Sierra Leone Travel Guide
How to prepare and what to expect
History of Sierra Leone
The name ‘Sierra Leone’ dates to 1462, when a Portuguese explorer termed it “Sierra Lyoa” or “Lion Mountains.”
In the 1500s, English explorers called it Sierra Leoa, which then morphed into Sierra Leone in the 1600s.
With a civilization that dates back a thousand years, Sierra Leone survived several rounds of invasions. Once Portuguese explorers identified the area, they were soon joined by explorers and merchants from the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Denmark. British sailors first established trading forts in 1672, which was attacked by other European nations looking to secure an upper hand in trade.
In 1787, philanthropists from Britain established the “Province of Freedom” (soon to become Sierra Leonean capital Freetown), which would play an instrumental role against the African slave trade. Escaped and freed slaves from Nova Scotia and Jamaica would flock to the capital. In 1807, Britain established a Freetown naval base to patrol local waters for illegal slave-bearing ships. Britain named Sierra Leone a crown colony in 1808, and by 1885, more than 50,000 emancipated slaves lived in Freetown.
Sierra Leone secured its independence from the UK in 1961. In the 1990s, a civil war rocked the country as rebel group RUF fought for more power. The war officially ended in 2002, and Sierra Leone is still attempting to recover from the damage to its institutions and its people.
In May 2014, Sierra Leone confirmed its first case of Ebola, and was one of the worst-hit countries in the epidemic. It witnessed a resurgence in May and June in 2015, and officially declared the end to the Ebola outbreak in November 2015.
Hand Washing Details
Hand-washing is essential, and vital to keep you alive.
When to wash:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
How to wash:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
Please read this site for more information: http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html
VERY IMPORTANT – DO IMMEDIATELY
- Routine vaccinations, including MMR, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio, and a yearly flu shot
- Yellow fever vaccine
- Malaria tablets – you will need to take preventative medicine before, during, and after your trip. (statistics about how bad malaria is in SL) – WHO Analytical Sierra Leone, find an updated one. Query Freetown and malaria. http://www.who.int/malaria/publications/country-profiles/profile_sle_en.pdf
Malaria is a risk in Sierra Leone. Fill your malaria prescription before you leave and take enough with you for the entire length of your trip. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking the pills; some need to be started before you leave.
- Hepatitis A vaccine
- Typhoid vaccine
Talk with your doctor about taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs with you on your trip in case you get sick.
Additional advice: http://www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk/destinations/africa/sierra-leone.aspx
Prevent bug bites
Bugs (like mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas) can spread a number of diseases in Sierra Leone. Many of these diseases cannot be prevented with a vaccine or medicine. You can reduce your risk by taking steps to prevent bug bites.
What can I do to prevent bug bites?
- Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats.
- Use an appropriate insect repellent (see below).
- Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents). Do not use permethrin directly on skin.
- Stay and sleep in air-conditioned or screened rooms.
- Use a bed net if the area where you are sleeping is exposed to the outdoors.
What type of insect repellent should I use?
- FOR PROTECTION AGAINST TICKS AND MOSQUITOES: Use a repellent that contains 20% or more DEET for protection that lasts up to several hours.
- FOR PROTECTION AGAINST MOSQUITOES ONLY: Products with one of the following active ingredients can also help prevent mosquito bites. Higher percentages of active ingredient provide longer protection.
- Picaridin (also known as KBR 3023, Bayrepel, and icaridin)
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD
- Always use insect repellent as directed.
What should I do if I am bitten by bugs?
- Avoid scratching bug bites, and apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to reduce the itching.
- Check your entire body for ticks after outdoor activity. Be sure to remove ticks properly.
What can I do to avoid bed bugs?
For more detailed information on avoiding bug bites, see Avoid Bug Bites.
Note: Zika is endemic in Sierra Leone, although the risk to travelers is lower than in countries with Zika epidemics.
Eat and Drink Safely
Unclean food and water can cause travelers’ diarrhea and other diseases (list them). Reduce your risk by sticking to safe food and water habits.
- Food that is cooked and served hot
- Hard-cooked eggs
- Fruits and vegetables you have washed in clean water or peeled yourself
- Pasteurized dairy products
- Food served at room temperature
- Food from street vendors
- Raw or soft-cooked (runny) eggs
- Raw or undercooked (rare) meat or fish
- Unwashed or unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables
- Unpasteurized dairy products
- ”Bushmeat” (monkeys, bats, or other wild game)
- Bottled water that is sealed
- Carbonated drinks
- Hot coffee or tea
- Pasteurized milk
- Tap or well water
- Ice made with tap or well water
- Drinks made with tap or well water (such as reconstituted juice)
- Unpasteurized milk
Stay Safe Outdoors
If your travel plans in Sierra Leone include outdoor activities, take these steps to stay safe and healthy during your trip.
