Traveling Luck for Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is located in Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea and Liberia.

Sierra Leone has borders with Guinea for 652km and Liberia for 306km.

Land in Sierra Leone is coastal belt of mangrove swamps, wooded hill country, upland plateau, mountains in east.

Sierra Leonean land covers an area of 71740 square kilometers which is slightly smaller than South Carolina

As for the Sierra Leonean climate; tropical; hot, humid; summer rainy season (May to December); winter dry season (December to April).

Sierra Leonean(s) speak English (official, regular use limited to literate minority), Mende (principal vernacular in the south), Temne (principal vernacular in the north), Krio (English-based Creole, spoken by the descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who were settled in the Freetown area, a lingua franca and a first language for 10% of the population but understood by 95%).

Sierra Leonean National Map

Sierra Leonean Map

Regions of Sierra Leone

The government is slowly reestablishing its authority after the 1991 to 2002 civil war that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people (about one-third of the population). The last UN peacekeepers withdrew in December 2005, leaving full responsibility for security with domestic forces, but a new civilian UN office remains to support the government. Mounting tensions related to planned 2007 elections, deteriorating political and economic conditions in Guinea, and the tenuous security situation in neighboring Liberia may present challenges to continuing progress in Sierra Leone's stability.


Sierra Leone Country Profile

Sierra Leone is an extremely poor African nation with tremendous inequality in income distribution. While it possesses substantial mineral, agricultural, and fishery resources, its economic and social infrastructure is not well developed, and serious social disorders continue to hamper economic development. About two-thirds of the working-age population engages in subsistence agriculture. Manufacturing consists mainly of the processing of raw materials and of light manufacturing for the domestic market. Alluvial diamond mining remains the major source of hard currency earnings, accounting for nearly half of Sierra Leone's exports. The fate of the economy depends upon the maintenance of domestic peace and the continued receipt of substantial aid from abroad, which is essential to offset the severe trade imbalance and supplement government revenues. The IMF has completed a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility program that helped stabilize economic growth and reduce inflation. A recent increase in political stability has led to a revival of economic activity, such as the rehabilitation of bauxite mining.

Sierra Leonean natural resources include diamonds, titanium ore, bauxite, iron ore, gold, chromite

rainfall along the coast can reach 495 cm (195 inches) a year, making it one of the wettest places along coastal, western Africa

Sierra Leonean religion is Muslim 60%, indigenous beliefs 30%, Christian 10%.

Natural hazards in Sierra Leone include dry, sand-laden harmattan winds blow from the Sahara (December to February); sandstorms, dust storms.

Travel Advice on Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with amendments to the Summary and Local Travel section.  The overall level of the advice has not changed.

SUMMARY

  • Visits to the Western Area of Sierra Leone, including Freetown are usually trouble-free.  It is, however, currently very difficult to transfer from the international airport at Lungi to Freetown.  None of the options are risk-free. Potential visitors should consider very carefully whether their visit is necessary at this time, and then study the transfer options carefully.  Especially if you plan to arrive at night.  Travel outside the Western Area can be difficult, as roads and infrastructure are poor.  See Local Travel section for more information.

  • December saw a rise in the number of crimes committed in Freetown this December. You should exercise caution when travelling in Freetown, particularly in the Eastern area of the city and in the central commercial district around Siaka Stevens Street and Lightfoot Boston Street.

  • The main type of incident for which British nationals require consular assistance in Sierra Leone is for replacing lost and stolen passports.  Petty crime is common.  You should take sensible precautions and maintain a high level of vigilance in public places.

  • Unofficial party political campaigning has begun for the 2007 elections and you should avoid public demonstrations and large crowds.

  • The threat from terrorism is low, but you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate attacks, which could be against civilian targets including places frequented by foreigners.

  • Water shortages are frequent.  Networked power is rare; rented accommodation and hotels rely on generators and imported fuel supplies.

