Amin Kef: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 February 2019:
Once devastated by war and conflict, Sierra Leone is often overlooked as an attractive tourist destination. However, this melting pot of colourful cultures with it buzzing capital, tropical rain forest, unforgettable wildlife and white-sand beaches, definitely deserves its place in the glossy international travel magazines.
The Sierra Leone National Tourist Board and Ministry of Tourism recently told the press at World Travel Market in London that, the country is changing its narrative and improve its national image. The minister also mentioned that Sierra Leone has high hopes for tourism to become the country’s lead industry.
In an age where travellers are increasingly looking for off-the-beaten-track, unknown and authentic experiences, Sierra Leone truly checks all the boxes.
The country features long stretches of empty and uninterrupted beaches, unique cultural experiences and unforgettable wildlife.
The most beautiful beach in Africa can be found near Tokeh, according to locals.
Tokeh is a small coastal village on the Western Area Peninsula where local people are always happy to invite tourists to join them on fishing trips, showing them how to smoke fish; or inviting them to have a drink in the Palm wine Bar.
Tokeh is home to a large holiday resort called “The Place,” (Photo: Below) and there are other accommodations available, as well.
Sierra Leone’s 250 miles of pristine Atlantic coastline is dotted with little “hidden” islands: Sherbro is the biggest, while the three Banana Islands lie just across from Freetown. Bunce Island, in Freetown’s massive natural harbour, is the most developed, and the Turtle Islands are the most unspoiled.
Sierra Leone’s islands show incredible potential when it comes to eco-tourism. The previously forgotten Tasso Island, for example, lies at the heart of one of Africa’s most precious wetlands, the Sierra Leone River Estuary.
Tasso Island has its own resort, which is run by the Tasso Ecotourism Project, a community business that aims to bring new jobs and improve the livelihoods of the 5,000 islanders who currently rely entirely on fishing.
The Tasso resort features five wooden beachside chalets and a restaurant, built around the trunk of a baobab tree. The Island is a great base for local walks, and exploration of the estuary.
Meanwhile, the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, in the central-south area of the country, reportedly offers the second highest concentration of primates in the world.
Rare and endangered species such as the Diana monkey and the pygmy hippopotamus can be found in the sanctuary.
Visitors to Tiwai Island can spend a few days hiking through beautiful natural settings, learning about the rich cultural and historical heritage of the Mende people.
The Heritage Trail on the island is a community created and managed experience that will introduce visitors to the everyday life of the communities that surround the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Kambama village is usually the starting point for all Heritage Trails on Tiwai Island. In Kambama, there is a blacksmith who is essential to the working life of all villagers, an herbalist who is knowledgeable in herbal medicines, and an eco-campsite that was created and is now run by the town speaker, Chief Hindowa Kamara, and other community members.
The most remote community on the heritage trail, Segbewema can only be accessed by bush trails and has retained some of the mysterious qualities of Sierra Leone’s rural communities. Characterized by its small, tightly built thatch huts, this village is a window into times past.
It is possible, on the heritage trail, to enjoy a home-stay at Segbewema and experience how people live their daily lives.
The main ecotourism draw card for Sierra Leone, however, remains the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. It is famous for its rehabilitation efforts for domesticated chimps. The sanctuary opened in 1995, although the story started long before that.
In 1988, the owners, Bala and Sharmila Amerasekaran, bought a sick chimpanzee on the street and nursed it back to health. This was a life-altering experience, as their fondness and knowledge of these animals grew. They later discovered the dangers that chimpanzees face in Sierra Leone and how they are treated in captivity. And over the years, their hard work transpired into the creation of the sanctuary that stands today.
Today, most chimps that arrive at the sanctuary are less than five years old and would normally still be suckling milk from their mothers. Many are maltreated by their owners, injured, malnourished or disabled, abandoned or illegally sold as pets.
Tourists can visit the sanctuary and see the chimps on a guided forest walk. But the sanctuary offers more than only site visits.
Tacugama aims to be at the forefront of preserving Sierra Leone’s remaining wildlife through education, community support and ecotourism. The sanctuary has become an eco-tourism hub with six eco-lodges and a variety of activities for both tourists and locals.
There are many routes around the beautiful surroundings of Tacugama, offering hikers a range of day trails and paths to explore, peaks to summit and views to take in.
Sierra Leone won’t stay a secret for too long. International Travel Agencies should advise their customers to visit this beautiful part of Africa, before everyone discovers its beauty.