Your first visit to a country is always a learning experience. You tiptoe in and attempt to quickly learn social mores, the way traffic flows, and bits of the language. It doesn’t help that you’re usually dropped into the capital or the largest city. Hanoi, Moscow, and São Paulo were big tests. But they’re easy compared to most cities in Africa.
Though you’ve visited West Africa—Senegal, the Gambia, and Sierra Leone—before, you’ve never been to Guinea. The former French colony is known for its mining sites (bauxite and gold), surprising football victories, and, lately, the Ebola virus. The country was declared Ebola-free one year ago. Since then, you’ve been dreaming about visiting Dalaba, the highest town in the country. You’ve heard it looks like Switzerland. To get there, you have to go through Conakry, though.
Guinea’s capital and largest city sits on the Atlantic coast. It was originally a small settlement on Tombo Island, but it started to spread onto the mainland and up the Kaloum Peninsula after the British ceded it to the French in 1887. By 1904, it became the capital and the largest port of French Guinea. It’s only grown since the country gained its independence in 1958.
Despite its size, Conakry hasn’t attracted tourists the way some of its West African neighbors have. Buildings are ill maintained. Rubbish isn’t regularly collected. Plus there are periodic power and water outages. So, at first glance, it isn’t the most welcoming city. At least until you start to dig deeper. A new hotel can help ease you into what seems like chaos.
Though NOOM Hotel was built for business travelers, it’s a welcoming spot along the south coast of Conakry. You arrive at the modern hotel, which looks like a cruise ship, after a shuttle picks you up at the airport. Black-and-white photographs and lots of light fill the lobby. Muted gray tones, pops of orange, and a blue background—thanks to the ocean view—decorate your junior suite. But the best part of the hotel is the infinity pool. White sun loungers, couches, tables, and umbrellas surround its blue-green water. Fruity cocktails are served at the pool bar. A resident DJ maintains a mellow beat during the day. While the pool’s water looks like it overflows directly into the Atlantic Ocean.
Once you have a comfortable place to stay, you’re finally ready to start exploring Conakry. The Marché Madina (one of the largest markets in West Africa), the Conakry Botanical Garden (full of kapok trees), and the Conakry Grand Mosque (the fourth-largest mosque in Africa) will certainly be among your first stops. And, if the city gets overwhelming, you have a gorgeous infinity pool to which you can return.