Sierra Leone is a hidden gem on the West Coast of Africa. It offers a captivating blend of natural beauty and cultural richness. From pristine beaches and lush rainforests to vibrant markets and friendly locals, Sierra Leone has much to offer. Explore its history and immerse yourself in the warmth of Sierra Leone.
The first thing you will notice when stepping off the plane is the intense humid climate, it almost takes the breath out of you. We were met promptly by our representative in the airport, and we were ushered by private vehicles to the ferry port for our 45-minute boat ride to Freetown. As we stood waiting to board, we witnessed the beautiful African sunset descending on the horizon as a gracious welcome to Sierra Leone.
The morning proceeded with a comprehensive tour of Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city. The bustling city and its rhythmic sounds of beeping vehicles, music, lively chatter and local market chants fill the air in a vibrant atmosphere. It all feels slightly chaotic but is a sensory overload as you get to immerse yourself in the energetic city. We visited all the historical landmarks that represent Freetown and learned about its’ history. We then proceeded on to Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary where we got to witness these amazing creatures in rehabilitation. Over 100 primates are in the sanctuary. It was incredible to watch them go about their daily lives. The little chimps were pirouetting around each other as they were looking for mischief. The alpha male, of the name Mark, watched over the group. Later that night we went out to experience the vibrant and bustling nightlife of Freetown. We went to a few clubs and the local dance culture is fantastic. The clubs where packed and the music was bopping. We all enjoyed visiting the various nightlife scenes of Freetown, dancing to the local afro-beat sounds.
The next day we set off to witness, the dark side of Sierra Leone’s past, Bunce Island. We travelled by speedboat along the glassiest of waters, taking in the views of the surroundings. Bunce Island holds significant importance, as a former salve trading post, it serves as a powerful reminder of the transatlantic slave trade. Although this Island is serene and beautiful at glance, when you set foot on these shores, there is a hauntingly strange feel to walking around the ruins, learning about the suffering that took place here. Left to decay and overgrown by nature, the old castles still stand as they did from the 17th century. After Bunce Island we went to the neighbouring Tasso Island for lunch. Run by locals, the lunch on Tasso Island was brilliant, the local community are doing well to create a traditional experience for tourists. After lunch we headed to River Number 2, one of the most prestigious and well-kept beaches in Sierra Leone. River Number 2 is a privately owned beach. We enjoyed swimming and relaxing on the pearly white shores as the we embraced the sunset once again.
We woke up early the next morning to make our way to a local village, Robgbonko Village near Makeni. Robgbonko Mathaka, meaning “The Place in The Forest” is community who are known for their immaculate woven baskets. The village has no electricity or running water, and this was an incredible experience to witness the daily lives of the village people. We learnt about the different activities they do daily to provide for their village. Before we left, we were honoured with a cultural performance of singing and dancing, with the sound of African drums. This was a very humbling experience.
The following day we set off for one of Sierra Leone’s wildlife highlights, Tiwai Island. This lush tropical rainforest island is a short boat ride away from the mainland. This is wonderful immersion into nature, as you reach your camp you can hear the amazing sounds of the forest and nothing else. The accommodation was better than what you would think, with allotments built of brick, with a double bedroom each and shared bathroom facilities. The food was amazing, an authentically prepared local meal. In the morning we embarked on a nature walk through the island, looking for the indigenous birds and monkeys that inhabit the island. Our guide was great at spotting all the wildlife and along the way showed us how they use the forest to survive, from trees that offer healing properties, to roots that store fresh water. This was a truly enriching experience.
Our next stop was the highlight of the trip, Banana Islands. We stayed at Baffa Resort. With a short boat ride from the mainland over to the island, we were welcomed with the golden hues of the horizon, painting a farewell to a great day. The staff on Bafa Resort were outstanding, the professionalism and the hospitality was superb. Although some might be put off with the glamping tents, this is very much overshadowed with the amazing experience we shared. The food was impeccable and bursting with flavours from the ocean. We had a tour of the island learning about the locals, and of its history of the slave trade too.
From Banana Islands we transferred back to the mainland and mad our way to Bureh Beach. Bureh Beach is home to Sierra Leone’s only surf school. This beach, in my opinion is by far the most beautiful beach in the country. The colours were rich and vibrant, with a lush green of the mountains and trees that meet the golden sand of the quiet and clean beach. The water was crystal clear blue and softly washed up against the shore. The feeling of this place was tranquil. Our last stop was The Place Resort, on Tokeh Beach where w stayed the night. This resort was of very high standard. We enjoyed swimming in the warm sea waters as we digested the amazing experiences we had in Sierra Leone.
Overall, I really loved my visit to Sierra Leone but it is evident there is work needed in improving the development of tourism. I do believe they are making good progress and I really do see a bright future for Sierra Leone. It hasn’t had an easy road up until now, but this doesn’t change the warming hearts of the local people, who will capture your hearts.
Jason travelled to Sierra Leone in October 2023. See our group tour itinerary here