The National Park
These four small islands comprise the National Marine Park João Vieira Poilão, the farthest from the mainland, a protected area for the reproduction of turtles and some migratory birds.
The Park as a whole, a part from some small surfaced stretches of land and some sand banks that come into view at low tide, has an area of 49,500 hectares of deep marine waters.
The Park is an integral part of the biosphere reserve and was declared "Gift to the Earth" by the WWF in 2001.
The vegetation is wild, essentially similar to all the other islands, with mangroves, palm groves and sub-humid Guinean forest: the peculiarity is in the land animals species, such as the land monitor lizard and the silver parrot and in the marine animals, such as turtles, dolphins and different varieties of terns and other birds.
The island of Poilão is considered the third most important site in the world for the nesting of sea turtles.
Sacred islands for the local population
All the islands are sacred to the Bijagós (i.e. all the inhabitants of the archipelago), particularly the Poilão island, the most holy place in their culture, it is subject to strict rules to which visitors must comply.
The inhabitants of four villages in the south of the Canhabaque island are not only users but also owners of these islands, according to the traditional law of the region.
They go there seasonally to fish, harvest fruits or extract wine or palm oil, but above all for religious and social ceremonies.
To visit the islands
All the islands are not permanently inhabited and even their marine area is never busy.
The beaches are pristine, sometimes there are occasional Bijagós' camps.
Visiting them means getting lost into wild and primitive nature.
Turtles can be seen manly in Poilão, but also in other islands. Park guards offer tours to attend the hatchings and watch the thrilling rush of the little turtles toward the waves.
Many birds nest on the rocky and grassy Cavalos. Here too you need to be accompanied by a Park guide to get closer.
The Meio island's coves have beautiful beaches.
Financially and logistically João Vieira is the most important of the islands, it is the Park headquarter and there is a small hotel.
There is not public transportation, only privately owned motorboats can be used.
From the mainland, Bissau or Quinhamel are the more common departing points.
It is possible to depart from another island, for example Bubaque, reachable by public ferry.
Anyway a privately owned motorboat needs to be reserved.
Best time to visit
The dry season (November trough June) is an ideal time to visit the islands and enjoy all their beauty with no chance of rain (except for June when the first rain begins).
Visitors who wish to view the turtles have to keep in mind that:
- laying of large quantities of eggs begins in July, at the beginning of the rainy season,
- hatching take place between November and January during the dry season.
Where to stay
The small hotel in João Vieira is the only accommodation on the islands.
A temporary camp is also set up in Poilão, often reserved for IBAP researchers.
A quick visit can be done in one day, spending the night in a different island.
FOR INFORMATION on the best time for birds and turtles watchings and for reservations, call or write to the address on the CONTACTS page