“Ecotourism is the echo of the waves, the echo of the birds in the mangroves, the echo from the mountains. Come and explore our white sand beach, turquoise waters and view of the Banana and Plantain islands not far from the shore.” Mr. Barrie, representative of the N.D.A.
Its name might be slightly confusing; River No. 2 refers to both the river that flows into the sea and the village that is located about thirty minutes from Freetown. Popularly known as ‘number two,’ this spot is one of the most celebrated and admired attractions of Sierra Leone.
The beauty of River No. 2 does not only lie in the white sand beach, towering mountains and mangrove forest that flank the river, it also lies in the fact that it is a completely community-run tourist location.
In 1995, a couple of local beach boys had decided to unite and set up the N.D.A (or Number Two River Development Association). Traditionally, the villagers earned their income through fishing. The beach boys however, saw the potential of the beachfront. With establishing the N.D.A. they aimed to protect the environment, develop tourism and provide work and income for the community. Over the past decades they have constructed basic rooms, straw beach huts and the characteristic blue and red wooden chair. In collaboration with the fishermen they created a menu that allows for freshly caught fish to be served at any given time. They also added excursions through the mangroves, boat trips and nightfishing. Soon, River No. 2 became an ‘eco- tourism’ spot, supporting the entire community.
It has not been easy. Civil war broke out, Ebola left a trail of destruction and the N.D.A. witnessed a steady decline in the amount of tourists that visit the country. Nevertheless, the community survives and continue their efforts. They fight against sand-mining and deforestation, protect the mangroves and train the youth to become professionals in the tourist industry. From chopping the fries to tie-dying the bedspreads and rebuilding the huts; all is done by the 70 or so volunteers of the N.D.A.
There are 12 double rooms that view the ocean at around $30 per night. The rooms remain very basic with no luxuries but the sound of the waves and the tropical birds. They are ever more charming as everything is clearly handmade. The rooms are equipped with a mosquito net, bucket shower and a fan. Included in the price is breakfast: toast with jam and eggs, coffee and tea. If ordered the evening in advance, the chefs are happy to slice up a fresh platter of fruit.
Towels are not provided, as happens at most smaller guesthouses in Sierra Leone.
River No. 2 has about the freshest ingredients you can think of. One can choose between several fish varieties, lobster, shrimps, crab and, if not too fond of seafood, country chicken that have lived a happy life scurrying around in the village.
The food comes with a plate of steamed or fried rice, or home-made fries from potatoes grown in the fields near the village.
They also have a bar where they serve the iconic Fanta and Coke in a glass bottle, Star Beer and Guinness, ice cold bottles of water and a limited selection of liquor. Fresh coconuts can also be served when available (most of the time), all is needed is a young borbor to climb up the palm tree and fetch a juicy jelly for you.
The restaurant is in an open space on the beach, covered by a wooden structure (hut) to protect from the sun and tropical rains. There are plenty of tables on the beach closer to the sea as well, so your lobster can be eaten whilst enjoying the beautiful vista of mangroves, brightly painted fisher-boats and turquoise ocean.
Apart from swimming and settling down with a good book in a beach chair, the N.D.A. offer a wide range of activities. They offer hikes down the river following the Guma trail. This a stunning walk through the mangrove forest with the guarantee of seeing monkeys and the possibility of spotting crocodiles. Also, when the tide allows it, they offer local boat rides into the river. The forest sounds and deep tranquility that comes with expediting far into the river is an experience that will stay with you forever. Just after rainy season (September-October) they can also take you to the waterfall about half an hour from the beach.
Want to explore further? The N.D.A. also offers trips to Bonthe, Banana Island and Plantain Island. All are excellent for fishing and they will be happy to teach you some of the local methods of catching fish with sticks and poles. Larger fishing trips can be organized for Bonthe but notice that trips to Bonthe require a full day of travel and an overnight stay on the island.
If you prefer to enjoy the vista of River No. 2 and stay as close to the bar as possible, do visit the handicraft market not far from the beach. Second- hand swimwear, beach clothes and towels are mixed with handmade and tie-died beach lappa’s, colourful dresses and shorts. They also sell some traditional woven country cloth and woodcarvings that are perfect souvenirs to take back home.
Whichever you decide, all trips need to be organized, so it is helpful to let the N.D.A. know in advance that you want to take a trip. The trips to the islands need some planning, so make sure you let your intentions know upon arrival.
Getting there and booking
River No. 2 is on a half an hour drive from Freetown by the Peninsular highway. The road is still under construction, making the last part of the trip a bumpy ride but access is the best it’s ever been. Hire a car through VSL TRAVEL to get you to the beach safely and comfortably.
Rooms can also be booked through the Visit Sierra Leone website. River No. 2 has no website and emails are sporadically checked. If you want to enjoy a quiet time on the beach, weekends (especially Sundays) are best avoided.