I will be traveling with my partner (who is Liberian) to Liberia in 2009. Do you have any advice?
-Mary, Minneapolis, Minn.
Devastated by near-continuous civil warfare between 1989 and 2003, Liberia today is struggling mightily to get back on its feet. Leading the country now is Africa's first democratically elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
While there was essentially no infrastructure when Johnson-Sirleaf (locals refer to her as 'Ellen,' the 'Iron Lady,' or simply 'Ma') took office, the beginnings of some degree of normalcy are returning. As for getting there, your best bet is probably Kenya Airways, which flies from its Nairobi hub to Roberts International Airport outside Monrovia, Liberia.
New restaurants, including local and international favorites like Terracotta in Sinkor, La Pointe in Mamba Point, Taaj Indian in Sinkor, and the Sushi Bar at the Royal Hotel in Sinkor, have opened. New hotels, too, have finally begun to open or renovate, including a four-star one built by BET founder Robert Johnson. His hotel is just outside Monrovia. Others include RLJ Kendeja Resorts & Villas, slated to open in March 2009. Other hotels that meet or approximate Western standards include the Royal Hotel, Mamba Point Hotel (whose restaurants are widely considered top-notch for Liberia), and the Cape Hotel.
As for stuff to do, the war destroyed most of the country's museums and cultural treasures. It also made travel outside the capital an exercise in patience. But still, you'll find plenty of beaches, some of which are quite lovely. Surfers rave about the waves in Robertsport, as chronicled in the documentary "Sliding Liberia." Ask your hotel or trusted locals for beach recommendations, as some are less safe (and some more polluted) than others.
When traveling in Monrovia at night (which we don't necessarily recommend), there's a fairly simple way to stick to the less dangerous areas: Go where the newly relit streetlights shine. Basically, in areas now lit by streetlights, the robbers retreat and lawful street life re-emerges. But again, the locals and your hotel are both good sources of the most up-to-date information on safety. And one last note: While we don't always think it necessary to register your presence with the local American Embassy when you're visiting a foreign country, that would be a good idea in Liberia.