Gambia travel guide
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.
11,295 sq km (4,361 sq miles).
2,054,986 (UN estimate 2016).
174.2 per sq km.
President Adama Barrow since January 2017.
President Adama Barrow since January 2017.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. British-style plugs with three square pins are most commonly used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Attacks on tourists are increasing, particularly the theft of passports and other valuables from hotel rooms. Don’t take valuables or large sums of money to the beach, or display them in public. Take particular care when visiting isolated beaches and markets.
Both male and female visitors should be particularly cautious of young men locally known as ‘bumsters’ who approach tourists, particularly on beaches, offering help or to act as local guides. Be polite but firm in refusing unwanted help or attempts at conversation. Visitors should also be wary of offers, usually from ‘bumsters’, to take them on tours into Senegal. It is unlikely that the correct immigration procedures, which might include obtaining a visa for Senegal, will be followed. This could result in detention by Immigration Authorities.
Don’t leave valuables in unattended vehicles. Take particular care in unlit areas or in places away from the Tourist Development Area.
Corruption is endemic at all levels.
Travel in The Gambia is reasonably safe as long as you take sensible precautions to safeguard your personal possessions.
You can drive using a UK driving licence for up to three months.
Driving standards are bad and roads severely potholed. Driving after dark carries added hazards because of poor road and vehicle lighting. In the event of an accident, emergency medical facilities are very limited. Security checkpoints are common on all major routes in The Gambia. They are not always well sign-posted and you should take care when approaching them.
Rainfall occurs in The Gambia between June-October. Heavy rainfall can create localised flooding. Take care if you’re going up-country or travelling on non-paved roads during this period.
Some local taxis are not roadworthy.
A compulsory Airport Development Fee must be paid on exiting the country. The fee is 20 Euros, or equivalent in local currency. Visa credit card is accepted, but no others. Passengers in transit and infants under 2 years old are exempt. Check with your travel company whether this fee has been included in your air ticket.
Take care when using the ferry between Banjul and Barra. It can be very crowded and safety measures are not up to European standards. When using the ferry get out of your vehicle quickly after parking to avoid becoming trapped inside for the duration of the journey. Don’t use the ferry after dark.
Pirogues (wooden dug-out canoes) operate in The Gambia. These can be overloaded and safety measures are not up to European standards. They are not recommended for long journeys and you should make sure they have life jackets.