It’s not hard to love Sierra Leone. Yes, that Sierra Leone, the little country in West Africa best known for an ugly history of slavery, rebel child soldiers fighting a decade-long civil war (1991-2002), the violent thriller Blood Diamond, and, more recently, its Ebola breakout from 2014-2016. Well over a decade past its dreadful war, the country, though still showing its scars and beset by poverty and poor infrastructure, boasted a freely elected government and relatively low crime rates. At the time of our visit (pre-Ebola), it was quite safe to visit. In fact, in parts of the otherwise chaotic, crowded, pulsing capital, Freetown, it was downright tranquil. You can see why locals call their home “Swit Salone,” or sweet Sierra Leone.

Move down toward the beaches, and you will think you’ve found paradise. Miles of sublime coastline, backed by jungle-covered hills and confoundingly devoid of tourists, are yours to enjoy. Fishing villages abound, to which you can show up, dine on local lobster, spend the night, and make new friends—Sierra Leoneans, warm by nature, speak English, making their culture all the more accessible to a wide range of visitors. Go deeper into the country to find charmingly dusty, laid-back towns; newly protected national parks; a gorgeous tropical inland island populated by primates, with a few cozy tents for guests.

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