Hike Mount Nimba, Liberia: an abandoned mining site and the highest point in West Africa

View of Mount Nimba scarred by mining, with Blue Lake at its base

If you have a few days and happen to be in Liberia, you can hike to the top of the tallest peak in West Africa and the point where three countries converge. The views over Liberia, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire are stunning and the region’s mining history, evident every step of the way, is fascinating. In my opinion, climbing Mount Nimba is one of the best things to do in Liberia.

Mt. Nimba used to be even taller before the Swedish mining company Lamco carved it up in the 60’s and 70’s. Today it’s a protected reserve where mining and hunting are prohibited, and a new project is underway to extract all the old mining machinery and sell it as scrap. The green grass and panoramic views into three countries contrast strikingly with the scarred topography and industrial ruins.

Nothing in West Africa is straightforward, but in this quick guide I’ll give you some hints on how to get to Yekepa (the starting point), how to find a guide, and what to expect from your hike up Mt. Nimba.

My Mount Nimba Hike

Female tourist hikes ridgeline of Mt Nimba in Liberia

It’s a weird hobby, but when I travel to a new country I usually look for the tallest mountain and find out if I can climb it. This wouldn’t work out very well for me in, say, the Himalayas… but in West Africa it’s totally doable.

Consider Mount Nimba, the highest peak in West Africa (unless you count Cameroon) at an elevation of only 5,748 feet. It also happens to be the highest point in Liberia, and Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire, lying at the point where all three countries meet. A three-for-one! Of course I had to climb it.

Travel in Liberia

Truck on muddy dirt road in Liberia
A typical “main road” in Liberia

I did this hike as part of a 2.5 month, 5 country, solo overland trip through West Africa in 2018. Liberia turned out to be the biggest surprise of that trip. I went in expecting danger and fear, and came out overwhelmed by the feeling of connection and belonging I had experienced there.

Liberia a friendly, challenging, extremely off the beaten track travel destination where authentic connection is absolutely unavoidable. Muddle your way through Liberia for even a day or two and you’ll have a collection of travel stories most adventure travelers will envy.

It goes without saying that you’ll want to do your research before planning a trip to Liberia. You’ll need to have your vaccinations, malaria precautions, street smarts, gear, tolerance for discomfort, and patience all dialed in and ready to go. See this post on things to do in Liberia for a bit more detail.

Getting To Yekepa via Ganta

Colorful buildings in Ganta Liberia
Colorful street in Ganta

The curious mining town of Yekepa lies in the north of central Liberia, close to the border with Guinea.

To reach Yekepa from the capital Monrovia, take a shared taxi to Ganta on a rare (for Liberia) stretch of paved highway, about 3 hours if nothing goes wrong. In Ganta transfer to another shared taxi for the shorter (in mileage) but much bumpier trip on dirt roads to Yekepa.

If you start early in the morning from Monrovia you might be able to reach Yekepa in one day, but I recommend spending a night in Ganta anyway. I stayed at and highly recommend the basic but clean Traveller’s Motel, run by a friendly and industrious local family.

A note of caution: I caught my taxi to Ganta from the Red Light taxi park in Monrovia. While I felt the safety warnings for Monrovia were exaggerated in general, at least during daylight, I did feel on edge in the Red Light area. If you do catch a taxi from there, keep the car doors locked and windows up if possible, and your belongings close to you. While most people there don’t want to cause you any trouble, it’s the kind of crowded and chaotic area where the rare thief could easily get away with something.

Yekepa

Old mosque in Yekepa Liberia
An old mosque in the locals’ section of Yekepa

Yekepa was aptly described to me by an expat there as “a drinking town with a mining problem.” This fascinating little town is owned and operated by the iron mining company ArcelorMittal, which mines ore from the surrounding mountains, sends it by train to the port of Buchanan, and exports it to other countries.

