Visiting the islands of Sierra Leone along the West coast of Africa was a highlight for me. These beautiful islands are not overrun by tourists and there are no big hotels or resorts. Instead, they are largely unexplored and have an abundance of natural resources and seafood. Some are even preserved in time with remnants of the slave trade.
Banana Island is a popular destination for water sports; Tiwai Island is a wildlife sanctuary for nature lovers. Turtle Island is a sea life paradise filled with coral reefs and green sea turtles. Bunce Island allows you to step back in time to understand the dark history with its ruins of slave fort and cannons.
Best Islands in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is home to over 19 islands along the coast and in the bay offering a variety of things to do and see within a typical paradise setting. The islands are a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the capital city Freetown and are ideal for anyone looking for outdoor adventure.
⇒ Check all required documents and apply for your Sierra Leone visa here for free.
Here are 6 of the best islands in Sierra Leone worth visiting.
1. Banana Island Sierra Leone
The Banana Islands are a group of islands located southwest of the Freetown Peninsula in the Western Area of Sierra Leone. They comprise three islands: Dublin and Ricketts which are inhabited and connected by a stone causeway and the third Mes-Meheux an uninhabited smaller island. Visitors travel here for a day or for a few nights from November to April when the weather is drier and the ocean isn’t as rough.
Banana Island is known for its beautiful beaches and clear waters, making it a popular destination for both Sierra Leoneans and foreigners. Visitors can enjoy swimming, snorkelling, fishing, relaxing on the beach or even going hiking.
In addition to its natural beauty, Banana Island is also known for its history. The island was once used as a base for slave traders. Today, visitors can take a guided hike and see the remains of the slave trade, including a fort, canons and a cemetery.
We spent the night glamping at Bafa Resort on Banana Island which is worth a visit. The tents overlooked the ocean, there was a small private beach and a bar and they offered freshly caught seafood. It was one of my favourite parts of my trip to Sierra Leone. If you have time and the weather is good, take a boat ride to the surrounding islands and beaches.
To get to Banana Island, you will need to get a boat from Kent Village. If you are coming from Freetown it is best to get to by car, which should take about an hour’s drive. Then hire a boat from there which will be around 45 minutes, depending on the sea conditions.
2. Tiwai Island
Tiwai Island is a wildlife sanctuary located in the middle of the Moa River in the southern part of Sierra Leone. It is surrounded by beautiful rainforest that measures only 12 square kilometres. The only people living on the island are the staff and researchers that work as part of the eco-project.
It is a great place for nature lovers and bird watchers, as it is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including the elusive pygmy hippos, and over 135 species of birds. There are also 11 species of primates that includes chimpanzees and the endangered Diana monkey. If you love wildlife, I suggest adding the Tacugama chimpanzee sanctuary in Freetown to your list.
A visit to this tropical rainforest island is undoubtedly one of Sierra Leone’s wildlife highlights. Go on a jungle walk with a guide during the day or at night or go by boat to see the wildlife species on Tiwai Islands. Make sure to take insect repellent, for the insects.
Visitors can spend a night here surrounded by the rainforest and listening to the wildlife. The accommodation is basic tents or lodges with shared bathrooms and just like the other islands electricity is run on solar power. To reach the island, you need to take a short boat trip from the mainland. Make sure to take your Gopro and microfiber travel towel with you.
3. Bunce Island
Bunce Island is a must when in Sierra Leone and a very important historic site for the Krio people to visit. It is a small island located in the Sierra Leone River, an hour’s speed boat ride from Freetown. The island played a significant role in the transatlantic slave trade during the 18th century, serving as a major hub for the shipment of enslaved Africans who were mostly sent to North America and the Caribbean islands.
The British operated a slave castle, enslaving Africans from various parts of West Africa who were brought to the island. The island was eventually abandoned and fell into disrepair, but it has since been recognized as a historical site and efforts have been made to preserve it. Today, Bunce Island is a popular tourist destination and a reminder of the devastating impact of this dark history on the whole.
Walk around the island visiting the ruins of the fort, open-air slave yard, and the watchtowers and see the iron cannons, some of which still bear the royal mark of King George III. While it is a raw and authentic experience, the island has a special charm about it with its quietness and greenery.
The easiest way to get to the island is by going on a guided tour, like with Visit Sierra Leone. However, the other way is via boat from the Kissy Terminal in the eastern part of Freetown. Bunce island is an ideal spot if you want to learn about Sierra Leone’s history.
4. Tasso Island
Tasso Island is a small island located in the Sierra Leone River Estuary in the Northern Province of the country near Bunce Island. It is a popular tourist spot due to the Tasso eco-tourism project run by the island. Here you can enjoy delicious fresh seafood on the beach at Baobab restaurant.
Take part in water sports activities such as canoeing or watch a masquerade dance while tapping your feet to the music. You can even go bird watching if that is your thing, as the island has a large selection to see. Tasso Island also has accommodation if you want to stay overnight.
