When you travel as much as I do and have seen as much as I have seen, it takes a lot to baffle you. Equatorial Guinea does just that and much more. This was my second time to the Central/West African nation and it was even more perplexing than the first. That said, after 5 days on this trip, I do confidently say that Equatorial Guinea is the weirdest country in the world.
When I say Equatorial Guinea is the weirdest country in the world, what do I mean? To be honest, it’s hard to even describe. Between the rampant corruption, overblown opulence, ridiculous prices, overbuilt empty buildings, Chinese and American influence and unbelievable infrastructure it’s hard to pick just one thing to talk about. So I will describe it as a basic feeling of comfortable oddness at all times.
Let me also say, that Equatorial Guinea has the best infrastructure of any country in Africa, including South Africa. It’s also the cleanest and it’s very comfortable being in Equatorial Guinea as the hotels are generally excellent, the roads are perfect and they basically have whatever you want. But that’s not Africa.
This all stems from the discovery of oil off of Equatorial Guinea about 30 years ago. The current President really made the most of it-for himself and his family. He took over in 1979 after a bloody coup deposing and executing his uncle; the former President. This was widely seen as a good thing as the prior President was a tyrant; however little has changed in 37 years. Little except more excess.
When I was in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea 7 years ago, I felt weird. You need a permit to take photos and there was a heavy police presence. The Chinese hadn’t really arrived yet or at least I didn’t notice back then.
But now there is so much more going on. They are actually constructing a whole new capital city called Oyala, outside of Malabo. Locals call it Malabo 2. The road from the airport passes through it and the buildings are massive, ultra modern, opulent and empty. There is zero need for these buildings. It’s almost like North Korea where they’re doing things just for show and propaganda.
However, with the influx of cash from the Chinese; who have actually built a multi-million dollar park and are currently building a new modern airport; they are building up Malabo 2. The new city houses the CEMAC Parliament, the US Embassy and nearly every other ministry building. Plus several chic Chinese hotels, a Hilton and an Ibis.
All of this building is centered around the Presidents main palace; which is obscene. It also has several other side palaces on the campus. What we also learned during our day long island tour of Bioko Island (where Malabo is) is that he has at least one palace/mansion in every district.
The President, with his oil billions, also built a world-class conference center and right next to it, he built 54 identical mansions. There are 54 African countries and he built one mansion for each President to stay in. It is preposterous to see the excess in Equatorial Guinea.
Every watchdog group on Earth ranks them as one of the worlds most corrupt nations. The President and his family launder oil money meant for public use in banks in the United States, France and many other countries. Google it.
The President and his cronies play the African Dictator role perfectly by giving the people just enough to not rebel like public housing, roads, etc. They keep everything sparkling on the surface: they suppress any opposition, while instilling fear in citizens not to speak out while they spend lavishly.
If you remember a few years ago one of the Presidents sons, and there are like 20 kids and multiple wives, tried to buy a $400 million yacht from a company in Germany. The news came out and it was questioned why and how a person who makes $6000 a month at a government job could afford such a thing. It was never determined, shockingly. But laws in Equatorial Guinea and any home country can often supersede International law and the President and his family always escapes prosecution. Why? Oil of course.
Much like Saudi Arabia, the US and other western nations tolerate a ridiculous amount of corruption and lack of basic human rights because of oil. Oil controls the world. After 9/11, the US wanted to find alternative means of obtaining oil so they invested heavily in Equatorial Guinea and other neighboring nations. The US may use less Saudi oil but now they bankroll a new kind of corruption and dictator and they know it. So what’s worse? Any way you slice it you have to deal with bad guys when it comes to black gold.
To my eyes, Equatorial Guinea is the most blatantly corrupt place in the world but like the new Gulf Oil States, it’s very nice and pleasant on the surface so people give it a pass. I have to say I enjoyed myself. I even played 18 holes on a pretty nice course at the Sofitel resort in Sipopo. It cost me $150 for the privilege but what can you do. That’s modern day Africa where oil talks and corruption is tolerated by western governments. The President of Equatorial Guinea even got a warm welcome from Obama.
Now back to my actual trip in brief after my public service rant about the evils of oil, corruption and politics in modern day Africa.
I’ve mentioned Malabo a few times but it is a very nice and pleasant place to be. I would recommend staying at the Sofitel Presidential Palace if you can swing $300+ a night. It’s very nice (possibly the nicest urban hotel in Africa), central and you can walk everywhere in town. I also stayed one night out in Malabo 2 at the Ibis Hotel which was only $130 and very adequate as you’d expect from an Ibis. There is also the Sofitel resort I mentioned but it’s far from everything except golf. The Hilton is next to the airport and over $300 a night and not very convenient for anything but the airport.
The best restaurant in town is La Luna right in Malabo. It’s pretty good and has a nice display pool and view of the port. The best pizza was at Pizza Place; which also doubles as the best place for nightlife and hookah if you’re into that. I am not but the pizza was decent and the beers were cold.
I also arranged an island tour through the tour operator Ruta 47. They also arranged our tour and flights to and from Bata and also to Sao Tome and Principe because you cannot book Ceiba Intercontinental flights online-at least easily. You could book these flights on the ground in Malabo at the airline office cheaper but then you’re not guaranteed the flights/schedule until you arrive and there’s almost certainly going to be hassles involved. Ruta 47 was expensive for what you got but they were good with email communication and our driver/guide was pretty good.
The tour took us around the island and I really felt like I got a great perspective on Bioko Island and the country in general. Outside the capital in many African countries has terrible poverty and dirt roads if roads at all. In Equatorial Guinea, the roads circling the island are better than in America-seriously.
After a few days in Malabo, we headed out to Rio Muni and the capital of Bata. This was added to the Travelers Century Club list of countries a few years ago. Obviously after I was last in Equatorial Guinea or I would have already gone. Bata was nice enough, pleasant to walk around , very hot and not much going on. In fact, there was a ton of construction going on and that was about it. We stayed at a place called the Carmen Hotel with a nice pool, restaurant, great sunset view but with gross rooms. My toilet seat had a dried bloodstain on it and the sheets were stained with who knows what. TIA (This is Africa).
The main thing we were supposed to do was drive to Monte Allen National Park and hike to Mosumo Falls. We drove to the park and were ready to go but the trails were closed due to excess rainfall in recent days, which made the trek dangerous. We were very annoyed that the tour company didn’t call ahead and check on this, as I am sure it’s not the first time it’s rained in the mountains. But they didn’t and we turned around and went 90 minutes back to Bata-no refund given.
So for me, Bata was whatever. I imagine Bata/Rio Muni, like Bioko, will be completely different in 10-15 years and I would like to come back to see the changes as I am sure they will be elaborate.
So basically that’s my latest 5-day trip to Equatorial Guinea visiting Bioko and Rio Muni. There are also two other islands you can go to, Annobon and Corisco, but the flights are infrequent and the schedules are such that you would likely get stuck for a few days where you don’t want to be. Such is the joy of traveling around the continent. You’re always at the mercy of scheduling, cancellations, coups and who knows what else!
For good and for bad, I will definitely say that Equatorial Guinea is the weirdest country in the world. Most of it is shocking and outright appalling in its excess but this is the modern world we live in and you just have to go with it. You might even enjoy it!