Introduction

Welcome to Freetown, Sierra Leone – a tiny remote city on the outer-most coast of West Africa. If you’re a fan of the wanderlust that is West African travel then maybe you’ve heard of Lagos, Accra, Abidjan, or Dakar – so what’s Freetown, and why Freetown?
 
Freetown is kind of like this exclusive hidden gem of; fresh coconuts sold on every street corner; sun, sand, and sea; natural excursions for days; sultry foods like oysters and lobster for a steal; never ending nightlife in clubs built on oceans; and globally connected historical sites. But only those who really know, know! So do you want to discover the best of yourself in this city that was once, and still is, a connecting coast for global trajectories?
 
Population: 6.6 million (July 2020 est.)
Lingua Franca: Krio
Official Language: English
Time Zone: Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
Geographic Area: Total: 71,740 sq km, Land: 71,620 sq km, Water: 120 sq km 
Climate: The ‘rainy season’ lasts from May to December and is a time of humid, hot, and cloudy weather with heavy rains. The ‘dry season’ lasts from December to April and is a time of tropical and hot weather. 
Political System: Presidential Republic, Unicameral Parliament
Currency: Sierra Leone Leone (SLL)
Country Dialing Code Prefix: +232
Primary Mode of Purchases: CASH!
Visa: Citizens of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) do not require a visa to enter the country; all other travelers require a visa, which can be obtained on arrival

History

In the late 1790s to 1800s, various North American, British and other European black and white slavery abolitionist groups began to advocate for the end of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and mass groups of freed or escapee slaves were resettling around the Global North and on the African continent. 
 
Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone, was founded by freed American slaves in 1792 who arrived from the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. They were a mixed group of Londoners, Nova Scotians, and Jamaican maroons who intermarried to create what was known as the Creole (presently referred to as Krio) population. When they arrived in Freetown they first settled around a massive tree known as the Cotton Tree and threw a party! They sang praises and hymns of finally reaching a free land. The Cotton Tree still stands today in the center of Freetown’s downtown commercial district separating shops, restaurants and banks from Government buildings. Several national events happen around the Cotton Tree till this day. It’s pretty cool, but I digress. Although the Freetownians were overjoyed to reach a “free land” they soon discovered that Freetown was part of Sierra Leone – an African nation inhabitted by a multitude of ethnic groups, and controlled by the English under United Kingdom colonial administration. They would have to fight once again, for independence. 
 
In the meantime the city and country melted into a cultural and commercial hub of West African tribes with strong practices around academia, art, trade, food and more. As a chief port city of Sierra Leone, Freetown was (and still is) a commercial center for trade in rutile, bauxite, platinum, gold, and diamonds. It is also known as the home of Fourah Bay College, established in 1827 as the first Western-influenced college in West Africa. Through the 19th Century, Fourah Bay College attracted students from across the continent. 
 
Sierra Leone gained independence in 1961 after Sierra Leoneans along with the entirety of West Africa led fierce anti-colonial wars, boycotts and protests against the economic exploitation and racial, social and political injustices of colonialism. Colonialism became too expensive for the British to maintain given all the riots and wars.
 
Once Sierra Leone gained independence, Freetown like most capitals of newly created African nations, received thousands of migrants in search of employment – further expanding the multicultural melting pot that is Sierra Leone as a whole. This legacy is reflected in the multiple (16) languages, tribes, and cultures of Sierra Leoneans today. And they all lived in harmony and peace for sometime. 
 
Unfortunately, Sierra Leone’s ability to avoid political unrest ended in 1991 when a civil war broke out. The war was largely a result of political power mongering on the part of the country’s political elite who had come to view politics as a means to enrich themselves via corruption, while leaving the populace to fend for themselves. The war destroyed much of the city’s infrastructure and economy before ending in 2002. 
 
Since 2002, Freetown has come quite a way in rebuilding its political, economic, and social sectors. The city currently has a full functioning and peaceful democracy, and budding economic sectors (mining, telecoms, agro-processing, fishing, hospitality/tourism and fast moving consumer goods). The majority of Freetown and Sierra Leone’s potential to be an economic powerhouse remains untapped and the city is ripe for lucrative investment opportunities.
 
