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This oft-overlooked, tiny West African country has much to offer, maintains Emma Thomson, from sacred islands and fascinating traditions to a warm welcome from kings

Guinea-Bissau, a Switzerland-sized republic squeezed between Senegal and Guinea in West Africa, celebrated 40 years of independence from Portugal in 2014. Yet travellers know very little — if anything — about Africa's 16th-poorest country, which has no dedicated guidebook and is serviced by only one airline. “You might call her the Cinderella of African tourism,” laments our guide, Alberto. Indeed, in 2013 the future of the country looked bleak when Ebola claimed around 11,300 lives in neighbouring Guinea. Incredibly, Guinea-Bissau never had any confirmed cases and in January the World Health Organisation declared an end to the epidemic. Now this biodiverse country is moving away from its reliance on cashew nut exportation and positioning itself as an ecotourism destination.

In deep. Saltwater hippos on Ilha de Orango in the Bijagós archipelago

Saltwater hippos on Ilha de Orango

I'm being watched. A pair of unblinking eyes locks onto mine. Just 50m away is a group of beady-eyed ‘boulders’ (hippos) grunting contentedly, except for the female eyeballing me across the water. “It's a mother,” whispers Belmiro, our guide from Orango National Park. “Her calf must be just below her.” I spy a flip-flop floating nearby, and wonder if it belongs to an earlier victim.

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About Travel Africa

50 Secrets about Botswana • Riding in the Pearl of Africa • Walking with camels in northern Kenya • Diving Lake Malawi • Portraits of Addis Ababa • Tanzania's Lake Natron • Lions in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park • Namibia's Etosha National Park • South Africa's wild flower route in spring... and much more!