  • There are few health facilities in Sierra Leone.  We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see: Travel Insurance.


SAFETY AND SECURITY

Crime

Sierra Leone and its capital Freetown have a low crime rate, although reports are increasing.  Nonetheless we receive several reports each month of incidents involving international travellers and expatriates, who are an obvious target for criminals.  The greatest risk to short-stay travellers is that of pick pocketing and mugging in the capital, Freetown.  Visitors staying for longer periods in rented or bought accommodation should consider the security of their property and are strongly advised to employ guards.
The majority of crimes in Sierra Leone are committed unarmed, but the number of incidents in which weapons are used is increasing.  We received two reports in December 2006, of crimes against visitors or expatriates involving the use of guns.
You are advised to take the following precautions against crime:
  • Exercise caution when travelling in Freetown, particularly in the eastern area of the city and in the central commercial district around Siaka Stevens Street and Lightfoot Boston Street.
  • Avoid carrying valuables in public.
  • Avoid the groups of youths that congregate in the town centre and at roundabouts.
  • Use a vehicle if you need to travel after dark in Freetown.
  • Use a privately owned or rented vehicle rather than taxis or podapodas (minibuses).
  • Avoid walking alone on beaches, especially Lumley beach.  Lumley beach has seen a number of crimes against pedestrians recently, often when they are unaccompanied.  The areas near hotels and lifeguards offer a greater level of security and incidents against groups are rare.  Do not use the beaches after dark.
  • Don’t drive outside Freetown after dark.  Roads outside of Freetown are unlit; there are no regular police patrols along them and often no traffic for long periods.  If you are involved in an accident you are less likely to reach assistance at night and are at increased risk of both a secondary collision and crime.

You should check the quality of any gems and/or minerals that you purchase before legally removing them from the country.  You should also be aware that any deals that appear too good to be true, probably are.
Sporting events and concerts at the national stadium pose a high risk to personal security and safety.  Pickpocketing is rife.  Poor crown control and overcrowding make the general stands - and sometimes even the VIP area - uncomfortable and unsafe.  Rioting has occurred at previous events and could occur again in the future.

Political Situation

Sierra Leone Country Profile.

Sierra Leone is becoming more stable.  The 10-year conflict ended in 2002 and Sierra Leone has successfully conducted both national (2002) and local (2004) elections. 
The country's next national elections are scheduled for 28 July 2007.  There have been a few incidents of localised violence at election-related rallies or demonstrations.  Such incidents are increasing likely as the election approaches.  You should continue to avoid demonstrations, marches and large crowds.  In particular those related to the elections.  These are often distinguishable by the number of people wearing the colours of the three main parties (green, orange or red).

Those indicted of having the greatest responsibility for crimes committed during the country’s civil war are on trial at the Special Court of Sierra Leone in Freetown.  Verdicts in some of the cases will begin in the first half of 2007 and could trigger protests.  In particular, the ex-Civil Defence Force leader Sam Hinga Norman has a large popular following, which may demonstrate if he is found guilty.
Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia and one of those accused by the Special Court for Sierra Leone of crimes relating to the civil war, was captured and transferred to the court on 29 March 2006.  Following the UK offer to enforce sentence on Charles Taylor if he is convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, he was subsequently transferred to The Hague on 20 June 2006.  The possibility of protests regarding developments in this case remains.
Two politically fragile countries, Liberia and Guinea, border Sierra Leone.  Events in either country could affect stability within Sierra Leone.  You should check the travel advice for both countries before visiting and keep informed of any significant political developments during your stay.

