The ultimate guide to solo travel in Freetown Sierra Leone
About Sierra Leone
Africa is a continent often overlooked as a possible tourist destination. West African countries, in particular, have hugely impacted the continent. From cuisines, music to clothing, and much more and Sierra Leone is no exception.
Located on the west African coast, the country initially was formed as a country for ‘free slaves’ to return to. This means many slaves who had ‘served their time’ were send back to Sierra Leone from countries like England, Canada and Jamaica.
As these former slaves often took their cultures along with them, when they arrived in Sierra Leone, they created a country infused with a range of ethnic cultures Its neighbouring countries are Guinea and Liberia. .
Travelling here, gave me a weird homely feeling as I’d often meet many Sierra Leoneans with very traditional Nigerian names even though they’re not Nigerian. Jamaican influences are also very prevalent in the country with reggae being blasted in the streets of Freetown.
Freetown is a place to be if you’re planning on visiting this country as it is a calm and peaceful city alongside a busy one. As long as you practice precaution here; i.e. be aware of your surroundings, don’t roam the streets alone at night. You also have to be careful on the government ferry, I’ve heard stories of pickpockets who can smell foreigners from a mile away.
As Sierra Leone, Freetown is not visited a lot by many tourists, accommodation options are limited. You can find basic accommodation here at unfortunately expensive rates (like £60 per night for the most basic accommodation). Finer establishments are available such as Radisson Blu located in the main district, however this will cost a pretty penny (around £200 per night).
I recommend using sites such as booking.com or Airbnb for one or two nights and trying to find cheaper and better quality hotels whilst you are out there.
I stayed in St. Johns area which is quite nice and felt very safe. There are a lot of nice restaurants and markets around this area.
Backpacking in Freetown isn’t really doable as there are very limited accomadation options for tourists.
Here are some must-visit sites
- National Museum:This museum located in the capital, Freetown, is an amazing start to understanding Sierra Leonean history. It is always better to get a guide as there aren’t many descriptions about the artefacts.
- National market: (located by the national railway museum):This market was the most organised market I’ve ever been to. With so many pan African designs. From wood carvings to jewellery and accessories. This market perfectly represents West African cultures and designs with traditional Nigerian (Ankara) and Ghanaian (Kente) print used on the clothing and accessories.
- Bunce Island and Banana Island:Though, these islands are filled with beautiful beaches, they have an extremely dark past as they were used as slave trading and shipping stations. These islands have their own history told through the ruins and monuments. I highly recommend going with a guide.
- Take in the cotton tree:
Literally, beside the national museum, this is one of the country’s monuments as it many see it as a landmark of freedom.
This tree is huge and can be admired from a distance which is all the better as you won’t be able to get to it because it’s on a roundabout .
- Grab a bargain
This market was the most organised market I’ve ever been to.
With so many pan African designs. From wood carvings to jewellery and accessories.
This market perfectly represents West African cultures and designs with traditional Nigerian (Ankara) and Ghanaian (Kente) print used on the clothing and accessories.
- Monkey Around
Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary is a sanctuary is just 40 minutes outside downtown Freetown, and gives a safe ground, protecting nearly 100 chimpanzees from hunters and poachers.
Though small, your visit to the sanctuary can keep them open and save these beautiful creatures.
- Visit Tiwai Island Wildlife
This wildlife retreat is home to some amazingly diverse wildlife inclusing the critically endangered pygmy hippo. This ecological conservation centre is great for animal lovers who want to travel sustainable and ethically.
- Run for change
Did you know that Sierra Leone has an annual nationwide marathon? This Marathon is located around the Makeni region and was set up in 2012 by a the charity street child. It’s a great and unique activity to get into if you’re ever in the country during the event. Do make sure to check the charity’s website streetchild.co.uk to know when they’ll be hosting their next run!
- Climb Mount Bintumani
This mountain is located in the Loma mountains region which is Sierra Leones highest peak. This mountain stands at nearly 2,000 meters and is a great adventure for those who love an active holiday.
- Explore Freetown’s National Stadium
I initially found out about this stadium from a local who told me about a swimming pool there. The day I went to the swimming pool was unfortunately closed but what surprised me more was the stadium itself.
Once into the grounds, you’ll see plenty of shops and stalls all selling beautiful African clothing and accessories, food, electronics and more.
You can choose to walk down this long strip to have a shopping spree or enter the main building which is the football stadium.
