How to get there?
It’s not easy to get to Bonthe, but that’s part of Sherbro Island’s charm. It takes 5/7 hours to drive from Freetown to Yagoi, a remote port town on the estuary of the Sherbro River. You’ll need your own vehicle, preferably a 4X4 as after passing Bo, the road is mainly dirt and in really poor conditions. In Yagoi you can either take the daily passenger boat departing every day for Bonthe at 4 PM, or charter your own boat to take you down the estuary to the island.
About the Island
Sherbro Island is about 51 km long and 24 km wide, with a total surface area of 600 square kilometers. The main settlement is the town of Bonthe – for this reason, the island is also sometimes referred to as Bonthe Island. Bonthe’s history stretches back to the 17th century – the island was a busy trading port, before being settled by the Royal African Company as a base for the slave trade. After the abolition of slavery, Bonthe was settled by formerly enslaved people and the Royal African Company fort was used as a base for operations against illegal slave traders. The town continued to be one of the busiest ports in West Africa until the 1960s, when most trade and operations were moved to Freetown, and Bonthe slowly started to decline. Nowadays, its ‘out of the world’ feel is part of its appeal – crumbling colonial buildings survive, with paint peeling off wooden boards and vegetation slowly creeping up the walls. There’s no tourist infrastructure, and locals are happy to show visitors around, guaranteeing your experience will be authentic. The island is a popular destination of Sierra Leoneans for their Christmas holidays – at other times of the year, visitors are really few and far between.
Outside the town, Sherbro Island is a vast expanse of waterway, mangrove swamps and rainforest, with a few fishermen settlements and mud house villages.
Things to do
The main activity is exploring Bonthe. Ask locals to show you around – there are some impressive yet decadent colonial villas, traditional Krio board houses, a Methodist church and 19th century graves of British soldiers who died there fighting illegal slave traders. You may also be invited to join an impromptu game of football, play with children or join locals in their courtyard for a drink. The city is walkable but quite vast – it’s possible to rent a bicycle to move around with ease.
Outside Bonthe, roads give way to tracks and it’s recommended that you travel around with a guide. It’s possible to join excursions on foot or by boat to explore the interior and the fishermen villages dotted all along the coastline. Fishing is also a popular activity, especially for tarpon.
Places to Eat / Stay
The only place that accommodates tourists on the island is Bonthe Holiday Village, offering accommodation with AC in comfortable rooms located in chalets. Meals are usually cooked and taken to Bonthe Holiday Village by local women – expect traditional Sierra Leonean fare, with stews, fried plantains and rice, for about $10 USD each. If you are traveling with a guide, they will arrange this.