Difference between revisions of "Sierra Leone"
Revision as of 21:07, 24 February 2009
Sierra Leone is located on the West Coast of Africa between 7 and 10 degrees N, and longitudes 10.5 and 13 degrees W. The Republic of Guinea is to the north and northeast; Liberia is to the east and southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean on the west and south. It has 402 km of coastline.
From an approximate 100km coastal belt of low-lying land, the country rises to a mountain plateau near the eastern frontier rising 1200m to 2000m with a rich timber forest region.
The peninsula, on which the capital and main commercial centre of Freetown stands, is 40km long and 17km wide with a mountainous interior.
Sierra Leone is recovering from several years of a brutal civil war which killed and maimed many thousands. The war ended in 2001. The government, with considerable international assistance has put in place measures which have stabilised the country politically and economically. While the government sector still suffers from chronic shortage of resources, the private sector is booming. The potential for tourism is vast, but currently unrealised. Tour operators are looking closely at what the country has to offer and if the newly democratically elected (Summer 2007) government can maintain the current momentum, Sierra Leone potentially has a very bright future.
Sierra Leone has a tropical climate, typified by warm temperatures and high humidity. Night time temperatures rarely drop below 24C and daytime temperatures reach 30C throughout the year. From October to March the weather is generally dry with many fine, hot, sunny days. From April to September, is the rainy season. The rainfall increases to a peak in July and August and then decreases until rain has almost ceased by November.
Coastal belt of mangrove swamps, wooded hill country, upland plateau, mountains in east.
Lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
Highest point: Loma Mansa (Bintimani) 1,948 m
Electricity is officially 220V/50Hz. Sockets are British standard. Supplies are intermittent, but improving. Sierra Leone does not have sufficient generation capacity to meet demand. Parts of Freetown do get a reasonable supply. The Bumbuna Dam Project is expected to provide 25/50MW but has been repeatedly delayed and may not now be finished until April 2009.
Passport and Visa
All persons entering Sierra Leone must have a valid passport or travel document. Citizens of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) do not require a visa to enter the country. All other nationalities will require a visa, which are issued at Sierra Leone's overseas missions and at the land borders. Visas are not too hard to get, it is unlikely that anyone will be refused unless there is a very good reason for the government not to want them in the country. Visa prices vary considerably based on your citizenship: US/UK citizens need to fork out around US$130 for one, while most others can get away with as little as $40. Contact the local embassy for current prices (UK , USA ).
The international airport is at Lungi, the other side of the estuary from Freetown. A short helicopter ride is required to the Aberdeen part of Freetown. A hovercraft also runs to Aberdeen. Alternatively an often overloaded ferry runs to the main part of Freetown, which can take 3+ hours and has been known to take 8 hours. By road it is 5+ hours to the city, via Port Loko using some poor roads. Safety concerns have been expressed over all of the different transport options from the airport to Freetown. The British Embassy only permits its staff to travel by road in a convoy of at least 2 vehicles (in case of breakdown).
BMI is well established, with four flights per week to London Heathrow. African airline, Bellview  flies to Heathrow via Lagos. Brussels Airlines flies to Brussels. Flights to Nairobi (Kenya Airways), Casablanca (Royal Air Maroc) and many Western African countries are available.
Currently Sierra Leone can be accessed by road from Guinea(Conakry). Special permits are required if transiting the border with a private vehicle. Private taxis, buses and trucks commute daily to and from Conakry/Freetown.
There are buses which can be used in Sierra Leone called poda poda. They are run by private companies and can cost between 2500 and 5000 leones (£0.50-£1). There are no designated bus stops and so one can stand on a street and when they notice a 60's style mini van stretch out you arms to make it stop otherwise it will continue on its journey. However, be careful with personal belongings as petty theft is common on these buses.
Sierra Leone has the 3rd largest natural harbour in the world and is looking forward to the arrival of cruise ships. Cargo and Passenger ships berth at the Queen Elizabeth II quay, while some passenger/Cargo and private crafts can land at the Government Wharf in central Freetown, arriving most times from Conakry and Banjul. Enquiries should be made to Cargo Shipping Agencies.
English is the official language, but regular use is limited to the literate minority. Krio, an English-based creole, serves as the country's lingua franca and is a first language for the Creoles (minority of descendants of ex-slaves from the Americas and United Kingdom) but it is understood by 95% of the population of the country.
