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The Portugese discoverer of this stretch of African coastline somehow regarded its mountains as similar to lion's teeth, thus giving it the name Sierra Leone (Lion Mountains). While these original perceptions may be sharply contested by critics who think the mountains bear greater similarity to tiger's teeth or leopard's teeth, the name has stuck. And as hotly contested as these canine arguments are, the main spheres of tension in modern-day Sierra Leone are not teeth-related. A civil war in the early nineties and ongoing conflict over diamonds and drugs has hurt the nation's stability. Things appear to be improving, but Sierra Leone is still a questionable destination. Might have to wait a while before deciding for yourself whether the Portuguese discoverer was right in his assessment.
In the early 20th century, Freetown served as the residence of the British governor who also ruled the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and the Gambia settlements. Sierra Leone also served as the educational centre of British West Africa.
The 1924 Sierra Leone constitution was replaced in November 1951 by a new one which united the formerly separate Colonial and Protectorate legislatures and - most importantly - provided a framework for decolonization. In 1951 Sir Milton Margai, an ethnic Mende and the leading politician from the Protectorate oversaw the drafting of a new constitution which triggered the process of decolonization. In 1953 Sierra Leone was granted local ministerial powers and Margai was made Chief Minister. The new constitution ensured Sierra Leone a parliamentary system within the Commonwealth of Nations and was formally adopted in 1958. On April 27, 1961, Milton Margai led Sierra Leone to independence from the United Kingdom.
In October 1990, president Momoh set up a constitutional review commission to review the 1978 one-party constitution. Based on the commission recommendations a constitution re-establishing a multi-party system was approved by Parliament by a 60% majority vote, becoming effective on October 1, 1991. By November 1991, political oppostion became active once again in Sierra Leone. But there was great suspicion that Momoh was not serious, and APC rule was increasingly marked by abuses of power. Civil war broke out, mainly due to government corruption and mismanagement of diamond resources. The brutal civil war going on in neighboring Liberia played an undeniable role in the outbreak of fighting in Sierra Leone.
Between 1991 and 2001, about 50,000 people were killed in Sierra Leone's civil war. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced from their homes, and many became refugees in Guinea and Liberia. In 2001, UN forces moved into rebel-held areas and began to disarm rebel soldiers. By January 2002, the war was declared over. In May, Kabbah was reelected president. By 2004, the disarmament process was complete. Also in 2004, a UN-backed war crimes court began holding trials of senior leaders from both sides of the war. In December 2005, UN peacekeeping forces pulled out of Sierra Leone.
In August 2007, Sierra Leone held presidential and parliamentary elections. However, no presidential candidate won a majority of votes. A runoff election was held in September 2007, and Ernest Bai Koroma, the candidate of the APC and an ethnic Temne from the north was elected president.
Sierra Leone is located on the west coast of Africa, lying mostly between latitudes 7° and 10°N (a small area is south of 7°), and longitudes 10° and 14°W. The country is bordered by Guinea to the north and northeast, Liberia to the south and southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Sierra Leone has a total area of 71,740 km2, divided into a land area of 71,620 km2 and water of 120 km2. The country has four distinct geographical regions. In eastern Sierra Leone the plateau is interspersed with high mountains, where Mount Bintumani reaches 1,948 metres, the highest point in the country. The upper part of the drainage basin of the Moa River is located in the south of this region. The centre of the country is a region of lowland plains, containing forests, bush and farmland, that occupies about 43% of Sierra Leone's land area. The northern section of this has been categorised by the World Wildlife Fund as part of the Guinean forest-savanna mosaic ecoregion, while the south is rain-forested plains and farmland. In the west Sierra Leone has some 400 kilometres of Atlantic coastline, giving it both bountiful marine resources and attractive tourist potential. The coast has areas of low-lying Guinean mangroves swamp. The national capital Freetown sits on a coastal peninsula, situated next to the Sierra Leone Harbour, the world's third largest natural harbour.
Sierra Leone is made up of 3 provinces and an "area".
The Banana Islands are located just off the coast and if it is diving and snorkelling you are after, this is the place to be. Coral and some cannons of shipwrecks can be seen here. Apart from the beach scene, there is some cultural stuff to explore, like the remains of an 1881 church, and old slave docks as well. The best way to get here is by speaking to the local fishermen at the mainland near Tokeh Village.
Kabala is really off the beaten track, like much in this former warzone. It's situated in the north of Sierra Leone and although there aren't many places to stay, one guesthouse is more than enough to cater the adventurous travellers that come here. It's a good place for hiking and the town is surrounded by lushy hills, rivers and waterfalls.
