Liberia has not exactly had the smoothest of journeys. Founded by freed slaves, you could say the country was built on the darker histories of the 18th and 19th centuries. But Liberia also signified a newfound liberation for the returned victims of the Slave Trade. It meant a nostos to the homeland, and a country to govern all of its own. However, growing from the seeds of colonialism in West Africa was never going to be easy, and today Liberia bears the scars of multiple civil wars, coups, political revolutions and power struggles, not to mention the disastrous Ebola outbreak of more recent years.
That said, things are seemingly back on track here, and there’s certainly no denying the utter beauty to be found along the shimmering golden stretches of Atlantic coast, at the roaring surf spots and between the dense, chimp-peppered jungles of the inland!
Let’s explore the best places to visit in Liberia:
Hectic, frenetic, smooth and sophisticated (at least in its own, very West African way), Monrovia is home to more than one million Liberians.
The largest city in the country, it is a place of great energy.
Rumbling bush taxis float over the pot-holed roads around the center, while the bustling boulevard of Broad Street, nestled between the meanders of the Mesurado River and the Atlantic Ocean, is a picture of life.
Here, you can expect throbbing beer bars and the fading remains of old 19th-century townhouses; you can tour the fascinating National Museum and trace the history of Liberia’s coups and counter coups, civil wars and political trails at the eerily abandoned Ducor Hotel.
2. Sapo National Park
Unquestionably the most famous of Liberia’s duo of national parks comes in the form of the Sapo National Park.
This 1,804 square kilometer territory of the Upper Guinean Rainforest is said to have one of the highest mammal biodiversity counts of anywhere in the world.
And boy does it show! Intrepid folk who opt to delve into the old growth woods will get to spy out pygmy hippopotami and white-crested Diana monkeys, crocodiles, leopards, speckle-throated otters and chimpanzees.
There’s also an interesting history to unravel, with dark episodes having unfolded here during Liberia’s civil wars and even a fully-fledged gold rush having taken place in the early noughties.
The king of all Liberia’s surfing spots (and there are quite a few), Robertsport has positioned itself firmly on the forefront of the country’s new tourism drive.
Long-haired wave riders with board wax in hand now flock to join the surfing troupes and hit the rolling Atlantic swells that buffet the likes of Fisherman’s Point, Cotton Trees and Cassava.
Surf schools are also popping up to get beginner travelers out and onto the waves, while others will just come to hike the coastal stretches to see the pretty reaches of Cape Mount Bay, and see the trademark timber and stone churches that pepper the shore.
Located around just three hours by rumbling bush taxi south out of the capital at Monrovia, the seaside city of Buchanan is a fine introduction to the coastal character of this part of West Africa.
The beaches are all undeveloped to the T, with swaying palm trees and groups of local children playing in the shallows.
Many opt to camp here, while others will hit the city itself, seeking out one of the few guesthouses that lurk between the frenetic markets and streets.
There is also a stretch of beach bars to enjoy, found nestled between the crumbling bamboo shacks along the shore.
Gbarnga might seem just another of the sprawling ramshackle towns that sprout from the sweeping mud plains and forests of inland Liberia, but this regional capital of Bong County has just a little more history and heritage up its sleeve than most.
For one, it was the place where the infamous political and rebel leader Charles Taylor coordinated actions of various civil wars across the area during the 1980s and 90s.
The town is also the home of the more than 100-year-old Cuttington University; one of the most prestigious in the country.
Add in a couple of dramatic waterfalls and earthy guesthouses, and Gbarnga becomes and exciting place to visit away from the more popular coastal destinations.
Visitors will find the industrial outpost of Harbel straddling the meanders of the Farmington River, just a stone’s throw back from the Atlantic coast, where Marshall and the monkey-dotted beaches of the resort towns south out of Monrovia make their home.
Famed primarily as the home of the largest rubber plantation in the world, Harbel is engulfed by swathes of rubber tree forests, many of which bear the familiar corporate name of Bridgestone tyres.
The town is also known as the site of the Roberts International Airport – the main access point to the north-west of the nation.
7. Gola National Forest
The Gola National Forest is the new name for the Lofa-Mano National Park: a great dash of primeval rainforest that sprawls out along the northern border of the country with Sierra Leone.
One of the densest remaining tracts of Upper Guinean woodland in the region, the area has everything you’d expect of a real West African wilderness.
