Wildlife lovers heading to Sierra Leone will probably already have heard of Tiwai Island (Mende for ‘Big Island’), a river island in the Moa River, hidden in the depths of the Upper Guinea Rainforest in southern Sierra Leone.
The Upper Guinea Rainforest stands as a living testament to the ancient woodlands that once blanketed the entirety of West and Central Africa. Its profound biodiversity endures, showcasing the remnants of a bygone era.
Adventurers setting foot on Tiwai Island are presented with plenty of opportunities to engage with nature. Guided excursions through the forest, immersive encounters with local communities, captivating boat journeys in search of rare wildlife species are just some of the experiences on offer in this fascinating nature retreat.
To make matters even better, Tiwai Island is one of the easiest protected natural areas to visit from Freetown, being located approximately 4 hours drive from the capital.
Let’s have a look at 5 very good reasons to visit Tiwai Island, and add it to your Sierra Leone itinerary!
Top 5 Reasons to Visit Tiwai
1. Walk the Tiwai Island Heritage Trail
2. Support Community-Based Tourism
3. See wildlife
A number of wildlife species call Tiwai Island home, including a thriving population of pygmy hippopotami, a species about half the size of regular river hippopotami, usually living in rainforest areas. Pygmy hippopotami are very shy and elusive, but they are regularly spotted in Tiwai Island – although you need a fair bit of luck on your side.
Tiwai is also home to over 100 avian species, including some that are endemic to this part of the country. It’s also worth mentioning that the island is a true primate haven, harboring 11 distinct primate species – it’s one of the prime spots in the world in terms of concentration and variety of primates.
Primate species found in Tiwai Island include red colobus monkeys, endangered black and white Diana monkeys, and the rarely-spotted sooty mangabey. Chimpanzees also live on Tiwai Island – who knows, you may be lucky to spot one in the wild!
4. Take a sunset boat tour
There are two ways to spot wildlife in Tiwai Island – either on foot, guided by eagle-eyed locals, or on boat tours.
Sunset boat tours are especially unforgettable. It’s a very peaceful experience to glide on the placid waters of the Moa River, surrounded by the golden hues of the setting sun, looking out for animals among the trees. You may spot hornbills resting on the trees, or monkeys jumping from one branch to the other, or even a duiker (miniature deer) ambling in the undergrowth.
On your way back to camp, you’ll be welcomed by a delicious home-cooked dinner with Sierra Leonean specialties!