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  • Overview

    Situated on the West African coast between Guinea andLiberia, Sierra Leone is a well-hidden tropical destination. Withover 300 miles (483km) of coastline with stretches of palm-fringedsandy beaches, wildlife sanctuaries, lush mountains, and awonderful blend of history and culture, this small coastal countryoffers a multitude of attractions and activities for visitors.However, with the brutality of a long civil war still fresh in thememories of many, it may take some time before the tourist hordesdiscover the hidden treasures of this beautiful little country.

    Visitors to Sierra Leone can look forward to a warmand friendly welcome. The main attraction is on its stunningbeaches where a variety of water sports, including diving, fishing,and surfing, are on offer. The capital and commercial centre,Freetown, is rich in history, originally founded as an importantcentre for slave trade in the mid-1500s and later becoming asafe-haven for freed slaves. For outdoor adventurers, SierraLeone's wildlife is diverse and protected within conservation areassuch as Outamba Kilimi National Park, the Tacugama ChimpanzeeSanctuary near Freetown, and the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary onthe Moa River. The Tingi Hills are popular for hiking, withbreath-taking mountain scenery and a variety of bird and animallife, while Mount Bintumani and Lake Sonfron offer various mountainactivities.

    While the scars of the civil war have yet to fullyheal, Sierra Leone is a nation with enormous potential and a brightfuture in tourism. A kaleidoscope of colour, the country's culturaland natural resources within its borders will reward intrepidtravellers seeking a largely unexplored tropical paradise withinthe African continent.

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    Similar to the rest of the country, Sierra Leone's capital ofFreetown has a tropical monsoon climate with a rainy season fromMay to November, and a dry season from December to April.Naturally, during the monsoon season rainfall levels are higher andrange between 7-31 inches (177-787mm) per month. Throughout theyear, there is very little variation in Freetown's temperatures,which range from 74°F (23°C) to 97°F (36°C). However, during themonsoon season, humidity levels rise considerably. The best time tovisit Freetown is from November to February, when the climatebecomes more comfortable due to the gentle Harmattan trade wind,which blows down from the Sahara.

    Sierra Leone experiences a hot and humid tropical climate with adistinct wet and dry season. The summer rainy season is between Mayand November with most rain falling in July and August.Temperatures average 78.8°F (26°C) throughout the year with nighttime temperatures hovering around 75°F (24°C). The Harmattan desertwind blows between November and February, relieving the highhumidity in Freetown and making this period the coolest time ofyear in the city.

    Freetown-Lungi International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated across the Sierra Leone Riverfrom Freetown, 13 miles (21km) north of the city.
    Time: No GMT offset.
    Getting to the city: Travel options from the airport to Freetown are limited.Currently there is a ferry that crosses the river to the city, or aroute by road which takes about four to six hours and is notrecommended at night. The ferry is the cheapest option, but therecan be long queues (several hours on either end). There is also arisk of crime and overloading. Passengers are advised not to usethis service alone, or as a foot passenger. Private boat services are available for the crossing, butpassengers are advised to avoid using the local fishing boats. Forsafety reasons, all passengers arriving at the airport at nightshould wait until daylight to travel to Freetown; there are severalhotels and guesthouses near the airport, but these need to bebooked early due to high demand.
    Car Rental: No car hire facilities are available at the airport.
    Airport Taxis: Water taxis are available for the journey across the estuary toFreetown. Private chartered speedboats are also available.
    Fascilities: Facilities include shops, restaurants, currency exchange andbanking services, a business centre, a prayer room, and ticketoffices for transportation to the city. There are also a few hotelsnear the airport.
    Parking There is a parking facility near the terminal.
    Money:

    The official currency is the Leone (SLL), which is divided into100 cents. Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks, foreignexchange bureaux or hotels. Banks are open on weekdays only. Theuse of credit cards is very limited, although a few top hotels andrestaurants in Freetown might accept them for payment. Not all ATMsaccept foreign cards, but some major banks, such as Ecobank andAccess Bank, accept foreign cards.

    Language:

    English is the official language, although each ethnicgroup has its own tribal language, used more widely in the interiorof the country. Krio is a form of Pidgin English that is widelyspoken in Freetown.

    Electricity:

    Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz, but suppliesare erratic and power failures common. Round three-pin plugs orrectangular three-blade plugs are used.

    Entry Requirements:

    US nationals require a visa and a valid passport.

    UK nationals require a visa and a valid passport.

    Canadians require a visa and a valid passport.

    Australians require a visa and a valid passport.

    South Africans require a visa and a valid passport.

    Irish nationals require a visa and a valid passport.

    US nationals require a visa and a valid passport.

    New Zealand nationals require a visa and a valid passport.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    A Landing Permit (visa) can be obtained on arrival by somecountries if there is no diplomatic representation at point oforigin and if a letter of invitation is provided. This can beorganised by a sponsor or host with the Principal ImmigrationOfficer in Freetown. The Freetown office of the visitor's airlinemust also receive a list stating flight number, date of arrival,name, nationality and passport number of each passenger 48 hours inadvance. Visas must otherwise be obtained prior to arrival incountry of origin. It is highly recommended that passports have atleast six months validity remaining after your intended date ofdeparture from your travel destination. Immigration officials oftenapply different rules to those stated by travel agents and officialsources.

