Sierra Leone - Forts, Chimps and Beaches
Sierra Leone - Forts, Chimps and Beaches
Group Tour Essentials
All UK, EU and US visitors require a visa for entry to Sierra Leone. Visas currently cost £50 in London and must be obtained prior to arrival from the your nearest Sierra Leone High Commission or Embassy. You will require a ‘letter of invitation’, which we can provide. Your passport must be valid for one year after your return.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, valid for at least six months after the date of return to the UK. We strongly advise that your passport contains a minimum of two blank pages, as this may be a requirement of the local immigration authorities. In addition certain countries will stipulate that the two blank pages are opposite each other. If you are unable to meet these requirements you may be refused boarding by your airline or denied entry by the immigration authorities.
For specific information about the requirements for your destination please check with the country’s embassy or consulate. Alternatively UK citizens can visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
Departure tax is generally included in the cost of your ticket.
Health and Immunisations
As with travel to most parts of Africa, we strongly recommend that you contact your doctor’s surgery or a specialist travel clinic for up-to-date information, advice and the necessary vaccinations. For a visit of less than one month, almost certainly you will be advised to have immunisations against the following: Diphtheria and Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Meningitis. Anti-malaria medication is also required and the use of a DEET-containing insect repellent is highly recommended.It should be noted that a valid yellow fever certificate is mandatory for entry into Sierra Leone.
- What should my travel insurance policy cover?
- medical and health cover for an injury or sudden illness abroad
- 24 hour emergency service and assistance
- personal liability cover in case you’re sued for causing injury or damaging property
- lost and stolen possessions cover
- cancellation and curtailment (cutting short your trip) cover
- Extra cover for activities that are commonly excluded from standard policies, such as certain sports
The policy should cover the whole time that you are away.
Your policy may also have:
- personal accident cover
- legal expenses cover
Common travel insurance policy exclusions
Always check the conditions and exclusions of your policy:
- most policies will not cover drink or drug-related incidents
You must take reasonable care of your possessions or your policy will
not cover you.
The currency is the leone. For current exchange rates visit www.xe.com. Our advice is to travel with US dollars, UK pounds or Euros – dollars are generally the best. Larger denominations attract better exchange rates.
Where currency can be exchanged
Our advice is to exchange sufficient funds in Freetown, as banks and foreign exchange bureaus are limited outside of the capital. Further information will be given by your local guide.
Credit cards and travellers cheques
As a general rule we advise against taking travellers’ cheques as they can be difficult and time-consuming to exchange. At the time of writing ATMs only work if you have a local bank account. However, over the counter cash advances maybe available on Visa cards. You should check availability with your card issuer before travel.
Best time to go
Sierra Leone has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons. The dry season runs from November to April. The rainy season starts in May. Rains are heaviest between July and September. The country is warm all year round, typical temperatures range between 23°C and 30°C. December and January are the coolest and driest months to visit.
English is widely spoken, but there are several indigenous languages such as Krio, Mende and Temne.
Islam and Christianity are the main religions. The Sierra Leone constitution provides freedom of religion and the government generally protects this right and does not tolerate its abuse. Unlike many other African countries, the religious and ethnic mix of Sierra Leone rarely causes religious or tribal conflict.
Food and drink
Sierra Leone’s food is not likely to have you rushing for a cookbook when you get home, but it’s not bad either. Rice and sauce forms the staple for most people, often spicy or with a groundnut sauce. Typical ingredients might be meat, chicken or fish – as you’d expect, the seafood here is quite good. West African foods such as plantains and cassava also feature quite heavily, often mashed or fried into chips. In more remote areas the local wildlife is often consumed, although we do not serve bushmeat on our tour.
If you have any special dietary requirements you must notify us at the time of booking. While we will make every effort to cater for you, we cannot guarantee that this will be possible.
For visitors Sierra Leone can be a cheap country. However, outside of the capital and in remoter areas, including the Western Peninsula costs will be higher, particularly when eating in the hotels. Budget around $15 for a main meal and $2 for a bottle of water or a local ‘Star’ beer costs about a dollar.
Our tour in Sierra Leone uses 4wd vehicles to get around the island. We also use private boats to reach islands, and the ferry to travel to and from the airport.