- Stay alert to changing weather conditions and adjust your plans if conditions become unsafe.
- Prepare for activities by wearing the right clothes and packing protective items, such as bug spray, sunscreen, and a basic first aid kit.
- Consider learning basic first aid and CPR before travel. Bring a travel health kit with items appropriate for your activities.
- Heat-related illness, such as heat stroke, can be deadly. Eat and drink regularly, wear loose and lightweight clothing, and limit physical activity during high temperatures.
- If you are outside for many hours in heat, eat salty snacks and drink water to stay hydrated and replace salt lost through sweating.
- Protect yourself from UV radiation: use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, wear protective clothing, and seek shade during the hottest time of day (10 a.m.–4 p.m.).
- Be especially careful during summer months and at high elevation. Because sunlight reflects off snow, sand, and water, sun exposure may be increased during activities like skiing, swimming, and sailing.
- Very cold temperatures can be dangerous. Dress in layers and cover heads, hands, and feet properly if you are visiting a cold location.
Stay Safe Around Water
- Swim only in designated swimming areas. Obey lifeguards and warning flags on beaches.
- Practice safe boating—follow all boating safety laws, do not drink alcohol if driving a boat, and always wear a life jacket.
- Do not dive into shallow water.
- Do not swim in freshwater in developing areas or where sanitation is poor.
- Avoid swallowing water when swimming. Untreated water can carry germs that make you sick.
- To prevent infections, wear shoes on beaches where there may be animal waste.
Schistosomiasis, a parasitic infection that can be spread in fresh water, is found in Sierra Leone. Avoid swimming in fresh, unchlorinated water, such as lakes, ponds, or rivers.
Keep away from animals
Most animals avoid people, but they may attack if they feel threatened, are protecting their young or territory, or if they are injured or ill. Animal bites and scratches can lead to serious diseases such as rabies.
Follow these tips to protect yourself:
- Do not touch or feed any animals you do not know. If you do touch an animal, immediately wash your hands.
- Do not allow animals to lick open wounds, and do not get animal saliva in your eyes or mouth.
- Avoid rodents and their urine and feces.
- Traveling pets should be supervised closely and not allowed to come in contact with local animals.
- If you wake in a room with a bat, seek medical care immediately. Bat bites may be hard to see.
All animals can pose a threat, but be extra careful around dogs, bats, monkeys, sea animals such as jellyfish, and snakes. If you are bitten or scratched by an animal, immediately:
- Wash the wound with soap and clean water.
- Go to a doctor right away.
- Tell your doctor about your injury when you get back home.
Consider buying medical evacuation insurance.
- Rabies is a deadly disease that must be treated quickly, and treatment may not be available in some countries. All animals can be carriers of rabies.
Reduce your exposure to germs
Follow these tips to avoid getting sick or spreading illness to others while traveling:
- Wash your hands often, especially before eating.
- If soap and water aren’t available, clean hands with hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol).
- NEVER touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid contact with people who are sick.
- If you are sick, stay in your hotel room and seek medical care.
Avoid Sharing Body Fluids
We are going to Sierra Leone to provide training.
We do not allow fraternising.
Diseases such as HIV infection can be spread through body fluids, such as saliva, blood, vomit, and semen.
- Do not use or inject drugs.
- Limit alcohol consumption. People take more risks when intoxicated.
- Do not share needles or any devices that can break the skin. That includes needles for tattoos, piercings, and acupuncture.
- If you receive medical or dental care, make sure the equipment is disinfected or sanitized.
Know how to get medical care while travelling
We will be taking a basic medical kit with us, including needles and disinfectants. Plan for how you will get health care during your trip, should the need arise:
- Review your health insurance plan to determine what medical services it would cover during your trip. Consider purchasing travel health and medical evacuation insurance.
- Carry a card that identifies, in the local language, your blood type, chronic conditions or serious allergies, and the generic names of any medications you take.
- Some prescription drugs may be illegal in other countries. Call Sierra Leone’s embassy to verify that all of your prescription(s) are legal to bring with you.
- Bring all the medicines (including over-the-counter medicines) you think you might need during your trip, including extra in case of travel delays. Ask your doctor to help you get prescriptions filled early if you need to.
Many foreign hospitals and clinics are accredited by the Joint Commission International. A list of accredited facilities is available at their website (www.jointcommissioninternational.org).
In some countries, medicine (prescription and over-the-counter) may be substandard or counterfeit. Bring the medicines you will need from home to avoid having to buy them at your destination.
