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Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone: 11 Primate Species, 5 Tents, 1 Cook

Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone: 11 Primate Species, 5 Tents, 1 Cook

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Our immediate impressions of Tiwai Island, a wildlife sanctuary/research facility and community-led conservation initiative in Sierra Leone’s southeast, weren’t the best: Here we found ourselves on a hot, buggy tropical island in the isolated Moa River, with two very quiet nights ahead. The common area for guests, a large domed, open-sided solar-powered hut in the middle of a forest clearing, offered little distraction other than an information board and a few wooden tables. Same for the simple wood-roofed platforms, each holding one or two tents, dotting the clearing’s perimeter. Scott and I had been relatively unplugged since arriving in Sierra Leone a week and a half earlier, but this was a whole new level of solitude for us. Had we made a mistake booking two nights, and not just one?

No, of course we hadn’t. In fact, by the end of it all, we wished for more time in the beat-up hammocks, gazing out to the gorgeous, lush riverside; more time hiking toward the sound of monkey chatter; more meals served up by the island’s lone, resourceful cook.

We’d arrived to the small inland island following a bumpy two-hour drive from Bo Town, Sierra Leone’s second-largest city. Actually, scratch that—first we arrived to the dusty village, Kambama, that acts as launching-off point for the island, where we waited by the riverside for a villager to call us a boat. And by call, I mean with his voice, in a beautiful long, high-pitched wooooo.

The motorboat that eventually showed up whisked us down the palm-fringed Moa, a pristine freshwater river with banks so dense with rainforest foliage we could hardly spot another village. Tiwai Island, too, is just as lush; during the day in March, when we visited, a thick blanket of humidity seemed to seep through the trees. (Fortunately, the nights were cool enough to make tent-sleeping comfortable.) It was in this sticky heat that we were first introduced to the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, home to one of the world’s most concentrated and diverse primate populations (including wild chimpanzees), more than 135 species of bird, 700-plus species of plant, and the very rare, endemic pygmy hippopotamus. It’s a lot to squeeze onto 12 square kilometers.

All we could think about at the time, though, was jumping into that tranquil river to cool off, but we were concerned about the risk of infection by freshwater parasite (a topic, by the way, that’s bound to come up among travelers in Sierra Leone at one point or another). Another guest on his way out happened to be a doctor, however, and he said he’d gone for a swim—since not many villages in the vicinity are washing and bathing in the river, the risk was relatively low, he reasoned; to be safe, we should swim for no more than 10 minutes and towel off vigorously.

It seemed like a good plan to us. Our swim was brief but heavenly—and by the time we left the small hammock area afterward, some monkeys were out playing in the trees just beyond us.

Then we met Lahai Sesey. The island chef was a quiet, serious man, but he quickly warmed to us once our enthusiasm for Sierra Leonean “chop” was revealed. Amused by our requests for binch (black-eyed beans) and cassava-leaf stew, he explained that despite the posted menu, he could cook only with whatever ingredients he could get his hands on off the island. That meant cassava leaves were out—there were none available in the area, apparently—but binch he could do. The following day, he’d go to town for the beans so he could soak them overnight and serve them for breakfast with gari (shredded cassava, a specialty of the Bo area) the day after next. Was groundnut soup OK for this evening?

A very comfortable, very peaceful rhythm was thus established. We hiked the short 20-minute self-guided nature loop; took river dips when we overheated; played Yahtzee in the common area once darkness fell; chatted with the only other guests there, a German family visiting from nearby Liberia. At first light, we took a two-hour guided forest hike with Mohammed, who walked fast but with skillful stealth on the leaf-littered path, stopping often to listen and silently point out dozens of monkeys—the beautiful (and threatened) Diana monkey, the playful spot-nosed monkey, the Western red colobus (alas, the elusive, nocturnal pygmy hippos are nearly impossible to see). In the afternoon we booked a second guide to take us around the island on a dugout canoe, for another perspective.

In between it all, we chowed down on Lahai’s delicious food, served in pots so we could help ourselves. Breakfast? Sierra Leone-style banana pancakes, fried in groundnut oil and accompanied by an oily but tasty pepper sauce (a.k.a. “fry stew”) of tomato, onion, and dried fish. Lunch? The best pumpkin (or “punky”) stew we ate in the country, served over local country rice (Lahai took an extra trip across the river to get the squash for this). Dinner was super spicy pepper soup, made with onion, garlic, tilapia, seasoning (Maggi cubes, unfortunately), bay leaf, and lots and lots of chile pepper. When serving each meal, the chef came to our table to answer our questions about the dishes, proudly telling us the ingredients and methods he had used.

That second night it rained, hard. From inside our tent, we were cool and content, protected from the wetness but not the breeze by the roof overhead, snugly ensconced in our little, isolated clearing in the middle of so much precious, exotic flora and fauna. We never expected to eat so well or feel so relaxed here—and all we could think was, What a shame if we’d stayed only one night.

Getting there: We hired our own car and driver in Sierra Leone, as the country lacks a public transport system. From Bo, the drive was about two hours; from Freetown, it’s more like five or six. (There is now a new adventure outfitter based in Freetown, Sierra Leone Adventures, that offers customized excursions, including to Tiwai.)

Booking and prices: Tent accommodation is US$20 per person per night; to book an overnight or daytime stay, call 232-76611410 or 232-076755146 (find email addresses here). From Kambama village, the boat ride and Tiwai entrance fee costs $10 per (non-Sierra Leonean) visitor; on-island excursions cost additional (guided forest walks: $6 for one person (price goes down for 2-4 people); river tours: $10/person; a trip to Moa beach, at the island’s far end: $50 per boat). Food is also a la carte, and while you are free to bring your own onto the island, you will be charged for the cost of firewood (if applicable). Note: If prices seem high for Sierra Leone, remember that funds go toward the preservation of this important community conservation program, in which the island’s surrounding communities agree to protect the land from logging, mining, and poaching in exchange for community development and livelihood assistance.

Laura Siciliano-Rosen is the co-founder of Eat Your World, a website that spotlights regional foods and drinks around the globe. Follow Eat Your World on Twitter @eat_your_world.

