The Gambia is a country in West Africa mostly surrounded by Senegal with a short strip of its coastline bordered with the Atlantic Ocean at its western end. It is the smallest country on mainland Africa.
The Gambia is situated on either side of the Gambia River, the nation’s namesake, which flows through the centre of the Gambia and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. and the largest cities are Serekunda andBrikama.
The Gambia shares historical roots with many other West African nations in the slave trade, which was the key factor in the placing and keeping of a colony on the Gambia River, first by the Portuguese, during which era it was known as A Gâmbia; later, on 25 May 1765, the Gambia was made a part of the British colony when the government formally assumed control, establishing the Province of Senegambia. On 18 February 1965, the Gambia gained independence from the United Kingdom. Since gaining independence, the Gambia has had two leaders: the first was Dawda Jawara, who ruled from 1970 until 1994, when the current leader Yahya Jammeh seized power in a coup as a young army officer.
The Gambia’s economy is dominated by farming, fishing, and especially tourism. About a third of the population lives below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.
Why go? Beaches with sun and surf. Small fishing villages, nature reserves and historic slaving stations are close to the Atlantic. Inland are ecolodges and small wildlife parks. Great birdwatching on river cruises.
Official Name. Islamic Republic of The Gambia
Capital. Banju 13°28’N 16°36’W
Official Language. English. National Languages. Mandinka, Fula, Wolof, Serer, Jola.
Ethnic Groups. Mandinka 42%, Fula 18%, Wolof/Serer 16%, Jola 10%, Serahuli 9%, other Africans 4%, non-African 1%
Government. Dominant-party, Presidential Republic with National Assembly. President. Yahya Jammeh
Independence. 1965 from the United Kingdom
Area.10,689 sq. km. Water 11.5%
Population. 1,882,450 2013 census. Density 176.1/sq. km
GDP (PPP). $3.491bn. $1,715/per capita.
GDP (nominal). $757m. $371/per capita
When to Go. Nov-Dec: the dry season and best time to see wildlife and birds. Late Jun-Sep: Rainy season and many places close but no crowds. Oct & May: Decent weather and ideal for shoulder season discounts.
MONEY. Gambian dalasi (GMD), which is divided into 100 bututs. Banknotes come in 5, 10, 25, 50, & 100 dalasi values and you may find 25 & 50 butut and 1 dalasi coins in circulation. The exchange rates as of Sept 2016 are: 1USD=GMD42.3, 1€=GMD47.22. Maestro is not accepted at all. Many tourists have problems because of that. It is better you take CFA francs, euro or US dollars with you. There aren’t any official changing points at the borderm just very persistent black-market changers. You’ll be fine using CFA.
There are no ATMs upcountry.
Visa free for 90 days: Nationals of all EU/EEA member states (except Estonia, France, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain), plus Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Benin,Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Fiji, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau,Guyana, Honduras, Kiribati, Kosovo, Liberia, Laos, Lesotho, Macau, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia,Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Micronesia, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Nauru, Nepal, New Zealand,Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia,Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Swaziland, Taiwan, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, theUnited Arab Emirates, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela and Zambia.
Belgian nationals may also enter the Gambia using a national ID card in lieu of a passport.
Russia – may enter the Gambia visa-free for up to 56 days.
Nationals of the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Haiti, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, the Philippines, Seychelles, South Korea, Sri Lanka,Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda and Zimbabwe may enter the Gambia visa-free for up to 90 days on the condition that they obtain an entry clearance from the Gambian Immigration prior to travel unless travelling as a tourist on a charter flight.
Citizens of France, Portugal, Spain and the United States may obtain a visa on arrival.
Tourists from all nations arriving in the Gambia on a charter flight may enter visa-free for up to 90 days.
Visas can be obtained at the Gambian High Commission in Dakar, Senegal. Single entry visas cost USD100, XOF35,000 (about USD69, so a better deal!) or multi-entry for three month period cost XOF30,000.
A single entry visa could surely also be obtained at the border for XOF15,000, even when the embassy in Dakar claims and insists the opposite, as they wish you pay more to them instead!
