GambiaGambia is a small, narrow country along the length of the Gambia River in West Africa, almost completely surrounded by Senegal. Besides beaches and wildlife, the Gambia is known for the town of Juffureh, made famous by Alex Haley's Roots.
The Gambia essentially consists of the flood plain of the Gambia river flanked by some low hills — the highest point is just 53 m above sea level, and it is less than 50 km across at its widest point.
ClimateTropical; hot, rainy season (June to November); cooler, dry season (November to May); Natural hazards : drought (rainfall has dropped by 30% in the last 30 years).
HistoryHistorically, culturally, and linguistically tied to Senegal, the Gambia was split from its neighbor in the 18th century by European powers. Most of the region was taken over by France, but a narrow piece of land around the Gambia River was ceded to Great Britain. This small area eventually became the Gambia.
The Gambia gained its independence from the UK on 18 February 1965. A constitution was written on 24 April 1970, before being suspended in July 1994 and subsequently rewritten and approved by national referendum on 8 August 1996. It was re-established in January 1997.
The Gambia formed a short-lived federation of Senegambia with Senegal between 1982 and 1989. In 1991 the two nations signed a friendship and cooperation treaty. A military coup in 1994 overthrew the president and banned political activity, but a new 1996 constitution and presidential elections, followed by parliamentary balloting in 1997, completed a nominal return to civilian rule. Elections have continued ever since, but with government intimidation and detention of opposition leaders, they aren't completely democratic.
After ruling with an iron fist for over 20 years, during which he withdrew the Gambia from international organisations such as the Commonwealth and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Yahya Jammeh eventually lost the election to Adama Barrow in 2016. Although Jammeh initially refused to concede defeat, Barrow escaped to Senegal, and Jammeh was eventually forced to step down and go into exile under the threat of military intervention from Gambia's neighbours. Since coming to power, Barrow has attempted to roll back some of Jammeh's excesses, with Gambia having since re-joined the ICJ and the Commonwealth.
National holidaysThe Gambia celebrates its independence day on 18 February. This small country gained its independence in 1965. There is also the Muslim festival of Eid which is celebrated by virtually all Gambians and is a 2- to 3-day event during which up to 250,000 animals are slaughtered to provide food for the feast. It is also a time when Gambians, especially women, dress in their finest regalia and buying new dresses at up to D3,000 (Gambian dalasi).
PeopleA 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 and the Bianunkas. The Krio people, locally known as the Aku, constitute one of the smallest ethnic minorities in the Gambia. They are descendants of the Sierra Leone Creole people and have been traditionally concentrated in the capital.
- — capital
- — tiny reserve near the beaches with shady paths to get close to monkeys, bushbucks, chameleons, & crocodiles.
- — mixed patched of thick forest and swamp most noteworthy for its migratory birds but also home to dugongs, otters, hogs, antelope, & hippos.
- , a remainder from the slave trade and a UNESCO World Heritage site
- — a large eco-tourism project near the beaches popular as a package day trip with game drive, boat ride, & performances by locals.
Gambia has two sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
VisaTourists from ECOWAS, Commonwealth countries and other countries not listed below, or tourists from all nations arriving in the Gambia on a charter flight may enter visa-free for up to 90 days. ECOWAS nationals may also enter with passport or Biometric ID card.
Nationals of Egypt, Austria, France, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, United States, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan need a visa to enter unless they are travelling as tourists on a charter flight.
Nationals of the Kenya, Namibia, Tunisia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Macau, Myanmar, Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay 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 they are travelling as tourists on a charter flight.
Nationals of Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Libya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Bahamas, Haiti, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, East Timor, Indonesia, Mauritius, the Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Seychelles require a visa, and/or an entry clearance from the Gambian Immigration prior to travel.
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!) and multi-entry visas for a 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!
Information about obtaining a visa on arrival is available at the website of the Gambia Immigration Department.
A list of countries whose citizens can enter without a visa is available at the website of the Gambia Tourism Board.
By planeBanjul (BJL) is the only international airport in Gambia. Vueling, a low-cost airline, operates regular flights to/from Barcelona (Spain) with onward connecting flights to many cities in Europe. Royal Air Maroc flies from Casablanca, Brussels Airlines from Brussels, Arik Air from Accra and Lagos, Turkish Airlines from Istanbul and Senegal Airlines from Dakar. During the tourist season (October to April), there are regular scheduled flights direct from cities such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Brussels. Charter operators include First Choice Airways, Transavia, and Arkefly.
By carSept-places or bush taxis run from Dakar to Banjul and Banjul to Ziguinchor.
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 straightforward. You will need your V5 logbook. The road approaching the border from Senegal is terrible and its easier to drive next to the road as opposed to on it. Check before you travel if it is ok to bring in a right-hand drive vehicle, as there are conflicting reports on the possibility of this (though it has been done).