Rhythms & Realms of West Africa

The myth of West Africa is that there is no wildlife left. After 2 nights of staying at the Tiwai Island Widlife Sanctuary in Sierra Leone, and seeing up to 11 different primate species, including chimpanzees, plus otters and sea turtles and even, perhaps, the elusive pygmy hippo, you will realise that this is a myth. If it's tribal culture and wild scenery that you are after mingled with raw adventure and off the beaten track travel, then this really is a trip to consider. The roads through much of Guinea and the Ivory Coast can be very poor, but this is part of the experience, as we get to see stuff that others usually only see from an armchair on the TV. In the forests of northern Guinea, we will seek out the amazing vine bridges, while in the north of Ivory Coast we will explore the culture, music and villages of the Korhogo peoples. Then there are the stunning Atlantic beaches those in Ghana are particularly beautiful and a great place to relax.

This is a tough and very much off the beaten track journey. Roads can be poor, and the climate challenging, but it is very rewarding for someone who wants to connect to everyday West African life. To try to make life easier, we mix camping with some nights in hotels, but expect to camp in the wilds of Africa.

Visit the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, home to one of the densest populations of primates and pygmy hippos in Africa, and enjoy several included walks around the web of trails on the island

Trek to the Pont de Liana, one of the phenomenal old vine bridges in the forested region of Guinea

Head out on a half day trip exploring the many local handicrafts from the area including a painter's collective a woodcarver's shop a bead-making workshop and a cotton-weaving community

Visit the opulent Basilique de Notre Dame de la Paix, the largest Christian place of worship in the world

Help out at the Sabre Trust School project

Learn all about the appalling history of the Atlantic slave trade with a tour of the historic Cape Coast Castle

Visit the amazing project run by Global Mamas

Visit to the stunning jungles of Kakum National Park and walk through the rainforests at night

Explore the incredible rainforest canopy from the unique suspended bridges in Kakum National Park

Border information: if you are joining in Freetown, you will most likely enter Sierra Leone at Freetown Lungi International Airport (IATA code: FNA).

There will be an important group meeting at 10:00am at the joining hotel - please look out at the hotel reception for a note from your leader with more details about this important meeting. Your leader will collect your kitty and check your passport, visas, and insurance details at this meeting.

The afternoon will be free to explore Freetown and it's surroundings.

Please note that many of the options listed below will only be possible for those with extra time in Freetown before the start of your trip with us - please contact the Sales team if you would like to book pre-tour accommodation with us to have extra time exploring Freetown .

The fastest and most reliable way to Freetown from the airport is by water-taxi, as Lungi is across a bay from the city. The departure times for the water-taxis are linked to each flight in and out of the airport, so there will be transport available for you when you land. Exit the airport and walk to the right, and you'll see the water-taxi office at the end - you'll have to buy your ticket there for USD40 or EUR35, and check in your large bags. You'll take a minibus for 15 minutes, then the water-taxi for 30 minutes. The boat lands at the jetty, where you hand in your luggage ticket to get your large bags back.

The jetty is in the Aberdeen district of Freetown, only a 200m walk from our hotel. Just walk up the hill to the main road - the Raza Guesthouse is slightly further down and on the other side of the road.

Accommodation: Guesthouse

Optional Activities

See the Freetown Cotton Tree the city's most famous landmark and home to hundreds of bats that fly out at dusk

Learn about Sierra Leone's traditional history and cultures at the National Museum

Visit the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum a remarkable collection of old trains that was hidden from destruction for 30 years

Take a boat to the overgrown ruins of the old slaving fort of Bunce Island from where the ancestors of most modern African-Americans were shipped to the New World

Today we leave Freetown for the stunning beaches of Freetown Peninsula, where we will spend 3 nights.

There are a few different options for which beaches we could choose to visit, our favourites being Bureh Beach at the south of the peninsula and River Number 2 Beach in the western part.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Accommodation: Camping

Today's approximate drive time (hrs): 4

Optional Activities

Visit the orphan chimpanzees at Tacaguma Chimpanzee Sanctuary outside of Freetown a wonderful organisation that rehabilitates rescued chimpanzees for their return to the wild

We will have 2 full days for optional activities on the wonderful beaches - we could go fishing, take a boat to explore the Banana Islands, get to know the local communities, and of course relax on the beautiful beaches!

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Accommodation: Camping

Optional Activities

Take a boat trip to explore the beautiful and overgrown Banana Islands off the coast of the Freetown Peninsula

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Accommodation: Camping

Optional Activities

Head out with the locals in their traditional wooden boats to try your hand at fishing

Hire surfboards to take out onto the waves of Bureh Beach, one of West Africa's best surfing spots

Head out on a diving trip around the reefs and shipwrecks off the Banana Islands

Leaving the Freetown Peninsula behind, today we have a full day's drive through Sierra Leone to the Tiwai Island Sanctuary, one of Sierra Leone's largest inland islands.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Accommodation: Camping

Today's approximate drive time (hrs): 10

Included Activities

Visit the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, home to one of the densest populations of primates and pygmy hippos in Africa, and enjoy several included walks around the web of trails on the island

Optional Activities

Take an optional canoe or motor boat tour through the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary (if available)

Today, we will enjoy various nature walks through the web of trails that weave through the Tiwai forest. We'll be in search of the rare and colourful primates that inhabit the sanctuary, and if we're very lucky we may spot a very rare pygmy hippo!

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Accommodation: Camping

Over the next 2 days we will travel north up through Sierra Leone to the small town of Kabala. Kabala is famous for being an oasis of cool air in the hills of northern Sierra Leone, and for its traditional Ronko-dyed clothes - shirts or gowns made of strips of cloth, typically dyed a rusty reddish-brown using local pigments.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Accommodation: Camping without facilities

Today's approximate drive time (hrs): 8

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Accommodation: Guesthouse

Today's approximate drive time (hrs): 5

Optional Activities

Freely explore the markets of Kabala or walk to the top of the nearby Gbawuria Hill

Take part in the tradition of Ronko Dyeing fabric into the distinctive red colour.