It’s a strange place where white pickup trucks with labels like Y122 rattle through dusty neighborhoods with names like Area P. Rows of decaying concrete buildings house local families, while expats live in grids of sterile white container houses with air conditioning and satellite TV. Uniformed local kids walk to company-built schools in the morning, and in the evening mine workers stroll back into town wearing reflective clothing, hard hats dangling from their hands. And then, it seems like almost everyone goes out for a beer – or five – and chats about work, home, and “the company.”

Turquoise church in Yekepa Liberia
A nice church in Yekepa

My time in Yekepa was made memorable by some encounters with expat AccelorMittal employees, clearly extroverted folks lonely for contact with humans from outside their isolated world. One of them, a South African technical training specialist, cooked me a much-appreciated dinner of spaghetti bolognaise in his impeccably appointed container house while reminiscing about his family and soaking up my travel tales. Another, a general manager from Ghana working abroad for the expat salary, would have preferred a romantic encounter but settled for polite conversation. If you spend a bit of time wandering around Yekepa you’ll likely meet some interesting characters.

Where To Stay and Eat in Yekepa

Alvino Hotel, Yekepa Liberia
The Alvino Hotel

The Alvino Hotel is only hotel in Yekepa. It’s mostly a home base for visiting mining employees and the very occasional tourist. I negotiated a 33% discount off the quoted price, which was a bit high, and ended up in a well-appointed but dirty room.

If you walk out of the hotel parking lot and turn left, you’ll come to an uninspiring little grocery shop and a restaurant. The open-air restaurant, dotted with massive round concrete tables, comes to life after dark with flowing beer and Nigerian hip hop. On the night I visited the menu was a mix of face-meltingly spicy cow meat, stomach-churning bush meat, and delicious fried plantains.

The area around Alvino Hotel feels oddly industrial and a bit cold compared to many other cheerfully ramshackle West African towns. It’s worth taking a stroll up the road toward the market – called Down Market Road on Google Maps – to meet some locals and buy some snacks from the friendly vendors.

Boy stands near drying clothes beside a dirt street in Yekepa Liberia
Small street in residential part of Yekepa

Finding A Guide for Mount Nimba

Tell the folks at the Alvino Hotel that you want to climb Mount Nimba and they’ll help you find a guide. They had this paper available in their lobby when I was there, making the pricing much more transparent than is typical in this part of the world:

Fees for admission and guide in East Nimba Nature Reserve

I called the number on the sheet and arranged for a forest ranger to meet me at the hotel the next morning. Ranger Sando arrived wearing a reassuringly official ranger t-shirt and carrying his own water bottle, both firsts in my West Africa hiking experience.

Sando was a competent and professional guide. Like most guides I’ve encountered in Africa, he hiked super fast, and his Liberian English was hard for me to understand. Nevertheless, we had a good hike.

Climbing Mt. Nimba

The hike itself only takes a few hours if you begin from the usual starting point of Blue Lake, already well up the mountain. Plan to walk about 6 – 9 miles total, depending on what you and your guide decide.

Ranger Sando originally suggested we hire a motorbike to take us to Blue Lake, but when I balked at the price he arranged for us to catch a ride in a company car headed up on official business. We had to wait around for a while, but I didn’t mind as there were plenty of old mining equipment artifacts nearby to explore.

Mining relics on Mt Nimba: where iron ore used to be loaded into train cars
Abandoned building where iron ore used to be deposited into train cars for the trip to the coast
Crumbling concrete mining relics on Mt. Nimba
Crumbling abandoned mining structures – watch your step!

From the dropoff point at Blue Lake it’s a steep and sometimes muddy 3 miles to the peak of Mt. Nimba and the point where Liberia, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire converge. The views over all three countries are superb and the scarred land is a stark reminder of the ever-present mining industry.

At the point where the borders converge, Ranger Sando took me bushwhacking a bit to one side, then to the other. He even humored my bad jokes – We’re in Ivory Coast now? Oh no, I forgot my passport! – in broken English. Though it’s just an arbitrary point on the map, it was strangely compelling, especially since my three month West Africa trip included time spent in each of the three countries I was touching.

