Category: Explore

The Telegraph – Is Sierra Leone about to become African tourism’s next big thing?

 

Sue Watt, Travel Writer

2 September 2019 • 10:20am

With big ears, brown eyes and a nappy wrapped around him, little Caesar has no idea that he represents his homeland. His mother was killed when he was just eight weeks old (he is now aged seven months) and he has since been cared for by a woman called Mama P.

I watch as she holds the baby chimp in her arms, lulling him with soft “Oooh-ooh-ooh” noises. Tenderly, Caesar strokes her face, pulls down her paper mask and raises his hirsute fingers to her lips to be kissed. Caesar’s home is Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone, a country that has had a rough ride of late. The government recently announced that the chimpanzee is to be its national animal, representing the face of wildlife conservation and sustainable tourism for the future.

With a troubled past, this small West African country doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a tourist destination. Its decade-long civil war, fuelled by the diamond industry, ended in 2002 at the cost of 50,000 lives. In 2014, just as the country was recovering – thanks to remarkable reconciliation efforts and a rejuvenated mining industry – Ebola arrived, killing almost 4,000 people. Sierra Leone went into lockdown for two long and lonely years. Then, in 2017, a horrific mudslide struck the capital Freetown, causing around 1,000 deaths. But Sierra Leone, known locally as Sweet Salone, is shaking off the shackles of its grim past: now peaceful and Ebola-free, it deserves a new narrative.

The chimpanzee is to become the national animal, representing the face of wildlife conservation Credit: GETTY

“Sierra Leone has changed,” George Balassis tells me. He is the general manager of upmarket Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel where I am staying on Lumley Beach, Freetown’s buzzing nightlife strip. “It’s a country that believes in itself now, that’s growing stronger and more confident by the day.”

The country’s revived focus on tourism reflects that new self-belief. Visitor numbers are gradually increasing and new hotels including the Hilton are opening, Silversea cruises are sailing back, and pioneering holiday companies such as Rainbow Tours are returning.

Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, five hours east of Freetown, exemplifies the country’s potential. An idyllic destination for nature lovers, the uninhabited island on the river Moa measures just 4.6 sq miles yet is home to 135 species of birds, around 80 rare pygmy hippos and 11 primate species, one of the highest concentrations in the world, including chimps and Diana monkeys. We are welcomed with warm smiles by the people of Kambama, one of eight neighbouring communities supported by Tiwai.

That afternoon, we explore by kayak as hornbills whoosh past overhead and palm fronds rattle in the breeze. In the stillness, a guide suddenly calls out “Mah-le” in an excited whisper. “Pygmy hippo” our poler translates, rushing us towards the riverbank. Someone in the first kayak sees a backside scurrying into the forest but it’s vanished before we get there. It seems the monkeys have vanished too, save for shadowy figures cavorting in the canopy at dusk.

Kayaking on the Moa Credit: WILL WHITFORD

We stay at Tiwai’s only camp, sleeping on mattresses in dome tents on sheltered platforms. Damaged by storms in 2015, it looks tired but is clean and comfortable, has a solar-powered dining area, hot showers and flushing lavatories.

Next morning, on a dark, pre-dawn walk, guide Kenewa Korma interprets the noises of nature’s alarm clocks. A rolling cackle, like a cranky car revving up, is “black and white colobus saying good morning to each other”. The quiet gulps are red colobus; rapid grunts are sooty mangabeys. And that pungent smell that hits us now and then is simply “monkey aroma”.

As dawn approaches, the rainforest becomes visible – we are walking through bamboo as high as houses, mahoganies, palms and vines, and finally spot monkeys moving in the canopy to sounds like shrieking babies. “That’s the colobus sexing!” Kenewa explains with the noise ascending to a curdling crescendo as the monkey mating reaches its climax.

In dense rainforest, Tiwai’s monkeys can seem elusive despite their high concentration and you probably won’t see pygmy hippos mooching along the riverbank. But the island’s natural beauty, with honey-coloured beaches and towering trees, is truly special.

The Western Peninsula coastline is special too: jungle-clad mountains meet sandy shores in vivid tiers of green, gold and blue. A three-hour drive takes us to Tokeh, lying between Bureh Beach renowned for surfing and the palm-fringed River No 2 Beach, which evoked “the taste of paradise” in Eighties Bounty ads.