Etymology. The name “Gambia” is derived from the Mandinka term Kambra/Kambaa, meaning Gambia river. According to several authoritiative sources, in English, the Gambia is one of only two countries whose self-standing short name begins with the word “the” (the other is The Bahamas).
Arab traders provided the first written accounts of the Gambia area in the ninth and tenth centuries. During the tenth century, Muslim merchants and scholars established communities in several West African commercial centres. Both groups established trans-Saharan trade routes, leading to a large trade in slaves, gold, ivory (exports) and manufactured goods (imports).
By the 11th or 12th century, the rulers of kingdoms such as Takrur (a monarchy centred on the Senegal River just to the north), ancient Ghana and Gao, had converted to Islam and had appointed Muslims who were literate in the Arabic languages courtiers. At the beginning of the 14th century, most of what is today called Gambia was part of the Mali Empire.
Europeans. The Portuguese reached this area by sea in the mid-15th century, and they began to dominate overseas trade.
In 1588, Courland, the claimant to the Portuguese throne, sold exclusive trade rights on the Gambia River to English merchants. In 1618, King James I of England granted a charter to an English company for trade with the Gambia and the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Between 1651 and 1661, some parts of the Gambia were under Courland’s rule, and had been bought by Prince Jacob Kettler, who was a Polish-Lithuanian vassal.
During the late 17th century and throughout the 18th century, the British Empire and the French Empire struggled continually for political and commercial supremacy in the regions of the Senegal River and the Gambia River. The British Empire occupied the Gambia when an expedition led by Augustus Keppel landed there—following the Capture of Senegal in 1758. The 1783 First Treaty of Versailles gave Great Britain possession of the Gambia River, but the French retained a tiny enclave at Albreda on the river’s north bank. This was finally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1856.
As many as three million slaves may have been taken from this general region during the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade operated. It is not known how many slaves were taken by intertribal wars or Muslim traders before the transatlantic slave trade began. Most of those taken were sold by other Africans to Europeans; others were prisoners of intertribal wars; some were victims sold because of unpaid debts; and others were simply victims of kidnapping.
Traders initially sent slaves to Europe to work as servants until the market for labour expanded in the West Indies and North America in the 18th century. In 1807, the United Kingdom abolished the slave trade throughout its empire. It also tried, unsuccessfully, to end the slave trade in the Gambia. Slave ships intercepted by the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron in the Atlantic were also returned to the Gambia, with liberated slaves released on MacCarthy Island far up the Gambia River where they were expected to establish new lives. The British established the military post of Bathurst (now Banjul) in 1816.
Gambia Colony and Protectorate (1821–1965). In the ensuing years, Banjul was at times under the jurisdiction of the British Governor-General in Sierra Leone. In 1888, The Gambia became a separate colony.
An agreement with the French Republic in 1889 established the present boundaries. The Gambia became a British Crown colony called British Gambia, After 1901, it gradually progressed toward self-government. Slavery was abolished in 1906. During World War II, some soldiers fought with the Allies of World War II mostly in Burma. Banjul contained an airstrip for the US Army Air Forces and a port of call for Allied naval convoys.
Independence 1965. The Gambia achieved independence on 18 February 1965, as a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth, with Elizabeth II as Queen of The Gambia, represented by the Governor-General. The constitution provides for a strong presidential government, a unicameral legislature, an independent judiciary, and the protection of human rights.
Five freely contested elections every five years were won by The People’s Progressive Party (PPP), headed by Dawda Jawara (30 years), after spearheading the movement toward complete independence from Britain. It was never seriously challenged by any opposition party. In 1970, The Gambia became a republic within the Commonwealth. The relative stability of the Jawara era was first shattered by an attempted coup in 1981 (followed a weakening of the economy and allegations of corruption) put down with the help of 3100 Senegalese troops. Between 500 and 800 people were killed during the coup and the resulting violence.
In 1982, Senegal and The Gambia signed a treaty of confederation to combine the armed forces, economies and currencies but The Gambia withdrew in 1989
Coup. In 1994, following corruption allegations against the Jawara regime and widespread discontent in the army, a largely bloodless and successful coup d’état installed 29-year-old army Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh into power.
In elections in 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2006, Jammeh and the APRC won sound majorities in what were deemed free, fair, and transparent elections, albeit with some shortcomings. A 2006 military coup was prevented.
