Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World

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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, cathedral
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, roads
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, Sofitel Sipopo
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, President Obiang photo
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, New AIrport
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, National Park of Malabo
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, National Park of Malabo
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, Presidential Palace
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, Mansions
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, Golf, Sipopo, Sofitel
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, beers after golf
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, Sofitel lobby
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, Sofitel, pool
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, Bioko, jungles
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, Ceiba Tree
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, view
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).
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Bata, Hotel Carmen, Sunset
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Bata
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.
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, Lee and Joe
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!
Equatorial Guinea is the Weirdest Country in the World, Equatorial Guinea, Malabo
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!

Comments

  1. Awesome post Lee! Probably the most insightful post I’ve read on EG. Glad you made it to Rio Muni too. Hope to catch up when you’re back in Dubai.

  2. How is Sao Tome and Principe in comparison?

  3. Gillian Crook says:

    Interesting post Lee, but nothing I read in your post would really inspire me to want to visit when there are so many more places to go first. Would you agree?

  4. This is a very insightful post, Lee. Your pictures really help paint the picture here of how oil money is corrupting what appears to be yet another beautiful African nation. I shouldn’t be wanting to visit Equatorial Guinea after reading this as I would be supporting this autocratic dictator and his “cult of personality” if I did. Yet at the same time, I know that these situations are just temporary until the masses revolt. Like who seriously builds a palace in every district of his country with oil money? This is so ridiculous, yet intriguing at the same time.

    With your repeat visits to every country in the world, I am sure you are setting aside some time thinking how incredible it is that you are witnessing an important part of world history a second time even if it disgusts you as reflected in this post. Will be very interesting to read your reflections on the likes of North Korea, Turkmenistan, and other countries known for their “cult of personality” for their respective leaders when you get to these places again.

    • Thanks Ray! Always appreciate your in depth and level headed comments! You summed it up pretty well there and I am just trying to show a unique, seldom Visited place for what it is without the window dressing. I look forward to going back to many places and doing that as well. The second time around you’re not rushing and can really get a more in depth feel in places like EG where there’s a lot beneath the surface. Funny you mention Turkmenistan where I got horrific food poisoning when I was last there…I look forward to revisiting the there and the other Stan countries soon.

  5. I would have a major issue going to a county like this and supporting this corrupt dictator. I feel the same for countries like North Korea, Cuba or any of the Middle Eastern oil states. I know my few dollars are nothing to them but I’d sleep better.

    • You bring up an interesting point and one that is personal for many people including myself. In the task of visiting every country you will undoubtedly visit places you don’t support their government. You cannot avoid this if that’s your goal. That said, I’ve reluctantly been to many places I don’t support including EG. I could go on and on about the politics of certain places but I’ll stop there.

      • Stephanie Schaar says:

        That being said, are there any places that you will not return to based on the politics? Having a few visits is enough and you won’t return? Just wondering.

  6. You didn’t even mention that it’s a Spanish speaking country. I think it’s the only one in Africa?

  7. I’ve never even heard of this country! Very interesting though, thanks for sharing and teaching me something new 🙂

  8. Why would you even want to go to a place like this? I’ve just gone thru this Presidents bio and it reads like a rap sheet. He is an international criminal as are some of his kids. He keeps opposition leaders locked up in torturous prisons. He belongs in jail himself. I would never go to this country.

    • I can’t say I disagree with you on anything you said! I didn’t even mention the notorious prisons he keeps political prisoners in where he does allegedly torture his foes. It’s not a good thing of course but again he gets away with murder because of oil-it’s that simple.