“The island’s natural beauty, with honey-coloured beaches and towering trees, is truly special” Credit: GETTY

Our luxury hotel, The Place, has 54 chic chalets, a swimming pool, and a glass-fronted bar and restaurant overlooking the ocean. We amble along the shore, watching children playing football while women balance baskets of bread on their heads and fishermen sail off in wooden dhows. We swim in the warm Atlantic waters, sip chilled wine on sunbeds and dine on fresh lobster, a world away from what most people imagine Sierra Leone to be.

Freetown, an hour away, brings us back to earth. Despite the poverty here – Sierra Leone is one of the world’s poorest countries – it’s a vibrant, frenetic and friendly city squashed between forested hills and the sea. Born of freedom in the late 18th century when slaves returned from England, its name evokes its heritage from slave-trade centre to sanctuary.

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Nowhere is the poignancy of the slave trade more evident than on Bunce Island, 40 minutes by motorboat from Freetown. Between 1668 and 1807, around 50,000 men, women and children were incarcerated in this once-imposing fort before leaving for America’s southern states. Neglected for centuries and smothered by vines and strangler figs, the eerie ruin is finally being restored. Our guide brings the past alive, showing us cannons on the ramparts still pointing out to sea, the graveyard with still-legible tombstones of slave masters, the cells where ordinary people, once sold, were branded with red-hot irons. We walk in silence, immersed in the island’s inhumane brutality and haunting melancholy.

Ruins on Bunce Island Credit: GETTY

In Freetown, we wander past slatted plantation houses on Pademba Road where freed settlers first lived and stand under the 500-year-old Cotton Tree, more than 100ft tall, where slaves prayed under its boughs. Today, fruit bats dangle surreally from branches, their squeals competing with the din of traffic and tuk tuks. We see the worn stone “slave steps” at King Jimmy Wharf, now a manic market selling everything from grains, vegetables and fruit to plastic pots and flip-flops. The city has mellow moments too: back in Lumley, we sip G&Ts at a beach bar listening to smooth reggae as the sun sets.

On our last day, we visit Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary spanning 100 acres of forest near Freetown. Sharing a deep bond with Freetown’s communities, the sanctuary teaches schoolchildren about conservation, offers scholarships and currently employs 40 local people. Founded in 1995, it has endured war and Ebola and today is home to 89 chimps (including that beautiful baby Caesar) orphaned through the illegal bushmeat trade or rescued from captivity.

“We rescued 10 babies last year,” manager Aram Kazandjian explains. “For each one rescued, it’s estimated poachers have killed up to 10 chimps. Sierra Leone has around 5,500 chimpanzees: if we don’t act, they’ll likely be extinct within 10 years.”

In rural areas where chimps are most threatened, Tacugama educates and works with more than 40 communities. It is planning a national ecolodge circuit taking in Loma for West Africa’s highest mountain, Mobondah for rare manatees and Jaibui Island, Tiwai’s neighbour, for those elusive pygmy hippos. And Tacugama Sanctuary itself has six rustic ecolodges with hiking trails, birding tours, jazz nights and yoga retreats. I wish I’d stayed the night here, waking up to chimps’ squeals and birdsong.

The primates live in huge fenced enclosures. As we walk around, one cheeky chimp throws stones at us, then sits by the pond acting all innocent. Nearby, Mortes and Perry groom each other quietly. “Mortes was the alpha male here but Perry has taken over. They’re still friends,” Aram says. “Chimps share 98.6 per cent of human DNA and they show emotions just like us – joy, happiness, I often see them kissing.”

As we leave, we pass Caesar again, still cuddling Mama P. With chimps symbolising the nation’s future, Tacugama has a starring role in the new Sierra Leone. Much like the sanctuary’s homeland and its people, together they have survived the toughest of times but their soul and indomitable spirit shine through.