The November 2011 elections were characterised as “not to be conducive for the conduct of free, fair and transparent polls” and Jammeh returned to another five-year term.
In 2012, the Gambia announced it would execute all death-row convicts, 42 men and two women, although it had not executed anyone in the past 30 years. Nine were executed in August 2012.
In December 2014, a failed coup attempt by American-Gambian dual citizens occurred.
In 2013, The Gambian left the Commonwealth of Nations ending 48 years of membership. The government said it “decided that The Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism”.
In 2015, President Jammeh declared The Gambia to be an Islamic republic, in what he said was designed to distance the country further from its colonial past.
The Gambia is a very small and narrow country whose borders mirror the meandering Gambia River. It lies between latitudes 13 and 14°N, and longitudes 13 and 17°W.
The Gambia is the smallest and most absurdly shaped country in Africa: 300kms long, it is less than 48.2 km (30.0 mi) wide at its widest point, with a total area of 11,295 km2 (4,361 sq mi). About 1,300 km2 (500 sq mi) (11.5%) of the Gambia’s area is covered by water. It is the smallest country on the African mainland. In comparative terms, the Gambia has a total area slightly less than that of the island of Jamaica. The terrain is a flood plain of the Gambia river flanked by some low hills — the highest point is just 53m above sea level. Vegetation consists mainly of savannah woodlands, gallery forests and saline marshes.
Western Gambia. The Kombos — The Atlantic coast and areas near the mouth of the river.
Upriver Gambia. The rest of the country, less populated and visited only by the adventurous.
6 National Parks and reserves protect 3.7% of the land. It is one of the best places in the world for bird watching. The main environmental issues are deforestation, overfishing and coastal erosion.
Senegal surrounds the Gambia on three sides, with 80 km (50 mi) of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean marking its western extremity. The present boundaries were defined in 1889 after an agreement between the United Kingdom and France giving the British control of areas about 16 km north and south of the Gambia River.
Climate. Gambia has a tropical climate. A hot and rainy season normally lasts from June until November, but from then until May, cooler temperatures predominate, with less precipitation. Natural hazards: drought (rainfall has dropped by 30% in the last 30 years).
The Gambia followed a formal policy of nonalignment throughout most of former President Jawara’s tenure. It maintained close relations with the United Kingdom, Senegal, and other African countries. The July 1994 coup strained the Gambia’s relationship with Western powers, particularly the United States, which until 2002 suspended most nonhumanitarian assistance. Since 1995, President Jammeh has established diplomatic relations with several additional countries, including Libya (suspended in 2010), and Cuba. The People’s Republic of China cut ties with the Gambia in 1995 after the latter established diplomatic links with Taiwan and reestablished in 2016.
The Gambia plays an active role in international affairs, especially West African and Islamic affairs, although its representation abroad is limited.
The Gambia withdrew from the Commonwealth of Nations in 2013, the government stating it had “decided that the Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism”.
Military. The Gambian Armed Forces consists of the Gambia National Army, Republican Guards comprising a well-trained and equipped Presidential Guards and the Special Forces, and the Navy. The Gambia is a regional leader in peacekeeping.
The Gambia has a liberal, market-based economy characterized by traditional subsistence agriculture, a historic reliance on groundnuts (peanuts) for export earnings, a re-export trade built up around its ocean port, low import duties, minimal administrative procedures, a fluctuating exchange rate with no exchange controls, and a significant tourism industry.
The World Bank pegs Gambian GDP for 2011 at US$898M; the International Monetary Fund puts it at US$977M for 2011.
From 2006 to 2012, the Gambian economy grew annually at a pace of 5–6% of GDP.
Agriculture accounts for roughly 30% of gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about 70% of the labour force. Within agriculture, peanut production accounts for 6.9% of GDP, other crops 8.3%, livestock 5.3%, fishing 1.8%, and forestry 0.5%. Industry accounts for about 8% of GDP and services around 58%. The limited amount of manufacturing is primarily agricultural-based (e.g., peanut processing, bakeries, a brewery, and a tannery). Other manufacturing activities include soap, soft drinks, and clothing.
