Sierra Leone travel guide
About Sierra Leone
Like one of its rough diamonds, Sierra Leone is a destination of exquisite natural beauty and great potential. But despite its lush rainforests, palm-fringed beaches, fascinating history and vibrant culture, the country remains largely unexplored and undiscovered.
It’s hard to believe now, but Sierra Leone once attracted some 100,000 tourists a year. They were drawn to the country’s white sandy beaches, azure waters and swaying palms, until the horrors of civil war ravaged the country and knocked it off the tourism map.
Suffice to say Sierra Leone remains somewhat overshadowed by this bitter and bloody conflict, which raged between 1991 and 2002. Dramatised in the 2006 film Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the war is still one of the first things most people think about when Sierra Leone is mentioned.
Happily, this negative reputation is gradually receding and a new picture is emerging. Pioneering travellers are also trickling back to this corner of West Africa to rediscover the country’s many charms.
In some ways, nothing has changed. Known locally as ‘Sweet Salone’, Sierra Leone remains one of the friendliest countries on the continent. The smiling people and relaxed vibe are characteristic of this small nation. Wherever you go, and whomever you meet, you’ll be greeted as though you are part of the family.
Another thing you will notice in Sierra Leone is the abundance of wildlife. From hippos, forest elephants and chimpanzees, to bountiful birds and exotic insects, Salone is a dream ticket for nature enthusiasts. Pack your binoculars.
It’s also paradise for sun-seekers. In fact Sierra Leone’s gorgeous sandy beaches are considered by many to be the best in West Africa. Combine this with the country’s off-the-beaten track feel, welcoming people, and awe-inspiring scenery, and it’s easy to see why ‘Sweet Salone’ is being vaunted as an up-and-coming destination for intrepid travellers.
71,740 sq km (27,699 sq miles).
6,592,102 (UN estimate 2016).
82 per sq km.
President Ernest Bai Koroma since 2007.
President Ernest Bai Koroma since 2007.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. Supply subject to fluctuations. Plugs are British-style with three square pins or Indian-style with three round pins.
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.
Most visits to Sierra Leone are incident free. But a small number of incidents have been reported since mid 2013 of British nationals being robbed, sometimes at knife-point. These incidents were reported in the areas of Congo Cross, Wilkinson Road, Lumley Beach and Aberdeen.
The greatest risk to short-stay travellers is from pick pocketing and mugging in Freetown. If you are staying for a longer period make sure your property is secured properly and employ guards.
You should take the following precautions against crime:
- avoid crowds and political demonstrations
- don’t display or carry expensive items or large sums of money
- avoid walking alone after dark
- plan your transport arrangements and minimise use of public transport, taxis, poda-podas (minibuses) and Ocadas (motorbikes). Some robberies have been carried out by associates of the drivers and other passengers.
- familiarise yourself with your surroundings and remain vigilant.
Local Travel (Getting to Freetown from the airport)
Lungi airport is situated on the far side of a wide estuary from Freetown. There are several transfer options from Lungi airport including by road, ferry, water taxi and local boats or pirogues. The 3 main water taxi operators run reliable services, with safe vessels.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff operate a policy of informed choice and use all of the transport options available with the exception of local boats (such as the local canoes and wooden pirogues).
If you plan to stay at one of the Lungi Airport hotels book early as rooms are extremely limited and in high demand.
Transfer by road
The journey time by road is normally between 3 and 5 hours. You should prearrange pick-up. as there are no car hire facilities at the airport. The Consular section at the British High Commission can provide lists of Freetown-based car hire companies. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff don’t use this option for travel after dark.
Transfer by sea
During the rainy season (May to October) rough sea conditions may lead to delays or cancellations. If you choose to cross the estuary, it’s good practice to notify a reliable contact of your departure and expected arrival times and agree what action they will take if you don’t arrive at the expected time.
Water taxi – the journey time is usually 25 minutes on the water. These water taxis operate between Freetown (Lumley area) and Lungi. They have navigational aids, night lights and provide life jackets for passengers. They have limited rescue capability. Operators run scheduled services at set times that are aligned with the flight arrivals and departures. Check the times before you travel. Water taxis can be privately chartered if you miss your crossing, though this will be more expensive.
Ferry – the journey time is about 1 hour on the water. The service terminates in Freetown in the eastern end of the city. You should pre-plan your onward journey from there, particularly if you’re arriving at night. The service offers a crossing for both foot passengers and vehicles. The ferry lacks basic safety equipment. Foreign foot passengers have reported being pick-pocketed.
Local boats/pirogues – these craft operate without lights and any safety equipment. You should avoid using these craft.
Plan your journeys outside Freetown, travel in convoy if possible and report your progress. Have a plan for what to do and where to go in case of emergencies.
Make sure you use well maintained vehicles. Erratic driving is common and motorbikes are a particular problem. Most roads have little or no lighting and have hazards like vehicles with no lights, wandering pedestrians and animals. Serious traffic accidents are common.
Children will sometimes put a rope across the road and ask for a small donation for mending the road. These incidents are most common at the weekend and on roads to tourist beaches in the Western Area. The rope will be lifted if you indicate that you don’t intend to stop. You can distinguish them from official police checkpoints, which are manned by uniformed officers with marked barriers.
FCO staff avoid road travel outside the Freetown peninsula during night hours.
FCO staff do not use local taxis, poda-podas (minibuses) or ocadas (motorbikes).
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
A list of recent incidents and accidents in Sierra Leone can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone has many attractive beaches, but strong currents exist at some. Seek local advice about conditions. There are no lifeguards. Swimming is at your own risk. Beware of hospital waste, including needles, on Lumley beach.
Sierra Leone is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and has taken significant strides following 3 democratic elections since the end of its civil war in 2002. But it is still one of the poorest countries in the world, with associated capacity and other challenges. Keep up to date with local and regional developments. Avoid all political demonstrations anywhere in the country.
Water and power
Mains water is limited. Power is improving but remains unreliable. Rented accommodation and hotels rely on generators and private water supplies.
No mobile network provides country-wide coverage. Some areas have no mobile reception. There is no public telephone system outside the Western Area and landline connections are poor. It is not possible to call a Sierra Leone mobile phone from a Sierra Leone landline and vice-versa.