The West African country makes a unique and off-the-beaten-track destination. From stunning beaches and sunsets to interesting towns with plenty of rich history and culture thrown in. Here are the most beautiful places to visit in Sierra Leone…
1. Tokeh Beach
This white sand beach, framed by palm trees and tropical rainforest, feels like it’s a world away. Even though it’s only about an hour from Freetown, it’s one of the less visited beaches, promising a relaxing, crowd-free day.
Spread out your towel, swim in the clear, warm water, and admire Tokeh Island, which is a 20-minute boat ride away. Want to extend the lazy island feel? There are two resorts here, Tokeh Beach Resort, and The Place at Tokeh, with accommodations for every budget.
You can visit the resorts for a taste of their fine cuisine, stay a few days, or just enjoy your time on one of Sierra Leone’s most beautiful beaches.
My must dos at Tokeh Beach:
- Relax on the white powder sand
- Arrange a boat tour out to the island
- Take advantage of the local resorts and their fine dining
2. Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary
An organization whose mission is to rescue chimpanzees, and enforce the wildlife laws of Sierra Leone, the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary is both a solemn reminder that we share this planet with other species, and a way to learn more about the chimpanzees.
There are several ways to experience the sanctuary. Book an eco-lodge, where you can stay in a traditional roundhouse, or a treehouse lodge. Hikes and sanctuary tours are included with the booking, and you can add lunch or dinner if you don’t want to cook for yourself.
A sanctuary tour is the best way to see the chimpanzees. Scheduled to coincide with feeding time, you’ll get an up close view of them in their natural habitat. The guides share their passion for the chimps, and their knowledge of what the sanctuary does. Bring your camera – there will be plenty of opportunities for photos.
If you’re in Freetown, add this to your must-do list.
My must-dos at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary:
- Stay in an eco-lodge, and become part of the sanctuary
- Take a sanctuary tour to see the chimpanzees
- Go on one of the offered hikes in and around the sanctuary
3. Gola Rainforest National Park
Known as the Green Diamond, Gola Rainforest National Park shows off the best and most beautiful landscape Sierra Leone has to offer.
Visiting here is not like going to another state park. To keep the impact of humans treading through the park to a minimum, you are required to make reservations before arriving at the park, and a member of park staff or a guide will be with you at all times.
You can choose one of the three areas of the park open to visitors, or arrange for a special tour.
Each area has its own attractions. Lalehun is best for camping and hiking, with miles of trails. A visit to Belebu includes a stay in the community guesthouse and a local guide to help you find the local wildlife and medicinal plants they use in everyday life. Sileti offers easy walking trails, a 2-night camping trip along the Mahoi River to search for pygmy hippos or a 3-day homestay in the local village.
For an escape from the city, and the chance to immerse yourself in the lush rainforest, be sure to make your way to this gorgeous national park.
My must-dos at Gola Rainforest National Park:
- Take a hike through one of the three beautiful areas of the park
- Stay in the community guesthouse in Belebu
- Arrange a 2-day camping trip in Sileti to see primates and the rare pygmy hippo
4. Lakka Beach
Located on the Freetown peninsula, Lakka Beach is a gorgeous yellow sand beach, with crystal water and stunning views. Halfway down the beach is a small, tree-covered island that you can walk out to during low tide.
There are also two restaurants with tasty, fresh menus on offer. Once you’re ready for some exercise, head down the beach to the Lakka Beach Island Resort, and have lunch in the highly recommended restaurant.
The beach is near Lakka, one of Freetown’s southern suburbs, which will give you the chance to mingle with the locals out for a day of sun and sand.
My must dos at Lakka Beach:
- Walk to the Lakka Beach Island Resort
- Take the time to walk out to the island
- Meet the locals
5. Outamba-Kilimi National Park
For an adventure you will always remember, take the journey to Outamba-Kilimi National Park. Located near the border of the Republic of Guinea, it’s not easy to get to, so plan to spend the night in the basic, no-frills tourist camp.
Start at the Outamba-Kilimi National Park Education Centre and Community Library, to arm yourself with information on what you’ll see during your visit.
You can take a peaceful canoe ride on the river, spotting birds along the way, monkeys hanging from the trees, and maybe a pod of hippos. Or take a guided nature trek through the landscape, and spot local wildlife like buffalo and bush pigs, along with monkeys and chimpanzees.
