Liberia is a land boasting 350 miles (563km) of tropical beaches, with swathes of pristine wilderness and verdant rainforests. However, Liberia is also one of the world's poorest countries, and while it may be on the mend following a damaging civil war, there are still significant risks to prospective tourists from a fragile political situation and a lack of infrastructure.
Originally founded as a refuge for liberated American slaves, there is still much evidence of its onetime link to the US. The capital of Monrovia is named after the fifth President of the United States, James Monroe, and the country's flag closely resembles its American counterpart.
There are several worthwhile attractions outside of the capital. The city of Buchanan offers fine beaches, a modest selection of restaurants and a handful of guesthouses. A day trip to Robertsport is a must. Here, visitors can take a peek into the cultural history of Liberia and relax on some of the cleanest and most beautiful beaches in the country.
Liberia's key attraction is the Sapo National Park, the largest untouched tract of rainforest in Western Africa, incorporating the Nimba Mountains, which are home to abundant wildlife such as elephants, leopards, buffalo, pygmy hippos and monkeys. It is also popular to go game viewing by boat along the Sinoe River.
Prospective visitors are well advised to travel only in an organised tour and never venture out alone. Although it is not a popular tourist destination right now, when the political turmoil clears, Liberia is sure to be near the top of the list of West African destinations to visit due to its natural splendour and off-the-beaten-track allure.
Monrovia has a tropical climate, which means that it is hot and humid year-round and gets plenty of rain. Temperatures generally range between 68°F (20°C) and 89°F (32°C) year-round. The humidity makes it seem hotter than it is, but there is an almost constant breeze along the coast, which is refreshing.
The year can be divided into a wet and a dry season: between late April and mid-November it is hot, wet, and cloudy, with frequent heavy rain showers; and between December and March it is dry with hot days and cool nights. Monrovia is one of Africa's wettest capital cities, with annual rainfall averaging about 202 inches (5,130mm), but rain seldom falls outside of the wet season.
The best time to visit Liberia is in the dry season, between December and April. This time of the year is characterised by the hot, sandy Harmattan wind, which blows in from the Sahara Desert, but this is seldom very disruptive for travellers.
Liberia has a tropical climate, which means that it is hot and humid throughout the year and gets plenty of rain. While temperatures in Monrovia and along the Liberian coast generally range between 73°F and 89°F (23°C and 32°C), it is slightly hotter inland.
The humidity makes it seem hotter than it is, but there is an almost constant, refreshing breeze along the coast. The year can be divided into a wet and a dry season. Between late April and mid-November, it is hot, wet and cloudy, with frequent heavy rain showers. Between December and March, it is dry with hot days and cool nights.
Monrovia is one of Africa's wettest capital cities, with annual rainfall averaging about 4500mm, but rain seldom falls outside of the wet season. There is usually a dry spell of about two weeks during the rainy season, sometime in July or August, but it is hard to predict.
The best time to visit Liberia is in the dry season, between December and April. The dry season is characterised by the hot, sandy, Harmattan wind, which blows in from the Sahara Desert between December and March. However, this is seldom disruptive for travellers.
The Liberian Dollar (LRD) is the official currency of Liberia, but the United States Dollar is still widely accepted. Although the US Dollar is the best foreign currency to carry. Other major currencies, like the Euro, can also be exchanged. Money can be exchanged at the international airport, at foreign exchange bureaus in Monrovia and at some banks. Credit cards are seldom, if ever, accepted and there are very few ATMs.
31 languages are spoken by the local population of Liberia, but English is the official language.
Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. Northern American non-grounded and grounded plugs are standard. Plugs in use are types A, B and F.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Liberia. A visa is required.
British citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Liberia. A visa is required.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Liberia. A visa is required.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Liberia. A visa is required.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Liberia. A visa is required.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Liberia. A visa is required.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Liberia. A visa is required.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Liberia. A visa is required.
All foreign passengers to Liberia require a visa. Holders of a pre-arranged visa can obtain a visa on arrival, provided that: (i) they are entering from a country without diplomatic representation of Liberia; (ii) their visa has been pre-arranged and paid for by a local sponsor in Liberia; and (iii) the transporting carrier in Monrovia is informed of the following details: the passenger's name, nationality, document number, flight number, date of arrival, and address of stay in Liberia. Note that passengers should not be boarded unless a telex confirmation from the airline's station manager in Monrovia is stapled to the ticket. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Liberia. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Liberia is one of three countries that were part of the Ebola outbreak in previous years, causing serious alarm in West Africa. However, the WHO officially declared Liberia Ebola transmission free on 9 June 2016. The FCO no longer advise against all but essential travel to Liberia. However, travellers are advised to familiarise themselves with the disease and current health and travel advice for the country. Some travel restrictions may still be in place due to the Ebola outbreak.