Here you can watch local Sierra Leonean teams play. But even if you’re not into football the arena is so big with extra buildings housing events such as swimming.
It’s always best to go in person to ask their schedule for the coming days or ask a local.
- Relax at Lumley beach
This is by far Freetown’s most popular beach. With a lot of locals going to relax, soak up the sun and play sports. Why not join in with the locals in their activities especially when the sun goes down as there are occasional parties on the beach.
Freetown is home to over 1 million people so it’s no surprise that there are always some events going on.The weekend nightlife is always packed with Aberdeen street drawing in the largest crowds.
The best time to go to Sierra Leone is in the dry season, which runs from October to May. January and February tend to be the hottest months.Travel is possible in June and late September although there will be heavy down pours and rural roads can become very muddy.
- The best ways of getting around the Freetown are Tuk tuks and taxis. Tuk tuks are very convenient and cheap. Though there are not any meters there are set prices per destination which all the locals know about. You’ll soon pick these up after a few rides, night-time rates are higher. Tuk Tuks are often shared, but you can pay extra to not share or take a taxi, taxis are more expensive.
- Practice your pidgin (though English is the official language here, people widely use pidgin – A west African dialect to communicate. Learning this dialect will help prevent you from paying tourist prices)
- The airport and the city centre aren’t located close to each other and you’ll need a boat to get to the capital (don’t know why they did that)
- Make sure to have some dollars and leones (the local currency) with you. Depending on where you are it may be better to pay in dollars i.e. upscale restaurants.
- If you’re going to get the government ferry, do make sure you ask the locals when the ferry is coming and be prepared to wait! As the timing to this ferry depends all on when it is full.
- Wherever you are in the city, make sure you take a walk through the streets as you’ll be blown away by the amazing views of green forests in the distance.
- Get a sim. If you plan to stay in the country for a long time, it may be useful for you to get a sim card, these can easily be bought in phone shops. Public WiFi is not really common. Though some upscale restaurants do have WiFi, it may be safer as a solo female traveller to stay connected on your go throughout the city too.
Sierra Leone is a country not often visited by tourists and so making friends especially those who are fellow travellers may be a tad more difficult than in other African countries.
However people are often very friendly and intrigued by foreigners and want to get to know more about you and your culture. I often had people in the street stop me because they heard I spoke English and wanted to sit and talk with me about being from London.
You can also take a tour. There are so many experiences and tours in Sierra Leone, especially in Tunis as a great way to also meet fellow wanderlusters and who knows. They may even be able to share with you some hidden gems in the country.
Online forums and clubs may also be a great method to meet people. Using sites like Facebook and joining groups is a great way to get the ball rolling, meet locals and see their city.
Lungi international airport is the main airport in the country which is actually located outside and on a separate part of the country as the capital Freetown. From the airport you have 2 options;
The speed boat: this is around ($50, you will get a minivan to the port and onto a small boat that takes you to the island in about 4 minutes)
The government boat: This is more like a ferry and about a 10 minute taxi ride (which you’ll have to haggle for outside of the airport – the taxis inside are much more expensive).
From the port, you pay around $10 to get to the city, you will have to wait until the ferry is full, and I mean FULL until the ferry departs to the other side.
Depending on your reasoning for going to Sierra Leone, I would suggest a few days. It is easy to explore the capital, see the sites and have beach day in Freetown within a week or less.
Can I drink the water? No
Is tipping expected? No. It is a curtious act in certain excursions such as the Chimpanzee Sanctuary.
Fixed price or barter? Haggling is essential when it comes to travel and in markets if you don’t want to pay tourist prices
Any ATMs? In Freetown there are ATMs scattered around the city. Though I do recommend travelling with a VISA card as Mastercards sometimes are not accepted in these ATMs. I do also recommend going to actual bank ATMs rather than ATM cashpoints as cashpoints can fail or swallow your card.
Which side of the road do they drive? Left
Good for vegetarians? No, Like many west African countries, meat is a big part of Sierra Leonean diets
Any seven wonders of the world? No
Plan a trip to Freetown
If you are ready to solo travel Freetown here are some useful links to help you plan your travel.
Budget – (£10-£20 a day minus accommodation)
Capital – Freetown
Population – 8 million
Language spoken – English
Local Currency – Leones
Do I need a visa? – Yes for a british passport. No for ECOWAS passports
Flying time to Freetown – 8 hours from London
Did you know? Sierra Leone means lion mountain
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