Sierra Leone – a friendly welcome and a taste of paradise

This guest post from Tom Volpe celebrates Sierra Leone’s Independence day with a friendly welcome and the most beautiful beaches in West Africa.

Sierra Leone is probably better known for the 2006 film Blood Diamond than for its stunning beaches, but as the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence from the UK in April, the perception is hopefully something that is going to change. Despite the fact that their bloody civil war ended 10 years ago, many people in the west still consider this small West African country to be dangerous.

Children in Sierra Leone

Children in Sierra Leone

When I announced my intention to visit Sierra Leone last month, many of my family and friends were shocked and surprised.

“It sounds like a terrible, dangerous place” One family member warned me.

“Try not to get shot” Was a friend’s parting comment as I set off for the airport.

Fishermen in Sierra Leone

Fishermen in Sierra Leone

In fact, when I arrived in Sierra Leone I found that the welcome I received from the people I met was incredible. From the moment I stepped from the plane at Lungi airport, people came up to shake my hand. An old man at the airport was the first. I hadn’t even gone through passport control, I was one of the last to go through and I was standing looking a little lost. I was taking in my surroundings when he caught my eye. I noticed that his eyes were milky white, a sure sign of cataracts, yet they still sparkled with a mischievous twinkle.

“Welcome, my friend” He greeted me, taking my hand. “Welcome to Sierra Leone!”

Everywhere I travelled ordinary people told me that I was welcome, that they were glad I had come. Often in the same breath they told me that Sierra Leone is safe now, that I was safe. I didn’t doubt their word for a moment.

Pure white sand beach in Sierra Leone

Pure white sand beach in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone beaches are among the best in Africa, if not the world. The country’s coastline is just over 400km in length, yet it is blessed with an incredible number of perfect beaches. The sun kissed, palm lined white sand beach at River No 2 is the location of the 1980’s ‘A taste of paradise’ advert for Bounty chocolate bars. Despite being one of the best known beaches in the country it can be remarkably quiet. When I visited there were only half a dozen people spread around several kilometres of beach. I stayed the night, and as I sat on the beach that evening watching the sun go down there wasn’t another soul in sight.

Beautiful beaches in Sierra Leone

Beautiful beaches in Sierra Leone

Just a short walk down the coast is Tokeh which was once home to the mighty Africana, the best resort in Sierra Leone. Before the war the resort was popular with French supermodels and you can still see the helipad where they landed after the short flight down the peninsula from the airport. The son of one of the Africana’s owners is back now and he is doing great things. Perhaps soon the world will come to Tokeh again.

When you see Sierra Leone in the news, hopefully it will be for all the right reasons. When you see that, if a little part of you wants to go there and experience it for yourself, don’t let the naysayers put you off. Sierra Leone is safe now, and they will be happy to see you there.

Sunset in Sierra Leone

Sunset in Sierra Leone

My thanks for this guest post to Tom Volpe from Heading There – you’ll find all the information you need to plan your trip to Sierra Leone in his Guide to Sierra Leone

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