Travelling in the destinations that we visit requires a good deal of understanding that often standards simply won’t be as they are at home. While we aim to make your trip as comfortable as possible, please be aware that we are often visiting remote or less developed regions that may have little infrastructure. While we aim to make your trip run as smoothly as possible there may be times when we need to ask for your patience while we rectify any problems.
What to take with you
First Aid Kit
The first thing on your list should be a first aid kit. Whilst there is no undue cause for alarm, travellers are best advised to travel well-prepared: adequately immunized, with sufficient supplies of prescription drugs, along with a medical kit.
When it comes to clothing it is usually recommended that lighter clothes are worn through the day, and warmer ones at night. A hat is also advised to be worn through the day to protect from the sun, along with at least one piece of waterproof clothing for any days that the weather may be wet or windy.
Footwear is a main priority on this tour. Comfortable walking shoes/boots are recommended.
Your luggage should not exceed 20kgs (44lbs). One large suitcase/rucksack, and one small hand luggage rucksack is acceptable.
Suncream/sunblock is a must. Insect repellent, including a bite spray will also be useful to have. As our tour in Sierra Leone involves camping, a torch (flashlight) is essential.
If you will be using a camera which needs film, it is recommended that a supply is taken with you, as it is not always available in Sierra Leone. For those with digital cameras, we would advise you to take a spare battery.
All bedding is provided when camping at Tiwai Island.
No special level of fitness is required but you will enjoy this tour more if you are moderately fit.
Cultural and environmental guidelines
You may come across beggars while on tour. Every traveller has different perspectives on this and ultimately the choice is up to you. Many sources recommend that you watch to see if local people give, and then follow their lead with genuine beggars. We do not recommend giving money, sweets, pens etc to children as this can encourage a begging mentality and can lead to children choosing to beg rather than go to school.
Haggling is a way of life in Africa when making many purchases, especially with tourist souvenirs. Usually, but not always, the vendor will start with a price that is higher than they are prepared to accept, and the buyer is expected to haggle. There are no hard and fast rules with this – some vendors may initially quote a vastly overinflated price, others may start with a price close to the true value, while others may just present you with one price and not be prepared to discuss it. Although many tourists may feel uncomfortable with this, it’s important to remember that this is best entered into in a relaxed manner. Once you have agreed upon a price, it is extremely bad form to then not pay this. Please also bear in mind that a small amount of money to you can be a relatively large amount for the vendor, and that it is not necessarily best practice to ‘beat the vendor down’ to the lowest possible price. Remember that they also have a living to make.
You will be spending time in environments that have very little trace of human presence or development on our tours in Sierra Leone. It is important to ensure that they stay this way. Please make sure that you take any rubbish back to the hotels or camps with you where it can be properly disposed of – this includes cigarette butts as well.
Please do not buy any products made from endangered species – this is not sustainable and hastens the species’ decline.
You should always ask permission before taking anyone's photograph and respect their decision if they say no. In more remote areas women and older people often do not want to be photographed. Some people may also ask for some money – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot - in return for a photo. Taking photos of military installations, state buildings, and airports can lead to problems with local authorities. If you are unsure about whether it is acceptable to take a photo, please ask your tour leader or guide.
Tipping is fairly common and very much appreciated throughout Africa. If you have been happy with the services of your guide and driver, then allow around $4-5 per person per day for the guide, and $3 per person per day for the driver, if travelling on a group tour. If you are travelling privately then roughly double these amounts would be reasonable.
Foreign Office Advice
We constantly monitor the advice posted by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). In particular we will always advise clients of any travel warnings.
At present the FCO advise against all but essential travel to Sierra
Leone, except for those involved in the direct response to the Ebola
Please feel free to contact us should you have any specific concerns or would like to know in detail what measures are being taken to ensure visits remain trouble free and without incident.
It should be noted that this information applies to British citizens. Other nationals are asked to check the current position of their respective government.
Public Holidays in Sierra Leone:
1 Jan New Year's Day
9 Mar Maulid-un-Nabi(Birth of the Prophet)
10 Apr Good Friday
13 Apr Easter Monday
27 AprIndependence Day
25 Dec Christmas Day
26 Dec Boxing Day
Other holidays associated with Ramadan follow the lunar calendar and vary annually.
Dates are for guidance only and may vary year to year
Electrical supply is 230V/50 Hz and plugs have three large pins, like the UK or sometimes three round pins.