Below is a list of resources to help you discover the rich history of Freetown, and Sierra Leone as a whole.

Safety

Freetown and Sierra Leone as a whole, is a safe place to be. The country has a low crime rate and experiences little to no violent crime annually. Petty theft/price manipulation in the informal market is the most frequent complaint from residents.
 
When you first arrive in Sierra Leone, it's a good idea to register with your embassy so that they know you’re there and you can contact them in case of an emergency. However, the chance of this happening is very unlikely. There are police headquarters in every major urban area. The Sierra Leonean police are professional and helpful. They take their jobs seriously and are eager to help tourists, should a problem arise.
 
Below is a list of safety resources should they be needed.

Medical & COVID

Sierra Leone’s Government and its development partners were quick and vigilant in preventing the COVID-19 pandemic from severely affecting the population. The Government closed the land, air and sea borders to all travellers for a period of time, and upon reopening their borders they instituted a nationwide curfew, and banned inter-district travel temporarily. As a result the country has enjoyed a relatively low number of cases, deaths and infection rate. Travel restrictions have been lifted but testing requirements remain in place for international travelers to help keep everyone safe.
 
The most accurate and up-to-date information on travel testing requirements can be found on Sierra Leone's official travel registration portal or the Public Health National Emergency Operations Center facebook page.
 
Sierra Leone has an emerging medical landscape and while there are many hospitals and private clinics scattered across Freetown, any serious medical procedures should be done prior to traveling to Sierra Leone or when one returns home. For minor medical services private clinics are recommended.
 
Below are some options for medical care.

Money Matters

The most common way of paying for things in Sierra Leone is cash. Not a lot of merchants accept card nor digital payments. This means that you should carry dollars/pounds/euros through your travels and you can exchange your money for the local currency, the Leone (SLL), through international transfer agencies, any commercial bank, or informal money transfer agents in any commercial area.
 
Most bank headquarters are located in the center of town but they will often have branches in the commercial strips. ATMs are available throughout the city for you to draw SLL from a foreign currency account, but machines sometimes run out of currency.
 
Pro tips: higher denomination foreign bills often get a better exchange rate in the informal market than lower ones, as do more recently minted bills. Also, the highest denomination Leone is 20,000 (USD $2), which means you'll need to carry the money in something other than your pockets if you plan on doing high end shopping or fine dining.

Communication

Leaving everything behind for a world of wanderlust is what Freetown is best suited for! But, you may still want to communicate with friends and family both inside and outside the country from time to time to let everyone know that you’re living your best life! 
 
Sierra Leone is in the GMT time zone. That means it's the same time in Freetown as it is in London, except during the summer, and you will be on average 4-8 hours ahead of various cities in North America. The country code is +232, and cell reception can be found everywhere in Freetown using one of the country’s only three telecommunications networks – QCell, Africell and Orange. Every one of these companies has kiosks and sales agents littered across the airport willing to offer you a free SIM card upon arrival and a great phone plan. We suggest you pick a service provider and get your free SIM card upon arrival! All of these companies only offer a ‘pay-as-you-go’ model of payment or what is known in Sierra Leone as a ‘top-up’ system. 
 
To be able to have phone service and use your phone for calls, texts, or all data purposes, you must find a sales agent for the phone service provider you chose, and tell them how much money you want to load onto your phone. You give them the money and tell them your phone number and they load the credit amount onto your phone. These agents can be found at almost every corner of the city. One of the most familiar sounds in Freetown is the sound of ‘top-up’ sales agents belching “top-up, top-up, Africell, QCell, Orange – you done get you top-up?” from a bullhorn at every street corner – don’t worry, you get used to it! 
 
To keep in touch with everyone through the internet, you can load data onto your phone, or find wifi at any and every formal establishment (for example hotels and restaurants) in Freetown. These establishments allow customers to use their wifi endlessly upon ordering off the menu.
 
Below is a list of places that will help meet your communication needs. We've included co-working spaces and electronic stores, as well as hotels and restaurants where you can work remotely.

