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Liberia is a nation constructed out of the resettlement of freed American slaves in the 19th century. As such, it differs markedly from its African neighbours, being deeply influenced by its American heritage. Tensions between the African-American settlers and the indigenous inhabitants have always presented problems for the nation, but recent civil wars have seen tribal warfare emerge viciously. Over 200,000 are estimated to have been killed during these wars, which lasted from 1989-1996 and 1999-2003.
Anthropological research shows the region of Liberia was inhabited at least as far back as the 12th century, perhaps earlier. Between 1461 and late 17th century, Portuguese, Dutch and British traders had contacts and trading posts in Liberia. The Portuguese had named the area Costa da Pimenta, later translated as Grain Coast, because of the abundance of grains of melegueta pepper. In 1822, the American Colonization Society (A.C.S.) which was the primary vehicle for returning black Americans to greater freedom in Africa, established Liberia as a place to send people who were formerly enslaved. African-Americans gradually migrated to the colony and became known as Americo-Liberians, from whom many present day Liberians trace their ancestry. On July 26, 1847, Americo-Liberian settlers declared independence of the Republic of Liberia. Two problems confronting successive administrations were pressure from neighboring colonial powers, Britain and France, and the threat of financial insolvency, both of which challenged the country’s sovereignty. Liberia retained its independence during the Scramble for Africa, but lost its claim to extensive territories that were annexed by Britain and France.
On April 12, 1980, a successful military coup was staged by a group of noncommissioned army officers led by Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe. The soldiers were a mixture of the various ethnic groups that claimed marginalization at the hands of the minority Americo-Liberian settlers. In a late-night raid, they killed William R. Tolbert, Jr., who had been president for nine years, in his mansion. Constituting themselves the People’s Redemption Council, Doe and his associates seized control of the government and brought an end to Africa’s first republic. Significantly, Doe was the first Liberian head of state who was not a member of the Americo-Liberian elite.
In late 1989, the First Liberian Civil War began. The harsh dictatorial atmosphere that gripped the country was due largely to Samuel Doe's rule. Americo-Liberian Charles Taylor, with the backing of neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire, entered Nimba County with around 100 men. Taylor was a prominent warlord and leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. After some prompting from Taylor that the anglophone Nigerians and Ghanaians were opposed to him, Senegalese troops were brought in with some financial support from the United States, but their service was short-lived. Taylor was elected as President in 1997, after leading a bloody insurgency backed by Libyan President Muammar al-Gaddafi. Taylor's autocratic and dysfunctional government led to the Second Liberian Civil War in 1999. As the power of the government shrank, and with increasing international and US pressure for him to resign, President Taylor accepted an asylum offer from Nigeria. More than 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the civil wars.
Since the start of the 21st century, things have been getting much better in Liberia and most of the country now lives in peace and is relatively safe for travellers.
Liberia is situated in West Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean to the country's southwest. It also shares borders with Cote d'Ivoire to the east, Sierra Leone to the (north)west and Guinea tot the north. It lies between latitudes 4° and 9°N, and longitudes 7° and 12°W. The landscape is characterized by mostly flat to rolling coastal plains that contain mangroves and swamps, which rise to a rolling plateau and low mountains in the northeast. Tropical rainforests cover the hills, while elephant grass and semi-deciduous forests make up the dominant vegetation in the northern sections. Liberia's watershed tends to move in a southwestern pattern towards the sea as new rains move down the forested plateau off the inland mountain range of Guinée Forestière, in Guinea. The country's main northwestern boundary is traversed by the Mano River while its southeast limits are bounded by the Cavalla River. Liberia's three largest rivers are St. Paul exiting near Monrovia, the river St. John at Buchanan and the Cestos River, all of which flow into the Atlantic. The Cavalla is the longest river in the nation at over 500 kilometres. The highest point wholly within Liberia is Mount Wuteve at 1,440 metres above sea level in the northwestern Liberia range of the West Africa Mountains and the Guinea Highlands. However, Mount Nimba near Yekepa, is higher at 1,752 metres above sea level but is not wholly within Liberia as Nimba shares a border with Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and is their tallest mountain as well.
Visit the wilderness area of Guinée Forestière. This area is a forested mountain range in the south eastern area of the country. The mountain range continues east into the neighboring country of Sierra Leone. The area has many large wild mammals, diverse numbers of indigenous tribes and also refugees from many of the civil wars in the region.
