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Liberia

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382

Liberia
After almost two decades of war, Liberia – a lush, rainforested country draped across West
Africa’s southern flank – seems at last to have found some breathing room. With Africa’s first
woman president at the helm, the peace, while still fragile, is holding and Liberians have
thrown themselves with gusto into the work of rebuilding their shattered land.
If Liberia does stabilise and open up for travel, it will offer intrepid adventurers a fascinating glimpse into what was previously a wonderfully hospitable and fascinatingly enigmatic
society. Liberia’s artistic traditions – especially carved masks, dance and storytelling – rivalled
those of anywhere on the continent, and traditional culture was strong. This was especially
true in the country’s interior, where secret initiation societies played a central role in growing
up, and today still serve as important repositories of traditional knowledge and life skills.
Liberia’s natural attractions are equally impressive. The country’s dense, humid rainforests –
some of the most extensive in West Africa – are alive with the screeching and twittering
of hundreds of birds, who are kept company by forest elephants, pygmy hippos and other
wildlife padding around the forest floor. Along the coast, deserted white-sand beaches
alternate with humid river deltas and tranquil tidal lagoons, while inland plateaus rise to
verdant hill country on the borders of Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea.
For now though, most of this cultural and natural wealth remains inaccessible to visitors,
and independent travel outside of Monrovia is not considered safe. Expect changes soon,
but meanwhile get an update on local security conditions before setting your plans.

HIGHLIGHTS

Silver Beach (p386) Relax on this surfpounded and palm-fringed stretch of sand
just minutes from central Monrovia.
Sapo National Park (p387) Wander under
the lush, humid canopy of one of West
Africa’s last remaining rainforests.
Monrovia (p386) Stroll through central
Monrovia, seeing what street vendors
have on offer and getting a feel for the
beat on the street.
Liberians (p385) Mingle with the locals
over a plate of fufu and sauce and a cold
Club beer, or cheering on the Lone Stars
at a soccer match.

Monrovia is one of Africa’s two wettest capitals (Freetown in Sierra Leone is the other),
with annual rainfall averaging more than
4500mm here and along the coast. Temperatures range from 23°C to 32°C in Monrovia,
and slightly highe...
LIBERIA
LIBERIA
lonelyplanet.com LIBERIA •• Highlights
After almost two decades of war, Liberia – a lush, rainforested country draped across West
Africa’s southern flank – seems at last to have found some breathing room. With Africa’s first
woman president at the helm, the peace, while still fragile, is holding and Liberians have
thrown themselves with gusto into the work of rebuilding their shattered land.
If Liberia does stabilise and open up for travel, it will offer intrepid adventurers a fascinat-
ing glimpse into what was previously a wonderfully hospitable and fascinatingly enigmatic
society. Liberia’s artistic traditions – especially carved masks, dance and storytelling – rivalled
those of anywhere on the continent, and traditional culture was strong. This was especially
true in the country’s interior, where secret initiation societies played a central role in growing
up, and today still serve as important repositories of traditional knowledge and life skills.
Liberia’s natural attractions are equally impressive. The country’s dense, humid rainforests –
some of the most extensive in West Africa – are alive with the screeching and twittering
of hundreds of birds, who are kept company by forest elephants, pygmy hippos and other
wildlife padding around the forest floor. Along the coast, deserted white-sand beaches
alternate with humid river deltas and tranquil tidal lagoons, while inland plateaus rise to
verdant hill country on the borders of Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea.
For now though, most of this cultural and natural wealth remains inaccessible to visitors,
and independent travel outside of Monrovia is not considered safe. Expect changes soon,
but meanwhile get an update on local security conditions before setting your plans.
Liberia
HIGHLIGHTS
Silver Beach ( p386 ) Relax on this surf-
pounded and palm-fringed stretch of sand
just minutes from central Monrovia.
Sapo National Park ( p387 ) Wander under
the lush, humid canopy of one of West
Africa’s last remaining rainforests.
Monrovia ( p386 ) Stroll through central
Monrovia, seeing what street vendors
have on offer and getting a feel for the
beat on the street.
Liberians ( p385 ) Mingle with the locals
over a plate of fufu and sauce and a cold
Club beer, or cheering on the Lone Stars
at a soccer match.
CLIMATE & WHEN TO GO
Monrovia is one of Africa’s two wettest capi-
tals (Freetown in Sierra Leone is the other),
with annual rainfall averaging more than
4500mm here and along the coast. Tempera-
tures range from 23°C to 32°C in Monrovia,
and slightly higher inland, though high hu-
midity often makes it feel much warmer.
The best time to visit is during the Novem-
ber to April dry season.
ITINERARIES
Three Days: Three days is just enough time
to get a taste of Monrovia ( p386 ), in-
cluding relaxing at the nearby beaches.
In town, don’t miss strolling through
Waterside Market ( p386 ) and enjoying
a sundowner at Mamba Point ( p387 ).
One Week Security situation permitting,
Sapo National Park ( p387 ) is the obvious
destination. Allow at least five days for
the round trip.
HISTORY
After being populated for a mere few thou-
sand years, Liberia struck American abolition-
ists as an ideal place to resettle freed slaves. In
1822, the first group stepped off the boat at
Providence Island, Monrovia. They saw them-
selves as part of a mission to bring civilisation
and Christianity to Africa, but their numbers
were soon depleted by tropical diseases and
hostile indigenous residents, who resented
being dominated by the new arrivals.
The surviving settlers, known as Americo-
Liberians, declared an independent republic in
1847. Yet, fatally for the new republic’s future,
citizenship excluded indigenous peoples, and
every president until 1980 was of American
freed-slave ancestry. For nearly a century,
Liberia foundered economically and politi-
cally while the indigenous population suffered
under a form of forced labour that would have
been called slavery anywhere else.
During William Tubman’s presidency
(1944–71) the tides began to change. Thanks
to the image of stability that Tubman was
able to project, foreign investment flowed into
the country, and for several decades Liberia
sustained sub-Saharan Africa’s highest growth
rate. Firestone and other American companies
made major investments, and Tubman earned
praise as the ‘maker of modern Liberia’.
Yet the influx of new money exacerbated
existing social inequalities, and hostilities
FAST FACTS
Area 111,370 sq km
ATM s None
Borders Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra
Leone
Budget From US$50 per day
Capital Monrovia
Languages English and more than 20
indigenous languages
Money Liberian dollar; US$1 = L$49
Population 3.3 million
Seasons Dry (November to April), wet (May to October)
Telephone Country code
%
231; international access code
%
00
Time GMT/UTC
Visa Costs US$50 to US$100; must be obtained in advance
WARNING
Liberia’s peace is still fragile, and the coun-
try is not geared for tourism. In general,
independent travel outside of Monrovia is
not yet possible. Before setting off, get a
briefing from people who know the situa-
tion; embassies and resident expats are the
best sources.
Given the current travel restrictions, this
chapter was updated as a ‘desk update’ from
afar, with the generous assistance of vari-
ous people in Liberia. We’ve tried to make
it as accurate as possible, but the perishable
information should be treated as a general
guide, rather than hard facts.
HOW MUCH?
Souvenir basket US$2
Kilo of bananas US$0.40
Fufu and soup US$2.80
Short taxi ride US$0.50
Soda US$0.50
LONELY PLANET INDEX
1L petrol US$3.20
1L bottled water US$1
Large bottle of Club beer US$1.50
Souvenir T-shirt You’ll be lucky if you
find one!
Potato greens sauce with rice US$0.75
© Lonely Planet Publications
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