This wonderful West African country is a fascinating place to explore with golden sandy beaches, year-round hot weather, friendly English speaking locals and no end of interesting things to do in The Gambia, many of which cost very little.

Many holidaymakers from Europe head there to relax by the sea or pool but it would be a crime for any visitor to stay in their hotel and not get out and about, meet the locals, discover the culture and see some of the wonderful wildlife. Gambians are incredibly friendly, some might say too friendly but even the most persistent bumster, as the local boys who hang around the tourist areas are known, mean you no harm and just hope to make a little money. There are some great organised excursions but these can be expensive so here are my top tips for things to do in The Gambia on a budget, many of which are completely free.

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Top 10 things to do in The #Gambia on a budget

Things to do in The Gambia on a budget

1. Explore (a mini guide to local transport in The Gambia)

Hiring a bicycle can be a cheap option but please don’t cycle at night on the roads, as everyone drives with their headlights on full beam and no one can see a thing! Other than that, a bicycle is a great way to get around and if someone does start to be a nuisance you can hop on your bike and cycle off.

The cheapest form of public transport is the bush taxi. These are white minibuses that travel set routes between towns and cram the passengers in but they are extremely cheap and have a fixed price of around 10 Dalasi (£0.16 GBP). Journey’s do tend to take a very long time though, especially if you need to change buses.

The yellow taxis, with a green stripe down the side, cost about the same as the minibuses, charging per person at a fixed rate 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 check the price before getting in and make it clear that you are happy to share otherwise they will assume you want a private taxi (called a town trip) and you will be expected to pay at least 50 Dalasi.

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 lose the fare. There will be boards displaying a fixed price but if you are good at bargaining you may be able to get this down a little. 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.

More advice on public transport and taxis can be found on the Access Gambia website.

There are no trains in The Gambia and there are no bridges across the River Gambia which cuts the country completely in half. If you want to get to the north bank you can catch a ferry at Banjul but this is very unreliable at the moment and I really would not recommend it.

Lastly, remember that The Gambia is a developing country and safety standards are not as high as they are in many other countries.

2. Craft markets

Now that you’re an old hand at haggling having negotiated a great price for your taxi, visit a local craft market and hone your skills. Whatever the stall holder asks for, you want to at least half it and end up meeting in the middle. The trick is to think before you start  – Do I really want this and what price am I willing to pay? I’m hopeless at mental arithmetic so I’ve been known to keep a credit card size conversion table (that I’ve made myself ) in my purse which I can glance at as needed. Some stall holders can be a little pushy but smile, stick to your guns, take your time and go with the flow.

Things to do on a budget, Gambia

The best-known markets are at Serrekunda, the largest town in The Gambia, and the Royal Albert Market in the capital, Banjul. Both of these towns have large markets selling everything under the sun with a tourist craft market attached. There are many other craft markets dotted around including Kololi, Kotu, Fajara and Bakau. While people are usually happy to have their photograph taken in the tourist craft markets, in the parts of the markets aimed at locals many people do not like it or will expect to be paid. I find the easiest thing to do is to hire a guide (your driver can help you find one when you get there). Explain that you want to take photographs and ask your guide to ask people for you if they mind and to explain that you are not able to pay anyone.

You might also enjoy Exploring Albert Market in Banjul.

3. Fishing Village

There are fish markets at Bakau, Tanji and Sanyang. These are colourful, vibrant places where you can watch the pirogues (fishing boats) come in and unload the day’s catch. Men and women wade into the water and bring back buckets on their heads full of fish. Women buy and sell the fish while the seagulls squawk overhead ever hopeful of a few scraps. Any keen photographers will love all the colour and action but keep in mind that, as with the local markets, many people don’t like to be photographed. While you’ll have to pay for a taxi or hire a bicycle to get there once there it is free to watch all the action.

Top Ten things to do in The Gambia, Tanji

Discover more about Tanji Fishing Village

4. Sanyang Beach

There are many lovely sandy beaches in The Gambia, none of which ever get overcrowded and some with not another soul in sight. Sanyang, also known as Paradise Beach, is many people’s favourite. It has a small bar, café and a few craft stalls. A short walk away you’ll see rows of colourful pirogues and behind that the fish is being prepared, dried and smoked. On Sunday’s throughout the main tourist season organised traditional wrestling matches are very entertaining.
Top Ten things to do in The Gambia, Sanyang

5. Kachikally Sacred Crocodile Pool

This is in Bakau but there are quite a few throughout The Gambia, some with and some without the crocodiles. The waters are said to have magical powers, in particular, they are said to aid fertility and women come long distances to be bathed in the waters. A taxi driver once told me about an English couple he had taken there. They had been trying for years to have children so they visited the pool and not long after they returned home they emailed him that they were expecting a baby.
Kachikally Crocoile Pool - one of my top 10 things to do in Gambia on a budget
It only costs D50 (about £1 GBP) to enter and there is a small but interesting museum there too. The crocodiles have become so used to visitors that you can walk right up to them and stroke them but strictly only on the advice of the guides. However, I firmly believe that wild animals should remain just that, wild, and I do not advocate taking selfies with any wild animal.
Looking for a hotel in The Gambia? Check current hotel costs and availability here.