Go see Mount Wuteve, which is the tallest mountain in Liberia. The mountain is over 1,440 m high and is a very nice sight. The mountain is covered in jungle and home to many animals. The name of the mountain means "Head cut off."
Sapo National Park, located in Sinoe County, is Liberia's only national park. It is also the country's largest protected area and in this protected area is the second largest tropical rain forest in West Africa. The biodiversity is amazing in the park and according to some sources the park has the highest mammal species diversity of any region in the world. This includes mammals like the Pygmy Hippopotamus, African Forest Elephants and Chimpanzees.
Liberia has a tropical climate with hot and humid weather year round. From April to November is the rainy season. The rainfall increases to a peak in June and July and then decreases until rain has almost ceased by December. Along the coast, total annual rainfall is usually between 3,500 mm and 4,000 mm, sometimes more. June and July are extremely wet in Monrovia for example around 900 to 1,000 mm of rain during these months! Temperatures usually average around or slightly below 30 °C during the day, around 22 °C or 23 °C at night, with little variation. Inland, temperatures can be higher during the day (especially from March to May) and a bit cooler at night. Also, rain is slightly less towards the northeast of the country.
Spriggs Payne Airport (MLW) near the capital Monrovia receives all international arriving and departing flights. There is a limited number of flights to and from Freetown Sierra Leone, Conakry Guinea, Abidjan Ivory Coast and Lagos in Nigeria. Elysian Airlines from Cameroon provides most services.
You need a highclearance 4wd for most border crossings described below and have your papers and insurance in order. Apart from that, hassling is not a big problem here but crossing borders can take at least some hours, after all the formalities are done.
Although independent travel in Liberia is not a problem, crossing borders and travel onwards in Cote d'Ivoire is a problem right now and until the safety situation doesn't improve there is no cross border transport in eastern direction (also further on to Ghana),
To Guinea, crossing is near Ganta, with smaller borders also at Yekepa and Voinjama.
Bush taxis run daily from Monrovia to Ganta and walk or take a moto to the border, after which taxis go to N’zérékoré (Guinea). Monrovia to Conakry takes two to three days in total! The other borders are possible as well, but require some more patience regarding transport and some of them might not be doable in rainy season.
To Sierra Leone, the main crossing is at Bo. Frequent bush taxis travel between Monrovia and the border (two hours), from where onward transport goes to Kenema along rough tracks (8 hours). From here it's onwards to Bo and Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
There are dozens of airports throughout the country but only a few runways are paved and only several of the airports have regular connections, mostly chartered. Weasua Air Transport is one of the main carriers and it is best to book while in Liberia.
There are traintracks but because of the long civil war, there are no trains running at the moment and this can take a while
Roads in Liberia are not in a good condition in general. Some roads are tarred though, including the roads towards Buchanan, the road between Monrovia and the airport and the roads towards the borders with Sierra Leone and Guinea. Potholes are the rule though and most other roads are not paved and some are only passable during the dry season. Cars can be hired (either with or without a chauffeur) in Monrovia but rates are high. Traffic drives on the right and you need an international driving permit.
Only a few buses operate between a few cities, but bush-taxis, usually small minivans or large station cars, are the way to go in Liberia, with at least daily departures between the major towns and cities and several times a week between smaller places. They leave when full and you pay the driver.
Getting around by boat is possible and adventurous, but also slow and uncomfortable and services are unreliable and sometimes unsafe. There is supposed to be a passenger service between ports in Monrovia and Buchanan but check port authorities about schedules. There is also a boat service running weekly between Harper and Greenville and several unscheduled coastal steamers sometimes take passengers as well. Small boats are also used for local transportation on Liberia’s rivers.
There are also organised trips between December and March, when specialist companies arrange canoe trips upriver from Greenville, a small seaport 200 kilometers southeast of Monrovia.
A letter of invitation and a yellow fever vaccination certificate are necessary to apply for a Liberian visa. For US citizens, a 3-month visa costs US$131, for all others the fee is US$100. One, two & three year multiple-entry visas are also available. The embassy in Conakry has been moved out of town to the town of Kipe. At the Freetown embassy service is next day and no hassle. They will stamp the duration of your stay in your passport when travelling overland so be sure not to give too few days when they ask or else you will have to go to immigration office in Broad Street in Monrovia to extend your visa for US$20 (though they will probably ask for more).
