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 those dark days. 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 surely be tempted back to this small, coastal nation; a beautiful country characterised by 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.