Local Travel
Getting to Freetown from the airport:

Lungi airport is situated on the far side of a wide estuary from Freetown. Travel options from Lungi airport are currently very limited, and none is without risk.  Potential visitors should consider very carefully whether their visit is necessary at this time and follow the advice in this section if they do intend to travel to Sierra Leone.
The safest way to travel from Lungi to Freetown – and the only means that Foreign Office staff are permitted to use for safety reasons – is to drive around the estuary in daylight in a privately owned, company or rental vehicle. The road is in a bad condition and the journey normally takes between four and six hours. See road safety section for further guidance on driving outside Freetown.
Almost all international flights to Sierra Leone arrive during, or shortly before, the hours of darkness.  We advise against all transfers between Freetown and Lungi outside of daylight hours.  This is due to the absence of navigational lights on boats and ferries, the hazards of driving at night in Sierra Leone see road safety section, the decreased likelihood of help reaching you in the event of an emergency and your increased vulnerability to crime.  We recommend that travelers arriving in the evening or at night use accommodation at Lungi before transferring the next morning.  There are two registered hotels near Lungi airport and several smaller guesthouses (contact details for the hotels are below).  We recommend that you book early as rooms are limited and in high demand.  If you are unable to book a room for the night of your arrival we advise re-arranging your flight.

When travelling by road from Lungi to Freetown you should travel by day and use a privately owned, company or rental vehicle.  We advise you not to use a taxi or poda-poda see road safety section.  If possible you should arrange to be collected at the airport by a driver in your own car or a car provided by your employer.  If this is not possible, you should arrange for a hotel, travel agency or car rental company to send a driver and car to collect you at the airport.  There are no car hire facilities at Lungi airport. There is a list of Freetown-based companies that can provide hire cars for collection at Lungi at the end of this section.
Transfer by air:
Until mid-January, Paramount operated a helicopter service between Lungi and Freetown. That service is currently grounded.  Two fires were reported on board Paramount flights in early January.  We also received reports of a disregard for passenger safety by the aircrew.
Eagle Air Service has recently started a fixed-wing shuttle service between Lungi and Hastings (an hour’s drive from Freetown).  This service does not have to comply with European air safety standards. There are no security or air traffic control facilities at Hastings airport.
Transfer by sea:
There is a ferry service between Lungi and Freetown.  As a result of Paramount being grounded the ferry service has become extremely busy.  Static queues of vehicles and passengers wait up to four hours at either end. The increase in international passengers on the ferry has also increased the risk of crime. You should avoid using the ferry alone or as a foot passenger. The ferry was warned by the Port Authorities in January 2007 about overloading, and has been known to operate in poor visibility without lights.  There is a lack of basic safety equipment on board; there are few lifeboats or accessible life jackets.  The public emergency services are not set up to respond to an emergency at sea.
Private boat services may also be available for crossing the sometimes rough estuary.  These are unlicenced, and have only limited safety equipment.  Some of these services are run by established operators using modern speedboats with maintenance records.  Other services are run by fisherman using their own boats.  We strongly recommend that you avoid travel in local fishing boats, as they regularly capsize.
The Foreign Office has instructed its own staff – and advised the staff of other government departments - not to use any of the air or sea transfer services to Freetown until ongoing risk assessment work is completed.  We expect this risk assessment work to be completed shortly and will update our travel advice accordingly.
Hotels at Lungi and car-hire companies based in Freetown:
Disclaimer:  This list is provided by HM Consul in Freetown for the convenience of enquirers, but neither Her Majesty’s Government nor any official of the consulate takes any responsibility for the competence or probity of any individual hotel or firm or for the consequences of any service undertaken.
Hotels:
The Lungi Airport Hotel
Tel: +232 22 338272 / 75
The Mahera Beach Hotel, Lungi
Tel: +232 76 611775 / 633084
Car-hire firms:
Mohamed J. Barrie
C/O Celtel Office
Wilberforce
Freetown
Tel: 0023276 601801
Ibrahim Timbo
C/O Cape Sierra Hotel
Aberdeen
Freetown
tel: 0023276 602314
Melian Tours and Car Rental Services
44 Pademba Road
Freetown
Tel: 0023222 228068/ 228976/ 0023276 713761
Motor Care
68c Lightfoot Boston Road
Freetown
Tel: 0023222 230806/230061
IPC (attn: Chris Robertshaw)
Siaka Stevens Street
Freetown
Tel: 0023222 221481/2/3
Dad's car Hire
Freetown Road
Lumley
Tel: 0023222 237525
City Car
24 Main Motor Road
Congo Cross
Tel: 0023222 234467
Hotel Bintumani
Aberdeen
freetown
Tel: 0023222 221176/230479
Travelling outside the capital:
There are no restrictions on travelling around Sierra Leone.  However a successful trip to areas beyond the capital will require thorough planning.
The main roads from Freetown to Makeni and Mile 91 are tarmaced and suitable for most types of vehicle.  The majority of other roads outside Freetown are constructed from rocks and mud, with frequent potholes.  During the rainy season (May to November) rural roads can become difficult to use, even for off-road vehicles.
Illegal roadblocks are sometimes put up by youths, who will often ask for a small donation for mending the road.  Occasionally those manning the roadblock will be armed.  Roadblocks are most common at the weekend and on roads to tourist beaches in the Western Area.  They are easily distinguishable from the legal checkpoints erected by police, who are uniformed and normally use marked barriers or vehicles to indicate where drivers should stop.
The safest response to seeing an illegal roadblock ahead of you is to turn the car around before reaching it and use an alternative route.  Stopping at a roadblock and winding down your window could allow someone to reach into your vehicle.  Roadblocks will sometimes be lifted if you indicate with your horn that you do not intend to stop.
No mobile network covers all of Sierra Leone and several areas, even on main roads, have no mobile reception.  There is no public telephone system outside the Western Area.
Many Sierra Leoneans outside the capital do not speak English.

