Travel and Tourism, a Hot Topic in Sierra Leone

Until a few days ago, if you had asked me about Sierra Leone, I would have had to think long and hard to tell you much about this West African country. I could probably have explained roughly where the government is located. I may have mentioned the slave trade being connected to Sierra Leone. I could certainly have told you that they had experienced a brutal civil war. I might even have admitted that I wasn’t entirely sure whether the war was 100% over. And that’s about it.

Slavery and war. A pretty negative view of what is, in fact, an exceptionally positive country. Today, I see Sierra Leone from an entirely different perspective. It is difficult to ignore Sierra Leone’s history and focus purely on the present. Once a fertile area inhabited by dozens of tribes, it was settled by the Portuguese in the 1400s, who built a fort as a trading post for gold, spices, ivory, and enslaved people. A British protectorate in later years, Sierra Leone had the dubious honor of becoming home to more than 40,000 formerly enslaved people who gave Freetown its name.


Sierra Leone was exploited as a protectorate for its mineral and diamond wealth in the 1900s. Sierra Leoneans fought against the Germans in Cameroon in the First World War and alongside the British in the Second World War. 1961 Sierra Leone achieved independence from Britain and governed itself peacefully for 30 years. The peace was not to last and was followed by a decade of brutal civil war that destroyed the economy, brutalized the people, and left a country that was rich in resources as one of the poorest in the world. The conflict was officially declared over in January 2002, and President Kabbah was reelected in May 2002. Since then, the people of Sierra Leone have been pulling together to repair, renew and regenerate.


While researching a new website looking at travel and tourism in Sierra Leone, I came into contact with Sierra Leoneans from all backgrounds living in Sierra Leone and elsewhere. Their passion for the country was infectious: they wanted to convey that Sierra Leone has far more to offer than a sad recent history. Reconstruction is moving ahead at a rapid pace. Indeed, proof of reconstruction is everywhere – new roads are being built, mines are re-opened, dam projects started before the war are again underway, and markets are thriving and humming with life. There is also a great deal of confidence in Sierra Leone’s potential as a tourist destination: a Chinese company has recently invested a reputed US$270 million in the hotel infrastructure; enterprising companies like Kevin McPhillips Travel (based in the UK, USA, and the Netherlands) offer exclusive twice-weekly flights to Sierra Leone; African Tour specialists are researching viable package holidays in the region. The exciting thing about investment in Sierra Leone is that more are set to follow!

They have a right to be confident. The beaches along Sierra Leone’s golden peninsula are one of the world’s best-kept secrets. Secluded, clean, and stretching for miles on end, beach tourism is one of the top items on the government’s tourism promotion agenda. Beaches with very British names like Kent, Lumley, Sussex, and York mix with more African names like Bureh Town, Tokey, and Mammah Beach, and

Although many of the forests and much of the wildlife have been disturbed and, in some cases, destroyed by the war, eco-tourism is an important focus of Sierra Leoneans and natural treasures like Outamba-Kilimi National Park, populated by game animals such as elephants, chimpanzees, and pygmy hippos. Mount Bintimani, the highest point in West Africa, is just one of the worthwhile wildlife attractions. Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary rescues orphaned and captured chimps. It has been described as one of the most successful Sierra Leonean wildlife endeavors, while Tiwai Island is home to over 3000 chimps and other games.

Lakes, rivers, and dams are perfect for picnics and relaxing. The marshlands hide a myriad of colorful birds – indeed, the birdlife has been less affected by the war than the animals, and the air is filled with birdsong everywhere you go. Tiwai Island, for one, boasts over 135 different bird species! Sierra Leone is a bird-watcher dream!

For culture vultures and those with historical interests, the remnants of the slave trade make interesting and thought-provoking expeditions. Bunce Island, a slave-trading fortress, is a brief boat trip up the river; Freetown is itself a monument to formerly enslaved people, and its Cotton Tree, which stands in the heart of what is thought to be an old slave market, is now an impressive national symbol. Graves, monuments, and forts are all that remain of British and Portuguese power in Sierra Leone: each has a tale to tell. Over 16 ethnic groups in the country, including the Krio, descendants of formerly enslaved people who speak an English-based Creole called Krio. Visiting villages and chatting with people in markets and the streets are rewarding for all parties!

Freetown is probably the most developed city, offering a level of safety that is difficult to match, even in Western countries. Hotels, restaurants, and nightspots are sprouting like mushrooms, and eating out in Sierra Leone promises a range of traditional and international treats and seafood that is beyond belief!

One has to wonder what attraction will tip the scales in making Sierra Leone the popular destination that it once was before the civil war. Based on my experiences with Sierra Leoneans in recent weeks, I feel that the people will make a difference. Every Sierra Leonean I have met or worked with has been proud of their country’s progress and excited about the future. They are consistently welcoming, greeting aid workers and travelers alike with smiles that you can only find in Africa, with an optimism – no, positivity – that other countries would emulate.

For travelers in search of a “diamond in the rough,” Sierra Leone offers a holiday like no other – my only advice to you is to visit sooner rather than later to avoid what is sure to be a stampede once holiday-makes and tour operators latch on to this gem of a destination.


Alcohol scholar. Bacon fan. Internetaholic. Beer geek. Thinker. Coffee advocate. Reader. Have a strong interest in consulting about teddy bears in Nigeria. Spent 2001-2004 promoting glue in Pensacola, FL. My current pet project is testing the market for salsa in Las Vegas, NV. In 2008 I was getting to know birdhouses worldwide. Spent 2002-2008 buying and selling easy-bake-ovens in Bethesda, MD. Spent 2002-2009 marketing country music in the financial sector.