The road network fell into disrepair during the civil war. However, there has been a substantial reconstruction programme which means the main roads to regional cities such as Bo, Kenema and Makeni are in excellent condition. The road to Kabala mostly smooth tar, with a few terribly potholed patches. The road to Kono/Koidu is for three quarters tar, but the remaining quarter is in mostly terrible condition. It means it takes as much time to cover 3/4 of the distance as it takes for the balance 1/4. Government has planned to upgrade the last stretch.
The peninsular road is good from Eastern Freetown clockwise around the peninsular to Tokeh. Work has started on the remaining section to Lumley, but at the beginning of 2016 is complete only from Lumley to Sussex, with the section between No. 2 Beach and Tokeh being nearly impassable to all but high-clearance 4WD and motorbikes.
The roads in Freetown are difficult to characterize. In central Freetown, the main roads are mostly smooth and pothole-free, having been constructed from high-quality asphalt a long time ago. Side streets are often a mixture of dirt and gravel, sometimes with large protruding stones, deep crevasses, and other potential dangers. Some main feeder roads are in atrocious condition. Wilkinson Road and Spur Road have been reconstructed as dual carriage ways. The Hillside bypass road is also being constructed, which will make the transit from east to west much easier. Work has also been completed on Regent Road through the mountains, Main Motor Road, Wilberforce, Signal Hill Road, Aberdeen/Sir Samuel Lewis Road and Lumley Beach Road. The ongoing reconstruction works mean that roads can be closed and alternative routes have to be used.
Street parking on major routes such as Wilkinson Road is not permitted. This also applies to the layby’s, where stopping is only permitted for a short time. The local police are using wheel clamps which can very quickly be applied. These will require a visit to the local police with Le300,000 to get released.
Driving under the influence of alcohol was often not taken seriously in the past. The police do now have breathalysers and will test and act against anyone suspected of being drunk whilst driving. Traffic lights have started to appear in Freetown and are usually observed by drivers.
When walking, always keep your eyes in front of you: most of the sidewalks in Freetown have “death traps” – missing blocks of cement that could lead to a nasty fall into an open gutter. For this reason, most Freetown residents choose to walk in the street and avoid sidewalks, a major contributing factor to the city’s congestion.
Poda-poda is the Sierra Leonean term for ye old West African bush taxi. Poda-podas are a lot less fun than your average bush taxi, though, reflecting the country’s relative poverty compared to the rest of the region. The vehicles seem to be stitched together with thread, always nearly at the breaking point, six people for each row of three seats, blaring hip hop turning off and on with application of the gas pedal, never sure whose sweat that is, never sure whether it will make the next hill. They are really cheap, though. Intercity trips often cost Le1,500-2,500 (in 2017, less than USPoda-poda is the Sierra Leonean term for ye old West African bush taxi. Poda-podas are a lot less fun than your average bush taxi.50), and any trip within Freetown just Le1,000. Shared taxis are marginally more comfortable, but still packed to the gills, and usually about the same price.
The Sea Coach Express boathouse under the bridge between Aberdeen and Murray Town in Freetown is happy to charter the same nice speedboats they use for airport transfers to take you up and down the coast and up the Sierra Leone River. If you have a larger group of people, dropping US$300-400 for a daytrip down to the Banana Islands, Bonthe Island, Turtle Islands, or even just some random stretch of long-lost beach could be absolutely worth the cost.
Moto-taxi is a very efficient way of getting around, with low prices, decent mobility on bad roads, and the ability to skirt past traffic. But they are dangerous. And when traveling on dirt roads, you will wind up covered in dust, often choking on the stuff kicked up by larger vehicles. The driver is required to wear a helmet and to have one to offer to the passenger. Yeah, right. It’s also against the law nowadays to have more than two people on one motorcycle. So if you have three people on one bike, and you are approaching a vehicle check, one person will have to get off and walk through the checkpoint.
Buying your own motorcycle is probably the ideal mode of independent travel. Even the worst roads will be passable in dry season, and you won’t have to worry about being transported by careless drivers. Be aware that driving your bike inside the major cities is dangerous due to the crazy traffic, but outside the cities you should be OK as long as you wear a helmet with a visor to protect yourself from dust.