Forget opulent comfort

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Forget opulent comfort

baby chimp at the Tacugama Sanctuary

Last November I mentioned that Sierra Leone was seeking to place itself on the tourist map. In London yesterday plans were announced to take travel writers across to see the country for themselves but don’t expect to stories about the country in the mainstream media until late Spring or early Summer. But when the stories do start appearing there will any number of people who will want to visit the country.

Why?

Bragging rights are one reason.

Because there is virtually no packaged tours to speak of there will be an appeal to those people who love to visit destinations before their neighbours or even to tick off another country on the bucket list. And that applies to travel writers as well. Few have been there so the clamour to try and get on the first trip so they can be on up on their journalistic colleagues. Even amongst old African hands it is hard to find many that have visited the country recently!

Another group of people to which a holiday in Sierra Leone will appeal will be those who like to visit places that are different and to visit them before tourism affects the country.

This is not a country where you will find five star hotels – at least not for a few years yet. Most of the large hotel chains have yet to properly discover the country even in the capital, Freetown. In the capital there are substantial hotels like the Bintumani which is probably the most well known and sits outside the main part of the city overlooking the sea. Aberdeen, a suburb, is the upmarket area of the city and here you will find restaurants as well as upmarket hotels like the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel which sits by Lumley Beach.

Outside of Freetown you will find what was described to me as “barefoot luxury.” I take that to mean that outside  Freetown you will find accommodation but without the gold taps, butler service and Michelin star chefs that you might find in more swanky hotels.

Not having been there myself I had to ask what you will find to attract a visitor. The answer seems to be rather a lot. Lets’s forget Freetown for a moment although if you go to the country you will have to enter via Freetown.

The first visitors will probably be the adventurous types who don’t mind not having the creature comforts of a St Regis hotel.

Lumley Beach, Freetown which is where you will find the tourist authority

What they might be surprised to find will be beaches that will match any in the Caribbean or the South Pacific. They will be sandy stretch for miles but unfortunately for some there won’t be ice-cream kiosks, souvenir stalls and café’s ready to ply you with the latest boutique gin. There will be you on the beach and maybe a fisherman. That’s it; you really will be the person in those photographs that shows an empty beach bar one person.

You can spot the British connection with some of the names. Aberdeen, as I said, is the upmarket side but it is from where a string of unspoilt beaches start and continue all the way to Kent!

Many will prefer to see the heritage of the country. Bunce Island, for example, is a reminder of the slave trade. There, people were taken in preparation for the long trip across the Atlantic to the Americas. That was all Bunce really was – a staging post – so that when slavery ended, the island became a living museum of what conditions were like. No-one redeveloped it. The buildings were allowed to decay resulting in one of the few places in Africa where you can see conditions that those unlucky people faced.

Bunce Island

Others will opt to see the wildlife. Sierra Leone is one of the few places where you can see the pygmy hippo although if you do you will be lucky. These reclusive creatures are not easily seen but then neither are Diana monkeys Go to Tiwai Island and you might be lucky to see these along with three different types of Colobus Monkey.

Go into the Gola rainforest and you will find forest elephants as well as more than 300 types of bird or go to Tacugama and you will find one of the biggest chimpanzee sanctuaries in Africa. All the 80 or so chimps are there to be released back into the wild as soon as they are able and fit enough to do so.

If you want a more sedentary pursuit then you might try panning for diamonds in Kono although, as someone who has fossicked for opals, I imagine it also could be tiring and diamonds don’t appear as pristine cut-glass sparklers in the wild. In fact they are rather dull so take some tips first on what to spot before you start panning.

That is just a few of the things that Sierra Leone offers the visitor. That and living as the locals live,  enjoying the sort of meals that they would eat rather than western dishes and a people who are really unused to seeing visitors so unlike some African countries you won’t be pestered to buy nick-nacks.

It all sound pretty appealing so keep your eyes open for the first stories at about Easter time

All images © National Tourist Board of Sierra Leone

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