The Gambian trade deficit for 2007 was $331 million.
Demographics. The urbanization rate as of 2011 was 57.3%. Provisional figures from the 2003 census show that the gap between the urban and rural populations is narrowing as more areas are declared urban. While urban migration, development projects, and modernization are bringing more Gambians into contact with Western habits and values, indigenous forms of dress and celebration and the traditional emphasis on the extended family remain integral parts of everyday life.
With about 115 people/sq. km, it has one of the highest population densities in Africa. 45% is under 14 years old.
The UNDP’s Human Development Report for 2010 ranks the Gambia 151st out of 169 countries on its Human Development Index, putting it in the ‘Low Human Development’ category. This index compares life expectancy, years of schooling, gross national income (GNI) per capita and some other factors.
The total fertility rate (TFR) was estimated at 3.98 children/woman in 2013.
Ethnic groups. A variety of ethnic groups live in the Gambia, each preserving its own language and traditions. The Mandinka ethnicity is the largest, followed by the Fula, Wolof, Jola, Serahule, Serers, Karoninka, Manjago and the Bianunkas. The Krio people, descendants of the Sierra Leone Creole people, are the smallest ethnic minorities in the Gambia and are traditionally concentrated in the capital.
The roughly 3,500 non-African residents include Europeans and families of Lebanese origin (0.23% of the total population). Most of the European minority is British, although many of the British left after independence.
Languages. English is the official language of the Gambia. Other languages are Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, Serer, Krio and other indigenous vernaculars. Due to the country’s geographical setting, knowledge of French (an official language in much of West Africa) is relatively widespread.
Education. The constitution mandates free and compulsory primary education in the Gambia. Lack of resources and educational infrastructure has made implementation of this difficult. In 1995, the gross primary enrollment rate was 77.1% and the net primary enrollment rate was 64.7%. School fees long prevented many children from attending school, but in February 1998, President Jammeh ordered the termination of fees for the first six years of schooling.Girls make up about 52% of primary school students. The figure may be lower for girls in rural areas, where cultural factors and poverty prevent parents from sending girls to school. Approximately 20% of school-age children attend Quranic schools.
Public expenditure was at 1.8% of the GDP in 2004, whereas private expenditure was at 5.0%. There were 11 physicians per 100,000 persons in the early 2000s. Life expectancy at birth was at 59.9 for females in 2005 and for males at 57.7.
According to the World Health Organization in 2005, an estimated 78.3% of Gambian girls and women have suffered female genital mutilation.
The 2010 maternal mortality rate per 100,000 births for Gambia is 400. This is compared with 281.3 in 2008 and 628.5 in 1990. The under-5 mortality rate, per 1,000 births, is 106 and the neonatal mortality, as a percentage of under-5 mortality, is 31. In Gambia, the number of midwives per 1,000 live births is five and the lifetime risk of death for pregnant women is one in 49. 
In October 2012, it was reported that the Gambia had made significant improvements in polio, measles immunisation, and the PCV-7 vaccine.
The Gambia was certified as polio-free in 2004, and ranks high in all vaccination regimens and malaria treatment.
Power Up Gambia provides solar power technology to health care facilities, and Riders for Health, an international aid group provided health-care vehicles for the entire country, addressing a major barrier to universal health care—transport—and allows health workers to visit three times as many villages every week.
Article 25 of the constitution protects the rights of citizens to practice any religion that they choose. In December 2015, The Gambia was declared an Islamic state. Islam is practised by 90%, the majority are Sunni.
Virtually all commercial life comes to a standstill during major Muslim holidays, including Eid al-Adha and Eid ul-Fitr. A Shiite Muslim is mainly Lebanese and other Arab-speaking immigrants to the region.
Christians, most Roman Catholic in the west and south are 8% of the population. The remaining 2% adhere to indigenous beliefs, such as the Serer religion. Each year, Serers make the annual pilgrimage to Sine in Senegal for the Xoy divination ceremony. The Jola people also have their own religious customs with the ceremonial Boukout.
Due to immigration from South Asia, Buddhists, Hindus and followers of the Bahá’í Faith are present.
