Sierra Leone is a small tropical paradise squeezed between Guinea and Liberia in the West of Africa. The country experienced 11 years of brutal civil war between 1991-2002, with many lives lost and the economy of the country destroyed. Since recovering from the civil war, Sierra Leone experienced yet another national emergency in the form of the Ebola outbreak which manifested itself a in 2015 but once again, the country has bounced back. Now 3 years of being Ebola free- Sierra Leone is a gem of a location that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
I moved to Sierra Leone (or Salone as the locals fondly call it) in October 2018, having heard mostly about the country from anecdotal pieces of information from family members who served as part of the UN Peace Keeping Troops during the civil war. I did not have many expectations when moving here, i heard from a few people that it is a beautiful country and the people are kind, i figured that you cant really go wrong with that . So i set off, backpack on my bag and suitcases in hand to move for the 14th time to the 10th country i would live in – little did i know, i would fall so much in love with Mama Salone. So here are 8 reasons you should venture off to this West African tropical paradise:
1. The beaches: This is the number one reason anyone should come to Sierra Leone. The country is studded with beautiful white sand beaches blue waters. The water is the perfect temperature neither too hot, nor too cold. Just right. And the closest beautiful beach is simply a half an hour to 45 minute drive from the capital city, so i end up spending almost every weekend lazing on the beach. I know- I would be jealous of me too! (Pro Tip: my favourite beaches are River Number 2 and Bureh both of them Pictured on this article)
2. People: Home to over 16 tribes that make up a population of over 7 million, Sierra Leonians are some of the nicest people I have come across – even by West African standards. People have been warm, caring, friendly and kind; not very confrontational and very welcoming to foreigners. Learn a few words in the Krio – a local language and you are golden!
3. The landscape: God did this country justice when it comes to nature. Its rare to drive through the country and not admire it’s beauty. The beaches mentioned above are complimented dramatic landscape with cascading hills and lazy palm trees that take your breath away. People have asked me for years whether i prefer mountains or the ocean, and frankly i got so tired of choosing that i ended up moving to a country that has both! If you are keen to go hiking, Freetown has a nice hiking group which does hikes in the nearby Leicester Peak. But if you are an adventurous soul, i would head north east to climb Mount Bintumani. Mount Bintumani is the highest peak in Sierra Leone and the Loma Mountains, at 1,945 metres – I have to admit, i have not yet attempted to climb it, but maybe will give it a go before i leave?
4. Sea Food: As most Bengalis will agree, food plays a huge part of our travel plans – no wonder we stick to the same old thailand, malaysia and indonesia – the food keeps calling us back! While Sierra Leonian local cuisine is not as diverse as the countries mentioned above, the country has abundant, fresh and delicious sea food. In fact so much so that it has made me start eating fish even after giving it up years back. The fish you find here is freshly caught, free from chemicals or hormones and absolutely delicious. I don’t think there is any going back now that I have eaten fish straight from the Atlantic Ocean!
5. Ankara Fabric: All of West Africa is renown for a kind of fabric called the ‘Ankara’. Colloquially called ‘Lapa’ here, these brightly coloured fabrics are hard to miss and easy to fall in love with. Since Moving to West Africa (Nigeria and Sierra Leone both), I have made far more clothes than i would like to admit. As a person who frequently goes months or even years without thinking of buying clothes, I think i let myself crazy loose and bought a few too many of these fabrics. But i think the best part about having these fabrics here is the impeccable tailoring. The tailors in Freetown would put your favourite dorji out of business in dhaka – and save you money in the process.
6. Visa Access: Pretty much anyone can apply for an E-Visa for tourism through a website called .https://visitsierraleone.org/online-visa/. Bonus: Its actually cheaper for Bangladeshis to get a visa compared to most other countries.
7. History: Did you know that the city freetown gets it’s name because it was a town where “freed’ slaves where brought back by the British to be ‘repatriated’? These were former slaves who were afro carribeans, african americans and african europeans who were sent back to Freetown once they were ‘freed’, however, at this point many of them had lived for generations in the countries they were trafficked to and moved from. Tours of freetown show you the houses built by those individuals who were brought back and share information on the transatlantic slave trade and it’s effect the people of West Africa.
8. Arts and Craft: Like many other West African Countries, Sierra Leone boasts beautiful hand made crafts. The big market in town sells everything from fresh shea butter to handicrafts made from wood, coconut shell bags and hand painted batiks. Sierra Leone has beautiful crafts that are not only hand made but locally sourced, sometimes directly from the artists who make them. The markets in town will allow you to choose from beautiful hand made jewellery made from ankara fabric to beadwork to paintings – you take your pick from the array of colourful arts and crafts.
9. Island Hopping: One of my fondest memories of Sierra Leone so far has to be my trip to the Banana Islands – which are just off the peninsula. The island has two main places to stay, we stayed in a place which had beautiful tents and mattresses inside these tents. The place has no electricity, or wifi and only has power in the evening hours thanks to the generator which allows you to charge your phones. This makes banana island the perfect location to disconnect. There is a deserted beach where you can walk to and have the whole place to yourself. You walk through a village and pass an old church on the way to the beach where you will encounter friendly smiling Sierra Leonians happy to guide you around. They serve fresh food, caught either from the sea or sourced from the island itself, which makes the meal all the more delicious and well worth the money you pay for it. Take a boat ride in the Atlantic ocean and go snorkeling in the beautiful waters, a perfect way to spend a weekend.
Sierra Leone has become a home for me in the past 8 months that I have been here. Its one of the few places in the world where I have felt rooted enough to not want to sprint in less than a year, which in my opinion says a lot about the soul of the place. I think the combination of it’s beauty, its rich culture, history, art and it’s welcoming people has made my time in Salone all the more precious.
Maliha Fairooz is a 28-year-old Bangladeshi solo traveler, who has travelled to 84 countries, on a Bangladeshi passport. Through her blog www.maliharoundtheworld.com she shares her experience of travelling as a brown, Muslim, Bangladeshi woman while simultaneously encouraging a culture of travel amongst Bangladeshi youth.