Yes, I know. When you hear the name of Sierra Leone, atrocious images of people killed and mass riots came to your head. It was the same with me. But the war finished 12 years ago, the democracy was reestablished and the political stability returned to a country that became one of the safest in the region. And since then, Sierra Leone is making great efforts to attract tourists to their stunning beaches. Some of the best beaches in continental Africa.
Sierra Leone holds a special place in the history of the anti-slavery movement, as it was where free slaves could find a new home in the beginning of the 19th century, mostly coming from America and Jamaica. The name of the capital –Freetown-, founded by former slaves settlers, is quite descriptive.
Generally tourists are treated with warmth and courtesy, free of those annoying harassements that usually happen in other tourist hubs. Also, in some areas the prices are still down, so now it’s still a good time for going there!
Freetown and Freetown Peninsula
Freetown is the capital of Sierra Leone. Apart of the National Museum and some colonial-era buildings is not a big thing, but its location in the point of the Freetown Peninsula makes it a place surrounded by water, with many beautiful breathtaking beaches not far from there. As mass tourism is still developing in Sierra Leone, the beaches are quiet and lonely, which means that most of them are still in pristine condition, even more, it’s quite possible that on a week day you can have an amazing entire beach just for yourself.
The best beaches around Freetown are Tokeh (famous among French supermodels before the war) and River Beach Number 2, palm lined and white sands lonely beaches that will make the joy for most of the visitors. Other beaches in the Peninsula are Lumley, Goderich, Lakka, Hamilton, Baw Baw, Sussex, Tombo, York, Bureh and Kent. Although they are usually very lonely, most of the beaches has basic tourist services (hotels, bungalows or guesthouses, food, internet cafés, beach umbrellas and so on),
in some you´ll even be able to catch a local boat for exploring the shore from the water: the scenery is simply amazing. Note that camping is well possible in all the places.
John Obey Beach is another fabulous beach that offers an interesting possibility of eco-tourism: the Tribe Wanted project. There you’ll be able to fish, cook and engage in many other activities while staying in beautiful eco-friendly mud houses.
About 20 miles up the Sierra Leone River you can find Bounce Island, a former British slave station. The first slave traders arrived around 1670, and by the 18th century the island was the biggest slave station in West Africa. That was the starting point for the journey across the Atlantic for thousands of enslaved Africans. In Plantain Island you’ll find another slavering fort.
Opposite to the symbols of slavery, there are also symbols of freedom, like the Connaught Hospital or the more important Cotton Tree, the place where the firsts Afro-Americans slaves who arrived at the Freetown Peninsula landed and there, near that big tree, prayed and sung hymns to thank God for finally reached a free land. The tree is still there, placed in the old town near the Supreme Court building, and Sierra Leonians still pray and make offerings beneath the old Cotton Tree.
Another one-day excursion from Freetown is the Tacuguma Chimpanzee Sanctuary, where you’ll see the chimps rescued by the workers of Tacugama organization from illegal petting, bushmeat trade or poachers. The sanctuary is located 40 min from the city in the surrounding hills, which are also a home for some lovely waterfalls, interesting villages and the oldest stone church in West Africa.
Accommodation in Freetown is as it is in every capital. You can pay 200€ per night in a deluxe hotel, or you can stay in a guest house or bungalow for 6€ per night. It depends on your demands, but think that in some places where electricity and current water are not generalized, rooms with these services can be expensive. In these cases, remember that in general all the beaches are suitable for camping.
Not far from Freetown Peninsula, Banana Islands are reachable by boat and are an ideal destination for a day trip or an overnight stay at some of the guest houses placed there. The two main islands, Dublin and Ricketts, are linked by a piece of sand that submerges under the water at high tide, but a causeway is made to connect them permanently.
Banana Islands are ideal for diving and snorkeling, with some coral and Portuguese cannons in shallow water left by a shipwreck. In Dublin, you can see also the remains of a church dating from 1881 and the old slave docks left by the slave traders. After them, the island became an important place in the history of slaves’ freedom, being one of the first places where they lived for free. It’s also recommendable to explore the forests and some fruit bat caves.
You can get to the Island from Kent beach by boat, and then you can stay at some of the lodges for quite a cheap price.
A group eight of idyllic gorgeous islands situated southwest of the Peninsula, inhabited by turtles (and its nesting areas) and a friendly fishing community. The waters are fresh and clean, as well as the air, and you’ll have the possibility to fish with the locals. Due to their remoteness, they can be expensive to reach. From Freetown it will take you 3 hours by speedboat, and a little bit less from Bonthe. As always while traveling, time is money: if you want to get there fast, it will be expensive; if you can wait for some days until there’s a local’s boat heading there, you can save a lot.
Although we focused on the beach environment, Sierra Leone has many more places to visit inland. Tiwai Island wildlife sanctuary, in the Southern province, is an inland island in the middle of the Moa River, and is home for a wildlife sanctuary where you can see one of the highest concentrations of different species of primates of the world (11), hippopotamus and many other kinds of animals.
Other options are visiting Kilimi or Outamba national parks, or explore the surroundings of the Mount Bintumani, the highest point in the country with its 1945 m.
And yet, if you don’t have enough, you have 400 more km of coastline to explore!