A yellow fever vaccination is required for all travellers to Liberia greater than one year of age. Vaccinations are also recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid. Malaria is a problem all over the country and prophylaxis of some kind should be taken in all areas. Those travellers who plan to spend a lot of time outdoors and may be at risk of animal bites, or in close contact with bats, should consider a rabies vaccination. Travellers are usually advised to be up to date on vaccinations for polio, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and tetanus-diphtheria.
Precautions should be taken with food and water: tap water should never be drunk unless it has been boiled, filtered or chemically disinfected; fruit and vegetables should be peeled and cooked; no raw or uncooked meat or fish should be eaten; all cooked meals should be eaten while still hot; and food from street vendors is best avoided.
Medical facilities are extremely limited and even essential medicines and services are often unavailable. Travellers should ensure that they have comprehensive travel and health insurance and should bring all required medications with them, in the original packaging and accompanied by a signed and dated letter from a doctor detailing what it is and why it is needed.
Tips are appreciated in Liberia, although not always expected. The culture was brought in by returning Liberian-American immigrants. Some restaurants add a service charge to the bill, but if they do not, a 10 percent tip is customary. Hotel service staff appreciate small amounts for good service.
Liberia is working with the UN and the international community to encourage development and stability, but the security situation remains fragile and it can still be a dangerous travel destination. The UK Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to the Grand Gedeh and River Gee counties of Liberia, where armed groups are active. All political gatherings and street protests should be avoided and every precaution taken to ensure personal safety.
The US Department of State warns travellers that they must plan trips to Liberia carefully: arrangements for transport from the international airport to Monrovia as well as arrangements for accommodation at a reputable hotel should be made in advance as there is no reliable public transport and decent rooms can be scarce.
There is a high level of crime in Monrovia and although most crimes against foreigners are opportunistic and petty, there have been incidents of armed robbery as well.
The police force has very limited resources and cannot be relied upon. Crime levels are much higher after dark and travellers shouldn't walk anywhere in the city at night. Theft is common on public transport, in markets and other crowded areas such as in nightclubs and on beaches.
Travellers to Liberia should not be unduly worried about transgressing social etiquette. Avoid boisterous behaviour and ostentatious displays of wealth. Remember to make sure you smile at and greet people in the street, especially when they have made eye contact with you. Unfortunately, due to the extreme safety precautions one must exercise when visiting Liberia, foreigners may find it impossible to 'scratch under the surface' of Liberian society.
The country's reputation and the relative absence of foreigners makes it hard to relax in Liberia. Although people may be curious about visitors, and the dangers are real, mostly travellers will find that the locals are friendly and hospitable. Lastly, never take photographs of military or government buildings and installations without asking permission.
The 'Liberian fingersnap handshake' is an integral part of the country's culture, the audible snap said to represent how slave owners would break slave's fingers. It is consequently a celebration of freedom in Liberia, seen throughout all levels of society.
Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Recent civil war and government mismanagement have destroyed much of Liberia's economy, which has in the past relied on foreign direct investment, aid and the exportation of natural resources.
Lightweight suits or a shirt and tie are the ideal for meetings and etiquette tends to be quite formal. People should be addressed by title and surname unless instructed otherwise. The exchange of business cards and handshakes is usual upon greeting. Meetings seldom start punctually. Business hours are generally 8am to 12pm and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday.
Telecommunications infrastructure in Liberia was heavily damaged during the civil war and cellular phone networks are a far more popular and reliable means of communication than landlines. The international dialling code for Liberia is +231.
At least four GSM service providers operate in the country. Internet services are essentially limited to Monrovia, with poor service anywhere outside the capital.
Visitors to Liberia may import the following goods duty-free: 200 cigarettes/25 cigars/250g of tobacco, one litre of spirits and one litre of wine, 100g perfume, and gifts valued at US$125.
There is no official public transport system in Monrovia. Taxi cabs operate across the city, but these are not always the safest means of getting around; they are shared taxis and drivers will often stop to pick up other passengers along the way.
Robberies and pickpocketing have been reported in shared taxis, and it's best to rather try hire a taxi exclusively for your own trip. Motorbike taxis are a popular mode of transport, but although they are relatively cheap and convenient, they are also not reliably safe.
Local buses travel along set routes in the city, but they are also best avoided due to safety concerns as they are often overcrowded and hotspots for pickpocketing. Car hire is available, and a recommended option is to hire a car with a driver. A four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended for travel outside of Monrovia due to the poor road conditions.