Talking Travel – Sierra Leone

Stuart Forster interviews Fatmata Mida Carew, General Manager of Sierra Leone’s National Tourism Board.

“Sierra Leone is a beautiful country in West Africa,” says Fatmata Mida Carew, General Manager of Sierra Leone’s National Tourism Board.

The country covers an area of just under 72,000 square kilometres, about nine-tenths the size of Scotland. It is positioning itself as an emerging tourism destination.

The nation’s capital is Freetown and Lungi International Airport is the principal point of entry for air travellers. A Visa on Arrival, costing $80, is available to citizens of the UK and several other countries.

The period from November into January is the most popular time of year for international travellers to visit Sierra Leone.

A national tourism policy is in place. It encompasses national marketing and rebranding strategies plus a strategy to guide the development on ecotourism in Sierra Leone.

“Our core focus is ecotourism. Even though we have beautiful beaches along the peninsula, the niche market is ecotourism,” says Fatmata. “We also promote our cultural heritage. We are a country with diverse ethnic culture,” she adds.

“We have put measures in place so as to ensure that we maintain and protect our environment. One way of going about it is spreading the message about climate change and getting people to protect their environment,” she explains.

Key attractions in Sierra Leone

The Western Area Peninsula National Park is one of the key attractions for nature lovers. Western chimpanzees inhabit the park along with primates including sooty mangabeys, Diana monkeys and red colobus monkeys. Leopards also roam the forest, which provides habitat to more than 300 species of birds. Tacugama Chimp Sanctuary provides opportunities for people to see chimps in Freetown during their rehabilitation. “There are ecolodges within the sanctuary where you can also sleep, a restaurant is there and you have a very good time in nature,” explains Fatmata.

Approximately five hours drive east of Freetown, Outamba-Kilimi National Park provides habitat to wildlife including primates, bush elephants and pygmy hippos.

The Loma Mountains Range, in the country’s northeast, is known as a destination for adventure tourism.

So too are the Wara Wara Mountains. “But it also has a traditional connotation…it is believed that you can speak to spirits. It is a place where you go and you enjoy culture. It is a beautiful place and it is known for the famous January 1 picnic,” says the National Tourism Board’s General Manager of an annual event that attracts people from across the country. Ecolodges provide accommodation in the region, which is known for its cool climate and nature trails.

Nature, beaches and history Wildlife and nature are the key draws of Gola Rainforest National Park, where over 330 bird species have been spotted and pygmy hippos live. The biodiverse region provides habitat to 49 species of large mammals. “You can find all sorts of species in terms of birds, in terms of monkeys, in terms of reptiles,” says Fatmata of the region along Sierra Leone’s border with Liberia.

In addition to the beautiful sandy beaches along Sierra Leone’s Atlantic coastline, Bunce Island holds the remains of buildings used during the transatlantic slave trade. “That is the place where the slaves were stationed to take abroad,” she explains.

Scuba divers are likely to appreciate spending time on Banana Island. Whale-watching excursions and sport fishing count among the water-based activities offered on the island.

Visitors can experience community-based tourism, including sustainable tourism projects, in the Western Peninsula.

Visiting Sierra Leone

Travel agents interested in experiencing Sierra Leone should look out for a fam trip which the National Tourism Board is looking at organising in October or November.

“We have put so many things in place, in terms of the policies, in terms of the strategies,” says Fatmata, who emphasises the hospitality provided by her country’s people. “We are friendly people…you feel as if you’re part of Sierra Leone; It is a beautiful country. Sierra Leone is ready for tourism.”