Malabo, the nation's capital, on the northern end of Bioko, was first colonized by the Portuguese in 1494. It later fell into Spanish hands and then became a British naval station in the 19th century. After British interest in the area waned, the Spanish took over again until independence came in 1968. Much of the town appears to belong to previous centuries—the cathedral square is characterized by old colonial architecture, thick walls, shutters and blinds on the buildings, corrugated-iron roofing, wrought-iron work and Spanish tiles. The petroleum boom has created sharp contrasts in wealth and modernization around the city, leaving pleasant neighborhoods adjacent to trash-strewn shantytowns.
Worth visiting is the Spanish Cultural Center of Malabo, which is a nice example of Spanish architecture and host of monthly cultural events. Classes in Spanish are also offered periodically. Afterward, try a walk out onto the peninsula where the revitalized Hotel Bahia sits. The hotel's patio is a nice place to sip a drink and look at the ocean. Malabo is built around a natural harbor that's the crater of an ancient volcano. You'll see the presidential compound on the crater arm opposite the hotel (do not take pictures). Also visit the modest but tasteful cathedral. Much of Malabo has a languid, sleepy feel to it, but with the infusion of foreigners from the petroleum industry, there is hustle and bustle in the streets and a modest amount of nightlife in the nightclubs and bars.
A worthwhile excursion out of the city for hardy and adventurous souls is an ascent of Pico de Basile (10,200 ft/3,110 m), directly inland from the capital city. (You must obtain permission for this ascent from the local authorities, but they often are reluctant to grant it because of a radio beacon on top of the peak.) On the ascent, the lucky (and observant) can see birds and monkeys unique to the island.
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