Sierra Leone travel guide


Sierra Leone’s tropical sands and lush interior have made far fewer headlines than the Ebola crisis or the decade long civil war, but once upon a time this diminutive country was known as an off-the-radar vacation spot rather than a place of political and social upheaval. Declared Ebola free in 2016, the country is ripe to explore once again, and, for the moment at least, you can do so with few other tourists in sight.
What’s on offer? Well, first off there are the beaches: a string of golden and powder white bays a short hop from the nation’s energetic capital, Freetown. Then there are the little visited wildlife reserves, where you can track chimpanzees and bed down in rudimentary shelters, lulled to sleep by the sound of the rainforest. And all around you the country’s fascinating and sometimes brutal history is reflected in its ruined slave forts and colourful clapboard houses, built by freed slaves returning from the Americas.
Sierra Leone is...

full of natural beauty,
from palm fringed islands
to thick rainforest.

Sierra Leone isn’t...

The civil war ended over 15 years ago and
the country was declared
Ebola free in 2016.

Sierra Leone map & highlights

make the most of your time

Sierra Leone’s diverse habitat ranges from savannah to rainforest but the highlight is its beaches: sweeps of white sand stretching along the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, with a smattering of islands anchored offshore. Much of the rest of country is green and lush: to the east, rainforests and hills skirt the border with Liberia, while up north the Loma Mountains form a ridge near the Guinean border and are home to the country’s highest peak, Mount Bintumani (1,945m). Other than a few main highways, roads outside urban centers tend to be poor and can be impassable in the rainy season. Guided, small group tours keep things simple as you’ll be driven in a private vehicle and visit communities without disrupting local life.
Banana Island Bunce Island Freetown Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary

Banana Island

At southern tip of the Freetown peninsula, Banana Island is actually three islands connected by a stone causeway. It’s a perfect tropical hideaway and a jumping off point for numerous water based activities, including snorkelling, diving, spear fishing and kayaking. Walks around the island reveal a smattering of ruins from its time as a slaving post and European settlement.

Bunce Island

An hour’s boat ride from Freetown, Bunce Island is a monument to the darkest time in the country’s history. It was set up as a major slave trading fortress and castle in 1670, and over 30,000 men, women and children were held here before boarding slave ships bound for the southern United States. Today, the castle and its cells lie in ruins, swallowed up by vines, weeds and grasses.


Squeezed into a small space between mountains and ocean, Freetown is a hectic metropolis. Red dust, charcoal smoke and music billow around narrow city streets, and tumbledown clapboard houses are a reminder of the city’s founders: freed slaves returning from Nova Scotia in 1787, where they had fled after the American War of Independence. They gave birth to local language Krio, an English based creole.

Tacugama Chimp Sanctuary

Set in thick forest a 30-minute drive from Freetown, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary was set up in 1995 to rescue and rehabilitate endangered primates. Dedicated staff offer tours of the sanctuary, which is part of a 100-acre reserve. They’ll tell you all about their work and you’ll get to see chimpanzees during the different stages of rehabilitation – the last of which is a vast, semi-wild setting.

Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary

One of West Africa’s few remaining areas of pristine rainforest, 12km² Tiwai Island is set in the Moa River in eastern Sierra Leone. The country’s first ecotourism enterprise, it has a high concentration of primates, including chimpanzees, black and white Diana monkeys and red colobus monkeys. It's also home to almost 100 rare and elusive pygmy hippos.
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: UNMEER] [Top box: Lindsay Stark] [Map intro box: BigMikeSndTech] [Banana Island: channeytangho] [Bunce Island: Pierre Chrzanowsi] [Freetown: Erik Cleves Kristensen] [Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary: BigMikeSndTech] [Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary: William Warby]