It is no secret that Sierra Leone stole my heart. I went there to run a marathon and raise money for Street Child, and returned fully in love with the people and the country. If you are looking for an in-depth guide to Sierra Leone, I recommend reading “My Complete Guide to Sierra Leone“. However, if you are here because you have already decided to go but are looking for the top things to do when in Sierra Leone, look no further! These are my top 9 picks!

Top things to do in Sierra Leone

1. Enjoy Sierra Leone’s Primate Wildlife

Chimpanzee pulling a face

If you love animals, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary is well worth visiting. In fact, marathon aside, Tacugama was my trip highlight. Located just 25 minutes outside Freetown, Tacugama rescues and rehabilitates chimpanzees before releasing them into protected multi-acre forests where they can happily and safely live out the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, the chimps cannot be fully released back into the wild because locals still hunt them for meat. On your visit, you will learn how Tacugama is tackling this through its conservation and education programs.

When you visit, ask for Alfred, a young, ambitious conservationist incredibly passionate about the work that Tacugama does. He hopes to one day be able to go to university to study conservation so he can help further the research that Tacugama does.

Entry fee: 200,000 leones ~ £11.

How to get there: I recommend reaching out to Salone Hidden Gems, as they can arrange a driver to get you there.

Address: CQ8V+Q47, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Opening Times: Monday to Saturday 9 to 5pm. Closed on Sundays.

Other wildlife experiences to enjoy in Sierra Leone

Exploring Tiwai National Park in Sierra Leone by canoe

If you want to see more primates in Sierra Leone, then Tiwai Island is the perfect place to visit. Tiwai is home to the highest concentration of primates in the world, so there’s no better place for wild primate sightings than Sierra Leone. In just 12 kilometres squared, you can see up to 11 primate species, from Chimpanzees to Red Colobus monkeys.

2. Learn about the slave history

Picture depicting enslaved people at the hands of colonial masters

Although I did not enjoy history at school (too many dates and not enough stories), I am now fascinated by it, especially when the guide or exhibition can bring it alive. If you are interested in history, I recommend reaching out to Bassi from Salone Hidden Gems. He did an excellent job at explaining Sierra Leone’s history, from the transatlantic slave period to the more recent civil war.

The forte of Bunce Island may lie in ruins, but it remains one of the best places in Sierra Leone to learn about the slave trade
Photo from CNN © Matthew Oldfield.

If you are interested in learning more about the transatlantic slave trade, then Bunce Island is the best place to go since this was the launching pad for tens of thousands of enslaved Africans that sailed west between the 17th and 19th centuries. I also recommend you visit the Cotton Tree in the centre of Freetown, a symbol of freedom! Banana Islands were also another launching pad for vessels carrying enslaved people. Sierra Leone is definitely a history buffs playground, and  I will be covering all three of these spots on my upcoming Sierra Leone Tour.

If you are interested in learning more about Sierra Leone’s slave trade, I recommend you read my complete guide to Sierra Leone post.

3. Craziest Marathon in the world!

Bianca running with kids along as we tackled the Sierra Leone marathon

If I was only allowed to give you one thing to do in Sierra Leone, then joining Street Child would be my absolute top thing to do here! Even if you are not a runner, this is still something I highly recommend you do. Every year Street Child organises a large running event to help raise money for the amazing work they do in getting children off the street and into education across some of the most challenging countries in the world. Although known as the Street Child Marathon, they also offer a half marathon, 10k, and 5k route.

But it’s not the actual run I am recommending (unless, of course, you like running!). Instead, it is the week you get to spend with Street Child, learning about their work and meeting the beneficiaries of the money you raise. It was a life-changing experience shared with a bunch of incredible like-minded and warm-hearted individuals from all over the world.

Me at the finish line of the Sierra Leone Marathon

It is more than just a marathon

Throughout the week, you will spend time visiting both rural schools and urban areas. You will learn how Street Child supports parents in setting up businesses to create the necessary income to support their families so that education can become a reality for their children. I write about the experience in depth in my trip report. If you are looking for a way to give back to the community, then there really is no better way.

Amputee grandmother holding a cute baby

The Street Child Marathon is hands down the best thing you can do when visiting Sierra Leone, regardless of whether you are a runner! The trip is taking place between the 26th of April and the 1st of May 2023. You can either sign up directly with Street Child or join my team and me on a longer trip that covers the marathon and the other Sierra Leone highlights.

4. Learn how to cook Sierra Leone’s Staple Dishes

There is no better way to immerse yourself in a culture than through food, and what better way to achieve this than by learning to cook it before eating it? Sierra Leone cuisine is full of flavour (and a good amount of spice too!). Salone Hidden Gems is now offering cooking classes where you can learn to cook 3 of the most traditional meals in this area: Cassava Leaf Stew, Granat Soup, and Coconut Cake.

Cassava Leaf Stew is undoubtedly the most famous of the Sierra Leonean dishes. In fact, it is quite a staple across many Western African countries. It is made by grinding cassava leaves with a pestle and mortar, which are then cooked in palm oil with scotch bonnet chilies. Simple yet delicious. It is served over rice with either chicken or smoked fish.

My favourite is Granat Soup, made from ground peanuts, tomato paste, and a mix of spices to warm your stomach! It’s more of a curry than a soup and is served over rice with chicken.

Lastly, something to indulge a sweet tooth: coconut cake! Coconut cakes are small, biscuit-shaped bites made of fresh coconut, flour, and sugar – yummy!