The unit of currency is the Leone, symbol Le. Leone coins have the value Le50 and Le100. Bank notes are Le500, Le1000, Le2000,Le5000 and Le10000
Exchange rates (Dec 2008):
Exchanging money is very easy, either through the black market or banks. The small bank at the airport offers reasonable rates. GB£, Euro or US$ are most popular, although others are possible.
Credit cards are accepted virtually nowhere at present. The Cape Sierra Hotel and the airport duty free shop do take major cards. Some of the other hotels are planning to take cards. It is possible to get money from some banks with a credit card, but the process can be long and rather costly. There are ATMs in Freetown most are not internationally linked. However, Pro Credit Bank ATM's now appear to be working with Visa cards.
The main staple of Sierra Leonean food is rice, often accompanied by soup i.e. stews. These stews may include a flavorful and often spicy mix of meat, fish, seasonings, greens, etc., often taking hours to prepare. There are plenty of good quality restaurants offering a variety of local and international dishes.
The diet of Sierra Leoneans like many African country is very healthy. Many tend to eat fresh fruits picked from trees growing in their homes or freshly picked by market vendors that very day. They also eat seafood particularly in the Capital Freetown which seats on the Atlantic. It is common to go to areas such as Lumley Beach where one can find local fishermen pulling in nets from the Atlantic filled with food such as crabs, lobsters, oysters, snappers and many, many more.
The locals of Sierra Leone keep healthy by eating many plant-based dishes which are high in fiber, such as casava leaves, potato leaves, okra and more.
The national brewer Sierra Leone Breweries Limited produces the high quality Star beer. Many European beers are also imported. Soft drinks such as Coca Cola and Fanta are also locally produced. Wine is available from restaurants and supermarkets, but can be expensive and not well kept.
Sierra Leone was for many years on the list of countries to avoid (as published by the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office ). With this obstacle lifted, tourism and investment are starting to take off. Whilst petty crime is fairly common - watch personal property carefully - violent crime is very rare. It is safe to walk the streets, even at night, although the lack of lighting can be a problem.
Waterborne diseases, malaria and other tropical diseases are prevalent. You should consider taking medication to protect against malaria and using insect repellent. Vaccination against rabies and yellow fever (required to enter Guinea) are strongly advised. HIV/AIDS is prevalent. Lassa fever can be contracted in Kenema and the east. If you have travelled in this region you should seek urgent medical advice for any fever not positively identified as malaria.
Medical facilities are poor. You should carry basic medical supplies. You are advised to take medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date.
Sierra Leone has a long history of religious harmony. Both Muslims and Christians live and worship side by side. Same goes for members of different tribes; the country is known for having relative tribal harmony as well.
Contact information for government offices, consulates and embassies, and local businesses nationwide can be found in the Sierra Leone Business Directory 
Sierra Leone has fixed line phone service in Freetown, Bo and Kenema. The service was mostly destroyed during the war but is slowly being reinstated. Digital exchanges are installed in Freetown and Bo.
There are 4 mobile phone networks (GSM900/1800 system) - Africel, Zain (Celtel), Comium, and Tigo. The major cities and industrial areas enjoy good coverage as well as some major national roads. Celtel is the oldest and has the best nationwide coverage. International roaming is available. International calling is relatively cheap. Some of the mobile networks charge as little as $0.35/minute to all countries. However, calls to some less popular destinations may not work.
The country code is 232. The mobile phone network uses the GSM technology (as in Europe) and use is widespread. The format for dialing is: +232-##-######, where the first "##" designates the area code. Key area codes include Freetown (22) and Bo (32). Calls to mobile phones use the operator's area codes: (77/88) for Africel, (76/78) for Zain, (33) for Comium and (30) for Tigo. Like other countries, when dialling locally, "00" is used to access an international number (and followed by the country code) and "0" is used to access a national number (followed by the area code).
Internet access is generally poor, but improving. The major hotels in Freetown usually have high speed access, some with wireless networks. FGC Wireless covers parts of Freetown with a pay-as-you-go wireless broadband service, although it is fairly slow.
TIGO offer a GPRS service as part of their GSM phone service. It is unknown if TIGO supports EDGE. see the link  for more information
Celtel announced in Feb 2008 that they will soon offer a GPRS service. There is no sign of this on their website  and it is very difficult to get it to work.