Finding Relaxation on the Banana Islands

Banana Islands Sierra Leone

I knew travelling West Africa was going to be a challenge. The fact that I was passing through it during the rainy season would only add to my struggles. But I think I underestimated West Africa a little bit. Other than a stretch between Makeni and Freetown, I’d basically spent the past two weeks travelling on dirt roads, bush paths or something claimed to be a trail. I’d travelled on the backs of motorcycles, stuffed into Peugeot 505s, and on the wooden bench seats of poda-poda mini-buses. The truth is, by the time I reached Freetown, I had lost most of the padding on my rear-end as a result of the bumps and bruises.

Arriving in Freetown meant a week or two break from the bumps and their subsequent bruises. It meant exploring a part of Sierra Leone, and West Africa in general, that few people know about: the beaches.

Banana Islands Sierra Leone

When people hear the word Sierra Leone, the thoughts that roll through their minds couldn’t be further from that of a golden beach or beautiful waters. The media doesn’t share this part of Sierra Leone with the world, partly because the story just isn’t sexy enough. Or maybe it’s for the same reason that I am hesitant about sharing it; I like having it to myself.

Banana Islands Sierra Leone

I took a pirogue boat from the tip of Freetown Peninsula, a town called Kent, to the stunning Banana Islands. Having heard of their beauty I expected droves of tourists, or at least expats escaping the city. I expected big fancy hotels being erected and swimming pools being dug. Instead, I found myself in the same familiar position I had been throughout most of West Africa: alone.

Banana Islands Sierra Leone

I have always been a very independent person, and I feel like I do “alone” quite well. But the truth is that travelling through West Africa has taking things to a whole new level. To this point, the last time I saw a tourist was the day I left Dakar almost 2 months earlier. But like anything in travel, with challenge comes a lesson learned. My lesson here on the Banana Islands is that of relaxation.

With no solid electricity, no tourists, no escape, on the Banana Islands I am left to my own devices without distractions. I’ve never been good with being distraction free, it bores me to no end. But here on the islands, I have no choice but to sit patiently on the soft sand beaches listening to the waves lap against the rocks. I have no choice but to look off at the beauty of Freetown Peninsula in the distance with a beer in my hand. I have no choice but to relax.

I know that in reading this you probably hate me right now. I’m sure that for most people, what is my boredom is their bliss.

But somewhere between a can of Carlsberg and a painted sunset something funny happened; I felt comfortable just being. I felt relaxed, washed away from concerns of website traffic, magazine deadlines and facebook “likes”. I realized that relaxation isn’t a beach in Sierra Leone, but a state of mind. It’s allowing the stress of the world you live in to be put on hold for a little while, regardless how beautiful the stresses in your life may be.

Banana Islands Sierra Leone Brendan

While returning to the mainland, I came to the realization that my life – no matter how marvelous it may be, no matter how awesome my daily realities are, and no matter how simple my daily stresses are – needs more of these moments of zen like this. The Banana Islands taught me something no place on earth has before: the value of relaxation.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi you discovered really amazing places. I am falling back in nostalgia by viewing the pictures you add here with this post. And i agree that most of the people don’t hear about that region of Sierra Leone because of media not intended to report about these places. I will try to follow these pictures someday.

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  2. Beautiful photos! I’m so glad you admit how difficult it is to travel that part of the world and weren’t like, “oh ya, peice of cake” or I would suddenly feel like a complete pansy. It’s one of those destinations that once you’re there you are basking in heaven but it didn’t come without a price. I’m going to Guinea (worst transport ever with 12 people stuffed in a decrepit old station wagon, right?? Plus half a dozen on the roof.) in February for just a short trip but I am SO curious to see how I react to it all. The last time I was there was 4 years ago! Wow, time flies!!!

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  3. I am a ‘senior citizen’ of this amazing if beautiful country who years ago embarked on starting a charter flight to provide easy affordable access to our country. Indeed, I was engaged in a passionate argument with a fellow citizen larevealits basic ed who, like me, has spent a whole lifetime living in Europe/Holland in her case, and had suggested that any foreigner wanting to visit Sierra Leone should first go to South Africa as an introduction to Africa. Sierra Leone had a promising tourist organisation in the 50s and 60s at the time the Gambia tourist trade was being developed, which was destroyed through war, and other factors in the intervening years. As we return to stability and a programme for progress, there is great potential to rebuild our tourism.
    Your post has touched on many salient factors that will need to be addressed; like you, my recent visit to Banana Island revealed its basic facilities at present that must be further developed. The potential for a thriving tourist trade is immense, and there is no reason why Sierra Leone, and the rest of West Africa could not join the world in the foreseeablw future!! I congratulate you on a well presented case!

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