Finding the perfect vacation spot is a challenge. Some people want an adventure while others search for relaxation. One person might want good food while another wants to go beyond restaurants and tourist attractions. No matter what you look for in a travel destination, Sierra Leone has it. Its windswept, breathtaking beaches and exotic wildlife are amazing, but it also has an incredible mix of cultures that influences its music, food, and drinks. In many ways, Sierra Leone is West Africa’s best-kept secret, making it a perfect location for any aspiring traveler.
Freetown is a dynamic celebration of different cultures and lifestyles and nothing reflects this better than the legendary ataya tea. Originally, ataya referred to a Senegalese tea ceremony involving an intricate method of preparing tea and encouraging socialization during the process. In Sierra Leone, ataya is an extremely powerful tea that has a surprisingly large following. Just like we might flock to our favorite cafes, people in Sierra Leone gather at roadside ataya bases to enjoy companionship, bond over shared troubles and get the energy they need for the busy day ahead.
One of the best reasons to travel anywhere is to experience something that you never would’ve had access to if you had stayed home. Sierra Leone is home to many wildlife sanctuaries, each with unique sights and majestic creatures. Despite its small size, the Mamunta Mayosso Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the most important reserves in the world. Not only is it home to 252 bird species, but it is also one of the few places in the world that protects the scary-but-still-cute dwarf crocodile.
Around 20 miles from Freetown is Bunce Island, a historic location that many view as one of the most important places in Sierra Leone. From 1670 to 1808, British slave traders operating from the island’s castle sent over 50,000 enslaved people to the Americas. Though history has taken its toll on the castle, the U.S. and Sierra Leone have begun a joint process of restoring and protecting the island. Many historians view Bunce Island as one of the most important sites for those with enslaved ancestors. Each year, thousands of descendants travel to the emotional and tragic site to pay respect to their ancestors.
If you’re an animal fan, you definitely shouldn’t skip over Tiwai Island. The entirety of this 7.5-square-mile island is an incredible conservation research project. It is home to everything from exotic plants to rare primates. If you’re lucky, you might even set eyes on the adorable endangered pygmy hippo. You can even camp overnight in canopy platforms and let the midnight chatter of the rainforest sing you to sleep.
When looking at any list of the best places in Sierra Leone, you’re going to see Banana Island. Lush forests cover the island and reach to the edge of emerald-blue waters. You could build an entire exciting holiday just enjoying the island to the fullest. If you’re a fan of scuba diving, explore sunken ships just off the coast. Those who are more fond of hiking may enjoy a guided trek. Of course, there’s also plenty of opportunities for sport fishing, scenic boat rides, and thrilling watersports.
Ending your trip to Sierra Leone without visiting any of its gorgeous and scenic beaches would be a waste. If you’re looking to get away from the busy energy of Freetown and find a place to unwind, almost all of the area’s beaches offer solace and relaxation. Surfers will enjoy the waves of John Obey Beach and Bureh Beach, while Number Two Beach is a great location for a quick dip in the water. Many beach restaurants and stalls grill freshly-caught lobster and crab.
Many people want their journey to be an adventure and Sierra Leone can scratch that itch. The Lion Mountains are a massive, 20-mile range that sits along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Its highest point is Picket Hill with an impressive 2900-foot peak. If that’s not exciting enough for you, try hiking up Mount Bintumani in the Loma Mountains. It reaches an elevation of almost 6400-feet, making it the tallest mountain in Sierra Leone. For people who like to climb, but also want to experience some culture, try picnicking on the Kabala Hills on New Year’s Day. Local legend says making the journey to the peak brings prosperity and luck for the rest of the year. One folk tale even says that touching a certain stone improves fertility.
Freetown is a fun, energetic city during the day, but that doesn’t stop at night. If anything, the city only truly comes to life once the sun sets. Along Lumley Beach Road are dozens of booming beach bars and restaurants, each offering a unique way to party until sunrise. Try club-hopping, grab a gelato on the beach, or find a live afrobeat performance. To keep the good times going, move across the powdery sands to the Aberdeen district, where the party really begins.
Academics and history fans alike should stop by Fourah Bay College, which sits at the top of Mount Aureol. At one point, the school drew students from across Africa, earning Freetown the nickname “Athens of West Africa.” One notable alumnus was Christian Cole, a Sierra Leonean who later became the first black student to attend the University of Oxford and the first black African to practice law in an English court.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to visit Sierra Leone in April or May, you’re in for a treat. Vendors and shops pop up along the streets and sell heaps of mangoes in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. The Guinea and Big Cherry mangoes are easy to eat in slices. Meanwhile, rope-rope and laberu mangoes need a soft massage before you can bite into the bottom and suck out their delicious, fresh juice.