The joys of Sierra Leone are plentiful if you’re the kind of traveler who’s willing to run the risk of a little danger. While there is plenty in the way of gorgeous beaches and diverse wildlife to reward the intrepid adventurer, Sierra Leone is a country that’s still on the mend after decades of internal strife. Today, things are significantly safer than they were at the turn of the century. However, anyone who wants to experience the real treasures of Sierra Leone could run into trouble without too much trouble. There is crime and disease and the very threat of nature itself. However, if you do your homework and the proper prep, Sierra Leone is a nation filled with wonderful people and jaw-dropping sights. It’s absolutely worth the gamble. Of course, you might want to follow these simple tips in order to stay as safe as possible.
1. Love Your Mosquito Repellant
The mosquitos in Sierra Leone are no joke. They carry a variety of potentially horrible diseases — everything from malaria to Zika — that they can pass on to you with a simple bite. Take precautions to prevent mosquito bites or you’re going to have a bad time.
2. Spend Your First Night Near Lungi Airport
The odds are good that your flight will arrive right around dusk, which means you can either try your luck at getting from the airport to your hotel safely after dark (the odds of which are slim), or you can book a hotel near Lungi Airport for your first night to avoid the potentially dangerous trip. Be sure to book weeks before you actually arrive in Sierra Leone.
3. There Are No People Enforcing Maintenance Standards
If you’re thinking about taking a helicopter to scoot around the island, or you’d like to hitch a ride on boat to see some of the coastline, just remember that Sierra Leone is a country in recovery, i.e. there is no government agency requiring businesses to repair their equipment. That means that unless you’re booking your time with a reputable company, you’re essentially taking your life in your own hands when you hop aboard a boat or chopper.
4. Hire a Really Good Driver
Make sure to do your research in advance and hire a very capable (and trustworthy) driver before you arrive in Sierra Leone. This will ensure that you a) have a driver waiting for you at the airport, because there are no cabs at Lungi, and b) are equipped with a vehicle that can handle the universally terrible roads that run throughout Sierra Leone.
5. Don’t Go if You’re Pregnant
According to the CDC (people who should know), the presence of the Zika virus could increase the odds of serious birth defects. If you and your partner are trying to get pregnant when you head to Sierra Leone, it might be a good idea to talk to a doctor beforehand.
6. Leave Your Valuables at Home
With poverty so rampant in Sierra Leone, it’s not surprising to find that visitors to the nation are susceptible to theft and robbery. The best thing you can do is avoid flashing expensive electronics, valuable jewelry, or a high-value smartphone. These objects help make you a target to potential criminals.
7. Beware of the Illegal Roadblock
On occasion, small groups of armed locals will erect a roadblock with the intention of stopping cars (especially tourist vehicles) and extorting a little cash from the drivers. Should you run across one of these easily recognizable roadblocks, just turn around use another passage. The other option is to put the pedal to the metal, honk your horn several times, and hope they move the roadblock before you run it over.
8. Wear Shoes on the Beach
The beaches of Sierra Leone are truly wondrous. Unfortunately, some of them can be a little on the polluted side. Some of Freetown’s beaches, for example, can actually house hospital waste like needles. A pair of tennis shoes should be enough to help you avoid that kind of misfortune, however.
9. Don’t Take the Ferry
The ferry service operating around Freetown doesn’t have a very good reputation. There is no safety equipment (like lifeboats), it’s routinely overcrowded, it’s poorly maintained, and they’re known to operate in poor weather conditions.
10. Don’t Travel After Dark
When the sun starts to go down in Sierra Leone, it’s probably a good idea to begin meandering back toward your hotel. Sierra Leone, especially Freetown, becomes much more dangerous after dark. Taking that one step further, it’s an exceptionally bad idea to find yourself in a rural area of Sierra Leone when the sun goes down.
11. Don’t Take Any Valuable Stones Home
You might be able to pick up some diamonds in Sierra Leone for a very reasonable price, but taking them home with you without having the correct paperwork is akin to drug smuggling and it’s treated thusly. Unless you want to end up in jail, only by stones for a reputable source, and then make sure your paperwork is in order before you hit the airport.
12. Bring Extra Cash
You might expect a trip to Sierra Leone to be pretty cheap, but you’d be wrong. A lot of establishments (like supermarkets) will actually charge tourists much more than they’d charge a local simply because you probably have money to burn. Considering that you’ll likely still be paying a pittance and you’ll be injecting cash into an economy that needs it, this shouldn’t dissuade you from shopping; just be aware.
13. Always Be Ready to Present Your Passport
Anyone who’s entering Sierra Leone will be required to have a valid passport. Once you’re in the country, be sure to keep your passport on you, because you will very likely be asked to present it from time to time and authorities don’t take kindly to those tourists who are unable to deliver a valid travel document when asked.