Hiking guide walks along ridge of Mount Nimba in West Africa
My guide, Ranger Sando, leading the way

From the summit you’ll retrace the three miles back down to Blue Lake, then walk for another couple miles to see some old mining relics up close. When I was there in May of 2018 they had just begun a project to collect and remove massive amounts of old mining equipment from the days when Swedish mining company Lamco operated in the area. Abandoned and left to deteriorate during the damaging and brutal years of Liberia’s civil war, it’s now being hauled out and sold as raw metal.

Workers cut apart old mining equipment to sell as scrap on Mount Nimba
Looking into a deep pit where workers cut abandoned mining equipment into chunks to haul out and sell as scrap. A totally bizarre scene!
Guide lies flat on concrete beam and looks down into pit
Ranger Sando looking into the abyss
Big gears and machinery parts from abandoned mining equipment on Mt Nimba
Massive gears and cogs left over from Lamco mining activity in the 1960s and 70s. The equipment was abandoned during Liberia’s civil war and is now being collected and sold as scrap metal.

From Blue Lake we walked back down to the base camp on foot, about a mile, then rode back to the Alvino Hotel on Sando’s motorbike.

Camping on Mount Nimba

Blue Lake, Mt Nimba Liberia
Road to the campsite at Blue Lake

It’s possible to camp overnight at Blue Lake before and/or after hiking to the summit. I saw the site and it seemed like a nice idea, especially if you’re traveling in a group. As a solo traveler I didn’t feel it was worth the extra money for the overnight guide and cook and I had already done some lovely camping in West Africa.

Timing and Itinerary

How long do you need to climb Mount Nimba? If you’re starting and ending in Monrovia I would say at least 4 days, ideally 5.

Once you’re in Yekepa the hike can be done in one day, but you’ll need to arrange a guide first. If you don’t already have this set up, get to Yekepa at least one day before and ideally have a flexible schedule (a must when traveling in West Africa anyway).

Here’s the timeline I followed:

Day 1: Monrovia to Ganta

Day 2: Ganta to Yekepa, walk around Yekepa, arrange guide

Day 3: Hike Mount Nimba

Day 4: Yekepa back to Ganta

Day 5: Continued my journey east from Ganta to Zwedru

What to Bring

Mount Nimba is just a day hike from the Liberian side, so you don’t need much. I recommend bringing:

  • Drinking water
  • Snacks for you and your guide
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Light rain jacket if there’s a chance of rain
  • Camera

Shoes you can hike in. I wore my usual trail running shoes, but there’s a reason my guide wore rubber boots. Prepare for wet feet.

Other Ways to Climb Mount Nimba

Being located at the intersection of three countries, you might wonder if Mount Nimba can be climbed from the other two. The answer: I’m not totally sure. In Sierra Leone I met a Peace Corps volunteer who had climbed it from the Guinea side during her assignment there, but I haven’t found any other reports online and don’t know if it’s still easy to arrange. I believe locals can climb it from Ivory Coast but I don’t know of any tourists who have. If you find out, let us know in the comments section please!

Safety, Hassles, and the Solo Female Traveler Factor

Security check point entering Yekepa Liberia
Security checkpoint outside Yekepa

I traveled through West Africa, including Liberia, as a solo young(ish) white female. Many people thought I was insane, but I maintain the risks are much smaller than most people think as long as basic common sense is used.

Yekepa is a pretty safe town, though it would be silly (not to mention rude) to wave around your money and electronics. My guide was impeccably professional, always appreciated when I choose to hike in isolated areas alone with a male guide. Still, it’s a good idea to make sure the hotel staff know you’re heading to Mount Nimba and with which guide (chances are they already do anyway).

