Top events in Sierra Leone

April
27

On 27 April 1961, Sierra Leone declared independence after being part of the British Empire for 150 years. Since that day, every year, the people...

May
05

Sierra Leone is a country of talented, creative and progressive thinking people who like to express themselves through art. As a result,...

May
13

Sierra Leone’s obsession with letting its hair down is illustrated by the discos and soundsystem parties that pop up all over the country, on a...

Boy fishing on canoe, Sierra Leone
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Boy fishing on canoe, Sierra Leone

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Sierra Leone Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

71,740 sq km (27,699 sq miles).

Population

5.6 million (2013).

Population density

78 per sq km.

Capital

Freetown.

Government

Republic. Gained independence from the UK in 1961.

Head of state

President Ernest Bai Koroma since 2007.

Head of government

President Ernest Bai Koroma since 2007.

Electricity

230 volts AC, 50Hz. Supply subject to fluctuations. Plugs are British-style with three square pins or Indian-style with three round pins.

Despite its lush rainforests, pristine palm-fringed beaches, fascinating history and vibrant culture, Sierra Leone is still a largely undiscovered destination. The country’s unique natural beauty once attracted 100,000 tourists a year, drawn to its secluded white sandy beaches, and refreshing waterfalls, until the horrors of civil war overtook the country. Since it ended, over a decade ago, visitors are starting to rediscover the West African country's splendour.

In some ways, nothing has changed. Locally known as ‘Sweet Salone’, Sierra Leone is still one of the friendliest countries in West Africa. The smiling people and relaxed attitude are characteristic of this small nation. Wherever you go, and whomever you meet, you’ll be greeted with open arms as though you were already part of the family.

The first thing you’ll notice when entering Sierra Leone is the lush vegetation and abundance of mighty rivers and quick flowing streams. These are the ingredients that create a recipe for one of the most concentrated biodiversity hotspots in the world. From the rolling hills of the Western Area Peninsula Forest to the remnants of the Upper Guinea Forest in the south east, passing through the Loma Mountains and Kangari Hills of the Northern Province, unique fauna and flora is everywhere. From the big mammals such as the hippos, forest elephants or the chimpanzees, to the smaller but no less interesting birds and insects, Salone is a biodiversity enthusiast’s dream. No wonder then, that David Attenborough, the legend of wildlife documentaries, started his career in Sierra Leone.

Nature is not the only selling point of this exciting nation. Sierra Leone’s first established higher institution of education, Fourah Bay College (FBC), is considered as the first ever higher learning centre in the region, earning the country the moniker ‘Athens of West Africa’. In the 1960s students from all over West Africa flocked to Sierra Leone to benefit from the FBC’s reputation for higher education.

Unfortunately, this gem of a country is overshadowed by its recent history. From 1991 to 2002, Sierra Leone was the centre of one of the longest lasting and most brutal civil wars in modern history. Dramatized in the 2006 film Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio, this conflict is still one of the first things that most people think about when Sierra Leone is mentioned in a conversation. The current reality couldn’t be further from that.

This negative reputation is slowly being replaced with what are considered to be, by more and more visitors, as some of the most beautiful, pristine and cleanest beaches in West Africa, and some say, the world. Each beach along the small area known as the Western Area Peninsula has its own unique characteristics. Remember the Bounty advert: ‘A taste of Paradise!’? That beach was in Sierra Leone. If you’re looking for secluded palm-fringed slices of exotic delight where you can tuck into a plate of fresh chilli and lime marinated barracuda, sweet potato french fries and salad, this is the place to be.

The cherry on top must be that Salone is probably one of the most tolerant countries in Africa. It's common for Muslims to marry Christians, for faith-based festivals to be celebrated with equal enthusiasm by all, and for Christian prayers to be recited by a Muslim and vice versa.

With the combination of an off-the-beaten track feel, the welcoming attitude of its people, and awe-inspiring scenery, ‘Sweet Salone’ is fast becoming the next independent travellers’ destination of choice.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 18 April 2015

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.


Crime

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: road, ferry, Pelican water taxi and local boats/pirogues. None is without risk. 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/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 do not use this option for travel after dark.

Transfer by sea

The options are Pelican water taxi, ferry and local boats/pirogues. No option is without risk, but reports of incidents and injuries using the Pelican and ferry are rare. FCO staff regularly use the Pelican water taxi and occasionally the ferry but not the local boats/pirogues.

During the rainy season (May to October) rough sea conditions may lead to delays or cancellations. If you choose to cross by boat, 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.

Pelican – the journey time is 25 to 45 minutes on the water. These water taxis operate between Freetown (Aberdeen) and Lungi (Mahera Beach). They have navigational aids, night lights and provide life jackets for passengers. They have limited additional safety equipment and rescue capability.

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 are 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. Previously a hovercraft service operated but it is currently out of service.

Road Travel

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 in 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).

Air Travel

All airlines from Sierra Leone have been refused permission to operate services to the EU because of safety concerns. A list of recent incidents and accidents in Sierra Leone can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.

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.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Sierra Leone.

Swimming

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.

Political situation

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.

Telephone network

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.

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