Sierra Leone: A ‘little jewel’ destination
Like many African nations, Sierra Leone has been beset by civil war and ravaged by other problems. But, with a stable government over the past few years, it has experienced substantial economic growth in recent years.
Good news for the country is that devastating Ebola outbreak is now over – the country having been declared free of the disease by the World Health Organisation in November 2015.
Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa bordered by Guinea is the North and the East and Liberia to the South, played a significant role in the history of the transatlantic slave trade as the departure point for thousands of West African captives.
The capital, Freetown, was founded as a home for repatriated former slaves in 1787 and its colourful stilted houses recall the days when freed slaves from the Caribbean were resettled upon these shores.
Rich in diamonds and other minerals, Sierra Leone also traded in illicit gems, known as ‘blood diamonds’ to fund conflicts and this also perpetuated the civil war. The government has attempted to crack down on cross-border diamond trafficking and to persuade foreign investors that blood diamonds are a thing of the past.
Known as the ‘little jewel’ of West Africa, the country is rich with a fusion of cultures, religions and races.
For the world traveller, the country is West Africa’s secret beach destination with soft white sands rising from the Atlantic against a backdrop of sun-stained hues, rainforest green and the red, red roads of the north.
Freetown is the buzzing and busy capital in the west and it is lively by day or by night. In the main city centre and further towards the east is mainly the commercial area although more businesses today are moving towards the west to avoid overcrowding.
The West of Freetown is mainly residential and to the South-West are some of the country’s most beautiful beaches.
In the North, the Loma form the highest point in Sierra Leone while, further East, there are national parks, mangrove swamps and huge areas of rainforest that shelter endangered species like the black-and-white colobus monkey and the shy, waddling pygmy hippo.
Tourism can play an important role in helping the people of Sierra Leone get back on their feet. Island-hoppers and sun-seekers can swim in the clear blue waters, explore the archipelagos and enjoy fresh seafood in the shade of the palms or relax on rope-strung hammocks.
But getting there is interesting as Sierra Leone has something rare – a journey to and from the airport that could be more spectacular than the views you’ll see from the air.
Lungi International Airport is located across the Sierra Leone River on an island, and you have five options to reach it: helicopters (when they’re running), a slow ferry (which doesn’t always operate), hovercraft, speedboat and water taxis.
But once you’re in Freetown, the adventure begins …