When mentioning Sierra Leone, some might immediately think of the civil war, the Ebola virus outbreak, collapsing mountains and sad children with round eyes and even rounder bellies. All of this is/was true- let’s not act as though Sierra Leone isn’t one of the poorest countries in the world. But what I want to convey to you, curious reader, is that behind the initial stream of bad connotations lies another side of Sierra Leone not many people know of. Here are five reasons to visit Sierra Leone.
1. Sierra Leone is non-touristy
Imagine kilometres of empty beaches specked with the occasional beach hut, fishermen hauling out the catch of the day whilst women clean the fish in colourful bowls. Imagine a smiling beach boy offering you a freshly picked coconut as you enjoy a plate of lobster and chips.
What’s missing from this picture? Indeed, beach beds filled with tourists, the smell of sea overpowered by that of sunscreen, and sellers desperately trying to lure you to their stalls every five steps you take.
Neh, Sierra Leone, despite its many attractions is not even close to being stormed by the masses. This has its downsides, as it can be challenging for foreigners to navigate a country that doesn’t really have a tourism infrastructure. But it’s mostly great, especially if you seek a more peaceful type of holiday experience.
2. Sierra Leoneans are the Friendliest People on Earth
I know it’s a bold statement, but ask anyone that knows Sierra Leone about the people, and they will smile and tell you tales of how they have been helped by locals. Lost in town? Ask any stranger and they will help you find the right taxi. Stumbling over your Krio words? A Sierra Leonean will smile warmly and say, “you are straining with the Krio, but are you trying.”
Even when aimlessly strolling around, many will ask you where you are going. Not to bother you, but so that they can help you with directions in case you need them. This doesn’t mean of course that they are all angels- ahem, grumpy taxi drivers and Aunties with Attitudes – but in general the people are as warm as the March sun beaming down on Bureh Beach at around 1pm. What an analogy.
3. Sierra Leone is fun
My English teacher would say that fun is not an adjective to use in any serious article. But I’m doing it anyway.
Whether you’re a lazy beach hopper that enjoys eating fish and chips and chatting with the lady selling banana’s. Or are one of those people that feverishly checks the surfcast what time the waves hit at Bureh Beach ; Sierra Leone has a diverse mix of experiences that suits any kind of traveler. Think of birdwatching at Tacugama, the Chimpanzee Sanctuary in the forest near Freetown, or experiencing rural life through a village retreat in the provinces. And of course there’s some real attractions for the wildlings under us, such as climbing Mount Bintumani in the north. Ah, and of course, try out a dance in one of the clubs lined along the city beach.
4. It’s safe
Anytime someone asks me whether Sierra Leone is safe – which happens often- I always give the same response: I have traveled through Asia, America and Europe, and have never felt safer in any of those countries than I feel here. Let me add here that I’m a young woman who likes to take risks and doesn’t shy away from stormy rivers, going out at night and hiking through rainforests. If you use common sense and don’t leave your newest iPhone in your pocket whilst entering a night club Sierra Leone is relatively safe. Personally, my biggest fear is that of traffic accidents, and I would advise not using motorbikes -or okada’s as transportation.
Of course, always check with your embassy what the current state of the country is. There has been political unrest in the past, but I’d also like to point out that the recent elections happened peacefully.
5. Your contribution towards boosting the economy
I mentioned in the introduction that Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world. In fact, Sierra Leone has the third highest score on the Global Hunger Index, only topped by Chad and the Central African Republic. With a rather weak economy, foreign investments can have a positive impact on the nation. Whether this is through large capital, or through tourists spending their euro’s and dollars.
With a minimum wage of 75 dollars a month, a one dollar tip actually makes quite a difference. And spending money at community-led initiatives, such as at the beautiful River Nr. 2 beach, can have an even larger impact. As the profit goes back towards developing the community and protecting the environment.
This is it, my song of appraisal for my fatherland. If even just one person got motivated to visit Sierra Leone after reading this I’m a happy person. Not just because I’m proud to be half Sierra Leonean, but also because I believe that this country deserves more positive attention, and for more people to witness the beauties that it holds.
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Esther Kamara is a Dutch-Sierra Leonean that was born and raised in Amsterdam. After finishing her bachelor Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam she moved to Freetown, where she now works as a freelance writer and artist manager. Her brainchildren are otherworldly short stories and peculiar drawings of non-existing characters.