“Sierra Leone is shaking off the shackles of its grim past. It deserves a new narrative.” Credit: GETTY

How to do it

Rainbow Tours (020 8131 8473; rainbowtours.co.uk) offers an eight-night trip to Sierra Leone with return international flights on Brussels Airlines from £2,795pp sharing. The price includes two nights in Freetown, two nights at Tacugama, two nights at Tiwai Island, one night at Banana Islands, and one night at Tokeh (all on a B&B basis except at Tiwali island, which is full board), plus all transfers and activities including a trip to Bunce Island.

 

Link to this article https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/africa/sierra-leone/articles/sierra-leone-tourism-safari-beaches/

 

Press Release – Jane Goodall’s visit to Sierra Leone

SIERRA LEONE HONORS DR. JANE GOODALL (DBE) DURING
THREE-DAY ANNIVERSARY TOUR SETTNG STAGE FOR TOURISM DEBUT

Major Announcement Expected Impacting Sierra Leone’s Conservation and Tourism Efforts

Click here for images

Freetown, Sierra Leone, February 21, 2019 – Sierra Leone will welcome Dr. Jane Goodall (DBE, anthropologist and UN Messenger of Peace), the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, during her three-day visit to the country, February 27 to March 1st where, 27 years ago, she was instrumental in the founding of the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. The three-day visit highlights the emerging conservation movement in Sierra Leone as well as the country’s
re-emergence on the world stage as a sustainable tourism destination.

Tacugama, Sierra Leone’s first and only sanctuary, plays a critical role in protecting the country’s rich biodiversity, two of Freetown’s main water catchments and the critically endangered chimpanzees. Since its establishment, the sanctuary has become internationally recognized, benefiting Sierra Leone’s people through jobs, wildlife protection, environmental education, ecotourism, research and health initiatives. Dr Goodall continues to provide inspiration to Tacugama by guiding and inspiring the Sanctuary’s future.

“We look forward to welcoming back Dr. Jane Goodall,” said Her Excellency Fatima Bio, the First Lady of Sierra Leone. “Her visit allows us to share Sierra Leone’s story with the world and to revitalize the international image of our country, which is critical for the development of sustainable tourism, conservation, and economic development. The beauty of our natural diversity, wildlife and culture is also a story that we want to share.”

Dr. Goodall’s visit comes at a time when wildlife tourism, conservation, and sustainability are taking top billing on the global tourism stage. Her stature as a world-leading-conservationist, provides an important global platform for Sierra Leone’s growth as a new tourism destination. The visit will showcase the country’s sustainable tourism offerings and increase awareness of the need for conservation of these critically endangered species. It will also highlight the clear link between conservation and sustainable tourism.
Dr. Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, commented regarding her upcoming visit, “I’m looking forward to my visit to Sierra Leone and proud of the impact the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary has had on saving the country’s remaining chimpanzees while providing needed jobs for local people. I am particularly excited to meet the children of Sierra Leone and share with them my Roots and Shoots program. They are our future hope.”

SIERRA LEONE HONORS DR. JANE GOODALL (DBD)…/2

The three-day program in Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone, is as follows:

• Wednesday, February 27th – Morning – Dr. Jane Goodall tours the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, press interview.

• Wednesday, February 27th – Evening – State Dinner hosted by Her Excellency Fatima Bio, the First Lady of Sierra Leone.

• Thursday, February 28th – 6:00 pm. – Dr. Jane Goodall Speaking Engagement hosted by Ministry of Tourism and attended by Her Excellency Fatima Bio, the First Lady of Sierra Leone – Bintumani Conference Hall.

• Friday, March 1st – Children’s March – 300 children will march from the Youyi Building to the Cotton Tree and then onwards to the British Council where Dr. Jane Goodall will address the children and talk about her Roots and Shoots program. Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyer will speak at this event.