Select Safe Transportation
Motor vehicle crashes are the #1 killer of healthy travellers in foreign countries.
In many places cars, busses, large trucks, rickshaws, bikes, people on foot, and even animals share the same lanes of traffic, increasing the risk for crashes.
Be smart when you are travelling on foot.
- Use sidewalks and marked crosswalks.
- Pay attention to the traffic around you, especially in crowded areas.
- Remember, people on foot do not always have the right of way in other countries.
- Traffic may often be coming from unexpected directions.
Choose a safe vehicle.
- Choose official taxis or public transportation, such as trains and buses.
- Avoid overcrowded, overloaded, top-heavy buses and minivans.
- It is forbidden to ride on motorcycles or motorbikes, especially motorbike taxis. (Many crashes are caused by inexperienced motorbike drivers.)
- Choose newer vehicles—they may have more safety features, such as airbags, and be more reliable.
- Choose larger vehicles, which may provide more protection in crashes.
Think about the driver.
- Do not drive after drinking alcohol or ride with someone who has been drinking.
- Consider hiring a licensed, trained driver familiar with the area.
- Arrange payment before departing.
Follow basic safety tips.
- Wear a seatbelt at all times.
- Sit in the back seat of cars and taxis.
- Do not use a cell phone or text while driving (illegal in many countries).
- Travel during daylight hours only.
- Avoid using local, unscheduled aircraft.
- If possible, fly on larger planes (more than 30 seats); larger airplanes are more likely to have regular safety inspections.
- Try to schedule flights during daylight hours and in good weather.
Medical Evacuation Insurance
If you are seriously injured, emergency care may not be available or may not meet international standards. Trauma care centers are uncommon. Having medical evacuation insurance can be helpful for these reasons.
Maintain personal security
Use the same common sense traveling overseas that you would at home, and always stay alert and aware of your surroundings.
Before you leave
- Research your destination(s), including local laws, customs, and culture.
- Monitor travel warnings and alerts and read travel tips from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (change links).
- Leave a copy of your itinerary, contact information, credit cards, and passport with someone at home. The charity will ask for a copy of your passport and details of your next of kin.
- Pack as light as possible, and leave at home any item you could not replace. Keep jewellery to a minimum.
While at your destination(s)
- Carry contact information for the nearest UK embassy and consulate (add link).
- Carry a photocopy of your passport and entry stamp; leave the actual passport securely in your hotel.
- Follow all local laws and social customs.
- Always keep hotel doors locked, and store valuables in secure areas.
- If possible, choose hotel rooms between the 2nd and 3rd floors.
Food in Daily Life.
We recommend that you only eat fruit that has the skin on, and absolutely never eat street food.
For almost all Sierra Leoneans, rice is the staple food, consumed at virtually every meal. A Sierra Leonean will often say, without any exaggeration, “If I haven’t eaten rice today, then I haven’t eaten!” Other things are of course eaten—a wide variety of fruits, seafood, potatoes, cassava, etc.—but these are often considered to be just “snacks” and not “real food.” Real food is rice, prepared numerous ways, and topped with a variety of sauces made from some combination of potato leaves, cassava leaves, hot peppers, peanuts, beans, okra, fish, beef, chicken, eggplant, onions, and tomatoes. Bones, particularly chicken bones, are a delicacy, because their brittle nature makes the sweet marrow inside easily accessible.
Along the street one can find snacks such as fresh mangoes, oranges, pineapple, or papaya, fried plantains, potato or cassava chunks with pepper sauce, small bags of popcorn or peanuts, bread, roasted corn, or skewers of grilled meat or shrimp. Local bars in some towns and villages will also sell poyo the sweet, lightly fermented palm wine tapped from the high tops of palm trees. Poyo bars can be areas of lively informal debate and conversation among men.
Sometimes villages, and sometimes families within villages, will have specific taboos or proscriptions against eating certain foods. These are usually attributed to a law handed down from someone’s ancestor, perhaps the founder of the village. The taboo can be a restriction against certain kind of meat or a certain oil, or even against food prepared a certain way. Violation is usually seen as a risky proposition, and can incur the ill feelings of would-be guardians either living or dead.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions.
Almost all ceremonial occasions such as weddings, funerals, initiations, and memorial services demand the preparation of large platters of rice, distributed to guests until they are full. Depending on the occasion, a portion may also be offered to the ancestors, to honor their memory. Another common practice in this sense is to pour liquor in the ancestors’ honor in the corners of a house. Other food traditions vary with region or religion: Mende Muslims, for instance, will mark a burial ceremony with lehweh, a ball of rice flour mixed with water and sugar, served with a kola nut on top.