Be prepared if you plan to go. Bring your own food and water, though a small group can buy food from the park staff. Add a flashlight to the list, as there is no electricity at the camp. Since there are only 4 cabins in use, you may want to bring your own tent.
You’ll be rewarded for your effort with unparalleled views, the chance to really live among the local wildlife, and the adventure of a lifetime.
My must dos at Outamba-Kilimi National Park:
- Take a canoe ride to see the hippos
- Spend the night, with the sounds of the forest lulling you to sleep
- Take a guided nature walk
6. Bureh Beach
In the southern part of the Freetown Peninsula, the golden stretch of Bureh Beach is a surfer’s dream. Unlike most beaches, the winds here are frequent, and create the perfect condition for waves.
This isn’t your picture postcard beach – the sand is a little coarse, the water conditions not easy for swimming. But taking a walk along the beach shows you its charm, with hidden coves created by rocks, and small rock pools ready for you to step in.
Surfing is the reason to come here, and the local surf club will help you get started, even if you’ve never been on a board. After your lessons, enjoy a meal cooked by the locals, with an incredible view.
Hanging out a Bureh Beach is the perfect escape from the usual beach experience, and, at the same time, a chance to give back to the local community.
My must dos at Bureh Beach:
- Learn how to surf from a local
- Enjoy a freshly cooked meal after a day on the waves
- Discover your new favorite cove
7. Banana Islands
This island archipelago consists of three islands: Dublin, Ricketts, and Mes-Meheux, which is a privately owned island. The first two islands were settled by former enslaved Africans, and many of their descendants still live on the islands.
You can reach Dublin, the largest island, by boat from Kent. It’s easy to walk from Dublin to Ricketts via a stone causeway. On both islands, you’ll find gorgeous scenery, clapboard houses, some of them brightly painted, but no roads, no cars, and no electricity.
There are two churches and some shops on Dublin, along with accommodations if you want to spend the night. Choose from local guesthouses, or head to Bafa Resort for glamping on the beach, and their excellent restaurant.
The islands are the perfect way to get off the grid for a few days. Hang out on Big Sand Beach, stroll around the islands and admire the abundance of nature, or rent a kayak or pedal boat and explore the perimeter of the islands, searching for hidden coves.
If you love to scuba dive, there are two 18th century shipwrecks off the coast of Dublin, waiting for you to explore. Your local guesthouse can help with arranging boat rentals, and there’s a dive school on the island.
Whatever you do, your time here will be relaxing, blissful, and leave you ready for the next adventure.
My must dos on the Banana Islands:
- Stay a few days and really get away from the daily grind
- Rent a kaya or pedal boat to explore the island from the water
- Explore 18th century shipwrecks
8. Tiwai Island
Located in southeast Sierra Leone, Tiwai Island is a wildlife sanctuary, run by the Environmental Federation for Africa. It’s an eco-tourism sanctuary, driven to educate and to protect the island’s biodiversity and wildlife.
As one of the last examples of an ancient African rainforest, visitors learn to respect the fragile nature of the island. You can go on a forest walk, surrounded by bird calls and the chattering of monkeys in the trees. Join a night river tour, and experience your first possible sighting of the rare, elusive pygmy hippo. Or learn the different cultural dance styles from the eight communities that inhabit the island.
With beaches, walks for every interest, and so much to explore, your time on Tiwai Island will be educational, inspiring, and a chance to spend time with the locals.
My must dos on Tiwai Island:
- Go on a night river tour, hunting for pygmy hippos
- Stay on the island and immerse yourself in the local culture
- Learn more about this beautiful, wild island from its caretakers
When you fly into Sierra Leone, Freetown will be your point of arrival – and taking a water taxi from the airport is just the first of your new experiences.
Freetown is a vibrant, bustling city, with a long history that can still be seen all over the city. It sits on a natural harbor, lined by Lumley Beach. Most hotels are near the stretch of beach, which is packed with shops and restaurants. You could spend a full day just wandering the length of the beach.
Freetown has so much more to offer than beaches. Check out the National Railway Museum, or the Sierra Leone National Museum, to learn more about the history of Sierra Leone. For even more history, go right outside the National Museum, where you’ll find the 300-year-old Cotton Tree. This is where the former slaves founded Freetown, which had once been part of the slave trade.