Border information: Exit Sierra Leone and enter Guinea at Gberia-Fotombu.

The next 2 days we will spend travelling through the remote border region between Sierra Leone and Guinea, driving through scenic areas very rarely visited by tourists and wild camping for a night en route. >

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Accommodation: Camping without facilities

Today's approximate drive time (hrs): 5

The road conditions in this area can be pretty tough going and unpredictable, and progress can be greatly affected by the weather conditions, so flexibility is very important over these days.

Meals: Breakfast

Accommodation: Basic Hotel

Today's approximate drive time (hrs): 6

Today we will travel through the central region of Guinea, stopping for a night in one of the towns en route (depending on how the drive goes, this may be Macenta or Guéckédou).

Meals: Breakfast

Accommodation: Basic Hotel

Today's approximate drive time (hrs): 9

Today we will continue through the forested region of Guinea, visiting one of the famous vine bridges (Pont de Liana) en route. We will arrive at the small town of Nzerekoré in the heart of Guinea's Forest Region.

Meals: Breakfast

Accommodation: Basic Hotel

Today's approximate drive time (hrs): 10

Included Activities

Trek to the Pont de Liana, one of the phenomenal old vine bridges in the forested region of Guinea

Today, we will have free time to explore the town, the nearby villages and the surrounding forests.

Meals: Breakfast

Accommodation: Basic Hotel

Border information: Exit Guinea at Gbakoré, enter Côte d'Ivoire at Gbapleu.

The next 2 days are spent crossing the border and driving through central Côte d'Ivoire. These days take us through some very remote areas and some very poor quality dirt roads, so a great deal of flexibility is needed as our progress will largely be determined by the state of the roads.

Today's approximate drive time (hrs): 10

Today we continue our journey through the wilds of Cote d'Ivoire. It is on days like this when you get to see just how untamed this area is and appreiciate how lucky you are to get a taste of life here.

Today's approximate drive time (hrs): 10

Today we will drive through the lush countryside to the northern Ivorian town of Korhogo, famed for the multitude of crafts that are made there.

Meals: Breakfast

Accommodation: Basic Hotel

Today's approximate drive time (hrs): 10

Today, we will head out on an included tour around many of the handicraft workshops in the area, visiting painters, bead makers, wood carvers and cloth weavers. We will also have time to freely explore the town and its surroundings.

Meals: Breakfast

Accommodation: Basic Hotel

Included Activities

Head out on a half day trip exploring the many local handicrafts from the area including a painter's collective a woodcarver's shop a bead-making workshop and a cotton-weaving community

Optional Activities

See a performance of drumming and acrobatic dancing in the villages near Korhogo

Today we will drive to Yamoussoukro, the tiny and bizarre capital of Côte d'Ivoire. Yamoussoukro was the birthplace of Felix Houphouët-Boigny, the first president of independent Côte d'Ivoire, and is also the unusual location of the colossal and breathtaking Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, the largest Christian church in the world.

In the afternoon will have an included visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, and then have free time to further explore the small city.

Meals: Breakfast

Accommodation: Basic Hotel

Today's approximate drive time (hrs): 7

Included Activities

Visit the opulent Basilique de Notre Dame de la Paix, the largest Christian place of worship in the world

Today we will drive to the Atlantic coast, arriving at the old French colonial capital of Grand Bassam situated east of Abidjan.

Meals: Breakfast

Accommodation: Basic Hotel

Today's approximate drive time (hrs): 8

Today we will have free time to explore the old colonial town of Grand Bassam experiencing the sights, sounds and tastes of this amazing place.

Meals: Breakfast

Accommodation: Basic Hotel

Optional Activities

Visit the National Museum of Costume which showcases the cultural dresses of the different tribes of Côte d'Ivoire

Discover the stunning beaches and old colonial buildings of Grand Bassam, the original French capital of Côte d'Ivoire

Today is a day to relax on the beautiful beaches around our hotel.

Meals: Breakfast

Accommodation: Basic Hotel

Border information: Exit Côte d'Ivoire at Elubo, enter Ghana at Elubo.

Today we cross into Ghana and then head east along the Atlantic coast to the beaches of Beru Akyinim near the historic town of Elmina.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Accommodation: Camping

Today's approximate drive time (hrs): 8

Today, we will get involved with community projects currently being run in the Elmina area by the SABRE Charitable Trust. The Trust does very valuable work in developing educational projects across Ghana, with a focus on providing early-years education - we have been visiting their projects and providing a day of help and a donation for many years, allowing us to give a little back and to experience a wonderful bit of community interaction. The exact experience will depend on what the Trust has a need for at the time, but we could be asked to help to paint a classroom, do a bit of gardening in one of the schools, or simply come and play some games with the children!

We will also have time for an optional visit to Elmina Castle and to relax on the beautiful beaches on Ghana's Atlantic Coast.

Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone: 11 Primate Species, 5 Tents, 1 Cook - Recipes

When I think about Africa, one of the main things that comes to mind is it’s Great Ape population. If you truly want to discover Sierra Leone then a visit to it’s Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary is a must.


This sanctuary is located in the Western Area Peninsula National Park and was founded in 1995 by conservationist Bala Amarasekaran. I have been a couple times but the last time we stayed for the night in one of their eco-lodges which is basically a treehouse in the canopy.

The tour around the facility is great. You go with a member of staff and they tell you all about the sanctuary and the chimpanzees living there, how they came to be and their rehabilitation. Which is great and very informative – you get to see the chimps in their natural habitat – as the sanctuary is home to large outdoor enclosure where they come and go freely.


I would highly recommend an overnight stay in one of the tree-houses. It is a beautiful experience, listening to the forest around you while swaying in you hammock. There is a BBQ so take your own food for dinner.The stay really makes the whole trip.




A really exciting part to our last trip to Sierra Leone was a visit to a group of islands known as The Turtle Islands. It was a massive effort on everyone’s part to reach these isolated islands.

It started with a few days preparation: food, liquids, sleeping equipment etc followed a 4 hour drive to a small village called Shenge. Here we met with the village chief, exchanged some money and food and stayed the night after arranging a boat to take us to the islands in the morning.


