Dry and dusty in the summer, the Karoo comes alive with an explosion of colorful wildflowers in Spring.Read More
The most beautiful island in the world.
It is hard for me to describe Stromboli without being overly cliché and using the common Mediterranean stereotypes. The water is blue and clear, the houses are whitewashed, and magenta bougainvillea populate every garden. Stromboli is incredibly beautiful and off the grid.
Stromboli is an island in the Aeolian archipelago off the coast of Sicily. There are six other islands, and each has its own charm: Vulcano has active thermal sites and smells of sulfur, Panarea is chic and upmarket, and I discovered that Stromboli was adventurous and wild.
Getting here is a easy ferry ride from Milazzo, a port city in Sicily. You can also get here from Messina, Reggio di Calabria, and a few large ferries continue to Naples. There are no cars on the island, because the roads are so tiny. Only ape cars (can you even call them cars) transport people and things on the island.
There are two settlements in Stromboli, San Bartolo and Ginostra. San Bartolo is where everything is, and Ginostra is smaller and only accessible by boat. It's very easy to walk from end to end in San Bartolo and visit the little black sand beaches and coves. The highlight, and main attraction of Stromboli is its active volcano. Around every 15 minutes there is a large explosion of smoke and lava, which is visible from the observatory restaurant around 30 minutes out of town. It's situated on the side of the volcano so it has perfect views of the crater. I found out that every few years the geology of the volcano changes. For example, a few years ago, lava flowed down the side of the volcano, so boats would go out at night to watch the spectacle. This stopped and the volcano went back to frequent explosions.
You can climb Stromboli at night, which is a once in a lifetime experience. After renting equipment (hiking shoes, helmet, flashlight) from any trekking shop, you can hike up with a guide at around 5 pm. It takes around 4 hours to climb up the 900 meters to the crater, and it's dark when you reach the top. My experience was almost apocalyptic. Clouds had condensed at the top so we couldn't see anything, and wind was blowing small particles of volcano everywhere. And every 15 minutes, just as Stromboli has done for thousands of years, the clouds lit up fire-red as the crater in front of us exploded lava a hundred meters into the sky. The descent then takes one hour, and you're practically running down black sand in the sciara del fuoco - stream of fire. Expect to dump loads of sand out of shoes at the end.
Stromboli is incredibly romantic and off the grid. You can get the whole Mediterranean experience without the cost and crowds of her older developed sisters like Capri and Mykonos. Accommodation is largely in the form of self service rooms in houses, as there are no large hotels or chains on the island. Stromboli doesn't have much in terms of tourist infrastructure, but that is what makes it such an attractive island getaway, and you can truly feel disconnected from the outside world after a few days.
When I was little, our family would often go to the swimming pool at a nice hotel out of town. My brother and I would play, and my mother would read books. She would give me short summaries of the plots, and I was interested, because she always chose good books. The House At Sugar Beach is one that I remember with fuzzy memory. I remember envisioning a white beach, made of sugar, of course. There was also a large, wooden beach house surrounded by tropical plants. My mother told me that this was a house in Liberia, where a family lived and then fled because they were scared of being killed.
All these memories faded in the back of my mind, and I never heard about the book again. We were living in Uganda at the time; I graduated high school and went to university in the States. Liberia fleeted in and out of the news, since the Ebola outbreak was occurring. My mother then actually moved to Liberia, and now I’m fortunate to add this country to my list of homes.
So, I picked up that dusty book from the shelf, and read it. It was about the Cooper Family, a prominent Americo-Liberian family. There was a fair amount of Liberian history in it, all of which I had no idea about. It still boggles my mind when I think about how the freed African American slaves settled in Liberia, only to enslave the local population there.
I went to Liberia for the first time in 2016. There were many beautiful sights: the golden beaches, the hazy Harmattan sunsets, and lush forest. There were also some sad sights: bullet holes scattered across almost every building and mass graves dug during the Ebola outbreak.
As much as it pains me to say, Liberia is not a tourist destination. The infrastructure is not good enough to support tourists, and the country seems to be focusing on other things. I couldn’t recommend visiting unless you knew people in the country already.
Monrovia, the capital, is the main city of entry for foreigners. Robertsfield International Airport is around 1.5 hours from the city (I do not know why airports in Africa are so far away from the cities they serve) and you’ll probably arrive at nighttime.
The Ducor Hotel: This is a very prominent building in Monrovia, however it is totally destroyed. In the 1960s it was one of the most luxurious hotels in Africa, until the civil war caused it to close in 1989. You can visit the hotel (pay the guards $5, they'll give you a guided tour anyways) and climb to the top, where you’ll find spectacular views of Monrovia and the Atlantic Ocean. Take time to visit the rooms, and imagine what it would look like if you were there 50 years ago.
Kendeja Hotel and Libassa Ecolodge: a little ways out of town, but these two resorts are great day trip destinations to swim in the pool and lounge on the beach.
Waterside Market: This place is so fun! Waterside Market is chaotic and raw. I came with a friend to shop for vegetables and household things. Walk with confidence and don’t be afraid. Talk to the shop owners, and take a look at the bushmeat for sale.
Places to eat:
- The Capital Room (my pick for sundowners)
- The Living Room
- Mamba Point Hotel Restaurant
- Mama Susu
- Angler’s Bar & Grill
- Golden Beach Restaurant (my top choice!)
I didn’t make it outside of Monrovia, but Liberia has a lot of offer. Your next city should be Robertsport, which is around 4 hours from Monrovia. This is a really small town right on the coast, with beaches where surfing has become quite popular. Camping on the beach is highly recommended.
Harper is a step back in time, as it features buildings (mostly destroyed) that look like Southern States plantation houses. The beaches and surrounding forests here are almost untouched, but you’ll need some luck getting here: it’s anywhere between a 12 hour to 2 day drive depending on road conditions. Harper is in the south located near the Cote d’Ivoire border.
Sapo National Park is Liberia’s only national park, and West Africa’s last tract of primary rainforest. There are pygmy hippos, forest elephants, and chimpanzees, as well as many endemic plants and animals. There is no formal accommodation, and no tourist facilities, so you need to be very adventurous as well as self-sustaining. This is Liberia at it’s most extreme.