It’s no wonder that The Gambia is so popular with winter holidaymakers. Friendly, tropical and peaceful, The Gambia is a short flight from Northern Europe and its costal resorts around Banjul are perfect for a lazy poolside break.
More intrepid travellers can head inland to find more classic West African landscapes. Cruise along the River Gambia to spot playful chimpanzees or basking hippos and trace the history of the slave trade at James Island.
Birders will be in seventh heaven at the Bao Bolon Wetland Reserve, a protected area of salt flats, marshland and wetland that is home to a huge number of species.
Call them what you will – touts, fixers, gigolos – but ‘bumsters’ can be a pain. If you’re not interested in their insistent offers of chaperoning services, tell them plainly that you’ve got no work for them.
Bird-watchers will benefit from a specialised guide. Bring your own mosquito net and plenty of repellent.
Daytime temperatures average around 30°C year round. The dry season is mid-October to early June; this is also the main tourist season.
Manatees are found in the River Gambia National Park between February and June. They are frequently heard and sometimes seen. The best time for birdwatching is early in the dry season and early in the rainy season, when migrants arrive.
Banjul (BJL), 24km from the city
The Gambia has no trains and no internal flights. Most local people get around using the bush taxi, which can be a converted minibus, estate car, van or even cart in rural areas.
Hiring a Land Rover or bike is a fine way of getting around in your own sweet time and allows you to get off the beaten track.
Most travellers to The Gambia will have pre-arranged hotels booked as part of a package. However, it is possible to travel independently, providing you stay away from the resort hotels used by the tour operators.
There are a growing number of riverside ecolodges up country. At the budget end, there are a few tourist guesthouses and homestays. You’ll also find a YMCA hostel in Kanifing, near Serrekunda and an official campsite in Sukuta.
Tourist restaurants tend to be mediocre. For a more authentic experience, head to ‘chop shops’, street stalls or beach bars for some good honest grub. Look for anywhere busy with locals.
Gambian dishes to try include chicken yassa (chicken marinated with onion, lime, garlic and chilli), M’bahal rice (rice mixed with dried fish, groundnuts and peppers) and pate made from bonga, a local bony fish. Gambians also love afra – a local street-style version of the barbecue where you pick the raw meat and watch it be seasoned and sizzled over a hot grill while you wait.
Strict vegetarians will suffer as often even the rice is cooked in meat stock.
Malaria is prevalent; take prophylaxis, especially if visiting in the summer. Get medical advice on inoculations. You may need a yellow fever certificate – check before you go. Don’t drink the tap water.
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