Reaching the second island we met with the chief, showed and we were welcomed to stay for 3 nights. We camped on the beach under mosquito nets cleverly made into little tents. The islands do not get many visitors and there are no facilities available, but the community is friendly and the trip is worth it if you like pristine beaches and beautiful sunsets.





Lakka Beach is a fun and busy beach. It is easy to get to with cafes, restaurants and accommodation along the beach front.

It is also one of the best places to get fresh lobster and watch the sunset. The lobster is so fresh that you can watch your waiter swim out and grab it from one of their lobster pots in the ocean. It’s cooked fresh and served with chips.

Sitting out the front of your restaurant with your lobster and chips while watching the sunset over the water is in my opinion, a great way to spend an evening.

The beach itself is long. It’s a long, yellow sanded beach. If you like to swim the water is good, you will get some waves. Be cautious as the edge drops of into deep water so make sure you are comfortable with this.



It’s been a while since I was here but I remember it being a really beautiful and peaceful place. The island is managed and maintained by the Tiwai Island Administrative Community (TIAC), who are a collection of individuals from the local community, government and conservational organisations.


We stayed on the island for two nights while visiting my dad. We both enjoyed the trip, it is a nature lovers paradise bursting with wildlife and flora to discover. The island is home to 11 species of primates, including the rare Diana Monkey. We didn’t see any during the day but heard them calling at night. We did see other monkeys, snakes and a glimpse of the famous Pygmy Hippopotamus.


The island is regularly used by environmental researchers and university students alike due to its high population of primates and other wildlife. As the island is cut of from the main land the island’s wildlife population has been able to thrive!

We took a boat trip around the island in a canoe and went on many nature trails through the forest. The evenings were calm and relaxed, I was also offered their local palm wine which comes straight from the tree: slightly sour and tangy with a woody taste. Honestly, I didn’t really like it but I will try anything at least once.



There are approximately 147 known species of wild mammals within Sierra Leone. [1] Members of fourteen orders of placental mammals inhabit Sierra Leone. The endangered pygmy hippopotamus has territories around the islands on the Moa River and is widespread in the Gola Forest area. [2] There are three species of wild pig that occur across Sierra Leone: the wart hog, the giant forest hog and the red river hog.

Sierra Leone has 15 identified species of primates that include bushbaby, monkeys and a great ape, the common chimpanzee which is Sierra Leone's largest primate. [3] Chimpanzees are found across the country with the 2010 chimpanzee census estimated a wild population in excess of 5500 more than double the number previously thought to live in the country. [4] This is the second largest population of the endangered subspecies of western chimpanzee, after Guinea, [5] with the largest density in the Loma area, 2.69 individuals per km2, and the Outamba, with 1.21 individuals per km2. [6]

There are several species of whales and the African manatee in the waters of Sierra Leone. The manatee is an endangered species and lives in the rivers and estuaries of Sierra Leone especially around Bonthe. [7]

Mammals found in Sierra Leone include:

Sierra Leone has over 630 known species of bird ten of which are considered endangered including rufous fishing-owl and Gola malimbe. [8] On the coastal area there are several important sites for migratory ducks and wading birds from the Palearctic realm. [9]

There are 67 known species of reptiles, three of which are endangered, in Sierra Leone including several large reptiles. There are three species of crocodiles, the Nile crocodile, the slender-snouted crocodile which lives in forest streams, dwarf crocodile found in mangrove swamps. All the species of sea turtles live in the waters of Sierra Leone with the green turtle and leatherback turtle laying eggs on the shores including on Sherbro Island and Turtle Island. Common species of lizard include the large Nile monitor, the agama seen around settlements, the Brook's house gecko often lives inside houses, and chamaeleos. [10]

Sierra Leone has around 750 species of butterflies. Including one of the largest butterflies the giant African swallowtail whose wingspan can be up to 25 cm. [11] [12]

Wild flora vegetation types include the lowland moist and semi-deciduous forests, part of the Western Guinean lowland forests, inland valley swamps, wooded savannah, bolilands and mangrove swamps. [13] There are about 2,000 known species of plants with 74 species only occurring only in Sierra Leone. [9] Primary rainforest used to cover around 70% of Sierra Leone in the mid-2000s this had reduced to around 6%. [14] Common species include:

Top 5 Things to do in Sierra Leone West Africa

Sierra Leone is one of the safest travel destinations in Western Africa, following 2002 when peace was declared. Regeneration continues and mass tourism has yet to strike, making Sierra Leone a fascinating country to explore. Travellers can swim, surf and sunbathe on the Freetown peninsula, track African mammals in the Outamba-Kilimi National Park and enjoy the nightlife of the capital, Freetown.

Outamba-Kilimi National Park
The Outamba-Kilimi National Park is Sierra Leone’s only National Park and also a top spot for beautiful scenery and fascinating wildlife. Situate in the very north of the country, the National Park is set amidst the undulating hills, ancient rainforests and meandering rivers there is an abundance of native flora and fauna. Outamba-Kilimi National Park is the perfect place to watch wildlife in its purest form. There are no roads so hiking and walking are the best options for exploring, as is a canoe trip along the rivers.

There are over 260 different bird species across the park and Lake Idrissa such as the endangered Pallid Harrier, plovers, egrets, sandpipers, herons and cattle egrets visit the area. There are nine primate species including four that are severely endangered including the Western Chimpanzee, the Red Colobus Monkey, Black and White Colobus Monkey and the Sooty Mangabey. There are also Western elephants, leopards, pigmy hippopotamus, water chevrotain, Maxwell Duiker and Savanna Buffalo to be found here.

For a relaxing day, consider a fishing trip or a wildlife hike. All of these activities make this park a must stay. When visiting, it is best to stay between November and April as this is the park’s dry season. The park boasts small campsites and huts for visitors. Meals are prepared by onsite staff.

