Pels Fishing Owl
We have received a December 2005 trip report and travelled to Sierra Leone on the ABC supported Rockjumper tour of December 2009 and the information in these pages is based on the experiences of those trips.
This downloadable trip report was written by Robert Langhendries and Benoît Forget following an independently organised birdwatching trip to Sierra Leone in January 2010. "We hope the first of its kind of independent bird trip to this - magnificent and safe (!) - country of Sierra Leone will motivate others to do so!
General: we would not advise independent travel to Sierra Leone and you should use the facilities of a tour operator or a ground agent with local knowledge of the country. The national language is English although tribal languages and 'pidgin' English are spoken. The road system is not sign-posted and its quality is variable although some of the main highways have metalled roads. As such, you would be advised to hire a car with a driver. There are no internal flights or railway routes as far as we are aware.
Flights: there are regular flights from London to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone as well as from some other European countries. There are also flights from other west African countries such as Ghana and links to Kenya and on to South Africa. Our experience is that there is a high possibility of delays with the African flights and you should allow plenty of time to travel to and from Sierra Leone. The airport is situated at Lungi which is on the other side of a very wide estuary from Freetown. The best ways to get between Freetown and the airport are to use the regular helicopter or boat services. Travel by road requires a long journey around the estuary on poor quality roads. There is no bridge across the estuary.
Visas: visas are expensive and necessary for nearly all visitors and best obtained in advance through your local embassy. Our advice is to check with your local embassy and / or its website and get your visa early as it can be a complicated process which may require letters of introduction from contacts in Sierra Leone as well as a firm travel itinerary.
Vaccinations: your local doctor should obviously be consulted about health matters and the range of inoculations which is advised. A Yellow Fever certificate is essential as proof of vaccination at the time of writing and this may be checked thoroughly on arrival and before the immigration desk is reached.
Driving: you would be well advised to use a local person to drive his own or a hired vehicle. There are good metalled roads between Freetown and other major towns such as Kenema. The roads in and around Freetown and the Western Peninsula are of a very poor standard and travel times are long for relatively short distances. In addition, traffic volumes are high near the central areas of Freetown. Roads can also be rough outside of other main towns although this is not always the case. There are some good and reasonably fast unmetalled roads in the Bumbuna area for example. Please note that our experience is based on travel in the dry season.
Currency: the local unit of currency is the Leone and at the time of writing the exchange rate was about 3,600 to the US Dollar. Euros and Pounds can also be exchanged and you will need local currency in many places. You can change money at the airport but the exchange rate is thought to be low so it might pay to ask your local contact to find you a foreign exchange dealer in Freetown. There are no ATMs in Sierra Leone as far as we know.
Timing: based on our experience, December is a good time to visit Sierra Leone for birding and travel. This is after the end of the wet season. Even in December, the humidity in the forests is very high and days can overcast and hot. .
Travel Guide: the Bradt Travel Guide to Sierra Leone by Katrina Manson and James Knight contains considerable detailed information on the above and many other topics. This is published by Bradt Travel Guides Ltd, UK and The Globe Pequot Press Inc, USA.
See UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the latest safety and travel information.
Other safety and health issues are no different from those in many African countries. Guidebooks, travel companies and websites provide much of the advice one needs, but key points warrant repetition here: (1) be aware of the risk of malaria and seek current advice, sleep in a sealed tent or under a net and take prophylaxis as recommended; (2) always ensure you have sufficient water and some method of purification (even if this comprises a pot and a campfire for boiling); (3) do not underestimate the danger of being in the sun for too long, ensure you use sun-block, drink plenty of water and wear a hat; (4) be aware of the risk of AIDS; (5) ensure that you take a reasonably-equipped first-aid pack with you including supplies of hypodermic and suturing needles.