By Amin Kef (Ranger)
Sierra Leone has made it once again amongst the 9 incredible places to visit for Wildlife Tourism.
These nine places are Guernsey, UK, Monterey County, California, USA, Antigua and Barbuda, Toronto, Canada, A Coruña, Spain, Yorkshire, UK, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Washington D.C, USA, and AlUla, Saudi Arabia.
22 years after the end of the civil war and after surviving a major Ebola epidemic, Sierra Leone is working hard to up its tourist game. Sierra Leone today is a very peaceful nation, with incredibly welcoming locals (bonus point as they all speak English, which makes it very easy to communicate) and lots to see and do.
While the tourist infrastructure is still being improved outside of Freetown, if tourists come to the country prepared, and are ready to rough it up a bit, they will be rewarded with views of paradisiacal long, white sandy beaches fringed by palm trees; a thick-as-it-comes jungle with lots of wildlife to spot; and a number of colonial style buildings that are a photographer’s dream and much more.
It may not be the first African country that springs to mind for spring trips, but Sierra Leone’s tourist industry is set to change, thanks to a brand new airport terminal which opened in Freetown in March which is five times larger than its prior terminal. It is the first green terminal in West Africa – completely powered by solar energy.
Of course, this development isn’t the sole reason to visit Sierra Leone’s capital. But just outside of Freetown is a chance to get close to the country’s beloved chimpanzees. In the Western Area Peninsula National Park, the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary was first launched to rescue and rehabilitate chimpanzees, but now it has become a diverse conservation organization, and home to more than 100 of these beloved animals. Tourists are invited to complete their eco-adventure with a stay in one of the six eco lodges in this area.
The country has famous heritage sites such as Bunce Island, the Old Fourah Bay College and the Sierra Leone National Museum awaiting to be explored. Tourists can visit the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary and witness Sierra Leone’s national animal, the Chimpanzee in the wild. Tourists can also take a trip to the Gola Rainforest National Park a catalyst for sustainability and environmental protection in Sierra Leone. Tourists can also relax on one of Sierra Leone’s plentiful beaches such as River No.2, Tokeh, Lakka, Lumley and Bureh Beach among others.
Sierra Leone has something for everyone, and provides a unique blend of cultures, dance, food, people and acceptance. The country is a safe and friendly location with many activities to do within the city of Freetown and in the provincial areas.
The Government’s Health Expenditure amounts to 16% of Sierra Leone’s total GDP, which is among the highest in West Africa and the world at large. The average annual temperature is 27°C.
10 Incredible Things Tourists Can Do In Sierra Leone
As a tourist landing at the Freetown International Airport in Lungi, it makes sense to start your trip around Sierra Leone right in the capital. Perched on the hills and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Freetown is a very lively and actually very multicultural city. The city is rich in history and offers an excellent range of attractions that will help tourists get better understanding of the country’s culture and past. Places you should visit in Freetown include:
The National Railway Museum – First opened in 2005, located in Cline Town, East of Freetown. This is quite a unique attraction in a country where the last train ran in 1975. The exhibit is made of a series of documents and photos that recollect the history of the Sierra Leone Government Railway, as well as a number of locos, a Hunslet tank, a few diesel locos and even some coaches, including the one that was prepared for the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1961. It opens Monday to Friday, 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.
St. George’s Cathedral – Built between 1817 and 1828, located at George Street; this is one of the most beautiful churches in Freetown.
The Cotton Tree – The oldest and most famous Cotton Tree in Freetown is located close to the Supreme Court building and the National Museum. This is the tree under which returnees from Nova Scotia prayed once they returned to Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone National Museum – Close to the famous Cotton Tree, and opened in 1957. This is a small but interesting museum with an exhibit that will walk you through the most fascinating traditions and the most prominent figures from Sierra Leone’s past.
Peace Museum and Memorial – Opened in 2013, this museum is located on the grounds of the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL), Jomo Kenyatta Road. Its exhibits are dedicated to the people who contributed to the creation of modern Sierra Leone and to the victims of the civil war.
Fourah Bay College – A gorgeous abandoned building, in Cline Town, east of Freetown, built before WW II. It was used as the headquarters of Sierra Leone Government Railway, and later as a Magistrate Court. The building caught fire during the war. Beginning 1999, the Old FBC building has been claimed by lush vegetation. This beautiful colonial architecture provides visitors with excellent photo opportunities.
The View from Leicester Peak – The highest mountain in Freetown rises 500 meters above sea level and it’s a favorite hangout spot for locals. Tourists can visit this spot to take-in the breath-taking view of Freetown, and enjoy the cool breeze.
A Day in the Banana Islands
Once used for the trade of slaves to the United States by the English, and then a place for returnees once slavery was abolished, the three islands – Dublin and Ricketts, inhabited and linked by a causeway, and the smaller uninhabited Mes-Meheux – can be reached by boat from Kent Village, about one hour drive from Freetown.
Once there, tourists can explore the village where a small community of around 800 people live. There are two beautiful churches to see. The Big Sand Beach is there to chill under palm trees, where tourists can also snorkel or dive. Local fishermen are very friendly. Should you get hungry, there is a small but good restaurant at the beach that serves delicious dishes of freshly caught seafood.
Wildlife in Tiwai Wildlife Sanctuary
The Moa River and the thick tropical rain-forest that surrounds Tiwai Wildlife Sanctuary is the ultimate place in the country to admire wildlife. A boat ride along the river will give you the chance to spot various species of birds and monkeys hanging from the trees; crocodile and – should you be lucky – you may even spot the elusive Pygmy Hippo (easier to spot during the dry season, and at night).
Getting to Bonthe, in Sherbro Island on the Sherbro River estuary, requires a bit of a trip, but it’s worth the effort. Locals know it as Christmas Island – mainly because it’s a favorite destination for holidays.
In the 19th century, Bonthe was a British control post against the slave trade. Freed slaves settled there and the town grew to become a shipping port.
Relax at Turtle Islands
Turtle Islands are made of 8 small islands in the Atlantic Ocean, inhabited by fishing communities. Quite removed from the rest of the country, they have amendable and basic essentials to offer. There is a basic guesthouse right by the beach, but you are probably better off bringing your own tent (complete with rain cover) and even your own food supplies, and anything you need to prepare a meal. Go there to completely disconnect from the stress of daily life – enjoy a walk along the beach; go for a swim in the warm waters; take photos of the sand bar and enjoy the tranquility of this remote place.
The Slave Trade in Bunce Island
Located in Tagrin Bay and easy to reach by ferry from Freetown, Bunce was home to the largest British slave castle on the Rice Coast of West Africa. Bunce was founded in 1670; from there, tens of thousands of African slaves departed to North America and the West Indies, until the slave trade was finally abolished in 1808.
Most of the buildings used by the slave traders are now abandoned – but they are still fascinating to see.
Local Food Specialties
Food in Sierra Leone is simple but full of flavor. In most places, you can expect to find freshly caught fish (especially barracuda) which you can have grilled and served with rice.
Sierra Leone’s tourism industry has significant potential for growth as the country showcases its tourist sites and natural resources. Building human capacity in the tourism and hospitality industry provides prospects for investment in this sector.
Companies can invest in building resorts, hotels, and restaurants along the stretch of white sand beaches and providing tourism services, including touring, sport fishing, bird watching, and hiking.
It’s time to explore the verdant landscape and the pristine beaches of Mama Salone.