Why Visit The Gambia?
A mini audio podcast series, Guide to The Gambia in West Africa, a fascinating country that I have been visiting regularly for over 8 years.
In this the first episode, I introduce the country, explain why I think it is such a wonderful place to visit and a fabulous holiday destination, as well as giving you a quick summary of things to do there and how to get around.
I will be posting transcripts of all the podcasts within my posts for anyone who would rather read them than listen!
Guide to The Gambia
Episode 1 – An introduction to The Gambia
The Gambia is the smallest country in mainland Africa – a thin sliver of a country, surrounded on three sides by its much bigger neighbour, Senegal. It is named after the River Gambia which virtually cuts the country in half.
The local currency is Dalasi and I have known exchange rates to be as low as 45 Dalasi to the UK pound but more recently this has risen to over 60 Dalasi.
Most people in The Gambia are Muslims, although traditional beliefs are also followed and there is a small percentage of Christians. There are many different tribes including Mandinka, Wolof and Jola and intermarriage between tribes and religions is common. Gambian Muslims sometimes celebrate Christian festivals with their Christian friends and vice versa.
The Gambia is one of the poorest countries in Africa but it is also one of the most politically stable countries and it is heavily reliant on the tourism industry. After 8 years of visiting this exciting country, I’d like to share with you some tips that I have picked up along the way. But first, let me explain why I think The Gambia is such a wonderful country to visit.
Why choose The Gambia?
The Gambia in West Africa is a fascinating place, and with no rain between November to the middle of June virtually guaranteed and temperatures in the 30s, it is a fantastic winter sun destination. You’ll find it much cheaper than many other popular winter sun locations such as the Caribbean. Plus it is less than 6 hours away and within the same time zone so there is no need to worry about jet lag.
Some people also like visiting in the summer when it’s quieter. Rain tends to fall in short, sharp showers, often at night, but in the day it’s never long before the sun starts shining again. It is very humid, though, and it’s worth noting that many restaurants and some hotels shut down in the summer.
There’s an excellent range of accommodation, from great value budget guest houses to luxurious boutique hotels and unique eco-resorts.
The coast has many lovely, long sandy beaches which are never over-crowded, even in the height of the season.
In the tourist resorts, you’ll find a great range of restaurants offering everything from burgers and chips to international fine dining or traditional West African dishes such as the peanut based domoda or spicy benachin.
The Gambia is known as the smiling coast of Africa with good reason, as the people here are among the friendliest you could hope to meet anywhere in the world. Sadly, The Gambia has acquired a bit of a name for itself as a destination where middle-aged European women go in search of toy boys. With little work or prospects, many young men fall into this trap. In the tourist resorts, you will find these bumsters, as they are known, hanging around, looking out for the latest arrivals and hoping to make some money, whether by offering their services as a guide or escort or by trying to sell you something. This should not put you off, though. I have visited the country many times, as a solo traveller as well as in a group, and while the bumsters can be annoying at times, I have never felt unsafe. A firm but polite, “No thank you!” usually does the trick. Never say, “Maybe later”, as they will only hear the later and not the maybe and will come looking for you!
What is there to do in The Gambia?
If like me, you can only spend a limited amount of time on the beach or by the pool before getting bored and would rather be out and about, there is plenty to see and do.
It would be a crime for any visitor to stay in their hotel and not get out and about, meet the locals and discover the culture. Gambians are incredibly friendly and almost everyone in the tourist area speaks English. It is The Gambia’s official language and is used in education and commerce.
With some 560 bird species, it is a twitcher’s paradise and is popular with the likes of wildlife and bird watching expert Chris Packham. It is also great for river and sea fishing. There is no big game here but there are a number of species of monkeys, including green vervets, baboons and the endangered red colobus monkeys. You may also see monitor lizards, bats, crocodiles and marine mammals including dolphins.
Other things to do include cruising along the River Gambia. You could also try your hand at West African drumming or visit the reputed village of Kunta Kinte, the ancestor of Alex Hayley, author of ‘Roots’. As well as the tourist craft markets, there are a number of local markets which are fascinating to explore.
And don’t forget the fishing villages and associated markets of Tanji and Bakau, which are very lively and colourful places to visit.
Public transport in The Gambia
There are some great organised excursions, but these can be expensive and the tourist area around the coast of The Gambia is easy to explore independently.
The cheapest form of public transport is the bush taxi. These are white minibuses that travel set routes between towns. They are extremely cheap and have a fixed price of about 5 or 10 Dalasi (£0.20 GBP). Further information on fares can be found here.
The yellow taxis with a green stripe down the side cost about the same as the minibuses, charging per person, and they are likely to pick up further passengers along the way. These are not allowed to drive into the main resort areas, so if you are staying in a hotel you will have to walk to the main road in order to pick one up. Always agree on a price before getting in and make it clear that you are happy to share, or you will be expected to pay a lot more.
The tourist taxis are green and it is these that you will find outside the hotels. They are very much more expensive but are usually in the best condition and have the best insurance, I am told. The drivers are happy to act as guides which can be very useful and they are happy to wait for you for a few hours for the journey home rather than loose the fare. There will be boards displaying a fixed price but if you are good at bargaining you can usually get this down. You can also hire them for half days or whole days and they will take you around the local sights. This will generally be cheaper than going on an organised excursion. Do make sure that everything is agreed beforehand regarding costs and time.
There are no trains in The Gambia and there are no bridges across the River Gambia which cuts the country almost completely in half. If you want to get to the north bank you can catch a ferry at Banjul, an adventure in itself!
I would not recommend hiring a car in The Gambia, as there are few road signs, driving standards are not as high as you might expect and the roads can be in very poor condition as soon as you get off the main roads.
Lastly, remember that The Gambia is a developing country and safety standards are not as high as they are in many other countries.
With great weather, lovely beaches, a fascinating culture and friendly people, the Gambia is a wonderful country to visit. If you have never visited Africa before, it makes an excellent introduction to this vast continent.
In Episode 2 I’ll be introducing some of the different places to stay in The Gambia.
The music featured in this podcast is ‘Under African Skies’ by African Cream Kids from MusicAlley.com
While I have worked for Serenity Holidays, which includes The Gambia Experience, since 2005, ‘Travel With Kat’ and my accompanying podcasts should not be taken as the views of Serenity Holidays or any of its subsidiaries. As always, I give you my honest opinion. My only bias, which I hope you will forgive me for, stems from my having fallen in love with The Gambia many years ago.