    Travel Health:

    Sierra Leone is one of three countries that has beenat the heart of the Ebola outbreak in previous years, causingserious alarm in West Africa. The WHO officially declared SierraLeone Ebola transmission free on 17 March 2016, and the FCO nolonger advise against all but essential travel to Sierra Leone.However, travellers are advised to familiarise themselves with thedisease and current health and travel advice for the country beforetravelling to Sierra Leone. Some travel restrictions may be inplace due to the Ebola outbreak.

    Health policies require that all travellers arrivingfrom a yellow fever area have a vaccination certificate, but yellowfever is a risk throughout the country and immunisation isrecommended for all visitors. Other recommended vaccinationsinclude Hepatitis A, typhoid, rabies, and polio. Malaria and denguefever are high risks and precautions against mosquito bites areadvised, as well as prophylaxis for malaria, which occursthroughout the year.

    Outbreaks of Lassa fever is endemic in the east.HIV/AIDS is prevalent. Diarrhoea and dysentery are commoncomplaints and water should be treated before drinking. Cholera isalso a concern. Travellers should bring adequate supplies ofpersonal medication to the country, as supplies are often notavailable in pharmacies. Medical care is limited in Freetown andalmost non-existent elsewhere. An emergency hospital is locatednear Freetown, but the bad road makes it difficult to get there;there is no ambulance service in the country. Comprehensive travelinsurance is advised, which includes emergency evacuation.

    Tipping:

    A service charge of about 10 percent is included in restaurantand hotel bills, but otherwise tipping is optional.

    Safety Information:

    Since the end of the 10-year civil war, the security situationhas improved to a large degree, although it is still fragile.Political demonstrations and large gatherings should be avoided asthese have the potential to turn violent. Travellers are advised toavoid the areas bordering Liberia and Guinea. There are incidencesof violent crime in Freetown, including armed theft and assault.Petty crime is more common with pick-pocketing and otheropportunistic crimes prevalent throughout the country and visitorsshould take care not to flash valuables or cash.

    A number of violent incidents have taken place around the barsand nightclubs at Lumley Beach and visitors are advised to becautious in the area after dark. Travel outside of the Western Areathat includes Freetown can be difficult as roads are poor andtransport unreliable. All road or sea transfers from the airport toFreetown should be done in daylight hours due to safetyconcerns.

    Local Customs:

    Homosexuality is illegal. There is a strong Muslim culture andvisitors should be sensitive to religious customs, particularlyduring the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking, and smokingduring daylight hours should be discreet as it is forbidden by theMuslim culture. Visitors should be aware it is illegal to buy orexport diamonds, gold, or ivory without the necessary licenses.

    Business:

    Business etiquette in Sierra Leone varies according toindividual sectors, however it is always advisable to makeappointments in advance and arrive on time for all meetings. Haveeverything set up before meetings, as it is percieved as impoliteto ask your hosts for anything. For more formal dealings,lightweight suits are to be worn. Shaking hands for men and womenis the most common form of introduction and business cards areexchanged. Business hours are generally 8am to 12pm and 2pm to 5pmMonday to Friday.

    Communications:

    The international dialling code for Sierra Leone is +232. Theoutgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g.0044 for the UK). The city code for Freetown is (0)22; other areasdo not require a code. Africell and SierraTel provide national andinternational telephone services. Wifi can be found in some tophotels, and free international calls can be made using theinternet. International roaming is available and the use of mobilephones is high due to the unreliability of landlines.

    Duty Free:

    Travellers may bring 200 cigarettes or 225g tobacco, and 1 litreof wine or spirits into the country without paying customs duty.Narcotics are strictly forbidden.

    Useful Contacts:

    National Tourist Board, Freetown: +232 2521 6362http://sierraleonenationaltouristboard.com/

    Sierra Leone Embassies:

    Sierra Leone Embassy, Washington DC, United States (alsoresponsible for Canada): +1 202 939 9261.

    Sierra Leone High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 207404 0140.

    Sierra Leone High Commission, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (alsoresponsible for South Africa): +251 1 710 033.

    Consulate General of Sierra Leone, Sydney, Australia: +61 2 89648851

    Sierra Leone High Commission, Beijing, China (also responsiblefor New Zealand): +86 10 6532 1222.

    Foreign Embassies in Sierra Leone :

    United States Embassy, Freetown: +232 22 515 000.

    British High Commission, Freetown: +232 76 541 386.

    Canadian Embassy, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire (also responsible forSierra Leone): +225 2 030 0700.

    South African Embassy, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire (also responsiblefor Sierra Leone): +225 2 244 5963.

    Australian High Commission, Accra, Ghana (also responsible forSierra Leone): +233 (302) 216 400.

    Irish Embassy, Abuja, Nigeria (also responsible for SierraLeone: +234 9 462 0611.

    Sierra Leone Emergency Numbers : 999 (Police)
    Sierra Leone

    Public transport in Freetown is somewhat informal. Shared taxisrun along fixed routes and can be hailed on the street; fares arecheap and it is possible to negotiate a price with the driver.Travellers can also ask their hotel to call a private taxi forthem. These vehicles are generally more comfortable than the sharedtaxis, but also more expensive.

    Poda-podas are shared minibus taxis which can easily be found onevery main road in Freetown. The start point and final destinationof the vehicle is displayed in the front window. The travellingconditions in poda-podas are not very comfortable as drivers oftenoverload their vehicles and drive quite erratically.

    Travellers also have the option of hiring a car in Freetownwhich can be arranged through car rental companies. Rental cars inSierra Leone generally come with a local driver, which will removethe stress of dealing with the chaotic driving conditions. Peopletravelling outside Freetown are advised to hire a 4x4 vehicle,which will be better equipped to handle rural roads.