With miles of coastal beaches and the Gambia River running through the country’s entirety, Gambia is one of the most beautiful and peaceful lands in Africa. As the continent’s smallest nation, with fewer than 1.5 million residents, Gambia can be known intimately in no time. Visit the Albert Market in Gambia’s capital, Banjul, and stay for a few days at an oceanside hotel in Fajara. Explore the tributaries of the Gambia River on a fishing safari, and see the monkeys and birds in the Abuko Nature Reserve.
The sun shines year-round in Gambia. If you’re traveling to the African continent, make sure you book an excursion to this amazing country.
1. Banjul: The capital of Gambia is located on St. Mary’s Island, at the mouth of the Gambia River. Albert Market is the place for trinkets, including jewelry, local crafts, and clothing; but if souvenir shopping’s not up your alley, go for some visual exploration instead. MacCarthy Square is home to some great 19th-century colonial architecture, and we recommend the National Museum, too. You can take a taxi to the coastal resorts, or, if you have time and want to explore the local waterways, hop into one of the small motorboats called pirogues and see the wildlife of Oyster Creek.
2. Serekunda: Touted as “the unofficial capital of Gambia,” Serekunda is about four kilometers inland from the coast and is worth a day’s visit. This city is the country’s largest and provides the best glimpse into the daily life of a Gambian. Visit the market on the city’s main street, and sip some pints at a local bar. For a memorable event, we recommend watching the traditional wrestling matches, called boreh, which occur frequently in public areas; ask a local t for his advice on when and where to watch the next match.
3. Bakau’s Crocodile Pool and Botanical Gardens: The Kachikally Crocodile Pool is a sacred spot for many local people, similar to the Ganges in India, and has been used for public bathing for generations. Do not be surprised if you see people coming to pray and bathe in the water during your visit. About a hundred 100 crocodiles reside in the pool, and having grown accustomed to the presence of people, they allow brave visitors to pet them. Approach the seemingly docile crocodiles at your own risk!
Also in Bakau, the cliff-top botanical gardens are a great place to visit during the early morning, when the gardens are shady and cool. Nearby, you can watch fishing boats bring their day’s catch to the shore or walk through the foliage and admire the many colorful birds that live in the treetops.
4. Wassu Stone Circles: Believed to be a burial site constructed over a thousand years ago, the Wassu Stone Circles are located in Central Gambia. Hundreds of these stone circles can be found throughout region. Visit the site’s museum, and learn about the human bones, weapons, pottery, and other artifacts discovered at the site.
5. The Coastal Beaches: There is a reason why the coast of Gambia is popular with tourists: it is located on some of Africa’s most beautiful beaches. (Come on: you deserve a chance to relax, right?) Spend the day on the beach and go swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. In the evening visit a local restaurant, and have a good night’s sleep in one of the cozy hotels. Everything is within a few minutes’ walking distance, so it’s easy to enjoy the beach and get back to your room without effort. For more information about the coastal resorts, visit our page on Fajara.
6. Abuko Nature Reserve: Teeming with monkeys, birds, and more, the Abuko Nature Reserve is one of the finest such sites in western Africa. Because it’s the most visited tourist attraction in Gambia, you will have plenty of company when you make the trip. The animal orphanage is one of our favorite sites, home to a large group of hyenas and birds.
7. Gambia River: Running through the entirety of the country, the Gambia River is 700 miles (1,126.5 kilometers) long and stretches all the way to northern Guinea. Although you don’t have to leave land to take in river views in Banjul, we recommend a boat ride up the river to explore more of its staggering beauty. Birds, crocodiles, and hippos are frequently observed during these trips; you can even go on a fishing safari. Ask your hotel staff for their recommendation of a reputable river tour organization.
8. Bintang Bolong: The largest tributary of the Gambia River, Bintang Bolong is home to a complex of lodges built on stilts above the water among the mangrove trees. The lodges offer daily boat trips—good to consider if you’re traveling with a group; they offer a great opportunity to get away from the larger towns of Gambia and relax by the water.
9. Bijilo Forest Park: This small rain forest nature reserve is just south of the coastal resorts. You can see more than a hundred species of birds, as well as four different primate species, as you walk through the park. Be wary of the monkeys, though, as they are given to stealing food. We recommend hiring one of the park guides to show you around the area.
