1. Discover the roots of…Roots
When African-American author Alex Haley was researching his family history, he traced his ancestry back to a man named Kunta Kinteh, born in the Gambian village of Juffureh and sold into slavery around 1750. Haley turned the story of Kinteh and his descendants into an award-winning book which inspired the iconic TV series Roots — and incidentally, transformed Gambian tourism. James Island, off the coast of Banjul, a former holding facility for slaves, was formally renamed Kunta Kinteh Island in 2011. Take a boat tour to the island and discover its dark history. Many tours also stop in Juffureh itself and in the neighbouring village of Albreda, where the slavery museum is worth a visit.
2. Explore Bijilo Forest Park
Go back to nature within walking distance of major resorts at Bijilo Forest Park. The 126-acre forest is home to a fascinating range of monkeys, lizards and other surprising animals. Over 133 bird species including sunbirds, honeyguides and even peregrine falcons — the fastest birds on earth — have been spotted here.
3. Get lost in Serrekunda Market
Three kilometres inland from the resort area of Kololi, you’ll find the bustling market town of Serrekunda (pop. 390,000), The Gambia’s commercial centre. The town’s famous market is said to have been started over 100 years ago by a few women selling dried fish, but now sprawls over a large area of downtown. Find everything from auto parts to fresh fish to local fabric at this vast market. Haggling is to be expected. Around the market, there are plenty of opportunities to stock up on souvenirs and watch craftspeople at work.
4. Go on safari at the Abuko Nature Reserve
The Abuko Nature Reserve is known as a fantastic place for birdwatching, but is also home to several species of monkeys and a variety of snakes, including pythons and cobras. It’s also famous for its crocodiles —the Nile crocodile, which can be up to five metres long, and the endangered dwarf crocodile. The reserve, best explored as part of a small group, is along the road from Serrekunda to Brikama.
5. Check out the chimps at the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre
This chimpanzee sanctuary, home to over 100 chimps, is located on three islands in the River Gambia National Park. Getting to the park is a trek in itself — the village of Kuntaur, where boats to the sanctuary pick up passengers, is 214 kilometres from Banjul - but the trip is worth it. Boat tours and trail hikes allow you to meet chimps, baboons, crocodiles and hippos, while learning about the sanctuary’s animal protection work. The sanctuary was established in 1979 to allow formerly captive chimps from around the world to return to the wild. The park is only open from Thursday to Sunday.
6. Go surfing
Surfing is growing in popularity all along the coast of West Africa, so it’s no surprise that travellers to The Gambia, are catching the wave (sorry). The Gandah Surf School has been moving from beach to beach since early 2018, and some beaches also offer surfboard rentals. The Gambia also offers a great variety of waves….Most mapped spots are just west of the capital, Banjul. But if you venture down the coast you might just stumble upon a whole line of great breaks. Surfing season runs from September to March.
7. Get your running shoes on with Banjul Hash House Harriers
There are few better ways to see a city like a local than to go running with the locals. Hash House Harriers —just Hash to devotees — is a network of informal running clubs in hundreds of cities around the world. Hashers meet up weekly for a three-to-five-kilometre run, walk or hike, followed by a social event. It’s a great way to stay in shape, meet locals and other travellers and discover parts of the city that aren’t on most tourist itineraries. Banjul Hash meets on Mondays at 5:45 p.m. Contact them on Facebook for specific meeting place information.