If it’s your first time in Africa, nothing can really prepare you for Guinea Conakry. However, it’s always with great pleasure to witness Conakry convert more people into visitors and continue to beat the odds time and time again. Because let’s be honest, foreigners often come (if they come at all) with their bias' and clichés packed as excess weight in their suitcases. But thankfully, they let go of them quickly after properly experiencing Guinea’s charm.
A Few Things to Know
Home to empires like the Manding, Sosso, Baga and Fulani that shaped West African history, Guinée also boasts a stunning array of landscapes between coasts, mountains, forests, savanna, and unique wildlife. Our unique cultural blend have bred a nation of tolerant, welcoming and open minded people who are attached to their traditions, but have also mastered the sense of community among an entity.
National Languages: French, Fulani, Susu and Mandingo
Climate: Tropical and highly humid. Rainy season lasts from May to October, avoid visiting during this time.
Currency: Guinean Franc (GNF)
Conakry is a dynamic city but unfortunately the public transportation system isn't particularly developed. Though private cars are abundantly available and popular among newcomers, it's still pretty easy to get around town with taxis or moto-taxis. Local taxis here are unique in that they will pick up multiple people (sometimes as many as 5-8) during a ride. You can of course ask for a "déplacement" where you essentially buy out all the seats in the taxi for privacy. Also, don’t forget to negotiate the price of the ride with the drivers before you even get in or you'll find yourself paying 3x more than you should.
As far as moto-taxis, take these at your own risk. While they can sometimes a bit intimidating (especially since the city roads are quite bumpy), they actually become very handy in situations where you are in a rush or can’t bear to sit in 3-4 rush hour traffic anymore.
You’ll often hear or see that Conakry isn’t the best ambassador of Guinea because to be honest, the city itself is a bit dirty. To properly see and experience the beauty of this country, I strongly encourage you to get out of Conakry to experience far more exciting and beautiful places. A few options include:
1. Spend the day at Ile Room or exploring any one of the other 7 islands just off the coast of the city.
2. A day trip exploring the beaches of Boffa or Bel Air.
3. A day trip to Bondabon where you can climb Mount Le Chien qui Fume and visit Les Cascades de la Soumba.
4. A weekend trip at Lake Koba for its tranquility and natural beauty.
5. A long weekend to the historic Fouta Djallon region to go on hikes, visit the waterfalls, and stay at the old colonial hotel in Dalaba.
Where to Stay
1. Noom: There are quite a few reasons to love Noom, but my favorite is definitely it's breathtaking view of the Atlantic ocean and its infinity pool. It has a very cozy boutique feel, is centrally located and offers incredible drinks (I recommend the Passion Fruit or Champagne mojitos - SO GOOD). They also have one of the best Sunday brunches in town, offering fresh oysters and fantastic deserts.
2. Sheraton Grand: Close to Conakry's international airport, one of my favorite things about the Sheraton is its restaurant PAIRED, which happily marries guinean and global flavors. It also offers a beautiful (more spacious but less modern than Noom) infinity pool view of the Atlantic, with a well equipped gym club and a spa that are well worth visiting. Since the president sometimes stays here, the prices here are definitely high. The hotel can also sometimes feel very bureaucratic and corporate, but their service and quality definitely make up for it.
3. Millenium: Another venue in my good books which is perfectly sited between the suburban area and downtown. The rooftop terrace is also the best place to enjoy finger foods or sushi while shimmying to the DJ’s playlist and is one of my favorite spots catch Guinea’s magical sunset. Their lovely setting is also very inviting, boasting a beautiful lush garden.
4. Palm Camayenne is another great option, and was actually the first major hotel built in Guinea. They also face the Atlantic and are the only hotel to actual have access to a private and clean sand beach. Their breakfast is quite lovely and the owners are really great at organizing music events and a legendary new years party. This is one of another favorite place to watch the sun set.
5. If you're on a budget but don’t want to compromise on comfort, both Riviera Royal and M’Lys can be your sweet spot for a quick stay. Riviera has some insanely beautiful decor, food (their menu is one of my favorite across all the hotels), and super friendly staff. M'Lys has a great rooftop bar, a nice menu and is embedded into a lively local neighborhood. But keep in mind there is a mosque near by, so you will surely be woken up by the Muezzin.
Where to Eat
1. Mille Pattes is an interesting place with an eclectic decorum between recycled plane seats and cooking pots as chairs among. The menu revolves around seafood, barbecued meats and local dishes, and their prices are perfect for any budget. I highly recommend the brochettes de Lotte with a bissap + ginger mix to drink.
2. Converted from an ancient colonial villa into a french restaurant, Le Damier, has been an institution in Conakry for over a quarter of century. Starting off as a bakery, Le Damier caters a fixed lunch service that is ALWAYS delicious. The daily specials are presented on a cart for you to chose from, and although it’s almost always French, they always add a savory guinean dish for their customers craving something different. Le Damier is on the pricier side, but it’s always money well spent.
3. Obama Café is hands down the best fresh seafood in town, with great customer service at a reasonable price. This restaurant is a bit unique in that it's build on wooden stilts and cradled by the sea, so it's in constant motion which allows easy access to the fishermen nearby. Enjoy their Gambas (prawns) or lobster with your toes planted in the sand while sipping on fresh coconuts. Honestly, the relaxing vibe is inescapable.
4. From Kipé to Ratoma you’ll generally notice the sides of the roads littered with stalls emitting a bouquet of aromatic smells - Conakry’s street food. It’s the ideal area for a quick yet filling bite to eat, with dishes like roasted meat or chicken. It's typically served on paper with grilled onions, a spicy dip and bread all for super cheap prices. Also the party people and night owls will be pleased to stumble upon them since they’re open up till 6-7a.m.
5. Pretty much self-explanatory, Afrikana, is an African restaurant which celebrates not only guinean cuisine, but also senegalese, Malian and Ivorians. Located in Manquepas, next to the anglican church, it’s the place we recommend for the best afro cuisine experience in Conakry. The service can be slow, and the place crowded during lunch time, but we read that as a sign of freshness and quality. Ask a bottle of bissap or gingembre to take away too because they’re too delicious and probably the best in town!
6. If you have a sweet tooth like me, then you'll definitely want to stop by Amoré Mio for best ice cream you'll find throughout Conakry. They have two locations (Marché de Mille and Avenue Plaza) and I strongly recommend the Salted Caramel, Hazelnut, and Crème Brûlée. So good!
1. Fougou Fougou Faga Faga - If you're a fan of African music, you'll love this evening spot where locals and expats go to enjoy live music.
2. Le Petit Musee - This cultural center that has provided the city with 15 years of exhibitions, concerts, and theater in a cozy open air setting.
3. Centre Culturel Franco Guinéen is a great cultural space that fosters art and creativity in local talent.
As with many West African cities, Conakry has a bustling nightlife that typically starts around midnight to 1 AM. For a great night out, I recommend:
For After Hours (from 4am on): Alizé
Written in partnership with Marie-Louise Mathos
Photography by Lee Litumbe
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