If you’ve considered visiting Sierra Leone, you’ll know our country is home to several national parks and protected areas, each offering unique wildlife, scenery, and outdoor recreation opportunities. National parks and protected reserves around Sierra Leone are great places to visit to maximize your chances of seeing wildlife, to hike and spend time in unspoilt natural surroundings, and to appreciate the biological diversity that makes our country so special. Regardless of how long your visit is, whether you’re thinking of spending one week in Sierra Leone and focus on the Freetown Peninsula, or two weeks to explore further afield, your itinerary should definitely include one (or more) national parks around Sierra Leone. Let’s have a look at the top national parks to visit!
1. Outamba-Kilimi National Park
This national park is located in northern Sierra Leone, close to the border to Guinea. It comprises two distinct areas – Outamba, named after one the highest peak in the area, and Kilimi, taking its name from the longest river. Outamba-Kilimi became a national park in 1985, and it is home to a variety of wildlife, including chimpanzees, elephants, pygmy hippos, and rare birds. Visitors can take guided nature walks, bird watching tours, and stay in jungle huts or go on camping trips in the park. Other activities available at Outamba-Kilimi national park include canoe trips along the Kabba River, where you may be lucky enough to see a pod of pygmy hippos, one of the rarest animals in Sierra Leone. The national park is also a great hiking destination – you can climb Karangia Hill at sunrise for a great view over the Guinea border, or embark on a two-day hiking adventure to Yomba Falls, the largest in Sierra Leone.
2. Mamunta-Mayosso Wildlife Sanctuary
Mamunta-Mayosso is a protected wildlife sanctuary in a remote location in the rainforest of central Sierra Leone. It’s in Tonkolili district, and the closest towns are Magburaka and Yonibana. This wildlife sanctuary is worth visiting as it’s one of the last refuges of the dwarf crocodile, a threatened species that only survives in a few isolated pockets in West Africa. Mamunta-Mayosso is also home to other rare species – chimpanzees, pygmy hippos and red colobus monkeys.
3. Kangari Hills Forest Reserve
In the heart of Central Sierra Leone, about 40 km from Mamunta-Mayosso, Kangari Hills Forest Reserve is one of the last surviving stretches of the Upper Guinean Rainforest ecosystem, home to protected plant and animal species. Vulnerable species that can be seen in this forest reserve include chimpanzees, Diana monkeys, red colobus monkeys, pygmy hippos, and various duiker species. It is also one of the last places in Sierra Leone where forest elephants still roam.
4. Western Area Peninsula National Park
Freetown may very well be one of the few capitals with a national park right on its doorstep. The Western Area Peninsula National Park is located in the interior of the Freetown Peninsula, covering an area of 183 square km. The national park is mainly covered in semi-deciduous canopy forest, home to species including western chimpanzees, Jenkins duikers, red colobus monkeys, black-and-white colobus monkeys, sooty mangabeys, Diana monkeys, and even some leopards.
An unmissable destination in the area is Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, established to rescue and rehabilitate orphaned chimpanzees and promote conservation within the community.
5. Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary
This sanctuary is located on an island in the middle of the Moa River, flowing from the highlands of Guinea to the Atlantic Ocean. In Mende, the local language, ‘Tiwai’ means big – in fact, it’s the largest inland island in Sierra Leone. On Tiwai, visitors can stay at a rainforest lodge run by the local community, where they can take guided nature hikes, sunset boat rides, and night walks to spot insects and other nocturnal animals. The island hosts a variety of species, including several endemic plants, 11 species of primates including chimpanzees and the largest colony of pygmy hippos.
6. Gola Rainforest National Park
Located in southeastern Sierra Leone, close to the Liberian border, Gola Rainforest National Park includes one of largest surviving areas of Upper Guinean rainforest in West Africa. A number of wildlife species call the park home: 49 mammal species, including pygmy hippos, forest elephants and endangered primate species; 327 bird species, including the Nimba flycatcher and Gola Malimbe, and one of the largest colonies of wild chimpanzees.
Tourists can go on guided nature walks, but longer expeditions are ideal to maximize their chances to see specific species – for example, in the Sileti area there is a two-day itinerary where it’s possible to spot pygmy hippos, Diana monkeys and red colobus monkeys. Gola is also worth visiting to learn about culture: villages in the Lalehun area are known for their masked devil dance, while the Belebu community has extensive knowledge of medicinal plants.