Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary
On only a 30-minutes drive from Freetown you find the mountain that is home to the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. It is famous for its rehabilitation efforts for domesticated chimps, but it is much more than this; Tacugama is ecotourism in its most complete form: eco-lodges, hikes through the rain-forest, a community outreach program, bird-watching, yoga retreats and live Afro Jazz nights are just some of the activities Tacugama is involved with. This article will highlight some of the best parts of the sanctuary and give some more background information on how it was found to make the case that it is one of the most versatile places to visit in Sierra Leone.
Tacugama opened in 1995 as a rehabilitation centre for Chimpanzees who had been domesticated in Sierra Leone. This practice is detrimental to the well-being of the chimps, who are susceptible to human diseases and on the brink of extinction. The sanctuary rehabilitates the chimps in five stages, making them ready to reintegrate in the rain-forest. Apart from this, the organization is also involved community outreach programs, research, educational projects and forest protection.
Ecotourism and the landslide
The Sanctuary is located in the Regent area of the Western Area Peninsula. This is the area where the landslides occurred on the 14th of August 2017. It was an ecological disaster that killed hundreds and displaced thousands. The sanctuary suffered immeasurable losses as a lot of the staff members lost their friends and relatives. One of the smaller landslides happened just a ten-minute walk away from the sanctuary.
Ecotourism means that the money spent at an institution is reinvested in the local environment. That means that every dollar spent at Tacugama goes towards protecting and rebuilding the forest, as well as rehabilitating the Chimpanzees.
Sleeping in the rain-forest
Fortunately, supporting the cause can be done in such a way that you get a unique experience in return. You can sleep in one of the eco-lodges that are built right in the rain-forest. As it is removed from any modern disturbances all you hear is the eternal cries of the cicadas, the sound of the waterfall and the hollering of the Chimpanzees. Moonlight filters through the wooden cottage, illuminating the tribal art the rooms are decorated in. Sleeping in the eco-lodges means experiencing what sleeping in the open would be like in the jungle, but without the risk of being harassed by snakes or other crawling buggers.
Bird and Breakfast
In the early morning one of the rangers can take you on a bird watching tour, after which you can indulge in an elaborate breakfast full of fresh produce and local coffee. If you spent the night in one of the lodges you can partake in the 10.30am tour of the sanctuary. It is led by a knowledgeable and experienced ranger who comes up with interesting facts and stats. You also get the chance to see the chimps interact and spot the behavioral similarities with humans. The tour takes about 1,5 hours and includes a 20-minutes hike, suitable for even the most inexperienced hikers.
Hiking with a certified ranger
Good news for adventurers: Tacugama is the starting point of a number of appealing hikes. There are three different trails that vary in length and difficulty. The shortest route, taking about half an hour, leads to the waterfall. The two other hikes can take between 1,5 to 2,5 hours and bring you to an ancient locust tree, a natural cave where animals hide during tropical storms or to the Guma Valley dam. All routes are equally impressive, and it is advised to wear proper hiking gear and use some insect repellent to fight off unwanted stingers. A regular fitness level is required for the hikes as there are some heavy climbs on all three trails. Bring sunscreen if you have sensitive skin.
Tour routes can be bought in the Tacugama store, or you can ask one of the forest rangers to accompany you. This is highly recommended because of safety and the opportunity to learn more about the forest. The rangers have the authority to arrest looters and poachers, making them the superheroes of the forest.
The trail that leads to the cave passes by one of the mudslides. It might not be enjoyable, but it is a reminder to see the damage deforestation can do to the environment.
Yoga and live Jazz
Those who enjoy the Surya Namaskar and Pranayama will be delighted by the yoga retreat Tacugama offers. It is an all-inclusive retreat with plenty of yoga on the jungle platform. If you are more interested in live music, Tacugama also has regular live Jazz nights combined with wine tastings. Both events come with reduced rates for the lodges and are unique experiences.
*Note: the road up to the sanctuary is very steep and requires a powerful four-wheel drive.