With 6 days of Burkina Faso behind us, it became to mentally prepare for my long marathon of flights back home.
Facing numerous options to fly back home to NYC via Brussels, Lisbon, or Paris, I stumbled upon an incredible “West Africa” hopper itinerary on Skyscanner that allowed for 3 direct 1 hour international flights with a day in each 3 separate capital cities and countries, let alone on reliable world class airlines, all for $1250!
February 7: Fly out at 11pm (this ended up being 2am) at night from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on a 2 hour direct Turkish Airlines flight TK533 to Freetown, Sierra Leone
February 8: I’d land in Freetown, Sierra Leone at 1:10am (this ended up being 4am), with 18 hours to explore the city thanks to their $80 visa on arrival and a pre-arranged tour by VSL Travel for $210
I’d then fly out the same day at 7:15pm in the evening on a direct 1 hour Brussels Airlines flight SN241 to Moronvia, Liberia, with another 18 hours there to explore ($160 to obtain the visa beforehand at the consulate in NYC, taking 5 days to obtain). My hotel there, Mamba Point Hotel, would arrange a day tour of the city to be included during the $85 airport transfer each way.
February 9: With an entire morning to explore Monrovia, I’d then board a 3pm direct 1 hour Air Cote D’Iviore flight HF729 to Conarky, Guinea, landing at 4:10pm in the afternoon and entering with their e-visa on arrival and an $85 daytrip around the city thanks to a local contact I received via my friend Ginger whom I had traveled with last year in Mali.
With the airport only a 20 minute drive from the city, I’d have 10 hours to explore Conarky before…
February 10: …boarding a 2:25am flight back to NYC via Royal Air Maroc and an 8 hour layover in Casablanca, arriving in NYC at 5:55pm in the evening before my first shift back on February 11th.
To you it might sound exhausting, but to me it felt like finding a once-in-a-lifetime scheduling miracle to visit 3 new countries with enough time in each across 3 days. Saying my goodbyes to the Burkina Faso group and enjoying the experience of being the only person waiting for and boarding my flight, I flew out on my 2 hour direct Turkish Airlines flight TK533 to Freetown, Sierra Leone that didn’t take off until 3 hours later at 2am.
Landing at 4am in the morning, I proceeded to obtain my $80 visa on arrival which I got directly at the passports counter.
Forget a fancy sticker or stamp; why not just write a visa in?
I then was asked to pay a $25 airport security fee at one of the 2 banks at the arrivals hall. They take cash only so if you don’t have any or they’re refusing your credit card, there’s an ATM right next to their counter.
After you pay, they then give you a receipt to show to the guards so they can let you outside the airport.
I then walked outside directly to the Sea Coach Express ferry office (only 10 seconds out from arrivals), where I presented my pre-booked $45 ticket to take me across to Freetown proper.
You can purchase these tickets ahead online to save time and make sure you buy one ticket for each way, aka 2 separate ticket purchases total, as they do not allow for a single roundtrip ticket option yet. You get a real ticket in exchange for the QR code you get online.
Since I was the first one out, I had to wait in the ferry office for another 30 minutes for the others on my flight to arrive before we were taken on a 10 minute shuttle bus to the ferry docks.
Then at the docks we had to wait another 30 minutes for our ferry to arrive. By now it was 5:30am.
We quickly boarded once the ferry arrived at 6am. I was slowly losing my mind.
But I reminded myself that this 30 minute ferry ride from the airport was my only option to get to the main capital city from arrivals, unless I opted for the 3-4 hours drive around the bay instead.
Finally arriving at 6:00am in the Aberdeen neighborhood of Freetown…
…I was picked up and driven directly over (I felt really bad for the hotel driver who had to wait for me at the docks for 5 hours because of my delayed flight) in a hotel van to my lodgings at The Lead Hotel.
After checking in with a very sympathetic receptionist, I finally crashed at 6:30am in the morning.
Waking up only a measly 2 hours later at 8:30am, I quickly pretended not to be a zombie and packed for my pickup by VSL at 9am for a city tour.
Being that The Lead Hotel was right next to the Aberdeen Lighthouse, that was exactly where we kicked things off. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep, but I began to notice how everyone seemed to be arguing in Freetown.
We then drove 20 minutes southwest past the Sierra Leone Peace Museum, which remains closed, and continued all the way west to Sierra Leone’s National Railway Museum. There I spent about 30 minutes with the museum’s guide, learning about the now defunct national railway system.
The best part of this museum is being able to hop on and operate this handcar on an actual railway! There’s no brakes so I had to hold on tight when it slammed end to end.
We then drove to Fourah Bay to visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site and West Africa’s first university before it accidentally burned down from a fire.
The abandoned Original Fourah Bay College Building is an urban explorer’s playground if they let you enter.
The city also boasts a handful of photogenic mosques:
We then got out for a quick walk beginning at the South Korean-built Freetown City Council building.
… ending at St. Georges Cathedral right down the block:
If you manage to find yourself here, ask for the old guestbook at the front; you might find the late Queen Elizabeth’s and Prince Philip’s signatures inside!
Why they haven’t laminated this page yet and put it in a protected display is beyond me:
We then drove up 5 minutes to St. John’s Maroon Church:
From here you can begin another short walking “tour” up Siaka Stephens Street past its historical and aging board houses . . .
. . . to the compact Sierra Leone National Museum, where their museum guide will take only 10-15 minutes to explain and show you everything they have. They also allow you to take only 2 photos inside:
Right up from the street from the museum proudly stands the Cotton Tree, a Ceiba pentandra or kapok tree and regarded as the historic symbol of Freetown:
The number of times I’ve been asked today if I was military because “I look the part”: 3
Continuing our walk up Siaka Stephens street, we then climbed up a vantage point above a soldiers’ memorial (because I look the part?) . . .
. . . for a view of the Supreme Court and the State House of Sierra Leone:
By noon we drove back into rush hour traffic:
For the best views of Freetown, drive up the hills where the British and Portuguese used to live (due to the less dense Westerner-killing mosquito population at higher altitudes), and past the U.S. Embassy . . .
. . . to reach Leicester Peak:
Spending a few minutes to take it all in before a misty fog started clogging up the air, we drove back to sea level for an hour’s lunch at a Crown Express fast food joint (which was actually pretty good!).
During our lunch, my local guide started to apologize how he wasn’t feeling 100% due to a recent bout with what he thought was food poisoning. But after a week having just nursed my prior guide Paris, who had been suffering from similar symptoms, back to health in Burkina Faso I felt like I had now become an expert in West African food-borne illnesses. Getting him to drink a hot ginger-lime decoction with 1.5L of water, he told me he felt better by the end of lunch. Success x 2!
We then drove back to Aberdeen to board the Sea Coach Express leaving at 2pm for my 7:15pm flight out to Monrovia, Liberia.
And just like above, I had to go through the whole maddening process all over again on 2 hours of sleep. Don’t remember? I do:
1. Ferry Departure Terminal:
3. Ferry Arrival Terminal:
4. Airport Shuttle Bus:
5. Airport (I paid $25 again for the security fee at the airport bank to enter and then another $20 to access their only lounge here located upstairs):
- At time of posting in Freetown, it was 26 °C - Humidity: 99% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: mostly cloudy