The product of very diverse influences mainly by the River Gambia, known locally simply as “the River.” Without natural barriers, the Gambia has become home to most of the ethnic groups that are present throughout western Africa, especially those in Senegal.
Europeans also figure prominently in Gambian history because the River Gambia is navigable deep into the continent, a feature that made this area one of the most profitable sites for the slave trade from the 15th through the 17th centuries. (It also made it strategic to the halt of this trade once it was outlawed in the 19th century.) Some of this history was popularised in the Alex Haley book and TV series Roots which was set in the Gambia.
Years of authoritarian rule have resulted in a climate of distrust. Conversations are conducted with care and few people will express their views on governmental politics openly – you never know who may be listening. Short-term travellers might not notice this behind the smiling faces (Gambia is known for its hospitality) and tourist hustling.
Music. Closely linked musically with of Senegal, it fuses popular Western music and dance, with sabar, the traditional drumming and dance music of the Wolof and Serer people.
Media. Critics have accused the government of restricting free speech. A law passed in 2002 created a commission with the power to issue licenses and imprison journalists; in 2004, additional legislation allowed prison sentences for libel and slander and cancelled all print and broadcasting licenses, forcing media groups to re-register at five times the original cost.
Three Gambian journalists have been arrested since the coup attempt. It has been suggested that they were imprisoned for criticising the government’s economic policy, or for stating that a former interior minister and security chief was among the plotters. Newspaper editor Deyda Hydara was shot to death under unexplained circumstances, days after the 2004 legislation took effect.
Licensing fees are high for newspapers and radio stations, and the only nationwide stations are tightly controlled by the government.
Reporters Without Borders has accused “President Yahya Jammeh’s police state” of using murder, arson, unlawful arrest and death threats against journalists. In December 2010 Musa Saidykhan, former editor of The Independent newspaper, was awarded US$200,000 by the ECOWAS Court in Abuja, Nigeria. The court found the Government of the Gambia guilty of torture while he was detained without trial at the National Intelligence Agency. Apparently he was suspected of knowing about the 2006 failed coup.
Sports. As in neighboring Senegal, the national and most popular sport in Gambia is wrestling. Association football and basketball are also popular.
Independence Day. 18 February.
Eid. Muslim festival celebrated by virtually all Gambians as a 2 to 3 day event where up to 250,000 animals are slaughtered to provide food for the feast. Gambians, especially female, dress in their finest regalia and buy new dresses at up to 3000 dalasi.
Gambia is becoming a popular vacation destination for Northern Europeans. Therefore, many charter and holiday operators offer reasonable airfare and accommodation if desired.
Brussels Airlines. Only scheduled airline connecting Gambia and Europe.
Air Senegal and Slok Air. Daily flights from Dakar
Bellview from Nigeria 2 times a week on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Canarias. Daily flights from Dakar weekly to/from Gran Canaria (Las Palmas) on Saturdays.
Charters. Most people arrive on charter flights with Gambia Experience (www.gambia.co.uk). Also Monarch Airlines, First Choice Airways, Thomas Cook Airlines, Transavia, and Arkefly, during the tourist season (October to April), direct from Manchester, Amsterdam, and Brussels. Several of these often book tickets through tour operators. It should be noted that booking one-way or round trip tickets originating in Gambia on these airlines can be difficult or impossible.
Gambia Bird flies direct to Barcelona in Spain and, if booked in advance, offer some good deals.
Car. It is possible use your private car to drive from Senegal to The Gambia via the border town of Amdalli (just north of Barra). The border crossing is pretty straight forward. The road approaching the border from Senegal is terrible and its easier to drive next to the road as opposed to on it.
Sept-places or bush taxis run from Dakar to Banjul and Banjul to Ziguinchor. At the far eastern tip of The Gambia, bush taxis run from Basse Santa Su to Velingara and from there to Tambacounda.
Bus. There are direct GPTC buses running from Barra (a ferry ride away from Banjul) to Dakar , but these are not recommended as they are slower than the bush taxis.
Boat. It’s possible to privately charter small fishing vessels from Dakar and neighbouring areas; though this can be fairly expensive and slow should one not be proficient at bargaining.
