Introducing Sierra Leone
The road to Kailahun District, Sierra Leone © Lindsay Stark
Situated on the West African coast between Guinea and Liberia, Sierra Leone boasts many natural features essential for a tourist destination under the tropical sunshine.
Over 300 miles (483km) of coastline with stretches of palm-fringed sandy beaches, wildlife sanctuaries, verdant hills, and a wonderful blend of history and culture, offer many attractions and activities for visitors. However, with the brutality of a long civil war still too fresh in the memories of many, it may take some time before the hoards discover the hidden treasures of this beautiful little country, and until a formal tourism industry is recognised.
For those ahead of the pack, however, Sierra Leone affords a warm and friendly welcome. The main focus is on its stunning beaches where a variety of watersports, including diving, fishing and surfing, are on offer. The capital and commercial centre, Freetown, is rich in history, originally founded as a stopover for sea merchants and later becoming an important centre for slave trade in the mid-1500s. Eighteen miles (29km) from Freetown at the mouth of the Sierra Leone River is the historic fort on Bunce Island, established in 1670 as the biggest slave-trading fortress on the 'Rice Coast' of West Africa, where thousands of slaves were shipped to North America. In Freetown itself, there are plenty of historically significant landmarks relating to slavery, including the famous Cotton Tree, the Slave Gate, and the Portuguese Steps, while the hills overlooking the city are scattered with mountain villages built by resettled American slaves.
Sierra Leone's wildlife is diverse and protected within conservation areas such as Outamba Kilimi National Park, the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary near Freetown, and the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary on the Moa River, which is renowned for its flora and fauna, boasting 11 different species of primate. The Tingi Hills are popular for hiking, with breathtaking mountain scenery and a variety of bird and animal life, while Mount Bintumani and Lake Sonfron offer various mountain activities.
Sierra Leone is a nation with enormous potential and a bright future in tourism if the situation remains stable and the economy strengthens. It encompasses a kaleidoscope of colour, culture and natural resources within its borders that will reward intrepid travellers seeking a largely unexplored gem within the African continent.
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