In a way, Sherbro Island has had the same treatment as the rest of Sierra Leone. Its overlooked; many people are not aware of its existence, let alone its tourist potential. Visitors have been few, but those who do visit return home with diamonds in their eyes. Mesmerised by the exotic sights, the beauty of the people and the unique experiences. VSL has seen the potential of Sherbro, and this article will tell you everything you need to know about visiting this peaceful island.
Located two hours by motor boat from the mainland, Sherbro Island has about 30.000 inhabitants. The main town is Bonthe (not to be confused with Bunce), which is the first access point to the rest of the island. There are barely any motor vehicles on the island, therefore transportation is limited to walking, using motorbikes and boat rides. All three are appealing, but for deeper explorations motorbikes and boats are recommended.
Local guides are happy to show you around, and serve as interpreters as well as protectors when venturing deeper into the island forests. A guided trip into the mainland offers you insight as to how the islanders farm, fish and go about their daily lives. Pass by little villages with mud houses that depend solely on the land and sea for their livelihood.
The villagers are incredibly welcoming. If you’re lucky, the chief will climb into a palm tree to offer you fresh coconuts as a token of gratitude. Further into the bush the vegetation turns drier, and endless stretches of elephant grassland reach until the horizon. It is said that there is a black river crossing the island, and those with adventurous spirits can try and find this unique site.
Traditional “kunu’s” and wooden motorboats, known as pam pam, allow you to explore the island over sea. A boat ride to Mania Beach brings you past mangrove forests, lone fishermen hauling in their catch of the day, little islands topped with proud palm trees, and kingfishers flashing by in bright colours. No noise, only sounds of water, birds, monkeys and the rustling of leaves.
Tourism has barely reached this island. Apart from Tarpon fishing and Sierra Leoneans spending their Christmas Holidays on the island, not many visit the island for exploration or touristic purposes. This brings advantages as well as disadvantages. The downside is that there are no structures in place that make visiting easy. It’s a good eight-hour trip from Freetown, and accommodation options are limited. The plus side is that there is no theatre show for visitors, no disturbances in the life of the locals or the architecture of the island. What you’ll experience is genuine, unspoilt nor influenced by modernity and fast-paced life.
How to get there
It takes 5-7 hours to get from Freetown to Yargoi, a coastal village where the local ferry to Bonthe leaves from every day at 4pm. Popularly known as ‘pam pam’, the wooden motorboat can take about 30 people for 15.000 leones. It takes about two hours to reach Bonthe.
Where to stay
If you want to sleep on Sherbro Island, Bonthe is the only place that offers accommodation for touristic purposes. By far the most suitable option is Bonthe Holiday Village. They offer chalets with two or three A/C equipped rooms in a beautifully decorated compound. Rooms can be pricy though, so for a more budget option you can see whether Mam’aa Guesthouse has any availability.
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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.