Bo is the second city in Sierra Leone, and home to the Mende, the largest tribe in Sierra Leone. It is quieter, cleaner, more tranquil and hotter than Freetown, with less options in terms of lodging and eating. At a first glance, Bo seems more like a large town with not much going on. But don’t be fooled by its initial sleepiness; Bo has some hidden gems and activities that make it a place worth exploring whilst visiting Sierra Leone.
Visit the Bo National Stadium
Unbeknownst to most, Bo has a National Stadium that hosts international sports games. Gifted to the Sierra Leonean government by the Chinese government in 2006 this small stadium looks modern clean, and slick, especially when compared to the Siaka Stevens Stadium in Freetown. Check out the stadium for concerts, receptions, church bonanza’s and sports games in the youth category. As the maximum capacity of the stadium is only 4000 people (Wikipedia says 25.000, that’s not true), it’s not too hectic and crowded, and there will never be a traffic jam leading up to the stadium.
Interested? There is no such thing as a Facebook page with ‘Bo National Stadium Events’, so try listening to the local radio and happen to spot an ad, ask someone in Bo whether something fun is happening, or try your luck and pop into the Stadium. Entry fees are between 5.000(0.70$) and 150.000 (20$) leones, depending on the program and how V.I.P. you think you are.
Location: Bo- Kenema Highway, about 20 minutes from the Bo city centre
Enjoy live music at After Work or Total
Want to sweat the dust away? Try checking out one of the bars in Bo. After Work, After Work 2 (yes, for real) and Total are the places to be on Friday night. All places are owned by the same person and also kind of look the exact same. The biggest distinction between the three is that After Work has live music on Fridays, played by the- you guessed it- After Work Band. Entry is free, drinks are cheap, and the vibe can be great at these places. Live music starts at 9pm, but know that the party starts late, say 11pm/midnight, so do as the Sierra Leoneans do and show up relaxed and late.
Go for dinner at Havana restaurant
Bo does not have many places that serve anything else than plasas. Which is great if you’re like me and your skin has turned a bit green form eating so much cassava leaves, but not so if your poor Western stomach thrives on something less spicy. Havana restaurant serves Western and local dishes in the typical Sierra Leonean restaurant Style Code; plastic chairs, table cover by a plastic cloth with a faded pattern, three televisions on loud showing Nollywood films or the Eternal News channel. Surprisingly, the waitress is friendly, although she doesn’t understand the menu, and will help you make amendments, which is different from those who have mastered the art of thumbing through Facebook whilst ignoring your sad little raised hand. All in all, the food is tasty, quickly served and gives you no running stomach. Oh and did I say cheap? Super cheap.
Location: Bo- Kenema Highway/ Towama road junction
Price of jollof: 15.000le (2$)
Price of grilled fish with salad: 25.000le (3$)
Sleep at Dohas Hotel & Restaurant
After a day in the burning hot dusty, sandy, Bo, it’s great to enjoy a hot shower and an air conditioned room at Dohas Hotel & Restaurant. It is the main hotel in Bo, having all the facilities to ensure a comfortable stay during your visit. Relax at the swimming pool, smoke a shisha, use the Wi-Fi or hang out in the V.I.P. lounge. Fun fact: when there is a game at the Bo National Stadium, the Ministry of Sports advices the foreign athletes to lodge at Dohas. Prices range from 40-90$ per night and include breakfast.
Location: 103 Towama road, Bo.
Book a room through VSL
Manners Maketh Man- Stroll through the Bo School Campus
A personal favourite of mine is to visit the Bo School, which was established in 1906 by the Sierra Leonean Government. The campus, located on a spacious and green plot of land, is not only a beautiful sight, but also contains a rich history which has large elements of Sierra Leone’s colonial past. Traditionally, the Bo School was for sons of paramount chiefs, who wished for a high quality and elitist education for their sons. Now, the campus is open to all boys and our current president, Julius Maada Bio, was a former student of this school.
Visitors are welcome to admire the campus from 2-4pm daily. The guard will help you find someone who can show you around and explain the history of the school. These tours are free, however, it is customary to leave a tip with the guide and the guard.
Location: Bo Boys School, Balima Road, Bo.
Visit the Kakua Music Academy
Sierra Leone has two music academies, the Ballanta Academy of Music in Freetown, and the Kakua Music Academy in Bo. This music academy, although small and basic, gives people of all ages the opportunity to study bass, guitar, drum, percussion or keyboard for very reasonable prices. As a visitor you can come and do a one-off class in any of these instruments. Just ask for Raz, who is always at the Academy and happy to help you out.
If you want to see the Kakua Music Academy Dance Band perform, check out the Growth Centre, near the Clock Tower, every Friday night from 8 or 9pm onwards.
Location: Sellu Street,Off Diver Street (Ask anyone where Kakua Music Academy)
Visiting hours: From 9-11 am and from 5-9pm on weekdays
How to get around Bo: charter a taxi or, if you dare, take a motorbike. Note that these are not safe and that you often don’t get a helmet. Which is nice is you want a massage for your heart whislt you speed throuh dusty (very dusty) roads with potholes.
How to get there: hire a VSL Vehicle with driver (recommended), or take the government buses.
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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.