Orango Grande is one of the 88 islands that make up this insular territory located in Guinea Bissau

Talking about the Bijagó archipelago is talking about the Atlantic Ocean. A sea that dyes everything it touches with bravery, and serves as an umbilical cord to unite an insular territory made up of 88 islands.

For the inhabitants of this island enclave located off the coast of Guinea Bissau, the sea is their way of life. They extract a large part of their food from it, and they owe their mobility to it.

It is a fascinating territory, with an exceptionally rich landscape, and a unique biodiversity in the world, which since 1996 has been protected by UNESCO given its recognition as a Biosphere Reserve. In addition, it is home to several preserved areas such as the Orango National Park and the Joao Vieira and Poilao National Marine Park, among others.

The Bijagó: guardians of the biosphere

Part of this protection is the result of the practice of the animist religion of the dominant ethnic group in this insular region of Guinea Bissau: the Bijagó. This ethnic group gives its name to the archipelago and impregnates the daily life of the islands with its traditions.

They revere nature because their gods inhabit it. And thanks to that belief, they have managed to keep a natural paradise intact, inhabited by protected species such as saltwater hippos and green turtles, among many others.

The hardness of the sea, which alternates its calm with the exceptional voracity of the ocean, and the small size of many of the islets, mean that only twenty of the 88 islands are inhabited.

The island of Formosa is the largest, Bubaque the most populated and Bolama the administrative capital.

Orango Grande: the island of hippos

But most tourists who visit the Bijagó archipelago are attracted by the possibility of going to islands where the observation of certain animals has become an experience in itself.

This is the case of the island of Orango Grande, in the Orango National Park, located about 4 hours by boat from Bissau, the capital of the country. A wonderful tour that crosses channels full of islets, and crosses areas of open sea, lulling the visitor into a pleasant lethargy.

Only the low flight of the thousands of birds that choose this enclave to migrate or reside permanently, and the fun parade of some groups of dolphins, interrupt the journey until reaching what is known as the “island of the hippos”.

And it is that these spectacular mammals, which in their adulthood can measure 4 meters and weigh 3,500 kilos, have found their best den in it. There they live in family groups made up of a dominant male and another 5, 10 or 30 females with their young of different ages.

They alternate their lives depending on the weather, occupying mangroves and rivers during the dry season, and moving to the lagoons while they have water, in the rainy season.

It is just at that time, between mid-September and early December, when their observation is easier, since they like to splash around in the large lagoons that form in the Anor region.

An activity that Orango Parque Hotel includes in its experience program, together with the possibility of visiting other islands of great ecological interest.

Poilao: the green turtle sanctuary

Poilao is a small island in the Joao Vieira Poilao National Marine Park, located much further south, at the dawn of the archipelago and about 4 hours from Orango Grande. Its status as a sacred island makes it an absolutely peaceful place, where between 7,000 and 37,500 green turtles nest every year.

In the nests dug along its entire coastline, more than 30,000 eggs are incubated which, after a period of between 7 and 10 weeks, hatch, offering a new life, not without risk, to thousands of young.

When they reach adulthood, and from 20 to 50 years old, specimens weighing up to 230 kilos and 1.5 meters long return to the same place where they were born to have offspring.

A pilgrimage that has made Poilao the main breeding area for the green turtle in Africa, and one of the 3 most important in the world.

So that visitors can respectfully enjoy this miracle of nature, Orango Parque Hotel organizes excursions to the island that include a night in the Poilao turtle camp.

A center that was built a few years ago with the collaboration of the hotel, to house the national park’s turtle counter guards and scientists, who stay there during the nesting season to count clutches and eggs.


Cavalho: the island reserved for fanados

On the way to Poilao, it is common to stop for lunch on an absolutely paradisiacal island. We are referring to Cavalho, another small island in this national park, whose white sand beaches and endless palm trees invite visitors to relax and connect with exceptional nature.

But for the bijagó, Cavalho is much more than a Robinson-style island, it is a sacred enclave where many young people go to perform the “fanado”, an initiation ritual that every bijagó, man or woman, must do to get over the adolescence to maturity.

In that trance, there are tests to face, and some are carried out in this apparently calm enclave of the Atlantic Ocean.

A brave and enigmatic sea, which also understands calm, and which gives its character to each of the 88 islands that make up the Bijagó archipelago. If you want to meet it, we are waiting for you at the Orango Parque Hotel, the only hotel in the Orango National Park, and a social project that seeks to preserve the magic of this ancestral place and support the economic and social development of its inhabitants.