News & Media

There is so much beauty, adventure and excitement to discover in Sierra Leone. Unfortunately, however, if you don’t know where to look— you might just miss the splendor! The best way to stay updated on Sierra Leone news, current affairs, businesses, nightlife and more is to follow the buzz! 
 
From social media blogs and vlogs, to webzines, print magazines, independent radio stations, newspapers and more— Sierra Leone’s media scene is growing rapidly and in all directions. Following these platforms, is the best way to find out about the newest private beach resort that dawns local culture, the latest pop-up event, and where to buy organic fruit while supporting a local farmer.
 
Below are some of the best ways to stay informed and connected — we are here to ensure that you don’t miss out any breaking news, developments, or opportunities — be it business or pleasure! 

Airport

Sierra Leone, perhaps, has the most unique airport location! Freetown International Airport (FNA) is actually located in a district called Lungi, which is about a 2 hour drive, or 30 minute speed-boat ride outside of Freetown! All passengers who land in FNA can take one of the speed boat options from Lungi to Freetown which will then grant you access to the rest of the country via road.
 
The commercial water taxi companies sell one-way tickets at a flat fee of around $40 USD to be paid exclusively in cash before boarding the vessel (a sizable, safe and secure speed boat). The fee can be paid in USD, GBP, EURO or SLL. There are foreign exchange kiosks at FNA wherein you can change money to use accordingly, although exchange rates may not be as favorable as in Freetown.
 
Once you land, go through customs, and collect your baggage – you must exit the airport and go to the respective water taxi company building. They are located just outside the airport, and easily visible as soon as one exits the airport. Once you buy a ticket for your journey, the company’s bus will drive you to the boat dock (around a 20 minute ride) where you will board a boat and sail for Freetown (around a 30 minute trip). When the boat docks in Freetown you will collect your baggage from the where you’ve docked, and will then have access to the rest of Sierra Leone.
 
Listed below are water taxi companies to help you cross, as well as other businesses and resources in the Lungi area! Bon voyage!

Transportation

Getting around Freetown and Sierra Leone as a whole is super easy! There are a wealth of transportation options available for every budget and sense of adventure  from private car rental services (equipped with personal drivers) to public transportation that includes mini-buses, shared taxis, motorized tricycles ("kekes"), and even motorbikes!
 
Below are options for moving your feet, in the Freetown streets! And in case you are short on time or energy, we've included some concierge and deliery services that can do the running around for you.

Lodging

Finding your home away from home can be tough. As much as we all want ‘the brand new feel’ whilst on vacation, we also want to feel safe, comfortable and happy with where we lay our head to rest at night! It’s a good thing then, that Freetown is not only one of the safest national capital cities in the world, it’s also home to a growing hotel market where hospitality gurus, top chefs, and budding entertainment strategists are constantly pushing the boundaries.
 
Below are our favourite Freetownian accomodations for every wallet!

Local Attractions

Freetown may be small in size and population – but there’s never a dull moment here, and you will definitely never run out of things to do! As a coastal and trade port city, with one of the world’s most gorgeous topographies – it’s local attractions include breathtaking views at the highest elevations, pristine waterfalls, a natural chimpanzee reserve, numeros islands waiting to be explored, and museums commemorating the rich and diverse history of the city.
 
Below are some of Freetwon’s must-see local attractions.

Activities

There's always something to do in Freetown! Whether you're looking for some calming nature to remind you what this whole life thing is about, a family friendly outing, a romantic evening with your partner, or an adrenaline rush, we’ve got you covered!
 
Check out our exclusive list of Freetown’s most exciting activities! You heard it here!

Beaches

If you’ve ever heard the word Sierra Leone in a sentence, you probably heard the word beaches in that same sentence too. Yes, Sierra Leone is synonymous with world class beaches! Along the West African coast, and on the continent as a whole, our beaches offer the rarest and most exclusive quality to the world’s top sands – privacy! 
 
All of our pearl white sands and clear blue seas also come surrounded by fresh green mountains, valleys and forests – giving you the wonderland escape feel that you really can’t get anywhere else. Are you ready for paradise?
 
