Everybody knows about beaches in Sierra Leone, but did you know that you can also find some amazing islands? What’s more, islands in Sierra Leone offer a great variety of things to do and see – there are some tropical paradises, places where you can learn about history, and islands where you can see how local people live their daily lives. One or more islands in Sierra Leone can’t be missing from your itinerary. If you are only in Sierra Leone for a week, you can definitely check out some of the islands closest to Freetown, but if you have 2 weeks or longer, you might want to include some of the most offbeat ones, like the Turtle Islands. Let’s look at some of the best islands in Sierra Leone – including some you probably never heard about!
5 Best Islands in Sierra Leone
1. Banana Islands
The Banana Islands are probably the easiest to visit from Freetown, and a popular day trip from the capital for locals and tourists alike. There are three islands – Dublin and Ricketts, inhabited and linked by a causeway, and uninhabited Mes-Meheux. Dublin is known for its beaches, and Ricketts has some wonderful forests and nature, while tiny Mes-Meheux is privately owned and visited by adventure tours.
The Banana Islands were used by enslavers as a base during the Transatlantic slave trade. After the abolition of slavery, a group of formerly enslaved people returned to their homeland and settled on Dublin and Ricketts – most of the 900 people living on the islands nowadays are their descendents.
2. Bunce Island
This island is also located a short distance from Freetown, only 20 miles upriver, and can easily be visited as a day trip. Bunce Island housed the largest British slave trading fort, active from 1670 to 1728. During this time, tens of thousands of enslaved Africans boarded ships bound for the Americas, never to return.
At Bunce Island you can still see ruins of the fort, including the sleeping quarters and the ‘Door of No Return’. The island is uninhabited, and nature is slowly creeping back onto the ruined buildings. The only way to visit is with a guide, who will illustrate the history of the place – it’s a moving experience, but a must to understand this dark chapter.
3. Bonthe / Sherbro Island
Bonthe Island, also known as Sherbro Island, is located in the estuary of the Sherbro River, about 200 km south of Freetown. It takes several hours to reach Bonthe Island from Freetown – first you’ll have to drive to Yagoi, taking 5-6 hours, then take an hour-long ferry across the estuary, but it’s really worth the hassle! This island was also an important port during the British colonial times, and a frequent stop during the slave trade. When most commerce and seafaring trade moved to Freetown, Bonthe was slowly abandoned, and only a few thousand people live there now. Walking around, you can see the ruins of crumbling colonial buildings and some wrecked ships, slowly rusting away. However, the thing people love most about Bonthe is the chilled out atmosphere. It’s as if life moves slower here, with most locals spending time outdoors in the sandy streets or courtyards.
4. Turtle Islands
Are you looking for a real tropical getaway? Then, the Turtle Islands are the place for you. These 8 pristine islands are located west of Bonthe/Sherbro Island, about three hours by boat – if you are spending 2 weeks in Sierra Leone, we highly recommend visiting them! There are eight islands in total – Yele, Bakie, Bumpetuk, Chepo, Hoong, Mut, Nyangei and Sei, inhabited by small fishing communities belonging to the Sherbro ethnic group. It’s a place to go to enjoy simple island life, spending time on the beach and walking along the mangroves, with no one else besides you and locals. Accommodation on the Turtle Islands is very simple, either in basic huts steps away from the crystalline beaches, or on tents pitched under the palms. There is no electricity, running water or the Internet – but there’s plenty of nature to enjoy!
5. Tiwai Island
Let’s end this roundup of Sierra Leone beaches with Tiwai Island, located on the Moa River in the southern part of the country. Tiwai Island measures 12 square kilometers and it is now a wildlife sanctuary and community-led tourism destination. Visitors can stay in simple huts surrounded by the rainforest and go wildlife-spotting with local guides, both on foot and by boat. Wildlife species that can be seen at Tiwai Islands include pygmy hippo, 11 species of primates (including the endangered Diana monkey) and 135 species of birds.