The Gambia may be mainland Africa's smallest nation, but it punches way above its weight in terms of attractions. With its glorious low-key beaches, bustling towns that combine colonial architecture and traditional activities with a wealth of wildlife, it's perhaps the most approachable of all West African countries. What's more, its people are a kind and welcoming bunch, for which many know it as The Smiling Coast.
Virtually enveloped by its much larger neighbour Senegal, a legacy of the colonial carve up of Africa, the shard of land comprising The Gambia still retains its own clear identity. Although this accessible Anglophone country's more obvious draw is perhaps the joy of winter sun at good-value rates, its rich history and fascinating mix of cultures make it hard to pigeonhole. If you escape the sun loungers you will uncover another side of the country, rich in eco-tourism opportunities, wilderness, wildlife and bird watching.
Inextricably linked to the river Gambia, one of Africa's great waterways, The Gambia comprises a varied landscape, featuring lush tropical forests, swamps, marshes and large areas of wooded savannah. Then there are Gambia's parks, reserves and riverbanks including Kiang West National Park and River Gambia National Park, where you’ll see all kinds of wildlife, amongst them monkeys, crocodiles, a small population of hippos and well over 500 bird species.
Of course, one of the main attractions is the coast. There are only 80 kilometres of shoreline, but the beaches are some of the most stunning in the region.
Visitors keen to experience West African music and rural culture may head off the beaten track and up-country to simple, traditional villages. All year round you'll find vibrant festivals, events full of traditional drumming, energetic dancing as well as customary wrestling matches. But for many, it is The Gambia's idyllic cocktail of sunny days, warm welcomes and relaxing Atlantic beach resorts that lures them to this little slice of Africa.