Beaches and Surfing in Sierra Leone
The beaches of Sierra Leone and in particular on the Freetown Peninsula are considered some of the best in Africa. They offer a plethora of activities to keep visitors busy. Surfing has become a must try in this area. The perfect climate and pristine beaches offer an amazing surf experience. The smaller waves of Bureh Beach allow novice surfers the chance to hone their skills. While just South of Freetown, at River #2, experienced surfers well get a chance to catch some larger waves. The unspoilt beaches of Sierra Leone are gorgeous and the views of surrounding mountains are spectacular. Most importantly, most of the pristine beaches are deserted depending upon the time of year you visit. When it comes to surfing and beaches, Sierra Leone is a one stop destination!

Tiwai Island
Tiwai Island is the premier conservation park for researchers and eco travellers alike. Visitors can witness the sheer beauty of the local nature first hand. The island can be reached by traveling down the Moa River. Tiwai Island has two stunning beaches in which you can experience pristine sands beside the alluring Moa River. The forest within the island offers boundless hiking and climbing trails which will bring you in contact with a concentration of various plants and animals. There are multiple species of primates including the endangered Columbus monkey and wild chimpanzees. There are also over a hundred species of exquisite birds to admire. Visitors should be prepared to stay in local lodgings and experience the culture of Tiwai Island.

Explore the culture and nightlife of Freetown
Freetown is the capital of Sierra Leone and is the main city for commerce and culture. It is the perfect place to experience the laid back sandy beaches of Sierra Leone and mingle with the locals. Expect all the modern tourist amenities such as hotels, late night hot spots and restaurants especially in the Lumley and Aberdeen areas which are very tourist-friendly. However, there is still plenty of traditional West African culture to soak up. Visit the St John’s Maroon Church which was built in 1800, St George’s Cathedral and The Wharf Steps and Old Guard House which were both constructed in 1818. Travellers can visit various markets to dine on local specialities and witness the beauty of Freetown through local city tours. Every year the city hosts cultural events to capture the deep history of the region. A visit to Freetown will impart a piece of Sierra Leone to someone searching for a perfect cultural vacation.

Western Peninsula Rainforest
The Western Peninsula Rainforest lies on the very western tip of Sierra Leone. This stunning rainforest borders gorgeous beaches and offers tourists face to face encounters with nature. Walking trails can bring one in touch with hundreds of species of animals and plants. The views of the mountainous region are breathtaking and should not be missed. Most trips into the region allow for a modern shelter with camping amenities. Meals are prepared onsite and include the local flavour of Sierra Leone. What better way to experience the majesty of the rainforest than staying on the very edge of nature?


Bengal Tigers in Bandhavgarh national park, India. Photograph: Kim Sullivan/Rex/Shutterstock

The final episode follows tiger Raj Bhera, fighting to protect her cubs and territory. She is one of around 80 Bengal tigers living in Bandhavgarh national park – the highest density of tigers in Madhya Pradesh, central India.

Is the Food Safe In Sierra Leone?

Most dishes in Sierra Leone are spicy, plant-based and served with rice. Vegetable, meat and nut stews are common. Local dishes include: okra stew, cassava bread, coconut cake and pepper soup.

More impoverished areas in the country will have poor hygiene practices. It is best to stick to restaurants that are recommended for serving quality food on a consistent basis.

Although street food may smell tempting, cooking food outdoors increases the likelihood of your meal becoming contaminated.

All travellers to Sierra Leone should bring a traveller’s diarrhea kit and receive cholera, typhoid and hepatitis A vaccinations.

Sierra Leone

I first visited Sierra Leone in late March 2017 for a fabulous 10 days. The mammal watching far exceeded expectations both in terms of the diversity of species we encountered but also the rarity of many of the species we found, with mega mammals like Water Chevrotain, Yellow-backed Duiker and Pygmy Hippo.

Water Chevrotain, Hyemoschus aquaticus. Gola Rainforest National Park. Photo by Phil Telfer.

Beyond the mammal watching, a trip here is a real chance to help with conservation efforts. The community run forest on Tiwai Island, for examples, relies on a very few ecotourists each year for its sustainability. So a trip to Sierra Leone is a chance both to see some amazing mammals but also to feel virtuous in the process. I visited two sites: Tiwai Island, and Gola Rainforest National Park.

Tiwai Island

Olive Colobus, Procolobus verus, Tiwai Island.

I spent four nights here in March, 2017 and our group saw the following. There was exceptional primate watching with 10 species seen: Demidoff’s Galago, West African Potto, Western Pied Colobus, Western Red Colobus, Olive Colobus, Sooty Mangabey, Campbell’s Monkey, Diana Monkey, Lesser Spot-nosed Monkey and Green Monkey. We also heard Thomas’s Galago. Other species included a Lord Derby’s Anomalure, Red River Hog, Gambian Sun Squirrel, Red-legged Sun Squirrel, Miller’s Striped Mouse, Allen’s Wood Mouse, Straw-colored Fruit Bat, Buettikofer’s Epauletted Bat, Noack’s Roundleaf Bat, Beatrix’s Bat and an unidentified horseshoe bat.

Gola Rainforest National Park

Campbell’s Monkey, Cercopithecus campbelli

I spent 6 nights here in April 2017 and our group saw Hammer-headed Fruit Bats, Demidoff’s Galago, Thomas’ Galago, West African Potto, African Palm Civet, Giant Squirrel, Slender-tailed Squirrel, Fire-footed Rope Squirrel, Pygmy Hippopotamus, Red River Hog (heard), Water Chevrotain, Royal Antelope, Maxwell’s Duiker, Yellow-backed Duiker and Western Tree Hyrax. We also heard Chimpanzees.

Lord Derby’s Anomalure, Anomalurus derbianus

Elsewhere we saw a Green Squirrels and Striped Ground Squirrels.

Conflicts and Cooperation in Conservation: Adventures in Researching the Pygmy Hippopotamus on Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone

Our vehicle pulled into the village late one rainy night. Dozens of my new neighbors, Sierra Leone s Mende people, emerged from their thatch-roof houses, looking cross at being woken up and not exactly welcoming. We unloaded some of my gear underneath the dripping eaves, and as I tried to find something dry to wear, I realized that all my equipment: books, electronics, and gear, were soaking wet in the back of the truck. I had spent the entire day with a driver whose accent was so thick that several minutes into a conversation about cheese, I realized we were discussing chiefs, not cheddar. I had eaten entrails soup for lunch, been bounced over dirt roads for over 10 hours, and knew not a single person around me. I was suddenly glad it was dark so that nobody could see the silent tears streaming down my face.

