Sierra Leone travel guide
2 MINUTE SUMMARY
Sierra Leoneís 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.
Whatís on offer? Well, first off there are the beaches: a string of golden and powder white bays a short hop from the nationís 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 countryís 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 map & highlights
make the most of your time
Sierra Leoneís 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 countryís 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 youíll be driven in a private vehicle and visit communities without disrupting local life.
At southern tip of the Freetown peninsula, Banana Island is actually three islands connected by a stone causeway. Itís 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.
An hourís boat ride from Freetown, Bunce Island is a monument to the darkest time in the countryís 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 cityís 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. Theyíll tell you all about their work and youíll get to see chimpanzees during the different stages of rehabilitation Ė the last of which is a vast, semi-wild setting.
Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary
One of West Africaís few remaining areas of pristine rainforest, 12km² Tiwai Island is set in the Moa River in eastern Sierra Leone. The countryís 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.