In the Loma Mountains Forest Reserve you will find the highest mountain of Sierra Leone: the Bintumani or Loma Mansa, at 1945 metres above sea level. When the weather is clear the views from the top are absolutely fabulous but there is more to explore in the region. The nature reserve is a good base for a very rewarding safari, much less crowded than the ones in the east or south of the continent. There are many special species of animals, but many of them are also endangered. Lately, things are getting better though, as people see the advantages of tourism as a source of income. Animals include several species of monkey, elephants, bongo's, crocodiles, warthogs, duikers, porcupines and buffalos.
There are several routes to the top and both routes offer wildlife viewing opportunities. Best to bring a guide.
The Outamba-Kilimi National Park is a beautiful park containing both savanna and jungle and wildlife viewing is excellent here. Chimpanzees, colobus monkeys, hippos, bongos, buffalos, elephants and lions can be seen, and there are over 250 species of bird. There are two sections to explore, the northern consisting of rolling hills, grasslands, flood plains and rainforests, while the Kilimi section is flatter and less interesting. You can spend the night at the headquarters and arrange guides as well to make the most out of your trip.
On the 9th June 2012 come to the beautiful countryside of Makeni to run either a marathon, half marathon or 5k in aid of Street Child of Sierra Leone (http://www.street-child.co.uk/). The run is an opportunity for adventure and offers a chance to visit Street Child projects and meet the people who will benefit from fundraising alongside the chance to travel and be inspired by the landscape and people of Sierra Leone. Visit http://www.kilnsierraleonemarathon.com/
Sierra Leone has a tropical climate with hot and humid weather year round. From late November to April, the weather is generally dry with many fine, hot, sunny days. From May to October is the rainy season. The rainfall increases to a peak in July and August and then decreases until rain has almost ceased by November. Along the coast, total annual rainfall is usually between 3,500 mm and 4,000 mm. July and August are extremely wet in Freetown for example with around 900 mm of rain during these months! Temperatures usually average around or slightly above 30 °C during the day, almost 25 °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.
Sierra National Airlines is the national airline of the country and is based at Freetown-Lungi International Airport (FNA) near the capital Freetown. 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.
Travelling to and from Sierra Leone by your own car is possible and you cross at most points mentioned below. Only the crossing at Koindu is recommended only by car as there is little traffic going this way.
To Guinea, the main border crossing is at Pamelap. Bush taxis run between Freetown and Conakry, Guinea frequently taking around 7 hours for the journey. There also is an SLRTC bus twice a week. You can also do the trip in stages an get to the border from other towns and easily continue to Conakry from there. The route is now almost completely paved.
From Kamakwie to Kindia, Guinea, there is little transport on the Sierra Leone side and the road is not a good condition. Once you get to Medina-Oula in Guinea moving on is better though.
Also, the road from Kabala to Faranah, Guinea, is rough and only a few taxis make this trip a week.
Another crossing is from Kailahun on toward Guéckédou. Roads are bad and there might be some hassles with Sierra Leone border officials.
To Liberia, the main route between Freetown and Monrovia is via Kenema, Zimmi and then Bo. The journey takes a massive two days in the dry season already! You first need to go to Kenema as there is no direct transport from Freetown. It is a little quicker via Bo but there is less transport.
Technically, there are border crossings from Zimmi, Koindu and Buedu but roads are extremely bad and there is almost no traffic along these routes. Also it might not be safe, so check the security situation before using any of these crossings.
There are no scheduled flights in Sierra Leone, although there are helicopter transfers possible from the international airport near Freetown to the centre of the city. Private airlines offer several charter connections but at a price.
Rental cars always come with a driver. Rates are relatively high but if you are with several persons, it can be a great way of getting around. Be sure to get a 4wd vehicle as roads to the interior, north and east are not always in a good shape. Traffic drives on the right.
Buses, minibuses and shared taxis all ply the main routes in the country, travelling from Freetown to most major cities and towns. Some routes have more frequent links than others, especially the one to smaller towns don't leave every day.
Several ferries travel along the coast and to some islands, but many other places, like the islands off shore southeast of the capital Freetown, can only be reached by renting a local boat with a fisherman for example.
All nationals, except people from ECOWAS (most West African) countries, need a visa for Sierra Leone. Officially, a yellow fever vaccination is needed to get a visa, though this is rarely checked.
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See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is only required upon entering Sierra Leone. Also you have to have a cholera stamp (proof of the fact you don't have the disease) when entering Sierra Leone overland.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Sierra Leone. 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. Dengue is present as well, especially in urban areas, but there is no vaccination.
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
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