I rummaged around in the dark and found a flashlight and rain jacket, and clinging to these items as a lifeline, I trudged down to the riverside after my guides to set off across the water to the island. It was pitch black, and I could hear the roar of rapids downriver. I was terrified that we would hit a rock or miss the landing point, but we reached safely. Escorted to a musty tent, I collapsed, exhausted and wondering what I had gotten myself into.

This journey to Sierra Leone was the first step towards my dissertation research. However, my first experiences in Africa were spent as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, West Africa after graduating from the University of Georgia in 2003. Living without electricity or running water in a small rural village in Niger, I was frequently sick with parasites and lost 80 pounds in a year. The temperatures soared over 120 F on some days, and Harmattan winds brought the sands of the Sahara to my doorstep.

However, I challenged myself to participate in every aspect of village life: pounding millet into the daily meal with women, farming alongside men (to their vast amusement), and carrying water from the well on my head. In my second year, I teamed up with park rangers to conduct mammal surveys and organize school gardens and tree nurseries. In this village on the opposite side of the river from one of the few protected areas in the country, I developed a greater appreciation of the struggles facing conservation in a developing country.

HippoInTrap Male pygmy hippo caught in a pit trap during the trial event

Park W, named for its location along a W-shaped curve in the Niger River, is home to a diverse array of creatures, including cheetahs, lions, elephants, and an amazing bird community. Despite this biodiversity, people in Niger are some of the poorest in the world. The land in Niger is desolate and barren not much time is spent pondering the merits of conservation when daily life is so difficult. One day I tagged along with park rangers on one of their river outings in a local canoe. Suddenly we spotted another canoe filled with grass on the park side of the river, and the men inside paddled frantically away from us. As we followed behind, a surreal feeling came over me as I realized I was in a high speed canoe chase pursuing illegal grass.

The poachers reached the other side before us, but had to leave the grass behind, and the rangers burned the contraband. It seemed so wasteful, when I knew they were stealing grass to feed their livestock. My own education on conservation up to this point had been from a preservation standpoint, where resources should be protected from humans. However, in a country so devoid of resources on one side of the river, and with so many on the other, I began to realize that conservation is far more complicated.

When my Peace Corps tenure ended in 2007, I returned to the University of Georgia to obtain a doctorate in Forest Resources. At the end of my first year of classes, I received an email about an endangered, elusive creature – the pygmy hippopotamus. I was intrigued. There was a possibility for funding field research to study pygmy hippos on a river island in Sierra Leone. I searched the scientific literature, and did not find much information. With the help of my advisors, I wrote a proposal to Conservation International, who agreed to fund me for my first field season.

I arrived in Sierra Leone in October in 2008 to begin my dissertation research on remote Tiwai Island. This 12 km2 river island was designated a Wildlife Sanctuary in the 1980s, and contains one of the highest primate densities in the world. However, I was setting out virtually alone in a war-torn, impoverished country to find an animal that is notoriously difficult to study even for experienced researchers.

Looking at hippo A boy looking at the freshly painted Pygmy Hippo Mural

Although they superficially look like the well-known common hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), pygmy hippos (Choeropsis liberiensis) differ in ecology, behavior, and most conspicuously, body size. The common hippopotamus can reach upwards of 3,000 kg, whereas the diminutive pygmy hippopotamus rarely tops 300 kg. The hippos are so distinct that the species are two different genera. While common hippos congregate in large social groups, the pygmy hippopotamus is rare, solitary and nocturnal traits that make direct observation nearly impossible and survey methods more complex.

I arrived that rainy night on Tiwai Island armed with 20 remote-sensing camera traps to capture pygmy hippos in digital pictures. I was also exploring methods to safely capture a pygmy hippopotamus and attach a radio tracking device. Since locally pygmy hippos are known to be delicious and they routinely destroy farmer s crops (see video below), I also created questionnaires to learn about local knowledge of pygmy hippos and conservation perceptions.

During my field research, I spent almost every moment of every day with my 2 local field assistants, Kenewa and Bockary. Although they could not read or write, they knew the forest with its flora and fauna better than any foreigner. By the end of my stay, Kenewa had converted one of his storage rooms into a home off the island for me. He carved my name into the door and said this room would always be mine, no matter where I was in the world. Bockary was the joker of the team and a lady s man. He claimed to have 10 girlfriends in one town. Unfortunately this meant that sometimes work items would go missing, as the girlfriends decided they wanted what he had for themselves.

Minah, Tiwai Island s research coordinator, was also my guide to culture, villages, and the island. He had worked on the island helping foreigners since before I was born. He taught me how to ride a motorcycle and demonstrated local fishing techniques. My team and I discussed all aspects of our cultures, trying to understand our differences and where we had common ground. Although work took up much of our time, my team and I would sometimes go to the local dances, where DJs would set up in a village meeting area and we would dance the night away to sweet Salone s music. Sierra Leone, affectionately known as Sweet Salone, has a burgeoning music industry. Songs range from pure entertainment to expression of inequalities and political commentary.

PoundingRiceFlour April with the village women while they are pounding flour for a funeral

For many months, we explored forests, farms and the Moa River learning about pygmy hippos habits and habitats through photos from the camera traps (see video below). However, though I saw many footprints and dung and captured images of hippos, I had yet to see a single pygmy hippo with my own eyes. Tourists who came to the island for the weekend would sometimes wander into the research station for a conversation. They often implied that I must be a pretty poor researcher if I had never seen the animal I had traveled thousands of miles to find. Even knowing that few foreigners see these rare creatures in the wild, I began to despair.

