Beach Huts at Number 2
Sustainable Sierra Leone
Blood diamonds, child soldiers and amputees usually spring to mind when you mention Sierra Leone but anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting the small West African country will tell you differently. To me, Sierra Leone is synonymous with beautiful beaches, forested mountains and friendly people.
One of the many untouched beaches was the tropical paradise setting for a Bounty chocolate bar advertisement and River Number 2 beach continues to look just as perfect today. There, while you relax on the yellow sand, locals meander along the beach to sell you coconuts from baskets on their heads.
More than ten years after the civil war ended Sierra Leone is ripe for tourism development. The question is what kind?Bimbola Carrol Managing Director of tour operator Visit Sierra Leone said: “We don’t want mass market tourism. It doesn’t translate into high income and could damage the tourism assets.” The challenge is ensuring that any development does not destroy precisely what tourists come to visit.
Tribe Wanted bills itself as Sierra Leone’s first eco-village. It is a sustainable tourism resort on a beach intriguingly called John Obey. The idea is to give visitors a taste of life in Salone, as the locals call it. Holiday-makers can spend time swinging in hammocks or splashing in the sea but they can also get involved in community development projects in the local fishing village.
Having previously set up a similar operation in Fiji, co-founder Ben Keene said: “I was interested in going to a different country which needed tourism. If you want to go somewhere new and exciting in Africa, Sierra Leone is it.” He and his team have built the resort sustainably and visitors can choose to stay in tents, wooden huts or the surprisingly beautiful Gaudi-esque domes crafted from sandbags held together with barbed wire, then plastered. There are compost loos, bucket showers and all power is solar.
Filippo Bozotti, the other co-founder, wants the sustainable ethos of the place to be something that stays with visitors. He said: “The goal is for people to take this back with them. We use five percent of the water an average person in the US uses and five percent of the electricity, yet we live comfortably.”
Another example of ecotourism in Sierra Leone is at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in the cooler, forested hills just outside Freetown. The sanctuary’s focus is to provide a home for rescued chimpanzees found orphaned or kept as pets. The four beautiful lodges in the forest were set up as a way to generate a reliable income for the sanctuary.
Staying in a tree house in a chimpanzee sanctuary is definitely one of the most unique and romantic experiences. The tiny wooden tree house is in a secluded location down a winding path and has spectacular views from the balcony over the tree canopy. In the morning you are woken by the hooting of chimps and the chattering of birds.
Ecotourism is an excellent development model for Sierra Leone. It is vitally important that whilst tourism must be environmentally sustainable it should also be socially sustainable and the income generated must reach people who really need it. Sierra Leone is perilously near the bottom of the human development index and there is a desperate need to create jobs and generate investment in the country.
Bimbola Carrol said: “It is down to us how we structure the industry to make sure the money that’s fed in gets filtered down not just exported.”
Responsible tourism requires responsible tourists and I urge you to visit.