Malabo © Ben Sutherland
Malabo has a fascinating and tumultuous history. It was leased to the British by Spain in 1827 and was used as a naval station in the effort to suppress the slave trade in the region; descendants of the freed slaves who made the city their home still live in Malabo. The city's population was decimated post-independence under the reign of President Macias Nguema, who led a genocide of the Bubi people who once formed the majority on Bioko Island.
Today Malabo is booming thanks to the petroleum business and the wealth brought in by this industry is visible, although not spread among the general population which remains depressingly poor. The city is beautifully situated on the brink of a volcanic crater with lush rainforest visible on the horizon and a picturesque and wild coastline, although this landscape is being steadily infiltrated by the oil companies and one of the first things you notice when you fly into the city is all the oil platforms in the harbour. Malabo has a sizable expat community which has helped energise the city's nightlife and restaurant scene and there is certainly fun to be had for visitors. Worthwhile attractions within the city include the Malabo Cathedral, situated at Independence Place, and a number of other colonial-era buildings. The Presidential Palace and its extensive grounds take up a large swathe of the eastern part of the city but this landmark is strictly off limits and visitors should be careful not to photograph it. There are some markets to wander through looking for souvenirs and some decent places to eat, drink and be merry, but Malabo is ultimately best used as a base for exploration into the Bioko rainforest, and is seldom described as a popular tourist destination in itself.