The cabins are right on the beach which provides the perfect getaway. The interior is spacious and has a double bed with a mosquito net and a small couch. It also has an en-suite bathroom with a shower and composting toilet. Outside you have a porch taking in those beach waterfront views.
The Eco Camp is open to visitors from September to the end of May every year. You can easily do a day trip from Freetown via a speed boat, which also visits Bunce Island at the same time. Don’t forget your insect repellent, to protect you from any bites that might occur.
5. Turtle Islands Sierra Leone
Turtle Islands is a group of islands located in the Atlantic Ocean, west of Sherbro Island on the Southern coast of Sierra Leone. The picturesque islands are surrounded by beautiful sandbars at low tide and palm trees.
It is a popular spot for scuba diving and snorkelling, as there are many coral reefs and shipwrecks to explore. It is also home to a large population of green sea turtles, which nest on the islands between November and April. Remember to take your own snorkelling gear.
These islands are a real tropical getaway and due to the sheer remoteness of the destination, they are almost completely untouched by tourism. Apart from the sea life, Turtle Islands is home to just a small fishing village.
Many take a boat trip from Banana Islands, as it is one of the few places you can get there from. You can also get to the Turtle Islands from Bonthe on Sherbro Island which is closer. It is a bit of a mission to get to Turtle Island and is roughly a 3-hour boat ride, so I suggest staying one or two days. Combined these islands together and do some island hopping.
6. Sherbro and Bonthe Island
Sherbro Island or sometimes known as Bonthe Island is the largest island in Sierra Leone. The island is separated from the African mainland by the Sherbro River in the southern part of Sierra Leone.
It is known for its coastal town, Bonthe, a small fishing village once a thriving trading post before Freetown. During the British colonial times, it was a frequent stop for the slave trade. Today, visitors will see the remnants of its past from the crumbling colonial-style villas and traditional Krio board houses to some wrecked ships, slowly rusting away.
Life moves slowly on Bonthe island and apart from the old-styled building, there are pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters to explore. It is a popular destination for fishing and water sports. As well as offering a glimpse into the local culture and traditions of the Sherbro people.
It is a bit of a distance to get to Freetown; firstly you have to drive 5-6 hours to Yagoi. Then it is an hour to a two-hour boat ride from there to Sherbro Island. However, the boat ride gives you stunning views of the estuary and villages along the way. So you at least need a couple of days here exploring.
⇒ Check all required documents for Sierra Leone here for free and apply for your visa.
Staying on the Islands in Sierra Leone
Accommodation on the Sierra Leone islands is basic. There are no luxury resorts or large hotels, which makes it more appealing. The accommodation is more for the adventurous traveller or visitors wanting to enjoy the simple life in a paradise setting.
Most of the islands have limited electricity that is run on solar panels and there is no internet. Some also don’t have running water, so I suggest taking water purification Tablets. Guests can usually choose from tents, huts or basic guesthouses depending on which island you were visiting.
I loved our accommodation at Bafa Resort on Banana Island. It had power during the night to charge our Smartphone and had clean shared showers and toilets. It even had an outdoor bar and restaurant that visitors who weren’t staying there could visit.
Tips for visiting the Sierra Leone islands and beaches
Getting around Sierra Leone islands
It’s not an ‘easy’ country to travel around because there isn’t a lot of tourism infrastructure in place and the roads are not paved and off the beaten track. It’s definitely an adventure getting anywhere, which in my opinion, made it more real and fun. Some of the Sierra Leone islands are remote and difficult to get there on your own, so I suggest booking a guided tour.
They can book and deal with all the necessary travel arrangements for you and organise your boat transfers. I went with VSL travel and our guide Abdulai was amazing. He was informative, helped with all our travel needs and boat transfers, as well as taking us on guided tours of the islands.
Vaccine required for entry into Sierra Leone
Covid vaccine and yellow fever certificates are required upon entry into Sierra Leone. Check with the official website about any other requirements you might need, like malaria tablets. Ivisa is a good free resource for checking visa requirements.
Sierra Leone language
English is the official language of the Sierra Leone population and wildly spoken in schools and government administration. However, a large portion speaks the Krio language either natively, or as a second language. On the islands, they tend to speak a mix of English and Krio languages in tourist areas, like at Bara Resort Banana Island.
The currency of Sierra Leone is the ‘Leone’
The currency of Sierra Leone is now the New Leone (SLL). It is a closed currency meaning that you can only get it once you’re in the country. You have two main options; you can get Leones from the ATMs at Lungi international airport or take US, Euro or GBP with you and exchange it when you get there. The islands in Sierra Leone only take cash, however, some of the resorts will take cards.
⇒ Check all required documents for Sierra Leone here for free and apply for your visa.
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Have you visited the Islands of Sierra Leone before? Are there any other islands I should add to my Sierra Leone list?
Find more information and learn about my travels in this amazing African country here.
Disclaimer: Even though I was a guest of the Sierra Leone Tourism. All views are my own and based on my own experience.