When you travel to Guinea-Bissau you will come into contact with the West African CFA franc. This is their official currency, as is the case with several other countries in the western part of Africa.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
There are certainly plenty of coins available for this currency, which is represented by the ISO code XOF. All the coins are denominated in francs; there is a subunit known as the centime but there are no coins available in this denomination now. Instead you will come into contact with the 1, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 200, 250 and 500 franc coins. You can also use some banknotes in this currency, although there are noticeably fewer of them. They start from the 500 franc note and progress through to the 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 franc notes.
From past to present – the history of the Guinea-Bissau West African CFA franc
Impressively, this particular currency has been in use ever since the mid-Forties. The majority of countries that adopted the currency back then still use it now, although there have been some changes during the intervening years.
Indeed by contrast Guinea-Bissau has only adopted the franc as its official currency very recently in 1997. Before this the country used its own version of the peso. This must have taken a bit of getting used to, especially since 65 of their pesos equalled one of the new CFA francs.
How to get hold of the Guinea-Bissau West African CFA franc
It is usually pretty difficult to find this currency outside of the countries that use it. It isn’t typically available from bureaux de change so while you can ask, don’t be too surprised if they cannot get hold of it for you.
It is made more difficult by the fact that Guinea-Bissau doesn’t seem too willing to exchange traveller’s cheques either, so this doesn’t provide a good way to get some cash into the country. The best bet is to take cash in with you and to exchange it at a bank or bureau de change while you are there. This means it is a good idea to estimate what you will need while in the country. Cash machines are not easy to find and even credit cards aren’t that easy to use. You should be fine if you only plan to visit the capital, but don’t expect to be able to whip out a card to make payment with anywhere else. You should also watch out for the exchange rates and charges made if you do pay by credit card or try to withdraw cash on one.
So which currency is the best one to take into Guinea-Bissau with you? Namely the US dollar. Even here you need to be a little careful – it is recommended that smaller bills in good condition will be the best ones to have with you. It might seem a hassle but it is better to read through the above and be prepared than to get there and find you are stuck for cash.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Guinea-Bissau West African CFA franc
This can be done rather more easily than getting hold of the actual currency! All you need is to use your favourite currency converter. Most good ones will include the West African CFA franc so you shouldn’t have too much issue here. Be sure to use the correct ISO code though – XOF is correct in this case. There is also a Central African CFA franc with a very similar code – XAF – so be sure you don’t mistype it.
As always you should seek out the latest advice and information on Guinea-Bissau before booking a trip there. Even then it is wise to check up-to-date information before you leave. This can be done on the UK government website. The appropriate link is https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/guinea-bissau.
Travelling safely with the Guinea-Bissau West African CFA franc
There are two things to remember here – the main one is that the situation in the capital of Guinea could be very different to that in the country as a whole. The second is that the people here are not rich, so while crime is not a massive issue some might be tempted if they see a foreigner with lots of cash on them.
As such the main rule of thumb is to be sensible and responsible when you are thinking about how to cope during your stay. Make sure you do not make a big show of your valuables and keep all cash safely tucked away. Some people do split up their cash so they can keep smaller amounts in a larger selection of pockets. This might be worth doing just in case anyone tries to dip into a pocket.
Where to spend your francs in Guinea-Bissau – and what to spend them on
Guinea-Bissau is clearly an African country, but would you be able to find it on a map? It is on the western side of the country and has a border which faces just two other countries. These are Senegal to the north and Guinea to the east and south. The remainder of the border faces to the west and meets the Atlantic Ocean. Just off this coastline you will find the Bissagos Islands, otherwise known as the Bijagos archipelago.
The capital of the country is called Bissau and this is situated close to the coastline. Hundreds of thousands of people live here, and it is the most promising place in the whole country when it comes to getting cash or paying for things with a credit card. The city is still rebuilding and getting back on its feet following the civil war that took place here towards the end of the last century. However you should look out for the façade of Pensao Central since this is colonial in style and very attractive. Some buildings that were destroyed have now been rebuilt, while others still warrant some attention.
One thing you can usually rely on seeing in many parts of Africa is a plethora of national parks. Guinea-Bissau is no different in this respect. Indeed it has some great opportunities for you to visit some breath-taking parks, including the Orango Islands National Park. It was only established back in 2000 but it is settled on Orango Island itself, providing a wonderful experience away from the mainland. An even newer park is that of Cantanhez National Park, which has only been around since 2007.
You might also want to visit River Zoo Farm in Guinea-Bissau. You can even choose to stay here if you like, which could well be quite an experience. The farm covers 200 hectares, which is registered officially as a reserve for fauna. Many animals of all kinds of different species can be found here, while there are also a variety of nature tours you can indulge in. These are actually one of the best ways to learn more about the farm and the work that goes on there. It is a fascinating place to be and one that will likely stay in your mind long after you leave.
If you are keen on doing some shopping while in the country you will certainly have plenty of opportunities to do just that. There are many chances to buy souvenirs and other items in Bissau, the capital, although you can buy items in many other parts of the country as well. One of the nicest items you can buy is something made locally that depicts one of the many crafts that are practiced in the country. This makes for an excellent gift to take back, or perhaps something to hang on your wall. Think of pottery, jewellery and perhaps even a ceramic item to treasure. The country is definitely a good place to shop when you want to buy things you really cannot get anywhere else. Watch out in particular for the vendors you will regularly find in the city, since they can be good to buy things from.
Guinea-Bissau may not be the first country you would consider visiting in this part of Africa. However while it has had an unsettled past in recent times, it seems better now. We mentioned above the need to check the latest situation prior to considering a visit there, and this still holds true. However you will see that Guinea-Bissau does have some charming and appealing attractions for visitors to think about if they want to visit the country itself.
The best way to approach a trip here is to plan most things out in advance. Consider which areas you will visit and how you will get there, or else plan to spend your entire time in the capital. There is certainly lots to do and enjoy there, although the country as a whole has many sights and attractions to share with you. All you have to do is to decide where to begin.