Kola nuts are highly valued in and of themselves, and are often associated with greetings, diplomacy, provisions of respect, religious rites, and initiation ceremonies. High in caffeine concentration, they are also used as a stimulant, a clothing dye, and even in the preparation of medicines.
Reports often list Sierra Leoneans as 60 percent Muslim, 10 percent Christian, and 30 percent “indigenous believers.” These kinds of numbers often mask the degree to which religious beliefs in Sierra Leone may be flexible and accommodating. One can go to a Christian church on Sunday, for example, and still make a sacrifice to one’s ancestors for good fortune. Likewise, Muslim rituals may appear to dominate in some areas, yet these can become mixed with indigenous ideas or customs.
Besides Muslim and Christian holy leaders, there are a number of indigenous religious practitioners who are able to mediate with the spirit world. These include diviners, healers, men’s and women’s society elders, and witchcraft specialists.
How to interact
When you meet someone for the first time, a good discussion topic would be about the person you are talking to. Let him or her ask you questions to learn about you. The questions would be about your names, home, work, interests, (hobbies), and family background and keeping conversation light and interesting. Any topic relating to the past civil war, marital issues, and Ebola should be avoided. Since Sierra Leoneans were recently afflicted by the Ebola epidemic and the rebel war, hardly anyone will be interested in any discussion on either of these topics.
Please read this excellent source in full.
What to wear
In November, it’s hot and dry, with an average temperature of 25C to 28C. Rain is very infrequent. Cotton clothing is recommended. Smart, casual attire and sandals are expected.
Be aware that you are being seen as a leader, a teacher, a representative of your country, and Born to Be Beautiful.
Currency exchange: As of 30 August, the currency exchange is 1 GBP to 7,380.36 Sierra Leonean Leone. US dollars are frequently used, so please bring bills printed after 2001. Make sure they’re clean. On 7 September, 1 USD was equal to 5,622.40 SLL. (Add average costs for meals, drinks, etc)
Facts about impact of Ebola in Sierra Leonean society
- The three countries at the centre of the current Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, were ranked towards the bottom of the 2013 Human Development Index. Out of 187 countries and territories they ranked 174 (Liberia), 177 (Sierra Leone) and 178 (Guinea).
- In 2013, life expectancy in Sierra Leone was the one of lowest in the world at 48 years.
- The three countries have been rebuilding after years of recent conflict. Sierra Leone’s civil war ended in 2002 (1991-2002), since then the country’s development index was increasing rapidly.
- There have been more than 13,000 (13676) cases of confirmed or suspected Ebola in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, resulting in nearly 5000 deaths (as of 27 October 2014)
- The World Bank estimates that the crisis could cost Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia up to $809 million by 2015, and the financial impact could reach $32.6 billion by the end of 2015.
- Employment rates are returning to pre-Ebola crisis levels, but total working hours continue to lag
- 2/3 of households continue to be food insecure but the use of strategies to cope with food insecurity has dropped, indicating improving conditions
- 87% of rural and urban households that include at least one school-aged child report that they are in school
British High Commission Freetown
6 Spur Road Freetown
Location on Google:
1. FOR FIRE ACCIDENT, call*:
From any mobile operator!
2. FOR AMBULANCE SERVICE, call*: *117
3. S/L RED CROSS ON*: *300*-Airtel
4. FOR ARM ATTACK, call*: *112
5. FOR HEALTH CASES, call*: *117
6. FOR ROAD ACCIDENT, call: 2244
7. FOR NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT, call O.N.S on:119
8. EDSA/NPA (electricity) :672
Compiled by Jax Jacobsen
By participating in the Born to Be Beautiful programme in Sierra Leone, the participating individuals acknowledge that Born to Be Beautiful is not responsible for activities or events. Participants will follow the guidelines set forth in this guidebook. Travel as part of Born to Beautiful is strictly at each participant’s own risk and expense. Born to Be Beautiful shall not be liable for injury or loss of property while on this trip. Participants agree to release, fully discharge, indemnify and hold harmless Born to Be Beautiful, its affiliates, officers, directors or representatives, from any and all liabilities, losses, claims, judgments, damages (whether direct or indirect, consequential, incidental or special), expenses and costs (including reasonable fees and expenses of counsel) that they may suffer or incur by reason of participating in any way in the Born to Be Beautiful trip to Sierra Leone.
- Vaccinations and Vaccination Documents
- Driver’s Licence
- Hotel contact information
- Health insurance documents
- Copies of tickets and passport
- Local currency AND U.S. dollars
- Personal medication
- Mosquito spray
- Long-sleeved T-shirt
- Long lightweight pants
- Laundry/wash bag
- Toiletry bag