Government websites are usually poor sources of travel information. Their travel advisories seem designed to discourage international tourism by magnifying possible dangers out of all proportion. This is certainly the case with the West African countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone. The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advisory alleges that crime is rampant in Monrovia, Liberia (untrue), and their warnings about Sierra Leone are even more dire. In Canada, the website of Foreign Affairs and International Trade bluntly “advises against non-essential travel to Liberia.” The travel advice on the U.S. State Department website is not much better.
In March 2012 I visited both Liberia and Sierra Leone independently, traveling back and forth overland between Monrovia and Freetown, and never once felt threatened. On the contrary, virtually everyone I met in both of those countries was friendly and helpful. The disinformation on government websites has been effective in scaring tourists away and I only met one other traveler (a Japanese backpacker). What follows are a few personal observations which you can take for what they’re worth.
I began my trip at Liberia’s Roberts International Airport, 60 kilometers east of Monrovia. Roberts seemed preferable to Lungi International Airport in Sierra Leone as it’s connected to Monrovia by an excellent paved highway whereas getting between Lungi and Freetown involves an expensive or unreliable ferry ride across Tangrin Bay. From North America, Delta Airlines now has direct flights to Monrovia from Atlanta, Georgia. To fly to Freetown via Europe from the U.S. or Canada is considerably more expensive.
Both countries require visas which must be organized in advance. I got my Liberian visa in person at the Liberian Embassy in Rabat, Morocco (multiple entry US$50, issued on the spot). If you plan to follow that route, be aware that the address of the Rabat embassy listed on most websites is incorrect: You’ll find it opposite the Senegal Embassy in Rabat. I got my Sierra Leone visa in Monrovia (single entry US$100, pickup the next day). You can also apply for your Sierra Leone visa online but you may be asked unnecessary questions about your hotel reservations.