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ELECTION 2022

Discover the beauty of Freetown

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Shamlal Puri | Jun 12th 2016 | 4 min read
A performer somersaults during a display at Tokeh Beach. (PHOTO: COURTESY)

Sierra Leone was once the darling of tourists and dignitaries who visited capital Freetown in droves to enjoy one of the best holiday experiences.

The country was blessed with inexplicable beauty — perfect white sandy beaches kissing the sparkling warm waters of the Atlantic.

But tragedy struck and the tide turned against Sierra Leone and it lost its sparkle.

Political problems, long-drawn civil war of the 1990s, decades of economic decline and the debilitating Ebola disease left behind a trail of death and destruction and drove away foreign tourists.

Its hospitality industry floundered as infrastructure was destroyed and fun-seeking tourists opted for the neighbouring Gambia.

A holiday in Sierra Leone was unthinkable and travelling was left only to citizens from the diaspora returning home for holidays or hardened intrepid travellers who bravely brushed aside any risks of being attacked by lawless gun-toting soldiers.

Even as the political problems and infighting had beset the country, Sierra Leone’s beauty remained untouched and it still retains its natural beauty.

After the hard times, Sierra Leone is today bouncing back as a holiday destination and work is being done to kick-start the country’s crippled tourism industry.

There is renewed confidence in the tourism industry as global hotel chains are building new properties in which they offer quality accommodation to discerning tourists who are returning to this beautiful country.

Adventure sports

Sierra Leoneans are a happy and disarmingly friendly people.

Happy to see you...shop owners welcoming customers. (PHOTO: COURTESY)

There are many things to do in Freetown — the beautiful beaches, bars, clubs, museums, places of worship and the streets are dotted with a choice of shops, not forgetting a wonderful cuisine. The city offers an exciting choice of activities ranging from adventure sports, scuba diving and snorkelling.

Where else can any get a chance to stroll on a five-kilometre long deserted beach in the middle of national capital?

The country’s 400-kilometre long unspoiled coastline is dotted with many islands of which the biggest Sherbro. It is five hours sailing distance away from Freetown but truly worth a visit.

Three Banana Islands lie just a boat ride from Freetown. The city’s enormous natural harbour at Bunce Island, has been developed extensively and is the main gateway to Sierra Leone.

Several fishing communities live on Turtle Islands, which is renowned for their beauty.

To discover Freetown’s history, take a trip to the National Museum. The one-room museum is in the shadow of the Cotton Tree and is housed in what was a telephone exchange building.

It has an interesting collection of artefacts from various periods. There are  knowledgeable guides to show you around.

The nearby Cotton Tree has a special significance, my guide David said: “When the freed African-American slaves arrived on shore in Freetown, they walked up to this giant Cotton Tree above the bay and held a thanksgiving service. We in Salone (Sierra Leone) believe this is that tree.”

Today, the tree, which stands in the middle of a busy roundabout, is a major landmark and a marker for the Siaka Steven Street and the State House and other nearby places of interest.

It also is a good meeting place for many friends!

Cross the river

Sierra Leone does not have a public railway transport network but it has a Railway Museum and this is bound to arouse the curiosity of any railway buff.

The country has a fascinating history of railway transport built in the British colonial era but which was permanently shut down in 1974 and now gone to waste.

The museum has old photos, tickets and other railway equipment. This is a nice place to visit and walk down the path of a largely forgotten Sierra Leone’s history.

Ironically, parts of the railway tracks and bridges still remain and they are the only way to cross the river to get to smaller towns.

There are more than ten beaches in Sierra Leone but Freetown’s most popular is the long curving Lumley Beach where people meet to socialise and enjoy beach sports and barbecues. There several bars and restaurants which serve sea food, local and international cuisines.

Some 30-minute drive from Freetown is another popular beach — River Number Two Beach. It is surrounded by lush forest which makes it even more stunning.

There are nice spots on this beach where you can enjoy a good swim, a meal of lobsters, barracuda, rice and chips! Locals will also sell delicious fresh oysters.

Another place worth visiting is the 100-acre Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary at the Western Area Peninsula National Park. It is half-an-hour drive from Freetown.

A thoughtful chimpanzee at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. (PHOTO: COURTESY)

This sanctuary is the home of over seventy orphaned and abandoned chimpanzees who have been given tender loving care and nursed back to health. A visit here promises you a truly adventurous experience.

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