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Although many of forests and much of wildlife has been disturbed and in some cases, destroyed, by war, eco-tourism is an important focus of Sierra Leoneans and natural treasures like Outamba-Kilimi National Park, populated by game animals such as elephants, chimpanzees and pigmy hippos, and Mount Bintimani, highest point in West Africa, are just two of worthwhile wildlife attractions on offer. Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary rescues orphaned and captured chimps and has been described as one of most successful Sierra Leonean wildlife endeavours, whilst Tiwai Island is home to over 3000 chimps as well as other game.
Lakes, rivers and dams are perfect for picnics and relaxing. The marshlands hide a myriad of colourful birds - indeed, bird life has been less affected by war than animals, and everywhere you go, air is filled with birdsong. Sierra Leone is a bird-watchers dream! Tiwai Island for one boasts over 135 different bird species!
For culture vultures and those with historical interests, remnants of slave trade make interesting and though-provoking expeditions. Bunce Island, a slave trading fortress, is a brief boat trip up river; Freetown is itself a monument to freed slaves and its Cotton Tree, which stands in heart of what is thought to be an old slave market, is now an impressive national symbol. Graves, monuments and forts are all that remain of British and Portuguese power in Sierra Leone: each has a tale to tell. There are over 16 different ethnic groups in country, including Krio, descendents of freed slaves who speak an English-based Creole called Krio, and visiting villages and chatting to people in markets and in streets is rewarding for all parties!
Freetown is probably most developed of cities, offering a level of safety that is difficult to match even in Western countries. Hotels, restaurants and nightspots are sprouting like mushrooms, and eating out in Sierra Leone promises a range of traditional and international treats, and seafood that is beyond belief!
One has to wonder what attraction will tip scales in making Sierra Leone popular destination that it once was before civil war. Based on my experiences with Sierra Leoneans in recent weeks, I feel that it will be people who make difference. Without exception, every Sierra Leonean that I have met or worked with has been proud of their country, proud of its progress and excited about future. They are unfailingly welcoming, greeting aid-workers and travellers alike with smiles that you can only find in Africa, with an optimism - no, positivity - that other countries would do well to emulate.
For travellers in search of a "diamond in rough", Sierra Leone offers a holiday like no other - my only advice to you is to visit sooner rather than later, to avoid what is sure to be a stampede once holiday-makers and tour operators latch on to this gem of a destination.
Suzanne Whitby is the founder of Naturally Africa Dot Org (http://naturallyafrica.org/) which provides travel, tourism, business and event information about countries in Africa. To date, South Africa, Sierra Leone and Madagascar are live on the site.