Following the better part of two decades of intermittent civil and tribal warfare, in recent years Sierra Leone has emerged as a beacon of how amicable reconciliation can make a country both wealthier, happier and much more accessible for overseas visitors. Tourism has been one of the driving forces in making the country a template for a progressive, unified and democratic west African nation, and visitors are assured of enjoying a fascinating visit in one of the continents most enchanting and exotic countries.
Sierra Leone is rightly renowned for it’s stunning natural beauty, epitomized by endless miles of unspoiled and largely undeveloped beaches, jungles packed with rare and exciting fauna and wildlife and mountains that are havens for some of the worlds most endangered species. Here’s just five of the most unmissable tourist attractions:
The Banana Islands:
These three islands just a short boat ride from Kent are home to just two small villages, and each specialize in offering either amazing snorkeling, serene beaches or beautiful natural forests to explore. In many ways the Banana Islands represent what is very best about Sierra Leone in one compact package, and is a favorite destination for anyone with an interest in eco-tourism or getting the chance to interact with the indigenous people.
This was one of the key components of the West African slave trade before abolition, founded in the late 17th century by a conglomeration of British trading partners to enslave and export the skilled local rice planters to the West Indies and the New World. The site was finally closed down in 1808 and fell into gradual disrepair, but a recent influx of overseas funds have seen preservation work stabilize the site and ensure that its legacy may be preserved for later generations. An atmospheric and eerie place that must be visited to be truly understood.
A real tribute to how far Sierra Leone has come in just a few years, this eco-sanctuary is home to over 600 different types of plant species and is the natural habitat of a variety of endangered creatures, perhaps most famously the pygmy hippopotamus. There’s a number of well built and signposted paths that discreetly criss-cross the reserve encouraging visitors to walk at their own pace and savor the many birds, butterflies and colorful flowers. Apart from a small but expert visitors station and a modest cafe there’s little else in the way of facilities, so guests are advised to bring everything they will need for their stay (including perishable foods).
Tacaguma Chimpanzee Sanctuary:
An amazing project that flourished even during the times of conflict, Tacaguma Chimpanzee Sanctuary is one of Africa’s leading agencies for preserving one of man kinds closest relatives who are now listed as an endangered species by the United Nations. This progressive and fascinating facility offers the visitor the chance to learn by interacting with the Chimpanzees and the experts who care for them. It is difficult not to feel personally touched by some of the stories they have to tell, and being only a short way from Freetown it is one of the first destinations on the agenda for many international visitors making their way to the coast or the mountains.
River Number Two Beach:
It may not sound especially enticing but this beach is regularly considered one of the best in Africa, thanks to it’s close proximity to Freetown (16km) and being amazingly devoid of pretty much any commercial opportunism. Indeed apart from a latrine hut there’s hardly anything else that is man-made in this gorgeous natural cove, with crystal clear waves offering the ideal means to cool off from the invariably stunning heat. To put it simply, few beaches come as close to perfection as this.