Check out our exclusively handpicked list of favorite beaches just for you.

Beach Resorts

Hey! Looking for a weekend getaway with bae? With the family? With the crew? Or, solo? We’ve got you covered!
 
When the hustle and bustle of Freetown feels a bit overwhelming, here are the best beach resorts the outskirts of Freetown has to offer!

Food & Beverage

Freetown is only for the foodie! If you don’t want to keep it sultry, salty, sweet and spicy – Sierra Leone is not for you. Your dining options range from fruit stands serving fresh produce, to vendors selling affordable street food, to fine dining restaurants that rival some of the best in your home city. If you’re looking to explore some of the best cuisines the world has to offer, we’ve got you covered!
 
Here are some of our favorite food options for local and international cuisine across the city! We've also included some adult beverage options if you're looking to unwind. And there are delivery options for food and drinks in case you're not keen on heading outside.

Nightlife

Freetown never sleeps! And even long after you’ve left the party, Freetown will still be partying! The city’s growing nightlife can be attributed to the explosive music and entertainment scene in West Africa – so if you love afrobeats, dancing, drinking and – Freetown is the groove for you. Our city comes complete with clubs on the waterfront, shisha pipes with bottle service, and post-dancing street food to soak up all the inebriation!
 
Here are must-do or die clubs, along with with some nightlife resources!

Music

Sierra Leone’s music scene is growing, with a number of local artists – mainly rappers and singers – recently finding international critical acclaim while on world tours. This means that their home never ceases to reap the benefits of the best live shows they can put on! Freetown offers a host of seasonal live music events and music festivals annually.
 
Below is a list of top artists for you to explore, and we've also included some of the most popular festivals and concerts. 

Art & Culture

Art scenes across the African continent are growing exponentially, profoundly influencing global trends and techniques, and Sierra Leone is a part of this movement. In recent years a number of creative collectives, exhibition seasons, festivals and isolated events have begun to grace the Freetownian cultural life with their interpretations of local economics, politics and social trajectories.
 
From all-female-photography collectives, to the local school of thought for fine arts known as The Barray – the city of Freetown now offers a unique creative journey to its visitors. Spoken word and live music movements are also on the comeup.
 
Below is a list of artists, programs, and festivals to check out!

Shopping

Knowledge is power! From where to score the best souvenirs, to what pharmacies to rely on for safe over-the-counter drugs, or where to stock up on beauty products, you need to know the right places with the right prices in Freetown!
 
That's why we’ve put together the following master lists for shopping in the city! You’re welcome.

Fashion

If there’s one thing Sierra Leoneans both prioritise and cherish – it’s style! Akin to our counterparts across the West African region, Sierra Leoneans love to ‘bluff’ (that’s Krio for dress well). Freetown is home to countless up-and-coming fashion designers, private tailors, textile/clothing material shops, and accessory stores for the creative ‘bluffer’ ready to take the trends by storm.
 
Below are some of our favorite places and providers to get some of our favorite fashion items!

Health, Beauty & Wellness

Are you a health and wellness aficionado? Serious about your workout and self care routine? Or maybe you want to look your best at all times during your trip.
 
Freetown has a plethora of health, beauty, and wellness resources to choose from.
 
Below is a list of some of our favorite spots to keep your hair looking right, your six pack hard, and your manicure fresh! We've also included some local made beauty products!

Volunteering

Have a strong need to add impact and value during your visit to Sierra Leone? The country has many worthy causes to lend your time, resources, and platform to. From after school programs, to women in stem – wherever your passions lie in giving back, we have you covered with all the information you need to get started!

Here are some organizations we think are doing some amazing work for their communities and the country at large.

Provinces

Feel like packing up your bags and escaping the hustle and bustle of city-life in Freetown? I understand! It can all be a bit too much sometimes. Luckily, Sierra Leone has 5 provinces with 16 districts of pure country-side peace and serenity!
 
The rural districts are also home to Sierra Leone’s richest historical tales – with their legacies, natural excursions and even some building remains just waiting to be explored by you… who else?!
 
Below are list of things to explore on your trip to the provinces.