Get out, walk along the street, and be surrounded by the sights, the sounds, the chaos of this city. Or catch a ride on one of the motorized, three wheeled kekeks for a completely different view. Stop at the Big Markit, which dates from 18th century, where you can shop for arts and crafts, jewelry, paintings, and the unique shukublai, the baskets woven by the Temne and used to hold their possessions.
For the most stunning view, and to give you an idea of just how sprawling Freetown is, head up to Leicester Peak. It’s even more stunning at night, with lights blanketing the hills.
The nightlife is just as lively and vibrant. Have a meal in a nice restaurant, then check out the bars and nightclubs. There’s everything from live music and DJs to casinos. Many nightclubs are open 24 hours on the weekends. There’s no shortage of venues, and you’re bound to find a place that appeals to you.
There’s so much to do in Freetown, whatever your interests. From historical landmarks to gorgeous beaches, there’s something on offer for everyone.
My must dos in Freetown:
- Spend time at Lumley Beach, the beautiful beach stretching along the edge of the city
- Ride a motorized kekek through the city
- Climb Leicester Peak for the best view in the city
10. River Number 2 Beach
If you’re looking for a beach with a weekend party atmosphere, look no further. River Number 2 Beach has everything from shaded seating, to a DJ playing the hits all day long.
This beach is where River Number 2 meets the ocean, creating a quiet lagoon for beginning swimmers. Boats are there to shuttle people across the river to either side of the beach.
Make a day of it, swimming, taking offered boat rides, or just relaxing in the sun, on your towel or in an umbrella shaded chair. Enjoy a meal at one of the eateries along the beach, or in a private beach hut that can be rented out.
The beach is quieter during the week, but come on a Sunday for fun, music, a bonfire, and the grand finale – fireworks over the water.
A day at River Number 2 Beach is the perfect escape from the rush of the city.
My must dos at River Number 2 Beach:
- Go on Sunday, stay for the bonfire and fireworks
- Enjoy a meal with a beautiful view
- Spend some time in your own private beach hut
11. St George’s Cathedral
Built in the 19th century to give the city a much-needed church, St George’s Cathedral was funded by the British government to help continue the “civilizing of the colony” by the Church Mission Society. Today, Freetown has a large Christian population, with St George’s Cathedral being one of the most attended churches in the city.
It was an imposing building at the time and considered the finest church in Freetown. It is now part of the Anglican Diocese of Freetown, and is known for its long ties to the Creoles of Sierra Leone.
The simple facade hides a stunning interior, with soaring white columns, a beautiful stained glass window behind the altar, and a sense of peace. Be sure to sign the guestbook while you’re there, adding your name alongside royalty.
My must dos at St George’s Cathedral:
- Tour the inside of the cathedral
- Stop and sign the guestbook that has been there for decades, and signed by royalty
- Sit and take in the quiet, away from the bustle of the city just outside
12. Freetown Central Mosque
Located at the edge of Freetown, this blue-domed, white mosque (known as a masjid to Muslims) is the city’s largest mosque. Enter through the huge metal gates, and walk across the wide concrete courtyard. You’ll see the open prayer hall, scattered with prayers rugs, and hear the echoing voices of those inside.
They welcome visitors, but be a polite guest, cover your arms and legs, and wear a headscarf if you’re a woman. You will have to remove your shoes before you enter, so be sure you wear socks.
Sitting or standing at the back of the hall is the best way to observe prayer. Muslims respect your beliefs, so in turn, respect their sacred space. It’s an experience few outside the faith will have.
My must dos at Freetown Central Mosque:
- Visit the mosque to see its beautiful prayer hall
- Stay for prayer, and take in the experience
Scott Balaam – writer and photographer
Scott started his travelling life back in 1999, when he headed off on a solo jaunt to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia with just a backpack, a camera and a spirit for adventure. After that, the travel bug bit hard and now he is always seeking to head off somewhere new. Over the years he has lived in Italy, Qatar, Australia, Ireland, UK and the USA but his spiritual home will always be Rome as this is the city which most satisfies his unrelenting thirst for culture, good food and great football. In his spare time Scott loves nothing better than to be behind the camera and also runs his own blog and Instagram page. He also counts Melbourne, the rest of Italy, Amsterdam, USA, Athens, Cape Town and Tel Aviv among his favourite places. Find Scott on Linkedin, Instagram, or Twitter.