Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary


A true jungle escape, Tiwai Island (Mende for Big Island) is set deep within Sierra Leone’s Upper Guinea Rainforest on the Moa River, in the southern part of the country.

The Upper Guinea Rainforest is one of the last examples of the ancient rainforests that once covered the whole of West and Central Africa, still retaining rich levels of biodiversity.

Tiwai Island is home to one of the richest populations of pygmy hippopotami, more than 100 birds including endemic species, and it is also the best place in the country to see primates – 11 resident primate species make Tiwai Island the protected area with the world’s highest concentration and diversity of primates.

The island also houses one of the country’s first ecotourism projects. Guests have the opportunity of spending the night in a camp surrounded by rainforest, managed by the national NGO, Environmental Foundation for Africa – Sierra Leone (EFASL). All tourism revenue is reinvested into Tiwai Island, contributing to a Community Development Fund that supports various programs, benefiting Tiwai’s eight host communities.

Explorers venturing to Tiwai Island have the opportunity to spend time in nature and join an array of activities. These include guided forest walks, immersive community visits, captivating boat tours, and refreshing swims along Tiwai’s sandy beaches, particularly delightful during the dry season.

Tiwai Island has also been on the tentative UNESCO list, hoping one day to join the full UNESCO World Heritage List.

Getting There and Around

Tiwai Island is located in southern Sierra Leone, about 300 km southwest of Freetown. It’s impossible to reach Tiwai Island with public transportation, so it’s recommended to arrange a 4×4 and driver, as the roads in the southern part of the country are often unpaved and can be hard to navigate with a regular vehicle.

From Freetown, drive to Bo along the Freetown-Bo highway. As Bo is Sierra Leone’s third-largest city, the highway connecting it to the capital has recently been upgraded and resurfaced, and it’s now in good condition.

The drive from Freetown to Bo takes about 3 hours – it’s a good idea to stop in Bo for lunch and to pick up snacks for your time on Tiwai Island.

From Bo, take the Potoru-Tiwai highway to Kambaba Village where you’ll board a canoe or motorboat transfer to Tiwai Island.
To know more about Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary visit

When to Visit

Sierra Leone has two distinct seasons: the wet season, running from May to October, and the dry season, from November to April. The dry season is the best time to visit Tiwai – November is a very good month, the country is green and lush from the recent rains, and the sky is still blue. December and January are very good months for birdwatchers, with many bird species found on the island. However, December also marks the beginning of harmattan season, a hot, dry and dusty wind from the Sahara which often clouds the skies and makes wildlife watching complicated. Visiting Tiwai Island in the wet season is a lot more challenging, as rain in this part of the country can indeed be torrential and make roads impassable. Malaria is also a concern during the wet season.

Wildlife and Biodiversity

The considerable concentration and diversity of primates is Tiwai Island’s main draw. There are 11 primate species calling Tiwai Island home, including the chimpanzee, Sierra Leone’s national animal, as well as the Red Colobus monkeys, the endangered black-and-white Diana monkey, and the rare sooty mangabey.

Tiwai Island is also one of the best places in the country to see pygmy hippopotamus, a rare and elusive hippopotamus species (measuring only about 2000 individuals in the wild) about half the size of hippopotami found elsewhere in Africa.

Another unique wildlife species often spotted around Tiwai is Maxwell’s Duiker, a diminutive antelope species about as big as a medium-sized dog, found in the dense rainforest undergrowth.

Besides mammals, Tiwai Island also houses 135 bird species, including 8 different species of hornbill, more than 9000 plants, 425 reptile and 500 freshwater fish species, a third of which are endemic.

What to Do

Forest Walks

Guides and rangers from the Tiwai communities organize forest walks both during the day and at night, keeping an eye out for Diana and Colobus monkeys and taking breaks under Tiwai’s 200-year-old giant trees.

Daytime walks are usually taken in the early hours of the morning or at dusk, when wildlife species are at their most active. Night walks are ideal to spot small reptiles, insects and other nocturnal species, like pygmy hippos.

The island also has up to 50 km of walking paths which you can explore on your own terms, however we also recommend taking a guide as they’ll be able to spot wildlife and share information about the various plant species and their use for local communities.

Read More

Canoe/Boat Tours

It is also possible to head down the Moa River on a guided tour by canoe or boat, watching the birds fly overhead and keeping an eye out for monkeys. Sunset is a very good time to see primates, birds and turtles, whereas if you want to maximize your chance to see pygmy hippos it’s necessary to opt for a night tour.

On canoe/boat tours, you’ll also witness how the local villages interact with the river, seeing the handmade fishing traps on the bank and canoe ferries from one side of the river to the other.

Read More

Beach Visit

Sierra Leone is known for its beaches, so you might be happy to know there’s a beach on Tiwai too! At the tip of Tiwai’s northern edge lies a stretch of sandy beach where visitors can relax and swim in the freshwater during the dry season (December/March).

If you’re very lucky, you might meet river otters, and see their paw prints on the sand.

Read More

Cultural Encounter

Visitors that want to know more about local life and culture have the opportunity to meet the community members from the eight Tiwai Island communities, who will perform cultural dances and share their unique traditions and heritage with guests on request.

It is also possible to explore the recently-opened Tiwai Heritage Trail, a 5 day expedition covering all 8 Tiwai Island communities, to learn more about Mende culture and the ecosystems of southeastern Sierra Leone.

Read More

Other Attractions in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Brand