One day in May 2009 as we paddled upriver in our dugout canoe, Kenewa uttered a small gasp of surprise. There, in the water next to the riverbank, was the animal for which I had been searching for over seven months. With a splash, the pygmy hippo clambered out of the water onto a sandy beach and stopped to watch us. This was the moment I had been waiting for, and I could not help but grin. It locked eyes with us for a few moments before turning and running into the forest. Although pygmy hippos depend on water sources like common hippos, pygmy hippos spend most of their nights in the forest. They have a more sloping profile and their feet are more splayed than the common hippopotamus, which allows them to quietly tunnel under dense vegetation through the forest.

Hippo_OpenMouth One of the pygmy hippos caught on camera trap on Tiwai Island

Project money ran out after 10 months, and I returned to the States for a 9 month hiatus to write grant proposals appealing for funds. Armed with new funding from several zoos and a Fulbright Scholarship, I flew back in August 2010. Sierra Leone was deep into the rainy season. Although everything was soggy from the unrelenting rain, my arrival that year was far different than my first. People ran out of their houses to greet me and cheer as I stepped out of the vehicle. I looked around and saw familiar smiling faces, and it felt like coming home.

We soon began our first pit trap attempts to capture a pygmy hippopotamus. If the pit traps were successful in catching a pygmy hippopotamus, we would bring a wildlife veterinarian to Sierra Leone to help us anesthetize a hippo. When the hippo was asleep, we would place a radio collar to track the hippo s movements through the forest. We were interested in learning more about hippo habitat to identify what pygmy hippos need to survive. Using local hunter knowledge and maybe a little bit of juju , we dug several holes and covered them with rattan mats and debris. Then it was time to wait.

One morning I woke up in the village and went about my morning routine. Suddenly, Minah approached me. The trap monitors had radioed in to say there was a red river hog in one of our traps. Although it was not a pygmy hippopotamus, it was a great animal to practice our pit trap method on. I gathered a few men and we zoomed to the island on the boat. We rushed to the trap and I looked gingerly over the rim.

HogCapture Four red river hogs caught in a pit trap

My first thought was Oh there are two hogs in there. As they squirmed around, I realized there were more than two. There were four. Apparently the trap checker had only gotten close enough to the trap to see that there was a hog in there before running away in fear. My plan had seemed a lot simpler from the village. We would throw a sheet over the red river hog to distract it, while collapsing one side of the trap so it could climb up. However, red river hogs are one of the most aggressive animals on the island. None of the men were eager to approach the trap. They all looked at me for instruction, but I was flummoxed.

We approached closer, and the hogs started squealing and trying to scramble out. Suddenly all seven of us were up in trees. One of the men looked over at me from his tree and exclaimed that he didn t know I could move that fast. We debated how to get these animals out without anybody getting hurt. Bockary volunteered to collapse the side, and the rest of us left the area with relief. The hogs soon exited and ran away, too tired to bother with us. Later, Bockary admitted that he volunteered only because he was hungry and the only thing between him and food was making sure the hogs got out safely. Success!

A few tense weeks of waiting later, Minah came to knock on my door and whispered There s a hippo in one of your traps. I called Kenewa and Bockary into my room and said OK, this is really something amazing, but I don t want you to tell a soul in this village. I was afraid of a village riot, with dozens of people rushing to the scene to get a glimpse of hippo if word got out. I did not want anybody getting hurt, so the fewer people at the trap the better. My assistants let out a quiet whoop of joy and we danced around hugging for a few seconds before gathering up a few key people and materials to head to the trap.

As we approached the trap, I saw the most beautiful animal in the world a pygmy hippopotamus (see video below)! He was lying down, obviously tired from trying to climb out and glistening dark purple in the early morning light. Although we had now successfully captured the hippo, we had to let it go because this was just a trial. Kenewa began to try to collapse one of the walls, but the hippo roared in agitation.

Learning from our previous experience with the hogs, we brought empty canvas bags to fill with dirt to form steps. We filled the bags with dirt and dropped them in. The pygmy hippo attacked the first one and tore it to pieces, which had us all running for the nearest trees (unfortunately I chose the one covered in razor grass). When we placed the second bag in, the hippo used the extra bag as a step to exit the trap, and then ran off into the forest. Ah bwa! He s out! We returned triumphantly to the village. There was a very large party in the village that night. I sent excited text messages to my professors to let them know we were ready to try the real captures.

Pit Trap The pit trap team circled around a new pit trap

Now that we knew the traps could successfully and safely capture a pygmy hippopotamus, my major professor, Dr. John Carroll and a wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Michele Miller, flew to Sierra Leone to help me capture and radio-collar a pygmy hippopotamus. My advisor, Dr. Sonia Hernandez, would coordinate everything from the United. I added 2 more field assistants (Alusine and Lahai) who could read and write to help. Unfortunately we did not successfully capture a hippo during this time, although we had several near-captures (the pygmy hippos fell halfway in but were able to escape). We hope to travel for another attempt later this year if we can raise the funds.

One of the highlights of my research on Tiwai was when the U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone came to visit me as I was one of the few Fulbright Scholarship students in the country. When we arrived in the village, very few people were around. We had arrived earlier than expected and everybody was still in their fields. I was worried that my plans for a smooth trip would go awry. We made some short introductions to the people in town, and left for the island.

That evening, when I was chatting with the visitors, I heard drums in the distance. As the sound grew louder, we all popped up from our chairs. Out of the forest came the villagers, drumming, singing and dancing. Among them was a man dressed in a full length raphia palm costume. Although I had arranged for a general cultural show in honor of the U.S. Ambassador, this pygmy hippo devil (see video below) was a surprise: constructed painstakingly by the villagers just for this night. I was speechless that the villagers took so much pride in their pygmy hippos that this was the animal they chose to display to the Ambassador.

Conflicts in Conservation

The relationships I developed with the local people during my tenure in the Peace Corps and in Sierra Leone gave me a unique perspective of conservation. I witnessed the frustrations that protecting wildlife and land can bring in an area where people are struggling for daily survival. Most of the villagers could not grow enough food to support themselves through the entire year, and have to rely on imported rice when the food ran out. Although they live in areas of great plant and wildlife diversity, this honor means little to people who are subsistence farmers trying to scratch out a living in an unforgiving land.

