continent, albeit wealth that is poorly redistributed amongst its 1.3 million population. Yet to the visitor this landscape seems one which has barely seen more than the first scratches on the surface of an extraordinarily well preserved ecosystem.
Indeed, throughout its history, its potential and the scarcity of a labour-force has been a constant contradiction which has held the nation in check; for the avid explorer of untainted regions of the natural world this is a boon which delivers a tour of a land of countless endemic species and a true sense of standing in almost primeval settings. Early history saw sparse populations of pygmy tribes, succeeded by small-scale Bantu migration around 500 B.C.. These peoples crossed to Bioko’s islands only in about 530 A.D. – in fact the islands themselves have only been detached from the mainland for an evolutionary blink of 10,000 years.
First visited by Fernando-Pó in 1472, the island of Bioko was colonised by the Portuguese in 1474, bringing today’s Catholicism, European culture and, inevitably, disease. Named briefly ‘Formosa’ or ‘beautiful’, the colony struggled to meet its overlords’ expectations in productivity as the tropical climate proved a barrier to settlers. Consequently, it was ceded to Spain in 1778 – it remains the only African nation with Spanish as an official language – and became a key slaving base for transportation of abducted West Africans to Argentina, bringing wealth and impressive building projects from the original capital, Malabo’s cathedrals to Balété’s beautiful wooden church.
Slavery was abolished in 1817 and the first attempts to grow cocoa began at the hands of freed slaves. The indigenous people of Bioko, the Bubi, remained fiercely independent in the face of arriving wealthy planters and set up small scale productions themselves. By 1900, the mainland enclave of Rio Muni was added to the Spanish colony and then formal independence arrived in 1968. Since then, only two men – Maciás and Obiang – have ruled here in a sham democracy which, upon the arrival of Mobil to drill for oil in 1995, has increasingly creamed off the wealth for a privileged few.
However, the regime has its contradictions: it has actively sought to support US sponsored conservation projects such as Bioko Biodiversity Protection Project where the island’s coastal equatorial and montane forests, beaches and mangroves host gems such as nine endemic primates and nesting sites of critically endangered turtles. Again, the incomparable Monte Alen National Park offers naturalists unparalleled access to undisturbed rainforest, and whilst the 265 bird species – including several endemic warblers – goliath frogs and 65 reptile species are a delight, little study has yet been permitted of the dwindling groups of ultra-rare chimpanzees, western lowland gorillas and forest elephants.
Rio Muni, the capital, swells daily with the arrivals of foreign workers, drawn by the lure of oil wealth and the growing sense of the need to embrace tourism. Whether the landscape is protected or pilfered, time will tell, but for a fleeting moment, this is a destination which will deliver a unique and extraordinary insight into a clandestine corner of the globe.