By busThere 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.
By boatIt is possible to charter privately small fishing vessels from Dakar and neighbouring areas; though this can be fairly expensive and slow should one not be proficient at bargaining.
By carA 4WD is recommended if you plan to rent a car, since the roads often are in bad condition and only a minority is paved.
By bikeYou 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.
By thumbNo, don't use your thumb. It is an obscene gesture in Gambia, 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.
By boatThe Gambia River is navigable the entire length of the country.
Guided toursThere 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.
Abuko Nature ReserveNature park situated outside the village of Lamin in the Kombo North District, 25 km from Banjul. At 105 hectares it is one of the smallest (if not the smallest) protected areas in Africa, but it still offers a good introduction to the Gambian wildlife. For instance there's monkeys, crocodiles and some 300 species of birds
Bijilo Forest ParkBirds and monkeys
Gambia River National ParkBeautiful national park below Janjanbureh. The camp is pricey, but worth the money. They will organize boat tours to see chimpanzees, baboons, monkeys, crocodiles, etc.
Makasutu Culture Forestaddress: SerekundaA 1000-ha reserve of mangroves, palm groves and savannahs with baboons, monkeys, birds and monitor lizards. About 45 min from Banjul - a D1300 taxi ride, and the driver will wait for you.
phone: +220 7782479address: BakaoOpportunity to touch/pet West African Nile Crocodiles.
- Four Wheel Drive Adventure. Very popular tours visiting schools, country homes, and distilleries.
- "Roots" tour to Kunta Kinteh Island. 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. 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.
Gambia uses the dalasi as its currency, denoted by the symbol "D" (ISO currency code: GMD). The dalasi is divided into 100 bututs. Banknotes come in D5, 10, 25, 50, and 100 denominations and you may find D0.25, D0.50 and D1 coins in circulation.
It is better you take CFA francs, euro or dollars with you. If you have a Visa credit card and don't use a PIN or you forgot it, then the only bank that can help you out is (the bigger) GT Bank in Banjul, which only requires your card, your passport, and your signature.
- MasterCard and Visa can now be used at any GT Bank or EcoBank ATMs to withdraw cash.
- Kora is the main music instrument of the Mandinka 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.
Brikama MarketBig market with some interesting stores, e.g., batik
Brikama Craft Market20-30 small stores with mostly wood carvings. Better selection than the similar stores at tourist attractions and hotels
Gena Bes Batiksphone: +220 449 5614address: no 16, Salung St, BakauNice batik designs
- 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 foodPlease don't be put off by what you may hear about Gambian cuisine, everything may come with rice, but the cuisine is international and the fish is great. 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 are also Thai, Lebanese, German, Dutch and Mexican even British-run eateries where you can get a full English breakfast.
- Gambia's own beer, Julbrew is worth a try. It's made by Banjul Breweries, who also make soft drinks.
- 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.
- Baobab juice
SpiritsYou can most of the well known spirits and liqueurs in the tourist areas along the coastal strip
Spitits, Beers & CigarettesJulbrew is a lager beer, it is mainly sold in bottles but you can get in a draught form which is a lot less gassey than the bottled. You can get most of the spirits you would expect to find at home and they are still a lot cheaper than in the Costas, Greece or Turkey. Whisky, rum, gin, vodka, brandy are freely available as are Curacao and Tia Maria. Cigarettes can be bought very cheaply at around GBP2.50, €2.80 per 200 pack from all the main supermarkets or in the tourist areas.
There are a number of very commonly used 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.
Sadly, many Gambian military have an unfavourable view of Brits (sometimes white people in general) and can be extremely racist. Expect it especially at border crossings as you will almost always be asked to pay to have your passport stamped and receive more than a few insults aimed at not only your country but also yourself when you refuse to pay. As always, do NOT pay any bribes as you're only making the problem worse, not just for tourists but the locals that are already struggling to fight the rampant corruption. Absolutely do not mention calling an embassy as this will only enrage them and start another string of abuse, as your embassy has no control over them and they hate the thought of it. If you've made friends with a Gambian they might possibly be able to help but as The Gambia is seen as one of the most repressive countries in Africa, they may be putting themselves at risk of punishment - so don't get annoyed if you're not assisted.
Scams also exist in which marijuana is offered to tourists or they 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. 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 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 favours, but are 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.
The Gambia is a great holiday destination but just keep your guard up at all times.
When swimming, be aware that the 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.
Active homosexuals could be in extreme danger in Gambia, subject to possible arrest or even killing.
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.
Residents say the tap water is drinkable, but for travellers bottled or boiled water is advised, because you may get sick from the different minerals and microbes in the water.
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 is both north and south of Gambia. There are excursions to Fathala Reserve just north of the border.