Sierra Leone UPDATE
Replies: 7 - Last Post: Dec 18, 2012 4:28 AM Last Post By: vedicaudio
Jun 6, 2012 12:59 PM
Sierra Leone UPDATEHi, I just got back from one month of travelling in Sierra Leone. Before going I found it a bit hard to get updated information on the country so here are a few tips that could be beneficial to people going there.
If you do not want to read all of this, I think the most important point is that there is a new 'Security fee' at Lungi airport, which applies to everyone. It is $45 and you will have to pay, no exceptions: you can pay in dollars or Leones. There are NO ATMs in Lungi that worked when I was there, so bring cash from Freetown (which also seem to be the only place in the country where the ATMs work). Other places you will have to exchange USD.
Lungi airport is a nightmare and it seems it just keeps getting more and more incomprehensible. When you arrive there will be a lot of people who are pretending to sell tickets to the ferry. They will probably charge $45 and expect tips as well. The price is $40 from Lungi to Freetown. I took the Sea Coach Express which does not allow you to bring your bags on board, but your bags will be in a separate boat, meaning that you bags WILL be checked for any valuables and don't expect to see it again if your bag is not locked! Best tip is to make sure your bags are locked as there might not be another ferry anytime soon.
Also, at the airport the staff might tell you that you have to pay $10 (per bag) in order to receive your luggage. I am not sure whether this is official or not, however if you do not give them the exact amount they will keep the change and if you complain they will basically laugh in your face (well, they don't really laugh but just ignore you and explain to you that those are the rules, yeah right..)..
Once you arrive in Freetown you will need a taxi going to wherever you are staying
A lot of people are recommending 'The Place Guesthouse' simply because it is the cheapest place in town. It is around 60.000 Leones a night and if you ask why the sign says the price is only 50.000 the staff will get upset and tell you to leave. The staff is very rude and my friend got his laptop stolen from his room.
1 minute down the street (Rawdon Street) You will find Hedjazi Guesthouse as well as the Sierra International Hotel just across the street. Both of them are quite good but Hedjazi is cheaper and definitely better and the staff is really nice. Double room is 160.000 Leones a night and single room is 110.000. This includes fan, nice shower, TV and air-condition. Also, as it is just across the street from the Sierra International, you will have a decent place to eat when everything else in the area closes after 5 PM.
If you decide to stay downtown in Freetown expect noise all night long! It is actually less noisy during the day. So make sure you ask for one of the quiet rooms facing the street parallel to Rawdon!
Downtown there used to be a famous bookstore called 'Diaspora Bookstore' where they would offer wifi and good food, this no longer exists! Now, there are no good bookstores that I know of, at least... However there are plenty of good restaurants in Freetown
If you want some good food I would recommend two places: One is the Crown Bakery which is an expensive expat favourite and mostly only white people hanging out there. THey have good pizzas and their coffee is made from bottled water, so no Delhi Belly from this place!
Second place is the Downtown Restaurant. Do not let the Bradt travel guide fool you, this is an excellent place. They offer mainly Lebanese dishes and the prices are fair. They serve a great lebanese breakfast and the staff are friendly.
Chances are that you will be offered diamonds while you are in Sierra Leone. If this was not the purpose of your journey stay away. It is a dirty industry and you have to know exactly what you are in for. A lot of people offer cheap diamonds to tourists. Most of the time they will be fake or most likely they will simply just take your money and run (they are know locally as 419ers).
If you are heading up to Makeni, try to get a ride with a local NGO or other people you would trust.
In Makeni it can SOMETIMES be hard to find a place to live. MJ Hotel is recommendable and the food is OK. If you want some good food The CLub House is recommendable though expensive and mostly for expats. However, take a look around. There are a bunch of restaurants and many of them are quite good
Try Flamingo's nightclub for some loud music. It is a great, rundown place for some Heineken or Star beer.
Meme's serve the cheapest beers in town and is the hottest in-place right now, very popular!
In Makeni there are for some reason a lot of Spanish mine workers with underaged prostitutes. This is really disturbing, however it also means that at nightclubs some prostitutes will simply expect that you are the same kind of guy. Don't be!
Local busses are like anywhere else I have travelled in Africa: dangerous and extremely uncomfortable. There are many NGO workers and (especially American) aid-tourists who happily will give you a ride down to Freetown.
When you find yourself leaving Freetown and you are heading up to Lungi here are some tips:
If you are staying in downtown Freetown go down to the terminal, which is a 5 minute walk from the bottom of Rawdon Street and check when the water-taxis and/or ferry is leaving. There will be days where all transport to Lungi will be suspended. If you have to stay 2 nights in Lungi in order to catch your flight you may sleep ONE night at the Lungi Airport Hotel (600.000 Leones!!!!!!!!) and check out at 12 o clock the day after and head directly to the bar and restaurant. My flight was at 4 the morning after, but I did not want to pay for two nights, so I just watched soccer and drank some beers for 12 hours in the Hotel Bar, and went to the airport around midnight. I simply just waited there instead of having to pay for another night.
If you are lucky enough to have a flight at 4 am but arrive at Lungi around 7 pm the night before, sImply go to the hotel order some food (expensive but alright) and go to the bar afterwards. Voila, you get to hang out in a bar without paying for the hotel room. If you want a taxi to pick you up the price is $5. The airport is less than 10 minutes walk from the hotel though. There are 2 other hotels owned by the same guy who owns Lungi Airport Hotel, and the rates are basically the same. You can find local guesthouses as well, but unfortunately I do not have any information on these. They should be a s low as 50.000 a night from what I have heard.
