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.
Last updated: 23 January 2019
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.
In January 2017, The Gambia experienced a peaceful handover of power to President Adama Barrow and his coalition government.
There are a number of checkpoints operating in and around the capital. Expect your vehicle to be searched if you’re stopped by security forces.
Most visits to The Gambia are trouble-free although independent travellers are at increased risk due to the lack of local support in an emergency. If you’re travelling independently, make sure next of kin in the UK have details of your itinerary and keep in regular touch. Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.
Terrorist attacks in The Gambia can’t be ruled out. Attacks could be indiscriminate. You should be vigilant, especially in places visited by foreigners.
It hasn’t always been possible for the British High Commission to gain early access to detained British nationals in The Gambia. If you’re living in The Gambia, you should contact the British High Commission who will be able to advise on how to contact consular staff in the event of an emergency.
In the years before the new government took office, some foreign nationals were detained by the police in relation to homosexuality. Although homosexuality remains illegal, the new government has taken a softer stance on many issues, including homosexuality.
The Gambia has provision in law for the implementation of the death penalty for a number of crimes including arson, murder and treason. In February 2018, President Barrow announced a moratorium on the death penalty.
Take care when swimming in the sea. Tides, waves and under currents can all be very strong.
Safety and security
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 3 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.
Terrorist attacks in The Gambia can’t be ruled out. As seen in Mali, Côte D’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, terrorist groups continue to mount attacks on beach resorts, hotels, cafés and restaurants visited by foreigners. Be especially vigilant in these places.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Local laws reflect the fact that The Gambia is an Islamic country. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.
In 2019, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 5 May and finish on 4 June.
Although the law stipulates that detainees can’t be held for longer than 72 hours without charge, this is regularly exceeded.
Recent amendments to the Gambian criminal code have criminalised a range of behaviour including causing a public nuisance, which can carry a 5-year prison term and/or a fine of 250,000 Dalasi.
There is a zero tolerance towards illegal drugs. The Gambian authorities will take strong action against anyone importing, exporting or found in possession of drugs. Don’t accept packages on behalf of anyone without knowing the contents. Sentences for those found in possession of drugs can be up to £200,000 or 15 years in prison. Westerners carrying a minimal amount of cannabis have been sentenced to ten years in prison. Cases of entrapment by Gambian authorities are not uncommon.
The death penalty applies for a number of crimes including arson, murder and treason. The Gambia resumed executions in 2012. In February 2018, President Barrow announced a moratorium on the death penalty.
There are heavy penalties for any form of sexual offence against a child. There are reports of increased child sex tourism. Report any incidences to police officials. You must carry ID with you at all times. Carry a photocopy of your passport and keep the original locked away.
There is a zero tolerance towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in The Gambia. The Gambian criminal code states that any person who has or attempts to have ‘carnal knowledge’ of any person ‘against the order of nature’ is guilty of a crime and could face 14 years’ imprisonment. The criminal code was amended in October 2014 to include Section (144A) entitled Aggravated Homosexuality which sets out 7 specific categories, including being “a serial offender”, where a person is “liable on conviction to imprisonment for life”. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Gambian law criminalises the act of men dressing as women with a 5-year jail term.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
For visits of less than a month, you don’t need to get a visa before you travel. British nationals are given a 28 day stamp in their passports on arrival. You can get further 28-day extensions from the Immigration Office in Banjul or the Tourist Police Stations in the Tourism Development Area.
If you’re planning to enter The Gambia for a period longer than 3 months, check entry requirements with the Gambian High Commission in London.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are valid for entry and exit at Banjul airport.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist are available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. If you intend to bring prescription medication into The Gambia, you should bring a copy of your prescription and keep items in the original packaging. Some prescription and over-the-counter medicines like those containing codeine or diazepam are banned under The Gambia’s drugs laws. If you’re in any doubt about customs procedures or need more information on the legal status of a specific medicine, check with the Gambian Embassy before you travel.
Medical facilities in The Gambia are very limited and the cost of medical evacuation can be very high. Private clinics will only treat fee-paying patients.
Malaria is present in all areas of The Gambia throughout the year.
In the 2010 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 17,000 adults aged 15 or over in Gambia were living with HIV; the prevalence percentage was estimated at around 2% of the adult population compared to the prevalence percentage in adults in the UK of around 0.2%. You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS.
For emergency medical numbers check the website of the British High Commission in Banjul. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Localised flooding can occur during summer months (June to October).
The Gambia remains primarily a cash-based economy. Not all hotels will accept travellers cheques. Check with your tour operator or hotel before travelling. An increasing number of hotels and restaurants will accept Visa debit cards but very few will accept credit cards. Mastercard is generally not accepted. There are several ATMs in the tourist area of Senegambia and in other locations, but ATMs can be unreliable.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.