Despite its rich diamond mines, Sierra Leone’s development has been challenged by political instability since independence in 1961. Throughout the 1990s it was gripped by savage civil war between the government and Revolutionary United. Freetown, pumped full of international aid, has a happy-go-lucky and vibrant atmosphere and Freetown Peninsula has some of west Africa’s most magical beaches. ln the interior are lush landscapes, jungle and reserves abundant with wildlife.November to April, but in the future when stability is restoredSplashing and partying at the stunning beaches-brilliant white sand backed by thick jungle Admiring spectacular views from Mt Bintumani, West Africa’s highest point Reflecting on history at Freetown’s famous 500-year-old cotton tree, under which slaves were sold until 1787 Diving and snorkeling in the crystal waters near Banana lslands Spotting elephants, pygmy hippos and rare bongo antelopes at Outamba-Kilimi National Park Being charmed by Sierra Leone’s wonderfully friendly peopleRead Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World’s Most Precious Stones by Greg CampbellListen to A Chapter of Roots by Siera Leonean singer/songwriter Freddy Shabaka, or the Brooders playing a jamming’ mix of roots, rock and reggaeWatch the disturbing and moving documentary, Cry Freetown, filmed byward-winning local cameraman Sorius Samura after the battle of 1999Eat groundnut stew (meat and ground-peanut s); pepper soup; steamed yam and roasted cornDrink light and fruity poyo (palm wine) and local Star beerGem smugglers; hot and humid equatorial weather mines; colourful markets; a country with indomitable spirit recovering from civil war; chaotic traffic jams; beach, beach and more beach; rare wildlife; okra-based mealsAt a Sierra Leone market you can buy anything, from enormous saucepans to a always-handy monkey skullsThe Mende and Tenne operate a syatem of secret societies responsible for maintaining culture and tradition, lf you see young children with their faces painted white, you’ll know that they’re in the process of being initiated. Masks are an important feature of some groups’ ceremonies and are highly prized (copies are made for tourists, but local cloth is often a better buy).