Car. A 4×4 is recommended if you plan to rent a car, since the roads often are in bad condition and only a minority is paved. The southbank road eastward is in a perennial state of construction, the northbank rod is a good alternative option for trips upcountry.
Taxi. There are two types of cabs: green ones (tourist cabs – expensive and the price is regardless of the number of passengers) and yellow ones (regular cabs – much cheaper and the price depends on the number of persons in the cab – used mainly by locals, and in many tourist areas they are prohibited from picking up tourists). Sept place taxis are by no means a comfy way of traveling, however, they are infinitely better than the battered gelli-gelli minibuses.
Bike. You can rent a bike from pretty much anyone that owns one at a negotiated rate. Cycling on major roads can be risky, as motorist safety is unreliable, some roads are not well-maintained, sand and steep shoulders cause road hazards, and pedestrians may walk or veer onto the open road without warning. In high traffic areas, taxis and vans often cut off cyclists to pick up travellers and the car horn may be used excessively to warn of impending passage.
Hitchhiking. No, don’t use your thumb. It is an obscene gesture in Gambia (meaning “take it up your *** “); instead wave if you want a car to stop. As anywhere, hitching is quite risky business, so be careful with what cars you enter and never hitch at night. Also, Gambian motorists will expect you to pay for the ride, so have some cash ready.
Boat. The Gambia River is navigable the entire length of the country. Some river creatures, both large and microscopic, can be dangerous, however. There are no scheduled passenger boats.
Guided tours. There are many companies that offer guided tours in Gambia.
There are also official tourist guides that will arrange transportation and guide you. They offer a good service and you will get to travel in a small group (usually 1 to 6 persons). Beware that there are false official guides, so always meet them at their offices, around tourist resorts. Four Wheel Drive Adventure are very popular tours visiting schools, country homes, and distilleries.
Tourist Information: www.visitthegambia.gm has a wealth of information.
Unesco World Heritage Sites: 1. James Island and Related Sites 2. Stone Circles of Senegambia (megaliths) which run from Senegal through the Gambia and which are described by UNESCO as “the largest concentration of stone circles seen anywhere in the world”.
Atlantic Resorts. Party and fabulous food.
Bijilo Forest Park. See monkeys on 4.5km nature trail.
Janjangbureh (Gerogetown). Birdwatch in forest.
Abuko Nature Reserve. Daily 08:00-18:30. Nature park situated outside the village of Lamin in the Kombo North District, 25km from Banjul. At 105 hectares it is one of the smallest protected areas in Africa, but it still offers a good introduction to the Gambian wildlife. For instance there’s monkeys, bushbucks, crocodiles, chameleons and some 300 species of birds.
Bao Bolon Wetland Reserve — mixed patched of thick forest and swamp most noteworthy for its migratory birds but also home to dugongs, otters, hogs, antelope, & hippos.
Makasutu Cultural Forest — a large eco-tourism project near the beaches popular as a package day trip with game drive, boat ride, & performances by locals. Tours the whole country.
Ecovillage de Kartong — a coastal village, one of the oldest in the Gambia, in the southern frontier of the country next to Casamance known for birdwatching, for its white sandy beaches.
James Island (Roots tour). An excursion inspired by Alex Haley’s bestseller and movie Roots. You can go there on cruise up the centre of the wide Gambia river, towards the former French trading post of Albreda and the village of Juffureh with its slave museum. Views of the river bank are distant. Visit the setting of Roots, an old slave trade station. Tourists are overwhelmed by locals who appear only when the boat arrives, and disappear when the boat leaves. Locals are persistent in begging for money and thrusting craft items under tourists noses. Locals insist on being paid to appear in photos. Or you go by car, e.g. with the official tourist guides on the small roads on the North Bank and sail in a pirogue from Juffareh.
Kachikally Crocodile Pool. very popular, many crocodiles (West African Nile Crocs), opportunity to touch/pat West African Nile Crocodiles.
Senegal — 1-3 day trips. Warning — non-EU citizens such as New Zealanders and Australians must obtain a visa. The application takes 3 days.
Gambia River National Park. Beautiful national park below Janjanbureh. The camp is pricey, but worth the money. They will organize boat tours to see chimpanzees, baboons, monkeys, crocodiles, hippos and many more.