Road Safety

We advise against using the private taxis and poda-podas (minibuses) that provide transport along fixed routes in Freetown and the Western Area.  They are often crowded and not subject to European road safety standards.  There have been several incidents recently of Western passengers in public taxis and poda-podas having belongings stolen.
A limited number of private cars are available for hire on a short-term basis and major hotels and travel agencies offer cars for hire, with a chauffeur if required.
Serious road accidents occur quite frequently in Sierra Leone due to the hazardous driving conditions, poor vehicle maintenance and erratic driving.  All roads are unlit and potholes are common, especially during the rainy season (May to November).  The vast majority of roads have no streetlights, signs, painted markings or cats eyes.  The emergency service response to accidents in Freetown is very slow and unreliable.  Outside the capital you should assume that there would be no emergency service response to an accident.
You can improve your road safety by:
  • driving defensively.
  • keeping a good first aid kit in your car and knowing how to use it.
  • travelling in convoy with other cars.
  • not travelling alone in a vehicle.
  • having a communications system that covers where you are travelling.
  • reporting your progress to someone who knows your route plan and agree with them what action they will take if you do not make contact at a scheduled time.
  • planning how you will get medical treatment in case of an accident.
Travel after dark outside Freetown should be avoided.

Air Safety

The EU has published a list of air carriers that are subject to an operating ban or restrictions within the community.  You should check the following link to see whether this will affect your travel: http://europa.eu.int/comm/transport/air/safety/flywell_en.htm.

Any airline from outside the EU or European Economic area, which wishes to pick up or put down passengers or cargo in the UK, requires a permit from the Secretary of State.  It is a condition of the permit that the airline should be operated in accordance with international safety standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.  No airline registered in Sierra Leone currently has a permit to land in the UK.

Following the crash (cause unknown) of a Boeing 737 operated by Bellview Airlines en route from Lagos to Abuja (killing all 117 passengers and crew) in October 2005, and a more recent emergency landing (hydraulic failure) by another Bellview operated Boeing 737 en route to Freetown at Accra, the airline was grounded for a week by Nigerian authorities.  Regional flights from Lagos and Abuja to Freetown and the Bellview service from Freetown to London Heathrow have now resumed.  However, we advise that these incidents are taken into consideration when planning any regional travel in West Africa.