If you have bought the Bradt travel guide to Sierra Leone I hope it hasn't been too expensive. It is terribly outdated, but the maps are good!
Sierra Leone is BEAUTIFUL and people are generally really really nice. I have only posted some things here that, even though it sounds like a negative experience, simply are minor things I would have loved to have known before going. Sierra Leone is nice and people are very welcoming and it is definitely easier to travel here than in many other African countries. The beaches are beautiful and if you head up to Aberdeen there will be guesthouses and restaurants all over the place. Check it out!
Jun 6, 2012 1:05 PM
Jun 6, 2012 3:01 PM
Jun 7, 2012 5:17 AM
Jun 19, 2012 7:33 AM
Jul 6, 2012 11:47 AM
5Just want to respond to a couple points about Lungi airport. It is very unfortunate to see that people are having negative experiences there, and are calling it a nightmare! I've always thought the airport to be very relaxed by West African standards, due to it being inaccessible from the capital. There are way less touts and con artists than you would find at Dakar or Lagos airports, for example.
Having said that, I guess knowledge is power, if you know what you need to do and where to go, then it won't be possible for some idiot to take advantage of you.
So, first of all, the security fee is $24. As of June 1, this was clearly posted at all the entrances. Not sure how someone got away with charging you $45, I guess it was just outright corruption. It is totally lamentable that we outsourced our own security to a British firm who then came in to charge this fee in cash. Any idiot knows that people hate cash taxes payable at the airport. And yes, there are now two ATM machines at the airport, which accept VISA cards, but they are frequently empty or otherwise out of service, so don't count on being able to use them. The $24 is in addition to a $65 departure tax which is now almost always included in your ticket (BMI, Brussels, Air Maroc, Kenya, Arik all include it, the only one I'm not sure about is ASKY)
Obviously the $10 fee to receive your bag is completely bogus.
If you need a place to stay in Lungi to avoid some of the airport transfer stress, there are several decent guesthouses in Tintafor. Cool Guest House and Westeen Guest House are on Tejan Lane, and won't run more than Le 50,000 per night, and they are pretty close to the main road going to the airport, so you should be able to get a taxi to take you at any hour of the night for 25,000 or less.
I don't think the Bradt guide is terribly out of date. Phone numbers might have gone bad, but that's the nature of the beast. I think the general advice and descriptions of places and what you can do is still excellent. The prices might be higher because the Leone has gone from 3000/$1 to 4300/$1 since the guide was published.
I wouldn't recommend taking any of the water taxis unless you like the idea of going straight to Aberdeen. Save your $40 and keep your bags in your possession! If your flight comes in late, stay the night in Tintafor at the aforementioned guest houses, get some sleep, and then use the ferry in the morning. It's better to have your wits sharp when going to Freetown (AKA pickpocket heaven). At 11 am there are ferries to Kissy (east) and Gov't Wharf (central) every day except Saturday (on Sat, Kissy only). A private taxi to the ferry terminal shouldn't be more than 20,000 and one seat is 3000. Luggage could be another 3000 if you've got a big heavy bag.
Dec 10, 2012 3:44 AM
6Hi Vedicaudio, thanks for your well-balanced and useful advice. If you don't mind my asking for more advice - my flight arrives very early (5h30am), so would you still recommend not taking the water taxi and staying over in Tintafor? Or shall I just head straight into Freetown & to my guesthouse? I presume it will be daylight by the time I retrieve my bags etc etc.
And, if I have understood correctly, it should be $40 (water taxi) $1 (tip for someone to help get ticket) and $24 (security fee)? NB $1 optional and $65 departure tax is included in the air ticket already?
This all sounds complicated for a first visit!
Thank you, much appreciated.
Dec 18, 2012 4:28 AM
7Before I specifically address your question, let me say that unfortunately, the Government Wharf ferry has become somewhat erratic. Their priority is ostensibly to serve the major flights, but the lack of a consistent schedule has probably turned off potential customers. Most days there is still an 11 am and 9 pm ferry from Tagrin to Government Wharf, but don't count on it.
The other ferries, which also leave from Tagrin, and go instead to Kissy terminal on the east end of Freetown, are very reliable, leaving from both terminals simultaneously and crossing paths halfway every day at 8 am, 11 am, 2 pm, 5:30 pm, and 9 pm.
So, if you are coming in at 5:30 am, and have no reason to stay in Lungi, I would pick your transport based on where it is you want to go. If you want to head directly to the best beaches on the southern half of the Freetown Peninsula, or anywhere upcountry (Makeni, Kabala, Kambia, Bo, Kenema), you'll probably want to take the 8 am ferry, since it goes to the east end. From there you can get out of Freetown easily, without hitting too much traffic. By the time, you get your bags, and pass through customs, it will probably be 6:15, you can hang out for a half-hour at the airport, leisurely change some money, walk 100 meters to the airport entrance gate, and get a cheap taxi to the ferry terminal (each seat costs Le 3,000)
If you want to head to the west end of Freetown, like Aberdeen or Lumley, the Pelican boat is probably your best bet, because it goes directly to Aberdeen. I think it still costs about $40. Traffic from Kissy to Aberdeen at 9 am will be gridlock, so it will be $40 well spent.
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