Sanyang Beach. One of the most beautiful beaches in Gambia. Rainbow Beach Bar is a great place to spend the day, and also has a few affordable rooms for staying the night. Public transport leaves from Serrakunda and Brikama regularly, and private taxis can also be hired for day trips.
Kora is the main music instrument of the Wolof tribe, and could be considered the national instrument of Gambia. It is 21-stringed and built from a large calabash cut in half and covered with cow skin to make a resonator. It sounds like a mixture of harp and flamenco guitar. Real koras can be very expensive but small souvenir versions are also available.
Tailor made clothes can be bought at cheap prices.
Wood carvings, wooden masks, african drums, hand-woven table runners and place mats, Batik and tie-dye fabric.
EAT The cuisine of the Gambia includes peanuts, rice, fish, meat, onions, tomatoes, cassava, chili peppers and oysters from the River Gambia that are harvested by women.
Domodah – rice with groundnut sauce.
Benachin – rice cooked in tomato, fish, and vegetable sauce.
Niebbe – spicy red beans served with bread on street corners.
Benachin or Jollof rice — a traditional West African rice dish with onions, spices, tomatoes or tomato paste mixed with meat, fish or vegetables.
Chicken Yassa — chicken boiled with onion, black pepper and lime or lemon.
Domoda — meat stew with rice and peanut butter sauce.
Lots and lots of peanuts, the main crop of The Gambia.
International food. Please don’t be put off by what you may hear about Gambian cuisine, everything may come with rice but don’t forget rice is a staple in most of the world. But if you’re after something your stomach is used to, then there is a plethora of international restaurants to choose from where you can have a Chinese or Indian curry, good old fish & chips or Japanese noodles, and there’s also Thai, Lebanese, German, Dutch and Mexican. In fact food in Gambia is truly international and the fish is to die for.
Drink. The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 18, although it is not strictly enforced. However, it is illegal for anyone of Islamic faith to consume alcoholic beverages.
Gambia’s own beer, Julbrew is worth a try.
Palm Wine is juice from palm trees that is collected and fermented. It is used as a kind of wine by the locals, and you may get a chance to try it if you go on a tour to rural Gambia.
Juices – bissap made from sorrel, bouyi made from baobab fruit.
Spirits. You can most of the well known spirits and liqueurs in the tourist areas along the coastal strip, usually much cheaper than at home.
Cigarettes can be bought very cheaply at around GBP2.50, Euro 2.80 per 200 pack from all the main supermarkets or in the tourist areas. Better yet try the local street vendors, the local price is just 80p (40 Dalasi) per pack.
Atlantic coast resorts of Bakau, Fajara, Kotu Strand and Kololi range from hostels to 5 star resorts.
Further in land there are guesthouses and hotels, eco camps and lodges which offer basic accommodation usually in natural surroundings.
The Bumsters. Many of Gambia’s unemployed young men have discovered that engaging (and sometimes hassling) tourists can be as rewarding as a real job. It’s not a coincidence that there’s a name for such persons: Bumster. Be prepared for personal questions, sob stories, not-asked-for “favours” and self-proclaimed friendship, all with the purpose of winning your favour or opening your wallet. Those not desiring such attention must use a combination of polite declination, wit, and when necessary firm refusal, if they want to be left alone.
Beach Boys (also called sai sai or bumster) is a womanizer, smooth operator, a charming hustler, a con man or a dodgy mixture of all of these. These guys are usually young, oftengood-lookiing men, who approach women (sometimes bluntly, sometimes with astonishing verbal skills) in towns, nightclubs, bars and particularly on beaches. While some are fairly harmless, others can be very sly involving sexual advances, tricking you out of money or downright stealing. Best to ignore completely despite the verbal abuse, but it is all hot air.
Caucasians may hear people calling them “Toubab” meaning white. Ignore them or say No.
Common scams in the Gambia. If someone stops you on the street, they may tell you that they remember you from the hotel you’re staying at and that they work there. They may invite you to another hotel, but this could be a scam to attempt to rob you. Also, because people are constantly looking for ways to support themselves, if they offer you assistance or directions, it may be understood that they expect some monetary compensation.