Setting stage for tourism
Jane’s visit to Sierra Leone (a country known in Creole as Salone) comes at the perfect time as the destination prepares to reintroduce itself on the world tourism stage. Most people continue to associate Sierra Leone with its troubled past, so the goal now is to propel the destination into the future, showcasing the results of the its transformation into the next “must visit” location for both leisure and business travelers.
“We are excited to show our “only-in-Sierra Leone” offerings, many of which will surprise world travelers,” said Mrs. Memunatu Pratt, Minister of Tourism, Sierra Leone. “Sierra Leone offers world class beaches, stunning endemic wildlife, rich culture and historical sites, adventure travel, exquisite local cuisine, and a warm and welcoming people, that make our country one of Africa’s most promising new tourism destinations.”
Sierra Leone has one of the highest densities of chimpanzees in the wild anywhere in the world. Adventure travelers can also find little-seen wildlife such as the endangered Diana monkey in the forests of Tiwai Island on the Moa river, three types of colobus monkeys, rare birds and pygmy hippos.
Sierra Leone recently opened a new Tourist Information Office in the capital city of Freetown, near the historic Cotton Tree, the oldest cotton tree in Freetown or possibly in the world and synonymous with freedom of the earlier settlers. That and the launch of a new Tourism In-Flight Traveltainment Magazine and investment in infrastructure are seen as important steps forward for the sector.

SIERRA LEONE HONORS DR. JANE GOODALL (DBD)…/3
Sharing tourism assets
To begin to showcase all this incredible country has to offer to the world, Michaela Guzy, Executive Producer, Director, Writer, Influencer and On-Air Talent for OTPYM (Oh The People You Meet), and David DiGregorio, founder of CornerSun Destination Marketing, will be in Sierra Leone to cover the series of Jane Goodall events. Michaela will capture on film, the wildlife, beaches, people and natural offerings of this relatively undiscovered country. The film will be shown at a special screening in New York City in early spring, to set the stage for Sierra Leone’s tourism renewal in 2020.
“The Jane Goodall visit, and announcement provides us with an amazing first-hand opportunity to show the combination of a rich conservation history and unknown adventure experiences visitors can eventually enjoy,” said Guzy. “We are sierraously excited to share the secrets of Sierra Leone with the world, and who better to introduce Sierra Leone as a sustainable tourism destination than Jane Goodall?”
For more information, contact: The National Tourist Board of Sierra Leone info@sierraleonenationaltouristboard.gov.sl or info@ntb.gov.sl.

About Sierra Leone
With its palm-fringed beaches, breathtaking mountains, tropical rain forests and vibrant culture, Salone is one of West Africa’s most alluring destinations.
About Jane Goodall Institute
The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) is a global community conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring action to conserve the natural world. JGI improves the lives of people, animals and the environment. Founded in 1977 by Dr. Goodall, JGI makes a difference through community-centered conservation and the innovative use of science and technology. JGI works closely with local communities around the world, inspiring hope through the collective power of individual action. Through Roots & Shoots, JGI’s youth-led community action and learning program, young people in nearly 80 countries are acquiring the knowledge and skills to become compassionate conservation leaders in their own backyards.

 

About the Chimpanzees
Chimpanzees are flagship species for tropical forests and woodland areas and play a key role in maintaining the health and diversity of their ecosystems, and their decline and potential extinction may precipitate the decline of other culturally, economically and or ecologically important species.
Media Contact:
Elisa Fershtadt, Public Relations
CornerSun Destination Marketing LLC
Email: elisa@cornersun.com/Telephone: +1 917-88-6554
www.cornersun.com

Click here to download Press Release on Jane Goodall’s visit to Sierra Leone

WTM DAY ONE – UK tour operators and media gurus request to visit Sierra Leone on farm trip

World Travel Market amassed thousands of Exhibitors, Trade visitors, and a cohesive B2B networking. On the 5th of November, which happens to be the first day of the Trade fair, Sierra Leone commenced the trade fair with a well-organized Press Conference, which gathered quite a number of top travel writers, journalists, key Tour Operators and top officials of the Sierra Leone High Commission UK. This Conference was timely and needed to be held as Sierra Leone needs to position as a destination that is ready for business.

However, the Press Conference was hosted to ensure journalists and as well tour operators were given the first-hand information relating to accommodation, destination safety, airfares, water transportation, Tourism assets potentials and readiness of Government in partnering with the right investors to achieve these slated targets.

The Hon. Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs gave a resounding speech that pulled the Journalists and Tour Operators to request for a Familiarization Tours to Sierra Leone in few weeks ahead.