10. Tanji: If you want to see a small, authentic fishing village, we’d recommend making a trip to Tanji. It’s located south of the coastal resorts; you can come for a day and see fish smoking houses, the local market, and fishermen hard at work. The Tanji Village Museum is built in the local fashion and is worth a look. Conveniently, the Tanji River Bird Reserve is also nearby: with an assortment of environments, it’s a great place to see more than 300 varieties of birds. Visitors sometimes also spot turtles, seals, and (if they’re lucky) whales in the surrounding waters.
Gambia sees sunshine year-round, but it has a rainy season (June through September), during which the country’s lush foliage and the rushing water of the Gambia River are at their finest. We prefer to visit between November and June, when almost no rain falls and temperatures are lower.
Visas: Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months past the date of your departure from Gambia. We recommend that you acquire a visitor’s visa prior to your departure for Gambia. As of July 2010, a five-year visa costs $100. If you do not get your visa prior to your arrival in Gambia, you will have your passport stamped at the airport with a one-, two-, or three-day pass, and you will be required to go to the Gambian Immigration Department to obtain your visa.
You must have a yellow fever vaccination card to enter Gambia. It is also a good idea to keep your airline ticket until you have successfully entered the country.
Transportation: Gambia’s only airport, Banjul International Airport, is located 23 kilometers outside the country’s capital. A $10 tourist levy charged upon your arrival in Gambia; make sure you have U.S. dollars, British pounds, or euros to pay this fee. Car rentals and taxis are available at the airport.
The most common form of local transportation is shared vehicles called bush taxis. These are generally seven-passenger vehicles that operate with a set fare and travel both short and long distances. Make sure you ask about the fare before getting in, and be prepared for multiple stops, as the vehicle will be dropping off and picking up people along the way. There are also four-passenger taxis, usually painted yellow and green, which participate in a shared service for short distances. You can find these taxis parked along the road; they are available for individual hire as well.
The Gambia Tourism Authority licenses tourist taxis, whose sole purpose is to serve visitors to the country. You can find these green cars parked outside most tourist locations, such as resorts and hotels, and they have a published tariff system. Make sure the vehicle has the “tourist taxi” sign on the outside of the car, and check with the driver to ensure that you are being charged the set rate before you depart on your trip.
If you prefer, you may use one of the car rental companies in Gambia. You must have an International Driving Permit to rent any vehicle.
Mobile Phones: If you have a GSM-enabled phone, you will be able to use it in Gambia’s major cities. Cell phone reception can be spotty, though; your best bet is to buy a local SIM card and rely on that while you’re in the country.
The U.S. Department of State’s consular website has a great deal of information about safety and security in Gambia. It can’t be repeated often enough: be sensible when you travel. Be alert and aware about your surroundings.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has created a security ratings system called the Ibrahim Index, wherein scores are based on each country’s quality of government. Before traveling to South Africa or anywhere on the continent, check the index and do your research.
In 1455, Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to see the Gambia River; before that, Middle Eastern traders had inhabited the coastal areas and spread Islam throughout the country. By the late 1600s, the French had also established a presence in the area, and the English arrived in the 17th century. Gambia became an English colony in 1843, and although an effort to secede from Britain was made in 1870, Gambia did not become an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations until 1965. The country declared full independence from England in 1970, becoming a republic, with Sir Dawda Jawara as its president.
For years Gambia had one of Africa’s only multiparty and democratic governments. In 1994, though, a military coup led by Captain Yahya Jammeh overthrew the government and banned the existing political parties. Jawara was exiled to Britain, and Jammeh became the country’s ruler. In 2001 the ban on political parties was lifted, Jammeh was elected for a second time, and the exiled Jawara was granted a pardon. Jammeh has been reelected for a total of five times and is still Gambia’s leader.
1. Senegal surrounds Gambia in the north, south, and east, and the Atlantic Ocean sits to the west.
2. The currency of Gambia is the dalasi. There are one hundred butut for every dalasi.
3. The government of Gambia operates the only national television station and maintains tight control over news that is broadcast on the radio. Some popular newspapers are the Daily Observer, The Independent, Foroyaa, and The Point.
4. The official language of Gambia is English. Indigenous languages include Wolof, Fula, and Mandinka.
5. Smoking is banned in all public areas, but you can light up in designated smoking zones.