Scams also exist in which marijuana is offered to tourists or they are are invited to come smoke in a home, only to find police waiting for a hefty bribe.
A simple “Sorry, I am in a hurry” could suffice to dismiss them. But don’t tell them why you are in a hurry and don’t say anything else after that as this may lead to a conversation — and this could lead to unwanted attention and possibly a scam.
Also remember that some Bumsters are not unemployed or young and never fall for hardship stories. One last word of warning: should you feel you want to give a person some money out of sympathy or just to get rid of them it will certainly lead them to ask you for more money at a later date should you meet again. Some recommend a stern and harsh response to such requests, but this should be informed by your values and the relationship formed with the individual in question. Keep in mind, however, that you may see this person again, and they could truly be helpful if you’re in a jam or need information. Many people in tourist areas are merely ‘friendly facilitators’ who may hope for an exchange of favors, but are genuinely harmless. Being overly guarded could deny you an offer to join a local family for a traditional meal, or to personally meet one of the craftspeople who make the local goods for sale.
Serious crime is fairly rare though muggings and petty theft do occur in tourist areas. Avoid walking around alone after dark.
Swimming. Currents in the Atlantic waters can be strong. Always look out for flags on the tourist beaches indicating the level of danger on a red — yellow — green scale.
Be careful about your political opinions, as such critical opinions against the government are considered a crime.
LGBT activities are illegal in Gambia. First offenses attract prison sentences of several months to life, fines with whipping/flogging, chemical castration, torture, vigilante killings and public execution. A second conviction invariably results in execution. Police will join in on vigilante attacks and may execute you. Businesses will turn you away and physically attack. If you’re lgbt, stay out of Gambia
Stay healthy. Yellow fever vaccination is strongly recommended. Meningitis vaccination is recommended. Anti-malaria pills are also necessary. Most cases of malaria in the Gambia are contracted between June and December. Mefloquine, Doxycycline or Malarone are the medicines of choice for the Gambia, and for most of sub-Saharan Africa, because of the increasing chloroquine resistance.
It is a good idea to bring insect repellent, sunscreen and other health items from your home country since these may be hard to find in some areas.
Respect. Always ask before you take a photo of anyone. Some Gambians have certain beliefs about having their picture taken, in particular by a stranger.
Senegal surrounds Gambia and there are excursions to Fathala Reserve, just north of the border, for example.
Guide for getting from Banjul to Dakar: Get up early, you want to catch the first ferry at 07:00 as it is the only one which is not very busy and full of pickpockets. Leave your hotel at 06:30 if in Banjul or 06:00if in Serrakunda area, take yellow taxi. Ask for “Barra Ferry Terminal”, go in, buy your ticket for GMD10 and then wait inside. Watch your bags. Board the ferry and cross. When you arrive, ask for a taxi to the Gambia border (if he asks if you want him to take you to Senegal border say no) and refuse to pay more than GMD200. Go to Gambian customs, you will be asked questions, answer honestly. After exit stamp change your dalasis to CFA francs as this is difficult in Senegal, there is a Bureau next to customs office which has better rates than the street guys. Also change pounds sterling as they are difficult to get rid of north of Gambia. Euros and US dollars are OK. Do not give to begging children until you have done all this, otherwise you will be mobbed by kids. Walk 50m to the Senegal border, get the stamp. This is easy, no questions. Take a moto taxi from the border to the gare routier (bus station), do not pay more than XOF200 and ask them to take you to the Dakar sept-places (seven seat bush taxi). Taxis go via Kaolack, if you are prompt you can make it all the way to Dakar in a day before darkness, however you may want to spend one night in Kaolack to get used to the differences between Senegal and Gambia before taking on the big beast of Dakar. Make sure you know where you are going to stay in Dakar, if you ask taxi driver for a hotel they will take you somewhere very expensive.
If doing the reverse journey and you get stuck at the border town of Karang/Amdallai for the night, the best option would be to spend the night on the Gambian side. There is a British run NGO called Helping Charity that has a guesthouse there – with some very nice accommodation. It is less than 2km from the border on the Gambian side and is highly recommended as place to stop for the night or even to spend a day or two as there is a local school on site, also. Paid GMD400 per person, per night.