Sierra Leone – The Bradt Guide
Katrina Manson and James Knight
A Long Way Gone
Soldiers of Light
IMPORTANT NOTES – PLEASE READ
Please note that the information provided is correct at the time of writing but may change. It is intended as a guide only. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health visit www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk or contact your local healthcare provider.
In addition we strongly advise you to check the information and any travel advice provided by your government. For British citizens you should visit the Foreign Office website www.fco.gov.uk.
Furthermore, you should be aware that any travel warnings or advisories may affect the validity of your travel insurance. Therefore, at the time of booking your tour it is essential you check any restrictions on cover with your insurance provider.
Issue Date – 5/12/12. For possible changes to this dossier please visit www.undiscovered-destinations.com or call +44 (0)191 296 2674
Sierra Leone suffers from an image problem, understandably. Years of particularly nasty war have given us images of amputees, of fleeing civilians and of child soldiers, and dramatic rescues by foreign armies. Mention that you want to go to Sierra Leone to someone and they’ll look at you as if you’re crazy. Well, at Undiscovered Destinations we say it’s their loss. There’s no denying that Sierra Leone has suffered terribly, more than most countries, but look beyond the headlines of yesteryear and you’ll find a country that is quickly emerging from its traumatic past to deserve a place on the wish list of every serious traveller. Sierra Leone isn’t home to one world class attraction like the Pyramids or the Taj Mahal, but dotted throughout this small West African nation lie a number of fantastic sites to explore, often connected with the country’s almost unique history as a colony for freed slaves. If you can pull yourself away from Sierra Leone’s world class beaches you can discover a lush interior with intriguing and unusual wildlife, where you can search for chimpanzees, leopard and the elusive pygmy hippo. Explore fascinating Freetown with its wealth of historic sites, or meet friendly locals in one of the many villages that hug the coastline. Travelling through Sierra Leone can be emotional, with scars of its recent history everywhere, but it offers a resilience that can be found in few other places. For so long off the tourist map, Sierra Leone is slowly emerging to take its place as a forgotten jewel of West Africa. Get there before everyone else does.
Little is known about this region of West Africa prior to the arrival of the first European navigators. While the rest of Europe slumbered, the small kingdom of Portugal sent sailors to explore the Atlantic coast of Africa, setting out where none had dared to go before, inspired by a number of different motivations. Not least of these was a desire to break the stranglehold of the Moors on the trade across the Sahara, and avail themselves of the riches that mysteriously appeared from the camel caravans making long journeys through the desert. Secondly, the Portuguese wanted to find a sea route to the Indies. And of course, a desire to establish overseas colonies for itself played no small part. But perhaps the most intriguing of these causes was the search for the mysterious priest-king Prester John, a mythical figure from the east who had supposedly sent letters to the courts of Europe centuries before and spoke of a land of immeasurable riches whose subjects were devoted to Christianity. This notion never left the imagination of medieval Europe, and over the hundreds of years that passed since these letters several expeditions had been sent out in different directions, often never returning, none of which managed to establish the precise location of this land. However by the fifteenth century it was generally accepted that the kingdom of Prester John lay in Ethiopia, known to be in the east of Africa but so far ‘undiscovered’. Portuguese ships went ever further around the Atlantic coast, hoping to round the continent and reach this fabled land.
On one of these expeditions, in 1462 the explorer Pedro da Cintra noticed a series of mountains in the shape of lion, which he named Sierra Leone. It wasn’t long before the Portuguese began stopping here regularly on their trips furtherround the African coastline, and in the late 15th century a small fort was established there, for trade purposes. Initially the trade involved European goods for African commodities such as gold and ivory, but with the discovery of the New World to the west and the demand for labour to service the plantations over there, the trade turned to humans. Europe’s insatiable demand for slaves led to many local chiefs becoming involved in the trade – selling the members of conquered tribes for a few bits of cloth, beads or European muskets. This was a lucrative time for those involved in the slave trade – fortunes were made as thousands of men, women and children were shipped off on the ‘Middle Passage’ in terrible conditions to endure an uncertain future the other side of the globe. The British overtook the Portuguese in this region sometime in the 16th century, and became the most significant salving nation on the West African coast. However this was a time of European rivalry in the region, and other powers such as the Dutch built forts here, all of them paying rents to local chiefs to maintain their profitable bases here. The 1600s also saw the gradual incursion of Moslem Fula into the north of the country, and the conversion of many of Sierra Leone’s people to Islam.
