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DESTINATIONS SIERRA LEONE | AFRICA


s travelweekly.co.uk


ierra Leone? Isn’t there a war?” “What about Ebola?” “Oh, Blood Diamond country!” As ‘bon voyage’ messages go, they’re


different, I’ll give them that. But the war ended 17 years ago, and Sierra Leone was declared free of Ebola in 2016. It’s had a troubled past and remains one of the world’s poorest nations, but a forward-looking approach from a new government, a revitalised tourism ministry and private sector investment are putting this West African destination back on the map. As the new slogan goes, it’s ‘Sierraously surprising’.


GOLD COAST


Sipping a cold Star beer on Tokeh beach, it’s easy to think five-star resort tourism is the golden goose — after all, Sierra Leone has long been known for its coastline. Snaking down the west coast from the Freetown peninsula, the swathes of soft sand at Tokeh and River Number Two, crescent bays of Mama


Beach and relatively undeveloped island coves such as Banana Island are undoubtedly impressive. But beaches are just one aspect. “Before I visited, I didn’t know anyone else who’d been,” says Helen Kennedy of Rainbow Tours. “Many places have nice beaches and forests, but Sierra Leone’s history makes it unique. The mix of people and slave trade story means visitors come to research their family tree, especially from Georgia and the Carolinas in the US.” A British colony from 1808 to 1961, Sierra Leone was a hub of the transatlantic slave trade from the 16th century. Nowhere embodies this better than Bunce Island, built by a British slave-trading company, and a short boat ride from Freetown. A restoration project is under way to preserve the structures that saw some 50,000 slaves depart for the US and the Caribbean. It’s a haunting place, and one that, if carefully developed, could be a world-class sight.


 6 JUNE 2019 57


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