Radiotelemetrypractice Radio telemetry, a way of tracking animals through the forest, requires a lot of practice

A civil war devastated the country and Sierra Leone is still struggling to recover. My own field assistants struggled during the war. Kenewa, who was 12 when the war began, was forced to take drugs by soldiers and risked his life to raid food from the rebels. Bockary escaped to Monrovia, Liberia, only to return when the war was over. Minah had to flee for his life into the forest because the rebels thought all foreign researchers had left their money with him. Many of the village men had become Kamojors, the grassroots militia claiming to have magical powers that allowed them to be bullet proof.

During our daily walks in the forests, my assistants told me horror stories of amputations and executions. The decade-long war ended in 2002, when the rebel Revolutionary United Front was defeated. However, with a high infant mortality rate, low literacy rate, and overall bleak poverty level, conservation tends to take a backburner to more pressing issues. Malaria is a major concern in this area, as I personally experienced several times.

However, malaria had an even more personal affect because it killed some of the people I care about. My good friend and confidant, Kenewa s brother (also called Kenewa), died shortly after my return to the US in 2009. I was in Sierra Leone for his first bout of malaria and took him to the doctor for treatment. However, shortly after I left Sierra Leone, I received a phone call from Minah. Kenewa had complained of headache, and later in the evening told everybody that he was dying. Thinking he was being overdramatic, his brother told him to try to sleep. He complied, and never woke up.

Residents who live near Tiwai hope that conservation of their land can bring foreign assistance in the form of tourism, research or development assistance. However, often the expectations outweigh the reality. When I asked villagers what they would do if they were the bossman of Tiwai Island, they responded that they would bring cell phone towers, schools, mosques, clinics, and much more. When I asked them how they would get money to build these, they responded that they would cry to the outside world.

Hippo_Devil Villagers dancing around the pygmy hippo devil

Tiwai is remote by Western standards the road conditions are unpredictable and never pleasant. A 200 mile journey from Freetown can take anywhere from 6 to 15 hours depending on your vehicle and the season. The tourist facilities on Tiwai Island are best described as rustic, although there is usually electricity (solar-powered) and running (river-pumped) water. Lodging is tents with foam mattresses.

While these amenities definitely provide a full rainforest experience, some tourists do not want to rough it or make the long journey. One visitor remarked to me I knew it was country , but I didn t know it was this country! Without many visitors, there are not enough funds to satisfy the eight villages that own Tiwai. Each year the tourism revenues are divided among the 8 villages for community development. However, during my first year in Sierra Leone, the annual fees were first given to the chiefs to distribute in the communities. These chiefs took what they felt was their share (which was a substantial portion), before handing the money over to the next chief who also took his share . The money that actually reached the villages was very small, but the villages did not feel that they had the power to change things. Fortunately, a new system was created, and the amount of money that reaches the villages now is greater.

Researchers can help generate more direct funds by providing employment for local residents, introducing capital directly into the local economy. In countries with few educational opportunities, any sharing of knowledge between researcher and resident is beneficial. Field assistants often bring the scientific knowledge they learn during their employment to their families and friends. My field assistants became ambassadors for the pygmy hippopotamus, and helped to disseminate new findings to the communities.

Roads The road system in Sierra Leone can be unpleasant

Sierra Leoneans place a lot of hope on their children. Some families spend a major portion of their income to send their children to school. The parents hope that one day the children will return the favor and take care of their parents when they are old. A better educated child has a better chance of supporting the family. However, a better educated child also has the chance to improve development in the entire country. If environmental education is also incorporated into the local schools, these children will be equipped to make land management decisions when they begin their own families and, if they return to the village, farms.

For this reason, I conducted environmental education programs in local schools and villages alongside my collaborators, the Across the River Transboundary Peace Park project and the Environmental Foundation for Africa. We also painted murals and printed posters depicting wildlife and the importance of conservation, placed conservation bumper stickers on public transportation vehicles, and created a Pygmy Hippo Awareness Day with t-shirts and contests.

So far the response to our project has been excellent. Residents are proud that their island is an important habitat for this rare animal, as demonstrated during the Ambassador s visit, and they believe this project will help advertise tourism and research on Tiwai Island. When people view pygmy hippos and other wildlife as more than protein or pests, they are more willing to help in conservation efforts. Our hope is that one day the pygmy hippo can be seen as the diamond of Sierra Leone. As Kenewa once said We shall never again eat pygmy hippo meat. We have tasted pygmy hippo benefits, and they are sweeter.

All images belong to the author, April Conway, and all people in photographs have given permission for the photos to be used.

Tourism & Hospitality

The Tourism sector in Sierra Leone has become one of the top priority sectors due to the vast improvement demonstrated over the years, with the huge inflow of foreign direct investment and improvement in quality and standards by our domestic investors in this sector. Sierra Leone is definitely back on the map as a tourist destination, with the surge in the number of tourists visiting Sierra Leone annually, and we have slowly gained back the momentum with the influx of International Brands with the likes of Hilton and Radisson Blu investing in our tourism sector.

As is most commonly described, Sierra Leone is the best kept secret destination for Tourism investment and is blessed with wonderful people with mixed culture and stronger acceptability for religious tolerance. The people are generally known for their reputation of friendliness, thoroughly cordial and hospitable towards visitors and are always genuinely happy to provide helpful assistance such as allowing strangers to lodge with them when needed.

The tourism exploit is blessed:

  • With 360 km coastline of beautiful, un-spoilt white sand beaches
  • World &ndashClass regime fishing with record setting tarpon catches
  • It Coastal beautiful city of Freetown is only 3 hours away from Lagos, Africa&rsquos largest city, 8 hours away from the US, and 6 hours from Europe
  • 18 national heritage sites linked to sierra Leone&rsquos rich past of both the slave trade and as a home for returning slaves
  • 31 protected areas with unique wildlife including pygmy hypos, chimpazess, jungle elephants, and many species of birds

Above all, Sierra Leone is classified for highlights of opportunities for first movers in both leisure and business hospitality in Sierra Leone.

Watch the video: 0297 Tiwai Island Sierra Leone, 12 06 2013 (July 2022).


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