Adventure travel swings into scarred Sierra Leone

Fri Oct 9, 2009 6:34am EDT
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By Katrina Manson

FREETOWN (Reuters Life!) - Check the reservations book of any city hotel in Sierra Leone, and the chances are most guests will be businessmen on trips to prospect for diamonds, gold, iron ore or other minerals.

But the West African country is looking beyond its natural resources as it searches for ways to rebuild an economy left in tatters after a 1991-2002 civil war, by playing off its image to attract a more adventurous class of tourist.

"It takes a fairly intrepid person to visit Sierra Leone but extreme tourism is a growing market," said tour operator Jim Louth. "People want to get somewhere before it becomes mainstream."

Louth has recently added Sierra Leone to his British company Undiscovered Destinations' list of unlikely trips, which include Angola, Bangladesh and East Timor.

In Sierra Leone, supplies of water, power and internet are intermittent nationwide, while arrivals to the generator-powered airport must battle several risky journey options to cross the river to the capital.

A helicopter crashed in 2007 killing 22 passengers, the hovercraft service is out of order and roads in disrepair.

The national tourist board says the sector needs a minimum $200 million in investment.

"Sierra Leone is perfect for adventure tourism. I wanted to be a pioneer," said Marissa Hart, a British shop manager who paid 2,000 pounds ($3,180) for a 12-day trip this year.   Continued...