With a short but powerful presentation, from the new Tourism Rep Tim, he showcased Sierra Leone by just sliding high-resolution Tourism pictures, which captured the minds and hearts of these Tour Operators. Tim was able to introduce a new Tourism campaign slogan ” Sierraouisly surprising” Just after the Press Conference delegates processed to the booth for further meetings and networking. Finally, a new organization for AFRICA was launched at the Trade Fair called ATB African Tourism Board, where the Minister made a keynote address, on the timeliness and implored the team head, that this ATB must serve its purposes.

Stay connected for more updates
Kai B. Saquee

 

Exploration of the touristic potentials of Bonthe Sherbro Islands

Officials from the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, the National Tourist Board and the Monuments and Relics Commission in collaboration with Citizens for Sustainable Tourism have completed an assessment of the touristic potentials of Bonthe Sherbro Islands.

Led by the Director of Tourism in the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Mohamed Jalloh, the team visited the pristine Turtle Islands, Victoria and Mania Islands and the vast stretch of cheppo beaches.

The team notes the urgent need to develop the Islands with a view to harnessing the socio-economic gains for national development.

Sierra Leone’s Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Madam Memunatu Pratt is desperate to overall the entire tourism infrastructure in the country.

“The vast array of Islands are some of the best you can get anywhere in the world.” noted Paramount Chief Chernor Amidu Ashun Ngabay of Dema Chiefdom,  Bonthe District.

 

In love with Nyangai

By Mohamed Faray Kargbo

 

It is not often that one has the opportunity to go to distant places and meet new acquaintances. So whenever such circumstances present themselves, one must do everything humanly possible to grasp and hold it firmly.

I first met Nyangai on Saturday 6th October, 2018 when the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Monuments and Relics Commission and the National Tourist Board made a visit to Bonthe Sherbro Island to assess the touristic potentials of the district with a view to exploiting it for national advancement.

The two hour watercraft ride from Bonthe Island to the Turtle Islands meant nothing to me considering the beauty of this God-given nature. For once, I couldn’t convince myself that the likes of Nyangai existed in Sierra Leone.

 

The palm trees, foliage and shrub on this tiny island are systematically positioned such that one is forced to love her at first sight. The pristine, white and shiny beaches connived with the huts, local boats, freshwater and ocean to produce a compelling spectacle. One hasn’t got an option but to love Nyangai.

Nyangai like the rest of the islands that constitute the Turtle Islands is extremely beautiful.

It was not long enough that I realized that each of the turtle-shaped islands is unique in their own way. The twin islands of Nyangai and Nyankai marry on low tides only to divorce on high tides.

“Whoooosh……….Whooosh” The calming sounds of the waves and the friendliness of the few inhabitants compete to steal our attention. Coconut was served even before we could alight the boat. This was why I fell in love with Nyangai.

Arguably some of the most pristine beaches in the world, the turtle-shaped islands offer an unparalleled opportunity for human beings to interact with nature.

Strategically located in the South-western coastal areas of Sierra Leone, this group of islands lie unexplored.

Due to its gritty sand, cool salty water, gentle wind, soft scratch of waves overlooking the blue sky; I reluctantly left the Cheppu beach which stretches to neighbouring Liberia.

Although, frequently exploited by foreign tourists, the communities, mostly poor people, sit on treasures that could easily transform their socio-economic status.

From Hoong to Sei, Baki to Moti, the islands are sights-to-behold, beautiful, pristine, clean and breath-taking.

They offer an enviable opportunity for tarpon or game-fishing, bird watching and expedition.

 

Any tourist investor who explores the Bonthe Sherbro Islands is sure to show interest in that area. Once attractive tourist investment areas, the challenging period of Sierra Leone’s history led to the decline in touristic activities in those areas.

The Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs and the National Tourist Board must speedily continue the process already initiated. Bonthe Island can boom the economy of this country.

 

“For far too long Bonthe Sherbro Island has been neglected, under the new Direction we cannot allow that to continue.” concluded Memunatu Pratt, the country’s Tourism and Cultural Affairs Minister.

 

As I conclude this piece, one thing is clear, that my love for Nyangai remains intact.

 

Education and Outreach Unit

Monuments and Relics Commission

23 Pultney Street

Freetown

www.mrcsl.org

Email: info@mrcsl.org