Official name : Republic of Guinea-Bissau
Area: 36,120 square kilometers (13,946 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: An unnamed point located on the Gabú Plateau (300 meters/984 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Western
Time zone: 11 A.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 336 kilometers (209 miles) from north to south; 203 kilometers (126 miles) from east to west
Land boundaries: 724 kilometers (450 miles) total boundary length; Senegal 338 kilometers (210 miles); Guinea 386 kilometers (240 miles)
Coastline: 350 kilometers (217 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Guinea-Bissau is located on the North Atlantic coast of West Africa, between the countries of Guinea and Senegal. With an area of about 36,120 square kilometers (13,946 square miles), the country is slightly less than three times the size of the state of Connecticut. Guinea-Bissau is divided into nine administrative regions.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Guinea-Bissau has no outside territories or dependencies.
Guinea-Bissau has a very moderate, tropical climate. The average temperature does not vary significantly throughout the year. In the cooler rainy season, temperatures average from 26° to 28°C (79° to 82°F) and during the dry harmattan season, temperatures do not exceed 24°C (75°F) on average.
The rainy season lasts from mid-May to mid-November, with rainfall exceeding 198 centimeters (78 inches). Because of monsoon winds blowing off the ocean, the bulk of the rain falls during July and August. The harmattan season reverses the wind direction, blowing dry, dusty air from the Sahel across the country from mid-December to mid-April. This wind brings cooler temperatures and almost no precipitation. The country is prone to drought and brush fires.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
Guinea-Bissau is located on the coast of West Africa where a large cluster of islands is found on the extensive continental shelf. The country is made up of a mainland, the Bisagos Islands (Arquipélago dos Bijagós), and various coastal islands. The mainland consists of a coastal plain and a transition plateau forming the Bafatá Plateau (Planalto de Bafatá) in the center and the Gabú Plateau (Planalto de Gabú), which borders the Fouta Djallon highland region of neighboring Guinea.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
Guinea-Bissau faces the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Coral reefs and islands dominate the coastal region.
Sea Inlets and Straits
The Gêba Canal is an inlet that connects the Gêba River to the Atlantic Ocean.
Islands and Archipelagos
Guinea-Bissau contains many islands. Located to the southwest of the capital city of Bissau, the Bisagos chain consists of over eighteen islands, including Caravéla, Caraxe, Formosa, Uno, Orango, Orangozinho, Bubaque, and Roxa. The country also includes various other coastal islands such as Jeta, Bolama, Melo, Pecixe, Bissau, Areicas, and Como.
The coast of Guinea-Bissau is very irregular and deeply indented by swampy estuaries called "rias." Serpentine, mangrove-lined tidal rivers feed the rias. The capital, Bissau, is located on the largest of these estuaries that snakes into the center of the country.
6 INLAND LAKES
Guinea-Bissau has no significant lakes.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
There are six main rivers in Guinea-Bissau. The first, the Cacheu, flows near the northern border with Senegal and is also known as Farim for part of its course. The Mansôa flows from the center of the country and dumps into the Atlantic Ocean near the city of Bissau. The Gêba originates in Senegal and bisects the country. The Corubal originates in Guinea and meanders close to the southern border. On the southern border with Guinea is the Cacine. The last of the major rivers is the Rio Grande. These rivers provide the principal means of transportation. Ocean-going vessels of shallow draught can reach most of the main towns, and flat-bottomed tugs and barges can reach most of the smaller settlements, except for those in the northeast.
There are no significant desert regions in Guinea-Bissau; however, the country's climate is affected by the dry, harmattan winds of the Sahel region of neighboring countries. Sahel is an Arabic word meaning "shore." It refers to the 5,000-kilometer (3,125-mile) stretch of savannah that is the shore or edge of the Sahara Desert. The Sahel spreads west to east from Mauritania and Senegal to Somalia.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
The low-lying coastal plain is characterized by wetlands that are submerged at high tide. Owing to excessive monsoon rains during the rainy season, swamps and marshes appear further inland as well.
About 46 percent of the land in Guinea-Bissau is meadows and pastures. Savannah predominates in the east and northeast, providing a mixture of lightly wooded forest interspersed with grasses.
About 38 percent of the land is covered in forests and woodlands. Mangroves dominate the coastal region, while tangled forests are found in the interior plains. Thick forests give way to less dense savannah cover and grasses on the planaltos.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
There are no significant mountain regions in Guinea-Bissau.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
There are no significant caves or canyons in Guinea-Bissau.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
Aside from the low-lying coastal plain and islands, Guinea-Bissau's most defining characteristic is the transitional plateau, rising gradually from the plain to a few hundred feet in elevation. In the center of the country this plateau is called the Bafatá Plateau, and along the eastern border with Guinea it is called the Gabú Plateau. The highest point in the country is an unnamed spot on the Gabú Plateau near the city of Buruntuma, where the plateau rises to a height of about 300 meters (984 feet).
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
At high tide, about 10 percent of Guinea-Bissau's coastland is submerged. This causes erosion and also allows for a high level of salt deposits to remain in the soil of the coastal plain. In order to prevent this damage, many "anti-salt" dams have been constructed along the Atlantic coast.
DID YOU KNOW?
In 1996, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the Bisagos Islands (Bijagós Archipelago) and parts of the coastal region as a biosphere reserve. A biosphere reserve is a terrestrial or coastal ecosystem that serves as a living laboratory for testing and demonstrating techniques that manage an integrated system of land, water, and biodiversity. The reserve in Guinea-Bissau includes several islands with mangroves, swamp forest, estuaries, mudflats, intact palm groves, hippos, green turtle breeding site, manatee, dolphins, winter ground for wading birds, and key natural resources for the local population.
14 FURTHER READING
Africa South of the Sahara 2002 . "Guinea-Bissau." London: Europa Publishers, 2001.
Galli, Rosemary. Guinea-Bissau . Santa Barbara, CA: Clio Press, 1990.
Lobban, R.A., and P.K. Mendy. Historical Dictionary of Guinea-Bissau . 2 nd ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1997.
Lopes, Carlos. Guinea-Bissau: From Liberation Struggle to Independent Statehood . Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB). http://www.unesco.org/mab/ (accessed May, 2003).