National Geographic Expeditions and PONANT: Exotic Africa
Few people can find the nation of Guinea-Bissau on a map without searching for it. Far fewer have actually visited here, one of the least touristed countries in the world. Those who have come to Guinea-Bissau are aware that it is home to a unique group of islands where nature and people coexist in enviable balance, just as they have for centuries. The islands of the Bijagós Islands archipelago lie just off the coast of Guinea-Bissau yet seem worlds away from the African mainland. Preserving their traditional way of life, the islanders have adopted modern conveniences such as concrete houses and mobile phones without sacrificing their cultural identities.
One of the highlights of the Bijagós Islands is a sighting of the hippopotami that inhabit the waters on and around Orango Island. These are the only saltwater-dwelling hippopotami in the world, though the massive animals do go back and forth between the freshwater streams on the island during the day and the salt water of the ocean at night. It is possible to get close to these fascinating creatures―but not too close, and never between the animal and the water. Another highlight is a visit to Bolama, the tiny collective capital of the islands and a place where colonial and indigenous histories come together in a beautiful natural setting.
As in the case of underdeveloped island destinations in other parts of the world, it is a godsend for the curious traveller with a generous budget to be able to travel on board PONANT’s luxurious vessels to visit such an isolated place. The irony of wealthy travellers visiting one of the poorest countries in the world is not lost on the passengers, many of whom make donations to organisations working in the Bijagós to improve the standard of living for the locals. Differences in economic levels notwithstanding, travellers of European descent are still a rare sighting for the Bijago people, who speak their own language as a mother tongue and maintain their own traditional laws and social norms which give women powerful positions in society.
Like the Republic Of Cape Verde, The Republic Of Guinea-Bissau was also a Portuguese colony. The two countries share a linked history both as colonies and in their fights for independence. Today, thanks to National Geographic Expeditions and PONANT, it is possible to visit both countries on a single cruise. In fact, PONANT is the only cruise company to call on ports in the Republic Of Guinea-Bissau, usually in conjunction with ports of call on islands in Cape Verde. Thanks to the pristine environment of the Bijagós Islands and the biodiversity therein, the islands were declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1996. National Geographic scientists and naturalists on board PONANT revel in the natural world of the Bijagós and share their unbridled enthusiasm in informative presentations to help passengers make the most of their travel experiences.
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