5. Hike Mount Bintumani

A backpack and a pair of hiking boots on a muddy trail

It wouldn’t be a Bea Adventurous blog without some hiking in it! Mount Bintunami is the highest point in West Africa at 1,945 metres and is undoubtedly one of the top adventurous things you can do in Sierra Leone.

Locals refer to it as the King of Mountains, and although it doesn’t require any technical skills, it is a tough climb, especially as there is no infrastructure surrounding it. Even starting is challenging! You will need to negotiate with village elders to get permission to do the climb, and that alone can take more than a day! Have a read of Alissa’s experience. She travelled there independently and had quite the adventure! Personally, I’d feel much more comfortable booking through Salone Hidden Gems and letting them deal with that side of things.

The hike itself will take two days; however, you will need a day on either side to get to the start of the route, plus an extra day to factor in for “Africa time”. One thing is for sure, climbing Mount Bintunami will be one of the most memorable and adventurous activities to do in Sierra Leone, and it will no doubt provide dinner conversation for years! 

6. Explore Sierra Leone’s coastline

Sierra Leone’s best-kept secret is, without a doubt, its beaches. It would be a crime to visit Sierra Leone and not explore at least one of them. But if you have time, explore a number of them, as each has its own allure.

One of Sierra Leone's magical sunsets

In my opinion, Sierra Leone’s most scenic beach is John Obey. Located a little over an hour from Freetown, it boasts seemingly untouched sands with gorgeous mountainous backdrops making it the ideal spot for budding photographers.

Another glorious beach is River No 2, which lies at the mouth of the estuary. The shallow turquoise waters and sand banks created by the estuary not only make it one of the most picturesque beaches in Sierra Leone, but also one of the best for swimmers since the waves are small and it is devoid of rocks!   

Photos of River No 2 courtesy of @abackpackersjourney

If it’s a party atmosphere you are after though, then head down to Lumley Beach, which is located in Freetown. Unfortunately, this beach has a lot of rubbish which makes it unsightly; however, there is always a great atmosphere. There are many shacks serving food and drinks, and it is the perfect place for people-watching since it is where the locals come to unwind. If you are lucky, you might even get the chance to join the locals in a game of football!

Without question, exploring Sierra Leone’s coastline is one of the top things you can do when visiting this beautiful country!

7. Meet the locals

Personally, meeting locals anywhere in the world is always the highlight of every one of my trips. I’m curious and love gaining a deeper understanding of whatever culture I am visiting. This is as true in the US as it is in off-the-beaten-path destinations like Sierra Leone. And the great thing about Sierra Leone is that the locals are super interested in tourists and want to engage. They enjoy asking questions as much as they love sharing their life and experiences. But be prepared. Many have very sad stories! Plenty of them also have super inspiring tales too though. You will get no better insight into daily life than by interacting with locals, so plaster a big smile on your face and enjoy their company!  

8. Buy lots of souvenirs

There is no better way to give back than to encourage commerce. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest country in the world but also the country to receive the most aid. The problem with aid is that it can create a dependency on handouts which often translates to a lack of commerce. That is why I am so passionate about Street Child’s work. They provide families with the means to make the money they need to be able to send their kids to school. That shift in mentality is vital for long-term prosperity, and tourism can help drive this entrepreneurial spirit. How you spend your money matters and buying souvenirs is a great way to give back to the community. Not only are you helping them, but you will have wonderful mementos to remember your trip!

8. Get off the grid in Turtle Island

Turtle Islands, Sierra Leone's best kept secret
Dalton Guesthouse offers excursions to Turtle Islands

If you are looking for a completely off-the-beaten-path experience, then a visit to Turtle Islands has to be one of the top things you can do for complete isolation!

Close your eyes and try to picture a desert island – the gentle sound of waves lapping onto the white sand beach. Coconut trees lining the shore and colourful birds filling the warm air with song. Pure bliss! This is what the Turtle Islands in Sierra Leone look like. Turtle Islands is made up of 8 smaller islands and is known for being one of the most remote island groups left in the world. It is also home to a genuinely unwesternised tribe!

Just getting to Turtle Island is a challenge in itself

There is no public transport, and fishing boats don’t have the proper safety precautions to make such long-distance overseas journeys. Book carefully! A properly equipped boat will get you there in 3 hours. An inadequate one… who knows!

Turtle Islands are known to be the best place to be off the grid and away from all things digital. There is no better place than the Turtle Islands if you need an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life! If you are making the trip, I’d recommend you stay at least 2-3 days to get a good feel for the islands and experience what true paradise is like.

Fishing boat

There are a few un-westernised autonomous communities on the Turtle Islands. Spending time with them is an eye-opening experience and one you will cherish for the rest of your life. You’ll be able to see the local fishermen gathering food, and if you are lucky, they might even invite you to join them. There are no luxuries here, only life-affirming experiences! I recommend visiting with a guide as not all the tribes are as welcoming as others, so being with someone in the know is so important.

Are you feeling inspired to visit Sierra Leone?

Then why not join our upcoming tour? We will be covering Sierra Leone’s highlights over a two-week period. Spaces are limited to 5 guests, so if you are interested, register your interest today! You can see the full itinerary here.

If the tour dates don’t work for you, then please don’t hesitate to reach out. I would love to help you plan your own trip, and I am always happy to answer any questions you might have. Please check out my Complete Sierra Leone Guide for more information on Sierra Leone.

As always, I would love to hear from you, so please don’t hesitate to reach out at bea@bea-adventurous.com or follow along on Instagram @bea_adventurous_

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4 Comments

  1. I’ve loved reading and seeing your adventure to this amazing country! I hope to go myself one day! Amazing work on the marathon! inspiring!

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