In retrospect: Border crossing in Africa

2014-12-26T13:30:34+00:0021 July 2013|Borders, Gambia, Senegal|

Crossing borders in Africa can be difficult, next to impossible – or easy as pie. Senegal was in the latter category. Back in 1996, at least.

border crossing in Africa

I spent a bit of time in The Gambia that year, and enjoyed it. It was an easy place to be.

One day, I met a group of fellow Scandinavians, all Swedes and Danes, on their way to Guinea-Bissau. ‘Ooh, what fun,’ I thought. ‘Never been there before. I’ll tag along.’

Easy border crossing in Africa

We first crossed the border into Senegal – easy as all that, as you might have gleaned from the photo above. We then continued through the Senegalese region of Casamance and reached the Bissau border.

Difficult border crossing in Africa

Long story short, I wasn’t allowed in. As it turned out, non-EU citizens required a visa for Guinea-Bissau, which I didn’t have. Sweden and Denmark had joined a little over a year earlier, while Norway had declined the invitation to join the European Union. Again.

So there I was, all by my lonesome, at the border, waving goodbye to my fellow travellers. Now what? Hitch a ride, that’s what. In the back of various trucks, all the way back through Casamance, to The Gambia. It was a bumpy ride, but I never felt the least bit unsafe.

My lack of success at the border naturally increased the little country’s attraction. I’ve been extra curious about Guinea-Bissau ever since, but still haven’t been. Looks like visa requirements has become even more rigorous lately.

Been in Guinea-Bissau? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

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  1. Marcia 21 July 2013 at 1849 - Reply

    Hmm, never been either. Yes, travel was much easier back then.
    I can just imagine the rides over bumpy roads in a truck no less. Quite an adventure, I’m sure.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 21 July 2013 at 2246 - Reply

      Wasn’t it though…? I remember back in the day, getting a visa for Syria took just one day.

  2. Andrea 23 July 2013 at 1657 - Reply

    Africa is still unvisited territory for us – I always find border crossing stories interesting!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 July 2013 at 2330 - Reply

      Africa is an exciting continent. As for borders, I love crossing on foot, whether it’s in Africa or in Europe (where there aren’t many borders left).

  3. Mette 23 July 2013 at 2041 - Reply

    Never been to Guinea-Bissau, but in other places and situations where borders couldn’t just be crossed. I always find that kind of scary.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 July 2013 at 2327 - Reply

      I’ve been lucky so far. Haven’t had any scary or intimidating experiences, not even in the USA :).
      Even at the Guinea-Bissau border, although I wasn’t let into the country, they were nice.

  4. We’re heading to Africa this fall for 4 months. We’re going to be at Namibia’s northern border for a while and thought that a quick trip into Angola might work. Initial research says it’s VERY tough to get into Angola…but we’re still tempted to go through the process to experience a country very few tourists get to visit.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 July 2013 at 2323 - Reply

      I’ll be interested to hear how it goes. Best of luck!

  5. Christina 27 July 2013 at 2344 - Reply

    I love these random stories! I’ve never been to Africa, which makes it all the more interesting!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 28 July 2013 at 1551 - Reply

      Thanks, Christina 🙂

  6. Leigh 27 July 2013 at 2345 - Reply

    The most interesting border crossing I’ve ever had was on foot between Greece and Turkey on a snowy day in the early 80’s. Machine guns, stoney faces, marched into a room for interrogation, walked away from a customs fellow on the Greek side and just kept walking waiting for something to happen – and it never did.
    Eventually big smiles – and Welcome to Turkey in English.
    Getting out of Peru was harder than getting in!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 28 July 2013 at 1551 - Reply

      Interesting about Peru. Greece and Turkey seem to have been on unfriendly terms since forever…

  7. Andrew Graeme Gould 28 July 2013 at 0415 - Reply

    Guinea-Bissau interests me, as I’m always curious about countries that were once Spanish or Portuguese colonies. I’ve just read in Wikipedia that only 14 percent of the population speak the official language, Portuguese, and that more than two thirds live below the poverty line. Here’s hoping for a brighter future for Africa…

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 28 July 2013 at 1550 - Reply

      I’ve also been particularly curious about the countries freed from the lesser known colonisers in Africa, like Spain and Portugal – and even Germany. The former Portuguese colonies seem to have gone through a rougher time than many others on the continent; I’m thinking especially of the long, brutal wars in Mozambique and Angola.

      • The Barefoot Backpacker 9 February 2016 at 1029 - Reply

        Outside of Africa, there’s Timor-Leste too; it’s been doubly-‘shafted’ (for want of a better word) by both Portuguese and Indonesian colonisers (the latter, when they finally realised the people didn’t want them, left and pretty much burned everything down as they went…).

  8. Sand in my Suitcase 29 July 2013 at 0730 - Reply

    Your story reminds us of the funny little border crossing between Botswana and Namibia that guests on the “Zambezi Queen” river cruise boat must pass through. From the Botswana side of the Chobe River, we took a small aluminum boat across the river, slid up on the sandy riverbank on the Namibian side, trudged across the sand to a small empty building, had someone search for the “immigration officer” (who grudgingly stamped our passports, no questions asked), and then we got back in the small boat and motored on up the river to board the “Zambezi Queen.” We’ll be writing about our river cruise soon…

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 30 July 2013 at 1132 - Reply

      A nice, easy and memorable border crossing that. Look forward to reading about it 🙂

  9. Dean 25 August 2013 at 0109 - Reply

    I did a few years ago. A very corrupt government but a very strong sense that the country was moving forward with some very bright educated young leaders. Here’s hoping.

  10. Charu 7 October 2013 at 1657 - Reply

    I feel your pain. As someone with still an Indian passport, visas are notoriously tough to get sometimes.

  11. The Barefoot Backpacker 9 February 2016 at 1025 - Reply

    It’s a border crossing I do fully intend to traverse one day in the next 3-4 years … 🙂

    EU citizens (as far as I can tell) also need a visa again now. Guinea-Bissau has very few embassies (Lisbon, being my closest); my understanding is that there’s (now, at least) a consulate in Ziguinchor which will issue visas.

    I really need to do a couple of blog posts about borders; I have some ‘interesting’ tales … the time I illegally entered Burkina Faso by accident, the time I lost my taxi on the way in to Togo, the lonely trip down the Sani Pass, the border that doesn’t exist in Transnistria … 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 February 2016 at 1827 - Reply

      Sounds exciting. Look forward to reading about it. 🙂

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