The 1700s saw a change of heart in Britain with the rise of the abolitionist movement, and philanthropic groups began to look for homes for freed slaves. In 1787, Freetown was founded as a settlement for freed slaves. Initially this was not hugely successful – the settlers were unable to cultivate the land and most quickly succumbed to disease. In 1792 more freed slaves arrived, this time from the Canadian region of Nova Scotia, then under British control. Having been promised independence, they were surprised to find that the settlement was actually run by the Sierra Leone Company as a profit making venture.
The colony of Freetown initially encompassed little more than a few square miles surrounding the coast. During the 19th century Britain, keen to ensure that it could continue its commercial venture, and also to stamp out the slave trade which by now it had abolished, took control of various other lands in the interior, previously ruled by local chiefs who either threatened their ability to trade or who offended Britain’s newly found morality and continued to raid for slaves. Gradually the colony grew, and in the 19th century, the Krios, as the descendants of freed slaves were known, had come to form part of the ruling class of Sierra Leone.
The remainder and vast majority of what is now Sierra Leone became a protectorate during the ‘Scramble for Africa’, when British and French rivalry forced them to cede each other various spheres of influence. As usual this ignored the political and tribal affiliations of the region and divided the land up on a fairly arbitrary basis, but Britain consolidated its control in one of its few ports on the West African coast. However this ‘sphere of influence’ included many chieftaincies who had never before come under British control and were understandably outraged to learn that they were now considered part of a British protectorate. This led to two uprisings which are collectively known as the Hut Tax War of 1898, a brutal campaign in which the Temne in the north and the Mende in the south fought against the imposition of taxation, killing any outsiders they could find, be they Krios or British soldiers and administrators. It was only with difficulty that the British managed to put this down and reestablish control.
Inequalities in the way that the colony of Freetown and the larger protectorate of Sierra Leone were governed led to increasing dissatisfaction with British rule in the interwar years, with voices calling for independence and majority rule. Prior to independence, favour began to swing towards those in the protectorate, who now took their political edge over the largely Freetown based Krios. Both the colony and the protectorate became independent in 1961, as the state of Sierra Leone, under head of state Milton Margai. Lasting only a few years, his place was taken by Siaka Stevens who set about creating a one party state, outlawing the opposition and establishing his dominance over the country. This was a time of fear in Sierra Leone as suspect individuals were rounded up and never seen again, and spies reported on the population to government forces. It was in this that the foundations for Sierra Leone’s brutal and bloody civil war were born.
In 1991, Foday Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) launched attacks in the east of the country, ostensibly to liberate the people from what had become an increasingly dictatorial system. Stevens’ successor Joseph Momoh was ousted in a coup by General Valentine Strasser, and the country descended into a bloodbath, the like of which has seldom been seen in Africa. As various sides vied supremacy, whole areas were terrorized as both government forces and rebels alike took children from their villages to act as soldiers. Sierra Leone splintered into a number of different armed factions – government forces, the RUF, and local militias set up to defend their lands. The use of child soldiers is without a doubt the saddest part of Sierra Leone’s history. Abducted from their families they were often desensitised to the atrocities which they were forced to commit through the use of drugs, and now that the war has finished many have been unable to find their families. Those that do manage to make it back to their old communities find that they are often unwanted, others afraid of the acts that they carried out and treating them as pariahs.
During the civil war society in Sierra Leone broke down as families were separated, villages were destroyed and the capital was ransacked. The government brought in foreign mercenaries to fight the RUF, and peacekeeping forces from other West African nations as well as the UN and Britain joined the fray. Freetown was the scene of vicious fighting as it was taken and lost by the RUF. But in 1999, peace slowly began to emerge in the country. A fragile peace at first, it gradually gained ground to establish a lasting government, and against all odds the war ended.
Sierra Leone’s recent history has been more tragic than most but that is no reason not to visit. This small slice of West Africa has much to offer, hidden away in its forests, locked away in small villages where age old traditions still reign supreme. One of the best things about exploring Sierra Leone is the sense of exploration that you get when you have historic sites all to yourself, or watch chimpanzees frolicking in the trees just as the first western visitors to these shores would have done. But even better than that is meeting the people of the country – a testament to the resilience of human nature and undoubtedly a lesson to anyone who takes trouble to spend time here. Put aside your preconceptions and visit this enthralling country now.