  9. Hi Lee, thank you for your insights, but it seems you’re missing a large part of the story. This country, with all of its faults and government corruption included, is home to many wonderful people with good intentions, incredible pristine forests and wildlife, and hidden cultures. In living here, while occasionally, inadvertently supporting corruption, we can do much more in support of a country, only decades after achieving independence from the clutches of forced colonialization (being thrown around by the Portuguese, Spanish, and British). The tourism industry is one of the few economic alternatives to petroleum, and discouraging visitors only furthers the difficulty in attracting tourists to a tiny, Central-African country. While you did not have the opportunity to see many of Bioko and EG’s highlights during your short stay here, please spread the word of volcanic peaks, dense, untouched rainforest inhabited by Drills, Red Colobus and other primates, leather back, green and more sea turtles, Bubi, Fang and other international cultures and cuisines. A country is much more than a few corrupt leaders, and you can use your privileged platform as a travel writer for the betterment of a country’s thousands or millions of inhabitants, who are fighting corruption on a daily basis.

    • Well said Dan you are correct for sure. I did focus on one thing but that was certainly glaring to me and could t be ignored. The Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program where you guys work is fantastic. I had included it in the original version of the post and then cut it out because I was over 3000 words! I also hope some of the beautiful photos help to show how pristine it is because it is that. But I do try to be fair in talking about the corruption which is glaring and deserves international attention. If the government is serious about tourism though; which I cannot imagine they are, they should consider cutting back on visa restrictions for countries other than the United States. Thanks for your excellent comment and hope all is well!

      • Thanks Lee. Both stories need to be told, and while your experience is very true, and well written and thought-provoking, as a current ex-pat here, I know which story already gets all the publicity. Thank you for your visit, we enjoyed hearing you and Joe’s background and experiences (not every day visitors). Feel free to refer anyone who visits to our center, to learn, hike our trails, and let them know that we offer stays on the southern beaches to assist in our research monitoring sea turtles and primates during the dry season (November to early March).

  10. Mark Griswold says:

    Great post, Lee! I enjoy all your posts, but especially like the fact that you went in depth with some of the politics about this place. I didn’t have any idea that EG was so corrupt. Not surprising, of course, as, sadly, most of Africa is to some degree. C’est la vie and this too shall pass! Looking forward to seeing you in November here in Seattle!

  11. Oscar Scafidi says:

    Really enjoyed your story and pictures Lee! I wrote a travel guide to Equatorial Guinea last year, which can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Equatorial-Guinea-Bradt-Travel-Guide/dp/1841629251. Did you manage to get hold of a copy before your trip? Would be keen on your feedback if so!

    I agree with you that it’s an incredibly unique part of Africa. If you get a chance to go back, I would recommend checking out Annobón. It’s paradise!

    • Hi Oscar and thanks for letting me know. I didn’t see it or look to be honest as I knew we’d have a pretty comprehensive tour with English speaking guide to ask. Annobon will be my top priority when I visit again in 10-15 years!

  12. Kinda sad that this beautiful country is being run by evil people. I feel bad about its citizens too.

  13. Equatorial Guinea has been #2 on my wish list for decades (after Sao Tome e Principe; where I am finally going next month). I became interested in it sometime in the 1990s, as a child, before oil took over. Would love to go one day but the visa formalities seem insurmountable. Just one small point- I believe Oyala (the new capital) is on Rio Muni whereas Malabo 2 is on Bioko. They aren’t the same place as your post seems to indicate.

  14. Interesting post. I read somewhere people wearing eyeglasses were executed by the regime under suspicion that they’re intellectuals (=enemies). Crazy!

  15. Hmmm.. “TIA” is one of those terms that should be left to Africans poking fun at themselves, because in reality, I have found semen on bedsheets in Arizona, USA. You have such a large audience – break the stereotypes, don’t perpetuate them.
    Lastly, Rwandan roads are great too but I only traveled North and South so I am not 100% sure if it competes with EG.
    – Swede

  16. Dear Lee,

    Thanks for the interesting post. I am an international concert promoter.
    I would like to do an event there. Do you have any contacts? Sean Kingston was there in 2015 Jan for the Festival.

    I would like to go into this market. What is the club nightlife / Girls scene like?

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    Best,

    Fresh

  17. Jere Oppali says:

    Hi Lee, nice post! As Ben said previously, Oyala is not on Bioko Island, so what you saw on the road from the airport 0f Malabo was just a new area of Malabo. I think you should correct that part…

Speak Your Mind

*

css.php