All travelers will need to extend their visa within 30 days of arrival at the immigration office on Broad Street, regardless of visa validity.
See also Money Matters
The dollar (currency code LRD) is the currency of Liberia.
Coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents, and 1 dollar. Banknotes come in denomiantions of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollars.
Almost every international NGO operates in Liberia. It is very possible to find voluntary (unpaid) work here, if you are willing to stay for a bit. Paid work is almost exclusive through international organisations. Most of these organisations require foreign staff to be recruited abroad, so it is unlikely that you would be hired just because you managed to make it to Liberia.
English is spoken by most Liberians but especially if you are travelling to more remote areas, a local guide will be useful.
Liberian meals like palm butter, cassava leaf, potato greens, chock rice, and jollof's rice will barely leave a dent in your budget (US$2-3 with a soda). Portions are usually enormous. Another popular local dish is fufu (fermented dough made from the cassava plant) and soup (the most common are goat soup and pepper soup). And for those who like to eat on the go, fruit and snacks can be bought from street vendors throughout Monrovia. Peanuts, fried plantain chips, roasted ears of corn or plantains, bananas, mangos, and other fruits can be had for LRD5-20 (or US$0.10-0.30). Especially delicious are the various breads sold freshly baked in the morning. Some breads resemble banana bread, other breads are more like corn bread.
There is a wide range of options in Monrovia and some larger cities and popular places. In more rural areas, rooms are basic.
Usually hotels are considered quite safe as the owners will employ guards. However, don't be complacent and make sure that you are aware of your security also in the hotels. Be prepared to pay your entire bill in cash (USD).
Club beer is the staple drink, served everywhere. Local gin is also available.
Bagged water is sold on most street corners. While it is supposed to be filtered and safe, it is not guaranteed to be. Stick with bottled water to be sure. You can buy bottled water at any supermarket, restaurant or gas station.
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is only required upon entering Liberia. Also you have to have a cholera stamp (proof of the fact you don't have the disease) when entering Liberia overland.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Liberia. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people and time of year.
Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Do not walk around at night, and make sure that your car doors are locked when you drive around. Thieves will often reach into a car when stopped and grab whatever they can, so keep the glass up especially in busy areas of Monrovia (redlight). Rape and armed robbery are common and on the rise. Hotels etc. have private guards and are rather safe.
There are some gangs of former combatants, armed with machetes, who walk around poorer areas of Monrovia (Redlight). There are also former combatants in the Palm Grove Cemetery on Center Street. Do not walk there alone at all.
The corner of Randall and Carey is also considered dangerous and supposedly a hang-out for drug dealers.
Avoid any desolate places, and stay in groups.
Keep an eye on the locals, if they are carrying on as normal and you see plenty of women and children about, it is unlikely that there will be major sources of concern. If, however, people have disappeared from a usually busy location, or you find yourself surrounded only by youths, you should try and make a hasty retreat.
The most common access to the internet is by GPRS/HSPA+ or restaurants, pubs, bars & hotels that offer free internet services to customers or for a small charge. With the installation of the undersea fiber-optic cable in November 2012 internet access is much improved. GPRS/HSPA USB adapters are commonly available from the mobile companies for USD50-60, with data plans ranging from USD1/hr or $0.12/MB to USD125/mo for unlimited data and up to 21MBps (1-2MBps is realistic on HSPA+).
See also International Telephone Calls
Liberia's international telephone code is 231.
Liberia has made a giant leap into the technological or digital age with the arrival of many mobile phone companies; like Lonestar/MTN Cell (the nation's largest mobile company), Cellcom, Comium, Libercell formerly AWI (Atlantic Wireless Inc) & the government own Libtelco. Mobile phone usage is the leading medium of contact to the outside with some (Lonestar and Cellcom) offering GPRS/internet modem usage. So when you arrive, visiting or staying, you need a GSM mobile phone. You will need to purchase a GSM SIM card (1USD1) and prepaid recharge cards (most commonly in denominations of USD1 and USD5), called "Scratch Card" locally. The only exception is Libtelco, that is done by paying monthly bills. Landlines are used only at offices. It is managed & owned by the government also, Libtelco.
DHL operates in Liberia. Expedited Mail Service promises 5 day delivery to the US. EMS counter is at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication on MacDonald Street. The regular post office has just started to operate.
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