Can’t wait to tell you about my first trip this year! I wanted to escape from the cold winter in Europe, so I packed my bags and headed to Africa. Of course, for all of my fellow readers that follow my blog and know me, it wouldn’t be a surprise that I didn’t pick a well-known tourist destination. Some of the countries of West Africa are well known with lots of conflicts in the past, Ebola epidemic from the present and the blood diamonds. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t beautiful places to relax and enjoy life.
Thanks to the Moroccan’s airlines who delayed my flight to my first stop – Liberia I was stuck in Casablanca for a day. But on the bright side, I had the chance to see the largest city in Morocco. Maybe someday I will tell you more about this beautiful country, after all, is a really popular destination right now. But let’s get back to Liberia…
A glimpse of Liberia
Because of my late arrival in the capital city of Liberia, Monrovia I had only a day there. An interesting fact about the country, it was the first African republic to proclaim its independence and Africa’s first and oldest modern republic. People there can be divided into autochthon and those who were come back from America after the years of slavery. Despite recent troubles and a reputation for being misunderstood, Monrovia is a nice and quiet city.
The old has not disappeared from the streets, but the new is thriving. To be honest with you I can’t tell you a lot about it. The thing that really impresses me was the Monrovia Masonic temple. While not open to the general public, this Freemason structure is worth strolling past to see its impressive architectural details.
Great time in Sierra Leone
My whole trip in West Africa was by car, the moment I get back on my schedule I head to Tiwai Island in Sierra Leone. This place is so amazing! It’s called an island because Moa River is surrounding a piece of land and creates this wildlife Heaven on Earth. I went there with a cute canoe. I spend the night in a tent, it was an incredible experience. The island is home to a population of pygmy hippopotamus, which unfortunately I didn’t see, but there are adorable. There can be found over 135 different species of birds and it’s one of the highest concentration and diversity of primates in the world…11 species! The visit to this tropical rainforest was undoubtedly one of Sierra Leone’s wildlife highlights.
After this wild adventure, I end up in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital. I was so pleasantly surprised by how nice and clean this city is. Around it stands ageing wooden houses, some of which look more like they belong on the east coast of 18th century America than in a steamy West African city. Others look like they may have been built hundreds of years ago in the islands of the Caribbean, a reflection of Sierra Leone’s history as a colony established for freed slaves. But apart from the historic architecture, Freetown is famous for its beaches, which are extremely beautiful.
I dedicated a whole day so I can have enough time to enjoy them and eat lobsters as much as I could. My favourite was River Number Two Beach, possibly Sierra Leone’s most beautiful place. The deck chairs there let me sit and soak up the stunning backdrop of rolling green mountains, while freshly caught lobsters are grilled to order and ice-cold drinks brought to my sit. Truly amazing experience. Not further from River Number Two Beach is Sussex Beach. The long, golden beach is the ideal place to savour a cold beer or just to wonder. After this bliss, I got back in my car and headed to …
The big Guinea trip
If you remember one of my latest blog post about the two countries with the same name ‘Congo’, the situation with Guinea are almost the same. Formerly known as French Guinea, the modern country is sometimes referred to as Guinea-Conakry to distinguish it from other countries with “Guinea” in the name and the eponymous region, such as Guinea-Bissau. Let’s focus for now on the former French colony – Republic of Guinea. As I mentioned earlier I was travelling by car and on my way to the capital city Conakry, I was pulled off the road from random locals asking me for money to let me pass. Like every big city, this one didn’t make an exception with its laud crowds on the streets, busy traffic and a lot of noise. My stay wasn’t very pleasant and I couldn’t wait to get out of there and catch some fresh air in LÎles de Los. The island is a 30-minute boat ride off Conakry.
With golden sand beaches, palms, and forested interiors, it offers excellent relaxing opportunities and some fun activities. After checking out this place from my travel list I was on my way to conquering Fouta Djallon. A highland, mountainous region in the centre of Guinea. To get there was a real struggle, for the simple reason that there are no distant roads. This was a big bummer because I was getting behind my schedule again, and end up spending the night in typical African ‘hotel’ – a hut made from clay…it was actually pretty interesting. The city that I was staying was Labé, the capital of the Fouta Djallon. On my first day, I wanted to explorer the ‘Indiana Jones’ gorge, which is a narrow opening in the ground in which I descend into a forested wonderland of vines and roots covering sandstone boulders. Consisting of a series of stepped sandstone plateaus with many picturesque trenches and gorges, the region serves as the watershed for some of western Africa’s greatest rivers and waterfalls.
A big YES to Guinea-Bissau
On my way to Guinea-Bissau, before I crossed the border with Guinea I stayed in Koundara. There weren’t any hotels in the city, I probably asked everywhere when I finally found something like a hostel, they give me a room, and it wasn’t looking great. It was kind of scary experience. But a few hours later I was on my way to Bissau, Guinea-Bissau’s capital. One interesting fact is that in the country live around 23 nationalities. The city has this wonderful Mediterranean flavour. The time that I spend there was absolutely the highlight of my trip. Guinea-Bissau is a former Portuguese colony, and everywhere I went I can see a little hint of that. From the food and architecture to the Portuguese wine. The jewel in the country’s crown is the labyrinth of tropical islands that make up the Arquipélago dos Bijagós.
Long white-sand beaches are lapped by waters brimming with fish. After my long trip, this was my way to finish it with a style. The wildlife there is so reached, this place is a home of the only hippocampus in the world that live in the ocean. After my short tropical vacation, there was only one place that I planned to go before I leave.
Gambia – Africa’s smallest continental country
Nicknamed ‘The Smiling Coast,’ The Gambia is one of Africa’s major tourist destinations and is one of the continent’s safest and most inviting countries. Banjul is the capital of the Gambia, the city sits on an island where the Gambia River meets the Atlantic Ocean. This was my first stop there. The country has beaches, friendly people, low prices and plenty of activities and attractions. I spend more of my stay in the nation’s largest urban centre – Serekunda. The nearby Atlantic Coast resorts of Bakau, Fajara, Kotu Strand and Kololi are where the sun’n’sea tourists flock. If you are looking for a totally different kind of a tropical vacation this place is perfect, especially during the long winter season in Europe. There is a lot to explore from the jungle parks to the long golden beaches.
West African cuisine
The diversity of food in West Africa are enormous. The history of the region plays a large role in their cuisine and recipes, as interactions with different cultures. The Portuguese, French and British further influenced regional cuisines, but only to a limited extent. This part of the world isn’t known as a culinary superstar, yet there are some great dishes to be found here. Stews are a fundamental part of West Africa cuisine, with cassava leaves having been called the Sierra Leone national dish. Stew is often served simultaneously with jollof rice, white rice or snacks such as plantain, Akara, yam or cassava. Guinean cuisine includes the traditional dishes of fou fou, boiled mango, fried plantains, patates and pumpkin pie. Liberian cuisine has been influenced by contact, trade and colonization from the United States, especially foods from the Southern United States, interwoven with traditional West African foods.
If you are curious about travelling in other countries in Africa check my other trips here.
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