Yep, you can expect verdant canopies and seemingly endless stretches of colossal tree trunks and boughs, hidden fern fields where exotic dragonflies flit between the flowers, swinging chimpanzees, rare pygmy hippopotamus – the list goes on!
8. Bushrod Island
The island of Bushrod gets its name from one of the few American politicians that actually advocated the resettlement of slaves on the continent back in the 1800s.
But that’s about as deep as the erstwhile politician, Bushrod Washington’s, influence runs in this mangrove-fringed port town on the edge of the Atlantic.
Today, streets of tooting vehicles run in and out of the jetties and docks, the ramshackle slums of New Kru Town sprawl close to the shoreline, and there’s an indelible energy of life throughout.
It’s not the most comfortable place to visit, granted, but it is an interesting glimpse at working, modern Liberia nonetheless.
Tourists will really only make a beeline for the ocean-side reaches of laid-back Marshall for two reasons.
The first is its smattering of empty beaches, each backed by verdant pockets of palm forest and mangrove swamps, and perfect for enjoying some truly intrepid camping on the Liberian coast.
The second is the small archipelago appropriately named Monkey Island.
Here, a troupe of feisty chimps inhabit the jungles.
They were rescued from research labs during the civil war, and now are particularly fond of swinging in the boughs, teasing tourists and catapulting fresh fruit from their branches at passing boats – you’ve been warned!
With just 23,000 people making Zwedru their home, and a whopping seven-hour drive separating the spot from the country’s capital on the coast, this far-flung county seat might not seem like the best place to add to that Liberia itinerary.
However, Zwedru has a number of interesting features that you simply won’t find in the more trodden reaches of the west.
For starters, it still retains something of an earthy, industrial vibe, thanks to its fledging logging enterprises.
And then there’s that unrivalled access to the dense Upper Guinean jungles, complete with multi-coloured tropical hummingbirds and uber-rare plant species aplenty.
The end-point on the relatively well-functioning Monrovia-Kakata Highway that departs the capital and delves in the western wilds of Liberia, this small regional hub of Margibi County is where the bucolic heartlands of West Africa finally take over the landscapes.
They do so in the form of seemingly endless rubber plantations, and Kakata has made its name (and modest fortune) as one of the rubber trading and transporting outposts of the nation.
Come to see the dust-caked community churches and delve into the lively local marketplaces that erupt ad hoc on the streets throughout the week.
One of the favoured gateways to the aforementioned Sapo National Park (which can be found lurking between the dense forests just a little to the east of town), Greenville is no stranger to tourists.
However, while most who arrive simply stock up and head out to see the chimps and exotic rainforests of the reserve, those who linger will get to see an intriguing remnant of Liberia’s resettlement era – the town does still bear the moniker of its namesake in Mississippi after all! There are also some interesting villages to explore up the courses of the Sinoe River, along with some truly unspoilt beaches along the coast to the west.
Situated in the extreme south of Liberia, where the turns of the African panhandle give way to the beaches of the Ivory Coast, the city of Harper has its fair share of both natural and human attractions.
For starters, the shores to the north-west and south of town are fringed with gorgeous Robinson Crusoe sands, with swaying coconut palms bristling against the Atlantic breezes at their back.
And then there are the remnants of Liberia’s old slave settlers, who are thought to have first begun crafting the modern state on the lands of Cape Palmas where Harper now stands.
You’ll see this legacy in the age-stained colonial frontispieces and arcaded plantation-style homes.
Set deep amidst the sun-scorched jungles of Liberia’s extreme north-eastern edge, the small regional hub of Voinjama offers a picture of rustic West African life.
The roads are caked in mud and the houses topped with thatch or sheets of hardwearing zinc to keep out the sporadic torrents of rain.
The humidity can get unbearable, but if you’re feeling adventurous (and we mean really adventurous), a trek out to the surrounding timber villages might just be worth it.
You’ll cross swinging monkey bridges and meet communities all but cut-off from modern life.
Sanniquellie is a small town that sits close to the international tristate border with Ivory Coast and Guinea in the extreme west of the country.
A bustling little market dominates the center of the place, with rows of colourful fruits and vegetables plucked straight from the fields making up the bulk of the produce sold.
After haggling your way through this, you can settle in one of the earthy local beer bars, or opt to wax up the walking boots and make a beeline for the East Nimba Nature Reserve.
This breathtaking end of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Strict Nimba boasts rare highland savannahs, lowland rainforests and rare animals like the West African lion to boot!