I moved to Sierra Leone (or Salone as the locals fondly call it)—a small tropical paradise squeezed between Guinea and Liberia—in West Africa in October 2018, having heard mostly about the country from anecdotal pieces of information from family members who served in the UN peacekeeping troops during the civil war. I did not have many expectations when moving here. I had heard from a few people that it is a beautiful country and the people are kind, and I figured that you can't really go wrong with that. So, I set off with a backpack and suitcases in hand to move for the 14th time to the 10th country I would live in. Little did I know I would fall so in love with Mama Salone.
Here are eight reasons you should venture to this West African tropical paradise:
1. Beaches: This is the number one reason anyone should come to Sierra Leone. The country is studded with beautiful white sand beaches and blue waters. The water is the perfect temperature—neither too hot, nor too cold. It's just right. The closest beautiful beach is a 30 to 45-minute drive from the capital city, so I end up spending almost every weekend lazing on the beach. I know—I would be jealous of me too!
Pro Tip: My favourite beautiful beaches are River Number 2 and Bureh.
2. People: Home to over 16 tribes that make up a population of over seven million, Sierra Leonians are some of the nicest people I have come across—even by West African standards. People have been warm, caring, friendly and kind; they are extremely welcoming to foreigners. Learn a few words in the Krio—a local language—and you are golden!
3. Landscape: God did this country justice when it comes to nature. It's rare to drive through and not admire its beauty. The beaches mentioned above are complemented by a dramatic landscape with cascading hills and lazy palm trees that take your breath away. People have asked me for years whether I prefer mountains or the ocean, and frankly I got so tired of choosing that I ended up moving to a country that has both! If you are keen to go hiking, Freetown has a nice hiking group which does hikes in the nearby Leicester Peak. But if you are an adventurous soul, I would head north east to climb Mount Bintumani, the highest peak in Sierra Leone, and the Loma Mountains (1,945 metres high). I have to admit, I have not yet attempted to climb it, but maybe will give it a go before I leave?
4. Seafood: As most Bengalis will agree, food plays a huge part in our travel plans. No wonder we stick to the same old Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia—the food keeps calling us back! Sierra Leone has abundant, fresh and delicious seafood, so much so, that it has made me start eating fish after having given it up years back. The fish you find here is freshly caught, free from chemicals or hormones and absolutely delicious. I don't think there is any going back now that I have eaten fish straight from the Atlantic Ocean!
5. Ankara Fabric: All of West Africa is renowned for a kind of fabric called the 'Ankara'. Colloquially called 'Lapa' here, these brightly coloured fabrics are hard to miss and easy to fall in love with. Since moving to West Africa (Nigeria and Sierra Leone both), I have had far more clothes made than I would like to admit. As a person who frequently goes months or even years without thinking of buying clothes, I think I let myself go crazy and bought one too many of these fabrics. But I think the best part about getting these clothes made here is the impeccable tailoring. The tailors in Freetown would put your favourite dorji out of business in Dhaka—and save you money in the process.
6. Visa access: Pretty much anyone can apply for an E-Visa for tourism through a website called https://visitsierraleone.org/online-visa/.
Bonus: It's actually cheaper for Bangladeshis to get a visa compared to those in most other countries.
7. History: Did you know that the city Freetown gets its name because it was a town where "freed' slaves were brought back by the British to be 'repatriated'? These were former slaves who were Afro Caribbeans, African Americans and African Europeans who were sent back to Freetown once they were 'freed'. However, by that point many of them had lived for generations in the countries they were trafficked to and moved from. Tours of Freetown show you the houses built by those who were brought back and share information on the transatlantic slave trade and its effect on the people of West Africa.
8. Arts and crafts: Like many other West African countries, Sierra Leone boasts beautiful handmade crafts. The big market in town sells everything from fresh shea butter to handicrafts made from wood, coconut shell bags and hand painted batiks. Sierra Leone has beautiful crafts that are not only handmade but locally sourced, sometimes directly from the artists who make them. The markets in town will allow you to choose from beautiful handmade jewellery made from Ankara fabric to beadwork to paintings—you take your pick from the array of colourful arts and crafts.
Sierra Leone has become a home for me in the past eight months that I have been here. It's one of the few places in the world where I have felt rooted enough to not want to sprint in less than a year, which, in my opinion, says a lot about the soul of the place. I think the combination of its beauty, rich culture, history, art and its welcoming people has made my time in Salone all the more precious.
Maliha Fairooz is a 28-year-old Bangladeshi solo traveler, who has travelled to 84 countries, on a Bangladeshi passport. Through her blog www.maliharoundtheworld.com she shares her experience of travelling as a brown, Muslim, Bangladeshi woman while simultaneously encouraging a culture of travel amongst Bangladeshi youth.