Freetown is the capital and also the largest city in Sierra Leone with a population of about 1 million. It is located in the west of the country, on the Sierra Leone Peninsula along the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. Apart from being the major port the city also functions as the administrative, cultural and economical hart of the country, as well as being a major transport hub with other countries. Freetown has come a long way since the end of the civil war at the beginning of the 21st century and is actually quite safe compared to other cities in West Africa.
Taking place annually in March, the Sierra Leone International Film Festival spans six days, showcasing the collaborative efforts of talented film makers from around the globe. The festival is held in Freetown, but secondary screenings also take place in the towns of Bo, Makeni, Kono, and Kenema. The program consists, not only of several screenings, but also of educational workshops and discussions. Aspiring filmmakers are afforded the opportunity to engage in discussions with experts in the field and attend workshops focused on specific aspects of film. This is a great festival for anyone who is interested in international film, but also simply for travelers looking for a way to spend an enjoyable evening.
Organized by the Ballanta Academy of Music in Freetown, this festival spans two days in mid-March. Performances and lectures by local musicians are enjoyed by both international and domestic attendees, with the events spanning a wide array of musical genres.
The climate of Freetown is of the typical tropical kind, basically meaning hot and humid the whole year. The hottest time is from February to May when temperatures (especially in April) are generally well over 30 °C during the day. The wet season lasts from June to October and the total amount can be called massive. It is one of the wettest places in this part of the world and during the months of July to September there is around 2000 mm of rain totally! This time of year is cooler though, with temperatures between 26 °C and 28 °C. Night temperatures are just slightyly cooler with temperatures year round around 25 °C.
Freetown-Lungi International Airport (FNA) receives all international flights, among which are those with the national airline Sierra National Airlines. International services are limited on the other hand and other airlines like Brussels Airlines (Accra and Brussels), BMI (London), Kenya Airways (Nairobi) and Royal Air Maroc (Casablanca) have better services. Other airlines are mainly within the West African region. Bellview Airlines has flights to Accra, Conakry and Lagos.
Many roads in Freetown are being reconstructed and a bypass road is also being built to link the western part of Freetown to the rest of the country, cutting out the congested eastern part of town. The roads via Leicester and along the coastal part of the Freetown peninsular are also being reconstructed. Work has made good progress on the roads through Aberdeen and Lumley, including the beach road which is complete. Regent Road from Wilberforce through Hill Station has been completed as a dual carriageway. Unfortunately maintenance of other roads is often very poor.
The Sierra Leone Road Transport Authority has some buses which link the major cities. There are minibuses which can be used in Sierra Leone called poda poda. They are run by private individuals with some of the worst driving skills in the country and can cost between 2500 and 5000 Leones. There are no designated bus stops and so one can stand on a street and wave to get it to stop. However, be careful with personal belongings as petty theft is common on these buses. They are also usually dangerously overloaded.
Sierra Leone has the 3rd largest natural harbour in the world and is looking forward to the arrival of cruise ships. Cargo and Passenger ships berth at the Queen Elizabeth II quay, while some passenger/Cargo and private crafts can land at the Government Wharf in central Freetown, arriving most times from Conakry and Banjul. Enquiries should be made to Cargo Shipping Agencies.
Local taxis run fixed routes and are shared rides. For the uninitiated, there is no real way to figure out where they are going, and they're busy making a living rather than trying to explain everything to foreigners. But they're so cheap (Le1,000), you can just hail one and see how long it takes you the right way before making a turn! Empty taxis will assume that foreigners want to charter a taxi and not share it. To let them know you prefer a shared ride, just declare "no cha cha" when you get on board.
Poda-podas are a more miserable shared ride option, but are more straightforward for longer trips, as they display their start and end points on the front of the vehicle. If only you knew what those landmarks meant! "Lumley" will take you to Lumley Beach via the southern bridge, "Aberdeen" will take you to Aberdeen via the north bridge from Murray Town, "Eastern Police" will take you to the big clock tower at Kissy Road on the East Side (this is a good place to get dropped off to find a poda-poda to Waterloo), and there are others that hopefully other Wikivoyagers will figure out and write about here. If you are looking for downtown, locals call it "Tong."
One can approach a taxi and charter it (cha cha) for a few hours, a day, or even days if one wishes. A decent price per hour is about US$5, for a day around US$50. Taxis can be hired for a complete journey, which really should not exceed the equivalent of US$4 for a trip within Freetown. The drivers do expect to be negotiated with, so don't be scared—be cheeky and negotiate! A very convincing bargaining tactic is to let the driver know that, if he gives you a good price and you like his service, you will keep him on your speed dial for longer chartered rides. Having a trusted taxi driver on your phone shortlist is generally a very good idea for female travelers, anyway.
However, if you feel this isn't the route for you, hotel taxis are usually available in much better condition; and they are regulated. These will also cost up to around US$10.
Car hire is possible and can normally be arranged through the hotels or local car dealerships. They will normally come with a driver. Journeys outside of Freetown often may require a 4-wheel drive vehicle and will cost more, typically US$150 plus fuel per day, including driver.
However, if you wish to mingle with the locals - which is encouraged, as it creates more social inclusion - you may be surprised. Local people can help you find your way around town, hire taxis for you, and introduce you to their friends and families and, in some cases, ceremonies taking place. They can also cook for you, as Sierra Leoneans are very hospitable people. Many tourists tend to fall in a trap where they visit and hang around with only familiar people. It's better to see visiting Sierra Leone as a social/cultural holiday, allowing visitors and locals to exchange customs and at the same time experience the "diamond in the rough." Seeing the good and bad parts is what makes visiting Sierra Leone an experience to remember.
Freetown has a few high-quality restaurants, but very little in the tier below that. Being on the Atlantic coast, some excellent seafood is on offer. Barracuda, grouper, and lobster are readily available. Freetown has a large Lebanese community. Consequently, some very good Lebanese food is available at most restaurants.
Apart from the hotels and restaurants, there are many bars along the beach road.
There are countless small bars along every street, often catering for just a handful of customers.
A "must-see" for any visitor was Paddy's on the road into Aberdeen. This bar is famous and was the only place to be consistently open during the war, now it is renamed as Quincy's. Star beer is available on tap in better bars. Also worthy of a visit is the Hill Station Club at Hill Station. This old gentleman's drinking club was looted during the war, but the building itself survived and the bar will be opened for visitors. If you are lucky you will be allowed to see the snooker room, where the tables appear untouched for many years and old champions' names are still on the sign boards.
On Sir Samuel Lewis Road (same as Paddy's) there is also a small local pub, called Tribes, with a pool table.
Freetown has some high standard hotels. All in the splurge section will offer air conditioned rooms with power available 24 hours per day. Most will also have Internet access, with some providing wireless access too. Hotels in the Aberdeen area are closest to Lumley beach. There are very few options in the main part of the town itself. During the busiest time of the year (December–March) it can be hard to find a room, especially with the closure of the Cape Sierra Hotel and Solar Hotel (all in Aberdeen). Booking ahead is advised.
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