Foreign-looking women in this part of the world attract a lot of interest, both sexual and potentially financial if a local man manages to steal a “rich” foreigner’s heart. If you’re a solo female traveler, it’s fine to be friendly but worth keeping your guard up and expecting that 75% of your interactions with local men have the potential to head in that direction. Most commonly this happens in the form of discussion about marital status, marriage proposals, or occasionally a direct proposition.

I received two propositions while in Yekepa, pretty typical for a few days of solo female travel in West Africa. Neither was aggressive, but I also felt it was prudent to stay in my hotel room after dinner and not open the door to potential visitors (there weren’t any), maintain a strong air of confidence when talking with local men, and not go overboard on the Club Beer that the entire town drinks like water.

Where To Go Next in Liberia

From Yekepa you have several interesting options:

  1. Return to Monrovia the way you came, passing through Ganta.
  2. Return to Ganta and then continue to the port towns of Buchanan or Greenville
  3. Continue north over the border to Guinea at Bossou
  4. Head east to the border with Ivory Coast and on to Danane
  5. Return to Ganta and then continue southeast to Zwedru and on to Harper, eventually crossing the coastal border with Ivory Coast near Tabou

This being Liberia, pretty much all of those options are adventures unless you head straight back to Monrovia (and even then, no guarantees).

I did the last one, traveling overland through Zwedru to Harper on truly horrible roads. It took days but was quite possibly the most unexpectedly awesome part of my time in West Africa.

Other Awesome Hikes in Africa

If you like the idea of climbing Mount Nimba, check out this overview of hiking in West Africa for more ideas, as well as the full West Africa travel resources list.

There’s a good chance you’ll also be into these other Africa hikes:

Other West Africa Travel Resources

You might also find these useful if you’re planning a trip to Liberia:

About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking the Colorado Trail, John Muir Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, and countless shorter amazing trails throughout the western US. I love solitude, big views, and a good lightweight gear setup. Learn more or say hi.

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8 thoughts on “Hike Mount Nimba, Liberia: an abandoned mining site and the highest point in West Africa”

  1. Hi. Interesting to read. It’s always interesting to read stories from an outsiders point of view.
    I’m from Sweden originally but lived in Yekepa and Buchanan between the ages of 2-16. My dad worked with LAMCO.
    I go back once or twice every year since I have an organisation helping woman and children in Yekepa.
    Maybe you met som of my friends whilst you were there.
    Normally when I go, there’s other “kids” that come along. A lot want to go back to see the place where they grew up but don’t dare to travel by themselves. So there’s always between 2-30 travelling with me.

    //Ann

    Reply
    • Hi Ann, wow, that must have been a very interesting place to grow up. I’m curious what you thought of it as a child, versus what you see now when you return, and how both compare to my outsider’s point of view. What’s the name of your organization there? Thanks for stopping by and saying hello.

      Reply
  2. Thank you for your report! A lot of useful information.
    But one question if you know: “Return to Ganta and then continue to the port towns of Buchanan or Greenville” – Is it difficult to reach Buchanan fromYekepa during one day? Did you see any buses to Buchanan in Ganta?

    Reply
    • Unfortunately I’m not sure. It’s possible that by leaving Yekepa early in the morning, you could catch a car in Ganta (there aren’t really any buses in Liberia) and arrive in Buchanan the same day. It’s also possible that a car will break down, get stuck in the mud, fill up and leave before you arrive, etc. So I’d say you could try for 1 day, but allow for 2 days as a worst-case scenario. Good luck and enjoy your trip! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Nice reading…. I was born and presently live in Yekepa… LAMCO was a great mining experience and I hope that more expats and old friends will come to see what has been left of a mighty community and mining site.

    Reply
  4. Nice reading, but the Liberian side of the mountain seems to be ruined and not so natural. It was destroyed by the LAMCO. You can ask the Guinean Park Foundation about the climbing possibilities from Guinea, they organize one or multi-day hikings. The Guinean side is currently untouched and beautiful; however the mining permission of a big company is under evaluation. TIA (This Is Africa)!

    Reply

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