The Best Things To Do In Sierra Leone

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20 years after the end of the civil war and a major Ebola epidemic, Sierra Leone is working hard to up its tourist game. Sierra Leone today is a very peaceful nation, with incredibly welcoming locals (bonus point as they all speak English, which makes it very easy to communicate!) and lots to see and do. While the tourist infrastructure is still being improved outside of Freetown, if you go prepared, and are ready to rough it up a bit, you will be rewarded with views of paradisiac long, white sandy beaches fringed by palm trees; a thick-as-it-comes jungle with lots of wildlife to spot; a number of colonial style buildings that are a photographer’s dream and much more. Curious to discover the best things to do in Sierra Leone? Continue reading!

10 Unmissable Things To Do In Sierra Leone

Wander around Freetown

As you will be landing in Freetown Lungi International Airport, it makes sense to start your trip around Sierra Leone right in the capital. Perched on the hills and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Freetown is a very lively, and actually very multicultural city (did you know that there is a large Lebanese community that lives there?). The city is rich in history and offers an excellent range of attractions that will help you get a better understanding of the country’s culture and past. Places you should visit in Freetown include:
The National Railway Museum – First opened in 2005, this is quite a unique attraction in a country where the last train ran in 1975. The exhibit is made of a series of documents and photos that recollect the history of Sierra Leone Government Railway, as well as a number of locos, a Hunslet tank, a few diesel locos and even some coaches, including the one that was prepared for the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1961. (Open Monday to Friday, from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm; Saturdays by appointment).

St. Georges Cathedral – Built between 1817 and 1828, this is one of the most beautiful churches in Freetown.

The Cotton Tree – The oldest and most famous cotton tree in Freetown, it’s located close to the Supreme Court building and the National Museum. This is the tree under which returnees from Nova Scotia prayed once they returned to Sierra Leone and got back their freedom.

Sierra Leone National Museum – Close to the famous Cotton Tree, and first opened in 1957, is located in what was originally the Cotton Tree Railway Station. This is a small but interesting museum with an exhibit that will walk you through the most fascinating traditions and the most prominent figures from Sierra Leone’s past. (Admission is $5 USD)

Peace Museum and Memorial – First opened in 2013, this museum is located on the grounds of the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL) and its exhibit is dedicated to the people who contributed to the creation of modern Sierra Leone and to the victims of the civil war. (Admission is $1 USD).

Fourah Bay College – A gorgeous abandoned building, that after WWII was used as the headquarters of Sierra Leone Government Railway, to then become a Magistrate court. The building caught fire during the war, in 1999, and has since been claimed by the lush vegetation. The building beautiful colonial architecture provide visitors with excellent photo opportunities.

Take in the view from Leicester Peak

The highest mountain in Freetown rises 500 meters above sea level and it’s a favorite hangout spot for locals to visit.Visit here to take in the view, breathe the cooler air, enjoy some music and relax after a day of sightseeing.

Appreciate the work of Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary

Located in Tacugama Forest Reserve, at the outskirts of Freetown, and first opened in 1995, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary works to rehabilitate chimpanzees that were rescued from bad living conditions. Unfortunately, these animals are still hunted for meat or kept as pets in Sierra Leone, only to be abandoned when they become adults and troublesome.

The sanctuary strives to educate the local community to respect wildlife and the environment, and provides a safe living place for around 100 chimpanzees – some of them as young as 8 weeks.

Located in the sanctuary there are a few bungalows available for rent, in case you want to wake up to the sound of the forest!

Spend a day in the Banana Islands

This is probably the most popular day trip from Freetown!

Once used for the trade of slaves to the United States by the English, and then a place for returnees once slavery was abolished, the three islands – Dublin and Ricketts, inhabited and linked by a causeway, and the smaller uninhabited Mes-Meheux – can be reached by boat from from Kent Village, about one hour drive from Freetown.

Once there, you can explore the village, where a small community of around 800 people live. There are two beautiful churches to see. After that, head to Big Sand Beach to chill under a palm tree, snorkel or dive. You can even go fishing with local fishermen!

Should you get hungry, there is a small but good restaurant at the beach that serves delicious dishes of freshly caught seafood.

Admire Wildlife in Tiwai Wildlife Sanctuary

The Moa River and the thick tropical rain-forest that surrounds Tiwai Wildlife Sanctuary are the ultimate place in the country to admire wildlife. A boat ride along the river will give you the chance to spot various species of birds and monkeys hanging from the trees; crocodile and – should you be lucky – you may even spot the elusive Pygmy Hippo (easier to spot during the dry season, and at night). A night walk is also a great opportunity to listen to the sounds of the forest, and to see even more animals. Needless to say, you need a guide for that!

Explore Bonthe

Getting to Bonthe, in Sherbro Island on the Sherbro River estuary, requires a bit of a trip, but it’s worth the effort. Locals know it as Christmas Island – mainly because it’s a favorite destination for the holidays.

In the 19th century, Bonthe was a British control post against the slave trade. Freed slaves settled there and the town grew to become a shipping port – which it is still today. Exports from the island currently include palm kernels, ginger, coffee, swamp rice and fish.

Make sure to go on a walk around town to observe the old buildings and to meet the friendly local community. If you are lucky, you may even be able to catch a game of the local soccer tournament!

Relax at Turtle Islands

Turtle Islands are made of 8 small islands in the Atlantic ocean, inhabited by fishing communities. Quite removed from the rest of the country, they offer very little in terms of comfort – there is a very basic guesthouse right by the beach, but you are probably better off bringing your own tent (complete with rain cover) and even your own food supplies, and anything you need to prepare a meal.

Go there to completely disconnect from the stress of daily life – enjoy a walk along the beach; go for a swim in the warm waters; take photos of the sand bar and enjoy the tranquility of this remote place.

Enjoy the beaches of Freetown

Definitely one of the best things to do in Sierra Leone is chilling in one (or all) of the gorgeous beaches around Freetown.

Sussex, Hamilton, Lakka and Levuma Beach are perfect for a walk and will provide plenty of good photo opportunities. Located on the beach there are some great seafood restaurants, where you can enjoy lunch.

Another beach you should visit is Tokeh, from where you can walk all the way to River Number 2 beach, on the other side of the lagoon. That is by far the best beach in town. Expect to find fine, white sand and incredibly clear azure waters. A small local community manages the beach, keeping it clean and providing modest but comfortable accommodation, a nice beach restaurant and even a fun tourist market. You’ll have to pay a $0.50 fee to access the beach.

Learn about the slave trade in Bunce Island

Located in Tagrin Bay and easy to reach by ferry from Freetown, Bunce was home to the largest British slave castle on the Rice Coast of West Africa. Bunce was founded in 1670; from there, tens of thousands of African slaves departed to North America and the West Indies, until slave trade was finally abolished in 1808. Most of the buildings used by the slave traders are now abandoned – but they are still fascinating to see. Make sure to hire a guide to really understand the history of this unique place.

Try Local Specialties

Food in Sierra Leone is simple but full of flavor. In most places, you can expect to find freshly caught fish (especially barracuda) which you can have grilled and served with rice.

Other local specialties include fried mature plantains; groundnut stew (a stew made with either beef or chicken in a thick peanut sauce and served with rice); cassava and potato leaf stew (it tastes a bit like spinach and it’s usually served with fish or chicken and rice); krin krin, similar in look to cassava stew, though more gelatinous in texture. The local beer is Star.

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