Liberian Vacation Paradise
Some people call Liberia "Africa on steroids". There is a good reason for that – after years of civil unrest and 2014 Ebola pandemic the country might sometimes feel unpredictable with a vibe of uncertainty. Tourists don't flock there, but those who do come are mesmerized by it.
There are beautiful places to visit and things to enjoy: stunning beaches, Kpatawee waterfalls, Sapo National Forest, and all the food you can eat. When you start boarding the plane with Liberia as your destination, you can start thinking of palm butter, bitterleaf, fufu, and Liberian jollof rice.
Liberia is known for its beauty that often fails to deliver: snow white beaches, but no roads leading to them; rich tropical forests, but no amenities; open warm people, but very few flights leading to them.
With its dirt roads and artistic but poor children, its beaches, its tropical forest lagoons and tented beach lodges, its beautiful and dilapidated Monrovia, Liberia is really a diamond in the rough, a gem of the Third World.
When you sit in the back of the car taking you from the airport, you will see market women with baskets of fruit on their heads and babies on their backs and young boys selling bags with ice water. At the intersections you will see all kinds of bushmeat, poultry, and fish being sold right by the road because drivers are too lazy to pull over. And not just to pull over, to get out, so sellers will walk to your car.
If you have never been to Africa before, you will be most mesmerized by the sizes and quantity of things African women can carry and balance on their heads – a bucket, two buckets, all stacked and neat. The heat will seem unforgiving at first, so be ready to deal with it. Locals are used to the climate and don't pay any attention. They go about their day to day life, they throw parties for kids who lost loved ones to Ebola just recently, and they stand in front of the fans.
Once you've seen the city, head for the beach. Libassa resort is run by a French and Lebanese couple on the pristine land right by the beach. The resort is eco-friendly and offers thatched rondavels, multiple terraced swimming pools, a lagoon, and a "lazy river". Many local Lebanese people work in the resort, which is serene and peaceful in the glistening morning sun. Mangrove tree forests and barracuda, snapper, and grouper go about their day. By the resort, guests gather for breakfast after a night in their mosquito-netted beds.
The resort remains calm until the early afternoon when families with kids come to enjoy the water park-like attractions. Kids and young adults are learning how to swim in the lazy river, because despite growing up by the ocean, majority of population does not know how to swim. Libassa is a popular place for young couples on dates where they can join the water festivities, smoke some hookah, and mingle with Lebanese expats.
When it comes to the wildlife, West Africa has a lot to offer. You will not find zebras or lions here, but they have six monkey islands close by. All six of them are inhabited by chimpanzees, which still don't stop Liberians from calling the islands Monkey Islands.
Just like everything else in Liberia, Monkey Island is affected by foreign interests, war, disease, and redemption. All of that combined into one. One good example is New York Blood Center doing medical research with a colony of Liberian chimpanzees. The medical activity ended in 2005 and all chimpanzees were simply abandoned. Just like that. No food and no care. The animals were given free rein on six islands on the Farmington River not far from Monrovia. People were outraged and cried for help. Finally, the Humane Society and some other donors stepped in and still continue to care for chimps.
The chimps now run free. There are no tours, but you can hire a local fisherman and he will take you around the islands to view the animals. Animals are fed from canoes, people don't interact with them. Hiring local oarsmen is helping economy too.
Robertsport, another resort town and port, is a place where many freed slaves landed all these years ago. The slaves were sent to Liberia as a part of American Colonization Society's effort to rid America of black freemen. A lot of Liberian civil problems can be traced to the turmoil that slavery and then expatriation caused.
The city of Robertsport still has some of the zinc houses from the 1800s, with generations of the same families living there. The town is located between green Grand Cape Mount and a gorgeous Lake Piso. You will find people here and you will find ruins.
One of the best beaches in the country is at Nana's Lodge, a retreat sheltered from killer waves that can throw you into the ocean at many other places. You can stay at one of the Robinson Crusoe-like lodges on stilts and observe waves that can get up to 20 feet high – a true surfer's dream. While high, they are long and gentle, so anybody can learn how to surf.
Nana's lodge is a cute little resort, owned by a Liberian Musa Shannon. You can enjoy simple but fresh local food, fish at a beachside shack, and pineapple desert.
If you decide to go back to the city of Monrovia again, you can sample local hospitality and cuisine, various hotels and roof-top bars. Check out Royal Grand Hotel, where Lebanese expat Omar Eid has created Miami-meets-West-Africa vibe. Shopping maniacs will have a ball here too – fanti clothing, wooden canes, black mahogany masks, and tiny statues made of spent bullet shells from the civil war.
In conclusion, it doesn't matter why you are coming to Liberia – family ties or purely touristy goals – you will find a welcoming land, very unique and very sweet.