Top events in Sierra Leone

December
05

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

December
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...

December
14

Every month, at sunrise and sunset, on a disused helipad once used by the pre-civil war exclusive Africana Hotel, off Tokeh Beach’s white sand...

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: 27 November 2014

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.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to Sierra Leone, except for those involved in the direct response to the Ebola outbreak, due to the narrow commercial options for flights and the impact of the outbreak on medical facilities.

Ebola

An outbreak of Ebola virus has been confirmed in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern.’ British Airways has suspended flights to Sierra Leone and Liberia until 31 March 2015 due to the deteriorating public health situation. Air France has suspended flights to Sierra Leone and some other airlines have also suspended flights to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

General medical facilities throughout Sierra Leone are currently under severe strain due to the Ebola outbreak, and are unable to provide the same standard of healthcare as in the UK. Dedicated healthcare facilities for Ebola are overwhelmed. Many medical facilities expect to be paid up-front.

If you are a British national you should stay in contact with your employer or host organisation about the support that they can provide to you while you are in the country, or should you wish to leave. If you travel to Sierra Leone to help in the relief effort, you should make sure that you are contracted to a reputable organisation that is able to provide the support and risk assessments required. You should be aware that the narrow range of commercial flight options and restrictions on travel in the region may make it difficult to leave, particularly at short notice, and you should consider your own plans in this context.

On 30 July, President Koroma declared a State of Public Emergency. Measures include restriction of movement to and from affected areas, with some exemptions for NGO and health workers. You should confirm with your organisation whether you will be exempt from these restrictions. From 7 August, a nationwide ban on public gatherings has been put in place and increased restriction on movement of people and vehicles to the districts of Port Loko, Bombali, Moyamba, Kailahun and Kenema for those not working on the response to the Ebola outbreak. The government has introduced new protocols for arriving and departing passengers at Lungi International airport.

Sporadic and spontaneous demonstrations and local disturbances related to the Ebola outbreak and collection of bodies have been reported across Sierra Leone, the most recent in Kono on 21 October. You should avoid crowds and demonstrations and familiarise yourself with the measures set out in the State of Public Emergency.

For further details about this outbreak of Ebola, see the World Health Organization website, and this map showing the affected areas. The Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation is also providing regular updates on the outbreak on its Facebook page.

Although the chances of being infected remain low, there are measures you can take to prevent catching Ebola. You should also follow the health advice issued by the National Travel Health Network and Centre to:

  • avoid contact with symptomatic patients and their bodily fluids
  • avoid contact with corpses and/or bodily fluids from deceased patients.
  • avoid close contact with live or dead wild animals
  • avoid consumption of “bush meat”
  • practice safe sex
  • follow strict hand washing routines

Anybody concerned that they might have been exposed to, or showing symptoms of Ebola should seek immediate medical advice. If you’re in the UK call NHS on 111.

Other advice

Most visits to Sierra Leone are incident free but petty crime is present with occasional reports of associated violence. Incidents have been reported in the central commercial district, Lumley Beach, Aberdeen and eastern areas of Freetown.

Road conditions are variable. Driving conditions can deteriorate during the rainy season (May to October). Take extra care.

Consider carefully the various transfer options between the international airport at Lungi and Freetown, especially if you plan to arrive at night.

Strong currents exist at some beaches. Drownings have occurred. There are no lifeguards at beaches.

There is a low threat from terrorism. 

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

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