Sea Safety

Sierra Leone has many attractive beaches.  But strong currents are common.  Swimmers should take care and consult local advice before entering the water.

There is a ferry service between Lungi and Freetown.  As a result of Paramount being grounded the ferry service has become extremely busy.  Static queues of vehicles and passengers wait up to four hours at either end.  The increase in international passengers on the ferry has also increased the risk of crime. You should avoid using the ferry alone or as a foot passenger.  The ferry was warned by the Port Authorities in January 2007 about overloading, and has been known to operate in poor visibility without lights.  There is a lack of basic safety equipment on board; there are few lifeboats or accessible life jackets.  The public emergency services are not set up to respond to an emergency at sea.
Private boat services may also be available for crossing the sometimes rough estuary.  These are unlicenced, and have only limited safety equipment.  Some of these services are run by established operators using modern speedboats with maintenance records.  Other services are run by fisherman using their own boats.  We strongly recommend that you avoid travel in local fishing boats, as they regularly capsize.


LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS

The majority of Sierra Leoneans are Muslim and Sierra Leone has a tolerant Islamic culture.  You should be sensitive to this when travelling throughout the Country.
You should not become involved with drugs of any kind.  All precious stones require an export licence.  If you commit criminal offences, including drug trafficking and diamond smuggling you can expect to be subjected to local law.  There are heavy penalties for those convicted.  Local prison conditions are harsh.
Homosexuality is illegal in Sierra Leone.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

All British nationals require a visa to enter Sierra Leone.  Visas must be obtained before arrival from:  Sierra Leonean representation in the UK.
If you have dual British/Sierra Leone nationality you should be aware that if you enter Sierra Leone on your Sierra Leonean passport then the British High Commission will be unable to assist you.
If you intend to travel via Conakry you should ensure that you have the necessary multiple entry visas for Guinea and a certified Yellow Fever vaccination certificate.


HEALTH

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive medical and travel insurance.  This should include cover for medical treatment and evacuation, accidents, cancelled flights and stolen cash, credit cards, passport and luggage.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake. Please see:  Travel Insurance.

Medical facilities are poor.  The emergency service response in Freetown is very slow and unreliable.  Outside the capital you should assume that there would be no emergency service response if you get into medical difficulty.  You should carry basic medical supplies.
Cholera remains a problem, there are infrequent outbreaks.  We advise that you take particular care and recommend that you drink only boiled/bottled water.  The shortage of water in the Freetown area will exacerbate the problem there.
Waterborne diseases, malaria and other tropical diseases are prevalent.  You should consider taking anti malaria medication and using insect repellent.  More than three-quarters of British travellers who contracted malaria in 2005 did not take preventive measures, such as malaria prevention tablets. However, malaria can occur despite appropriate prevention, and therefore you should promptly seek medical care in the event of a fever or flu-like illness in the first year following your return from travelling to a malaria risk country.  Before travelling you should seek medical advice about the malaria risk in Sierra Leone.
Vaccination against rabies and yellow fever (required to enter Guinea) are strongly advised.
HIV/AIDS is prevalent.  Lassa fever can be contracted in Kenema and the east.  If you have travelled in this region you should seek urgent medical advice if you suffer from any fever not positively identified as malaria. 

You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date.  For further information on health, check the Department of Health’s website at: www.dh.gov.uk


GENERAL

If things go wrong when overseas, please see:  What We Can Do To Help.

You should carry ID (passport or residence permit) at all times, particularly when driving or taking a taxi, when the likelihood of having to produce it is high.

You should reconfirm onward/return flights 72 hours in advance.

You should register with the British High Commission in Freetown as soon as possible after you arrive.

Money

Credit cards are not accepted in Sierra Leone and the opportunities to exchange travellers' cheques are limited.  All foreign exchange transactions must be handled through the banks and official exchange offices.  A small number of banks in central Freetown may be prepared to accept credit cards for the purchase of local currency.