Monrovia to Kenema Overland

Ambassador Beach Club

Waves breaking at Ambassador Beach Club, Sinkor, Monrovia, Liberia.

Since Charles Taylor lost power in 2003, the West African country of Liberia has returned to the normality it enjoyed before the Samuel Doe coup of April 1980. Electricity and water supplies have been restored and the streets of Monrovia are again safe. However, most of Monrovia’s hotels and restaurants are expensive by African standards as they cater mostly to expatriates. I saved money and went “local” by staying first at the Lutheran Guest House (US$35 single with private bathroom) in Sinkor and later at the Catholic Mission ($25 with shared bath) on Randall Street. I found getting around Monrovia cheap and easy by shared taxi (and not at all dangerous, as government travel advisories would have you believe).

Aside from the colonial-style National Museum, Monrovia has a number of intriguing buildings dating of the boom years before 1980. The “Broken Bridge” over the Mesurado River has been rebuilt but the luxurious Ducor Palace Hotel, built by Pan American Airways in 1963 and later run as an Inter-Continental, is still in ruins. The rather eccentric watchman will earn his tip by taking you up onto the roof of the six-story hotel shell for a sweeping view of Monrovia. My favorite hangout was Ambassador Beach Club at the Atlantic Ocean end of 9th Street, Sinkor, where a large beer is under US$3.

The main border crossing between Liberia and Sierra Leone is at Bo Waterside, three hours west of Monrovia on a good paved highway. Shared taxis leave for the border from the Duala Motor Park in Monrovia throughout the day, charging US$15 to sit in front beside the driver or $8 per person in back. Your passport and yellow fever vaccination certificate will be checked several times on the Liberian side of the border, then you’ll walk across the Mano River bridge to Gendema where you’ll be stamped into Sierra Leone. It’s worth knowing that there are several small hotels in Gendema, including Vision Guest House where I paid 60,000 leones (US$14) for a single. BTW, it’s very easy to exchange US or Liberian dollars and leones at the border.

From Gendema I caught a shared taxi bound for Kenema. There are also taxis direct to Bo which work better if you’re in a hurry to get to Freetown. Both roads are dirt tracks which must be challenging in the rainy season (May to October). As it was, I arrived in Kenema coated in red dust after eight long hours. Our taxi broke down just short of the city so I joined another passenger on the back of a motorcycle taxi for the last little bit. I got a room with private bath at Makasa Guest House which was fine until they switched off the electric generator at midnight. Kenema is a pleasant country town with a couple of markets and mosques. There’s a nice walk out into the countryside beyond the prison. After two nights, I caught an early morning SLRTC bus direct to Freetown, a five-hour ride on a paved highway.

(This is the second installment of my trip report on Liberia and Sierra Leone. See also Liberia and Sierra Leone Travel and Freetown to Monrovia via Bo.)