Topping the list of fastest-growing travel destinations in the world — above countries like Iceland, Japan, and Chile — Sierra Leone won by a landslide. found that the West African country saw a 310 percent increase in visitors last year in comparison to 2015; the closest country, Nepal, saw just a 39.7 percent hike in tourism.
A country once devastated by war and an Ebola outbreak (completely cleared in 2015), Sierra Leone is an unfailingly hopeful nation, filled with pristine beaches, a buzzing capital city, and a melting pot of cultures. A spike in tourism could play a big role in boosting this warm-hearted country's prosperity, and there are so many reasons travelers are making the trip. Here are the top five (if you need any more convincing)!
West Africa's best-kept secret is undoubtedly the beaches of Sierra Leone. The soft sand and gentle waters of the Atlantic are framed by lush green rainforest — on a clear day, they're said to be a reflection of the country's flag.
Despite the increase in visitors, that doesn't mean the beaches are flooded with tourists (just yet). Many of the best beaches require some off-roading to access, but even the most populated beaches on the Freetown peninsula are barely-touched. Let's just say the odds of getting an entire strip of sand to yourself are pretty high.
The country's vivacious capital, Freetown, is a harmonious blend of mountains, sea, and city. It is a bustling port town full of colorful architecture, friendly Krio conversation, and a landscape so picturesque you'll wonder why you haven't visited sooner.
No matter your travel style, Freetown has something for you. Shoppers won't want to miss Bo's Big Market, where you can barter for gorgeous West African fabrics, learn a thing or two from herbal remedy pros, and sample poyo, or palm wine. Outdoorsy types have an endless number of beaches and hiking trails to explore. City lovers will savor the bustling streets and street vendors.
Sierra Leone has some of the best wildlife attractions on the continent, from primate sanctuaries to national parks. Some of the most impressive visits are the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary — where you can see endangered primates like Colobus and Diana monkeys — and the Outamba-Kilimi National Park where savannah and jungle merge.
Stews, smoked fish, peanuts, and banana leaves: just some of the tastiest components of Sierra Leonean cuisine. The country's food is a reflection of its complex history, drawing from the flavors of Africa, the West Indies, and the Americas. One thing most meals have in common: they aren't complete without a big helping of rice.
Sierra Leone is known for using red palm oil in a lot of dishes, which lends a unique red hue to the food prepared in it. Be sure not to miss the red-tinged Groundnut Stew, a tasty peanut stew served over a bed of rice.
Comprised of eight islands (seven of which are inhabited), the Turtle Islands are a stunning archipelago with miles of white sand and shallow waters. Although they're only accessible by boat, once you arrive you won't want to leave! And thankfully you don't have to, because there are plenty of places to stay and opportunities to camp.