Liberia travel guide
They say all publicity is good publicity, but Liberia might argue otherwise. Africa’s oldest republic has barely been out of the headlines in recent decades, but for all the wrong reasons; reports from the country have been dominated by two civil wars and an outbreak of Ebola. Suffice to say tourists have stayed away.
But Liberia has come a long way since the dark days of its civil war. The 2013 Ibrahim Index of African Governance proclaimed this small West African nation to be the most improved country on the continent – and many are hoping Liberia will continue in this vein.
Assuming it does, adventurous travellers will likely be tempted back to this small, coastal nation; a country characterised by its windswept golden beaches, luscious rainforests and verdant savannahs, where twittering birds, screeching monkeys and stomping elephants provide a wild soundtrack.
But there’s more to this country than natural wonders. Founded by freed American and Caribbean slaves, Africa’s oldest republic is home to a staggering diversity of cultures; its four million odd inhabitants are comprised of more than 16 established peoples, and there’s a burgeoning Asian and Middle Eastern population, too.
Art has long played an important role in Liberian culture, and the country’s various ethnic groups are renowned for their ornate wooden sculptures, particularly wooden masks, which are said to connect the living with ancestral spirits and ancient deities. Like art, religion is also woven into the fabric of Liberian life; casual ceremonies with sacred catfish hold force even while churches and mosques are full.
Liberia’s tropical climate, with a long dry season from September to June and rains peaking in August, still decide everything from transport to working schedules. During the monsoon roads become rivers and, at times, the country feels very much at the mercy of nature.
Yet Liberia is very much the master of its own destiny and its emergence as a credible tourist destination will depend largely on whether peace prevails and whether there is significant investment in the country’s creaking infrastructure.
111,369 sq km (43,000 sq miles).
4,615,222 (UN estimate 2016).
37.7 per sq km.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf since 2006.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf since 2006.
120 volts AC, 60Hz. American-style plugs with two flat pins (with or without round grounding pin) are most common.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There are sometimes clashes between armed groups from both sides of the Liberian/Cote d’Ivoire border in some of the more remote border areas of Grand Gedeh and River Gee counties. To avoid straying into these areas, use the main roads when travelling in these counties.
The ability of the national authorities and the UN to provide emergency help outside Monrovia is limited. Check the security situation before travelling to any part of the country. Violent incidents, particularly in rural areas, are possible as a result of land disputes, illegal mining and occupation of rubber plantations. Illegal rubber tappers have been responsible for a number of attacks on security forces in the Firestone rubber plantation. Avoid travelling away from the major routes within the plantation. Organised groups of former combatants may be present in areas of the country where there is limited government security presence, including Sinoe rubber plantation and Sapo National Park.
The Samuel K Doe Stadium in Monrovia can become overcrowded during major football matches or events.
There is a high level of crime in Monrovia, including armed robbery. The Liberian National Police has very limited capability to prevent or detect crime, or to provide emergency response in any part of the country. Levels of crime are much higher after dark. Don’t walk anywhere in the city at night.
Take care when walking alone and only do so during daylight hours in areas frequented by foreigners.
Most crime is opportunistic theft, but there are organised criminal gangs. Thieves are often armed with knives or machetes, but occasionally also carry firearms. While Liberians are the main victims of crime, the relative wealth of international visitors makes them an attractive target for criminals. Avoid carrying valuables in public and be vigilant at all times, especially at night. Mobile phones and laptops are common targets of theft.
Foreigners have been mugged in the Mamba Point and Sinkor areas of Monrovia (including Sinkor beach in broad daylight), where most international visitors stay. Be wary if you are approached by strangers. Criminals also operate in nightclubs and on beaches.
Accommodation occupied by international workers has occasionally been targeted by burglars. Thefts have occurred in taxis. You should avoid local public transport. There is a high incidence of rape in Liberia and there have been cases of rapes and attempted rapes involving foreign women.
Take extra care when driving in heavy traffic or off the main roads.
Consider your security arrangements carefully before your arrival in Liberia. Make sure you are supported by a reliable organisation with a comprehensive and adequate security plan. Stay only in reputable accommodation with adequate guarding and other security arrangements, and arrange for transport for the duration of your stay, including travel to and from the airport. Roberts International Airport is around 30 miles from central Monrovia, much of the journey passing through rural areas.
The roads from Monrovia to Roberts International Airport, the port town of Buchanan and to the border with Sierra Leone at Bo Waterside, and to the border with Guinea at Ganta are mainly paved and in reasonable condition. Most other roads outside Monrovia are unpaved. Driving and road conditions deteriorate significantly during the rainy season (May to November), and many roads may become impassable.
Avoid travelling at night outside Monrovia, except to or from Roberts International Airport. Roads are treacherous and all roads are unlit. Vehicles often do not have lights. You are more vulnerable to being robbed at an illegal check point at night.
Make precautionary arrangements for dealing with breakdowns, including considering travel with more than one vehicle. Traffic accidents can quickly draw hostile crowds, who may attempt to take justice into their own hands. Use a local driver outside Monrovia rather than driving yourself.
The standard of driving is generally poor. Be particularly alert to dangers from other vehicles swerving to avoid potholes and from taxis slowing or stopping unpredictably to pick up or drop off passengers and motorcycle taxis ‘Pein-Peins’ (the main cause of road accidents). Motorcycle taxis are very dangerous.
Be prepared to stop at checkpoints operated by the Liberian National Police, or other Liberian security authorities, which are found on roads throughout the country. Pull over to the side of the road immediately when instructed by security forces accompanying VIP convoys.
All airlines from Liberia have been refused permission to operate services to the EU because Liberia is unable to ensure that its airlines meet international safety standards. There are no commercial operators of domestic flights within Liberia.
River and Sea Travel
Liberia has many attractive beaches, but the Atlantic Ocean is subject to rip tides and other dangerous currents. Swimmers should take care and seek local advice before entering the water. Avoid canoes and fishing boats offering passenger services. They are regularly overwhelmed by strong waves and currents.
The British Embassy re-opened in Monrovia on 18 March 2013.
Liberia has become increasing stable since the internal conflict ended in 2003, but the security situation remains fragile and has deteriorated because of the Ebola outbreak. The Liberian government is working closely with the UN and the international community to provide increased stability and development.
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is serving a long prison sentence in the UK following his conviction by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Taylor’s supporters have warned that UK travellers in Liberia may be at risk of reprisal. You should be vigilant and avoid discussing political issues.