Everything you need to know before visiting Sierra Leone
If you’ve landed on this page, you are probably thinking about visiting Sierra Leone. Guess what – you are in for a wonderful adventure! In an over-touristed world, Sierra Leone is still a place where you can admire unspoilt nature, relax on pristine beaches and have authentic travel encounters in places that only see a handful of tourists a year. We’ve put this article together to welcome you to our country, so you can have everything you need to help you plan and prepare at best for your trip to Sierra Leone. We are certain you’ll have the time of your life!
1. Sierra Leone is safe
Ok, so your friends and family have probably warned you against travelling to Sierra Leone, but you can tell them not to worry! The Civil War ended over twenty years ago in 2001, there have been no cases of Ebola since 2016, and our country is one of the safest in West Africa. Just remember to take your yellow fever shot, as it’s required to enter Sierra Leone.
2. Sierra Leone is close to Europe
You don’t need to have several weeks off to be able to visit Sierra Leone! The country is only a 6-hour flight from many European cities such as Paris, London and Brussels, and can be reached from elsewhere in Europe with connecting flights. A long weekend is enough for a winter break, to enjoy some sunshine and explore the stunning beaches of the Freetown Peninsula, just a quick drive from the capital. If you want to see wildlife or visit some of the country’s national parks, we recommend planning to spend at least 7/10 days in Sierra Leone.
3. There are various options to get around Sierra Leone
There are several transport options to get around Sierra Leone, depending on your time and budget. Backpackers on a shoestring can use keke (rickshaws), moto taxis and poda poda (minibuses) to get around Freetown, with the latter also connecting major cities within Sierra Leone. To get to national parks or other offbeat destinations, renting a 4WD is definitely recommended. You can drive yourself, or hire a local driver – highly recommended as the roads may sometimes be in poor condition, and only locals know how to navigate them. There are also boats connecting the islands to the mainland. In some cases like the Banana Islands, they run regularly, whereas for example to get to the Turtle Islands departures are hard to predict. A local guide will definitely help in this case!
4. You can get SIM Cards and exchange money at the airport
Your first port of call in Sierra Leone will most likely be Lungi airport in Freetown. Once you arrive at the airport, make sure you exchange cash – the official currency is the Sierra Leonean Leone ($1 USD was approx 19,000 at the time of writing) and the best exchange rate is at the airport. You can use USD to pay for guides and accommodation, but you’ll need Leones for small restaurants, market stalls and convenience stores. At the airport you can also pick up SIM cards to use during your time in the country.
5. There are two main seasons
Sierra Leone has two seasons: the wet season from May to October, with cooler temperatures and heavy rains, and the dry season from November to April. December and January are the best months to enjoy the beaches and sunshine – afterwards, the harmattan wind starts blowing from the Sahara, bringing extreme heat and haziness.
6. English is widely spoken
You don’t need to learn other languages to travel around Sierra Leone – English is the official language, and widely spoken across the country. However, the language you’ll hear most around the country is Krio, a Creole language based on English, with elements of French and Portuguese.
7. There’s a high degree of religious acceptance
Islam is the most practiced religion in Sierra Leone (76%), followed by Christianity (22%) and traditional beliefs (1%). What is unusual is that you’ll find people in the same family following different religions, and frequenting services in both churches and mosques. Religious acceptance in Sierra Leone is one of the highest in the world, and the country was commended by the United Nations for its high degree of religious intercooperation (see source: report)
8. If you like wildlife, beaches and islands, you have to visit!
Sierra Leone is best known for its beautiful beaches: many of them are in the Freetown Peninsula and can easily be reached from the city. Two examples are Tokeh Beach, home to the best resort in the country, and River N.2, managed by a community organization, with clear waters and white sand. Sierra Leone also has some stunning islands: the of-the-beaten-path Turtle Islands should be your destination to truly unplug and spend some days away from it all. Although the Turtle Islands lack some tourism infrastructure but makes it up with its fabulous views, You can also visit the Banana Islands closer to Freetown, and learn about the history of enslavement at Bunce Island.