6. The monkeys at Bijilo Forest Park

There is a lovely walk through the trees and a huge population of green vervet monkeys which are great fun to watch. You may also see a Western Red Colobus monkey (look up into the trees). This is an endangered species and they are struggling to survive here because of the number of vervet monkeys. The vervets are doing so well because the tourists feed them and have become humanised so that they no longer fear us but instead see us a food sauce. Not only can monkeys carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans, once they lose their natural fear of us, but they can also become problematic to local people, invading their homes and causing a great nuisance.

Top Ten things to do in The Gambia, Bijilo

Bijilo Monkey Park is even cheaper to enter than Kachikally (and free if you enter away from the main entrance I believe). While you don’t need a guide they are very good at spotting and identifying birds that you might otherwise miss. If you are told that it is OK to feed the monkeys it is just so that you will buy some peanuts. PLEASE don’t buy them and don’t feed the monkeys. IT IS NOT OK! (sorry, did I raise my voice there!)


7. Birdwatching

The Gambia is famous for birdwatching and is a favourite location of BBC wildlife presenter and birdwatching expert, Chris Packham, because there are so many different birds found here – some 560 species. The best way to go birdwatching is to hire an official guide, however, many of the hotels have lovely grounds where a variety of birds can be seen and it is worth asking if they have a bird guide book you can borrow and even some binoculars. The guides have an office by Kotu Bridge.

Little bee-eaters, bird watching in The Gambia - one of my top 10 things to do in Gambia on a budget

If you are staying in the Kololi/Senegambia area than Bijilo Forest is within walking distance. While it may not be my first choice for birdwatching it isn’t bad at all and saves you the cost of hiring a taxi. If you are staying in Kotu then a walk along Kotu creek, starting at the bridge is a great option. You can read about the birds I saw in Bijilo Forest in my post, From blue-bellied rollers to little bee-eaters.


8. Traditional Drumming and Dance Show

Many hotels and some restaurants lay on entertainment. This can vary in quality and style but there are a few great traditional groups that play the circuit of hotels and you can watch them while eating or over a drink. Please do tip them as some of the hotels pay them very little.

Top Ten things to do in The Gambia, Bijilo
Above: Tamala Africa Cultural Troupe (the best drumming troupe I’ve ever seen) act out a scene from a traditional West African folktale

9. A walk along the beach at sunset

The sunsets in The Gambia can be spectacular. Being so near the equator the sun goes down very quickly around 7pm (give or take half an hour). If someone comes over to chat to you but you’d rather be alone take off your shoes and walk in the water. The local young men who try to befriend tourists in the hope of making a little money, known as bumsters, do not like getting their shoes wet. While their attention can at times be annoying, in my experience, it is never threatening. I’ve visited the Gambia alone for work a number of times and never felt unsafe there.

Top 10 things to do in The Gambia, Bijilo

10. Have a drumming lesson

Sitting under a palm tree on the beach enjoying a drumming lesson is a great way to spend an hour or two while learning about the local culture. The lessons I’ve had have all been organised through the Kombo Beach Hotel but wherever your staying I’m sure a local hotel (or one of the performers you can see in many of the hotels and bars) will be able to put you I touch with a teacher. And they charge very little compared to what you might pay for a music lesson in the UK.

Things to do in The Gambia - drumming lesson on the beach

11. Feeding the vultures

The sky is thick with vultures, swooping and skwarking, eager to grab their share of the feast. Watching vultures being fed is an incredible sight.

You can see them every morning in the gardens of the Senegambia Hotel in Kololi at around 11 am or by Kotu Bridge on the road leading to Kotu. It’s completely free but a donation to the organisers is appreciated. While I wouldn’t normally condone feeding wild animals, in this case, I’m prepared to make an exception. While vultures are common in the Gambia, worldwide, the hooded vulture is an endangered species. And with so few work opportunities for Gambians, I have to applaud these initiatives, particularly in Kotu where the vulture feeding promotes the services of numerous bird watching guides.

12. Visit a luxury hotel for a massage

I know! That doesn’t sound like something to do on a budget, however, it will cost you a fraction of the price that it would at home. I once treated myself to two and a half hours of total self-indulgence with a hammam, followed by a hot stone massage and ending with an Asian foot massage at the most luxurious hotel in The Gambia, the Coco Ocean Resort and Spa. It currently costs D2,200 (around £40 GBP). In England, that would probably cost you a couple of hundred pounds in a five-star hotel. Even if you can’t afford to stay in one of the luxury or boutique hotels in The Gambia, there are some lovely ‘value for money’ hotels and there’s no reason why you can’t visit one of the top hotels for a treat, be it in their restaurant or their spa.

Coco Ocean spa - one of my top 10 things to do in Gambia on a budget

Want to know more about The Gambia? Then check out my other articles from this wonderful little country, The Gambia.

Four things you must pack when visiting The Gambia

I lost count of the number of times I’ve visited The Gambia a long time ago. I’ve stayed in a variety of hotels, travelled there with friends, on my own, with my husband, for work, on holiday and as a volunteer. Here are the four things I never travel to The Gambia without.

1. Anti-malaria tablets

It’s perfectly safe to travel to The Gambia as long as you take the necessary precautions. Thousands of holidaymakers travel there and have a fabulous time but malaria can kill and but is not worth taking the risk. You can buy anti-malaria tablets online, via a pharmacy, or from your GP.

2. Mosquito repellent

Even though you are taking anti-malaria tablets, it’s safer still if you don’t get bitten. Mosquito bites can also be unsightly, as well as uncomfortable so a reliable mosquito repellent is invaluable.

3. Mosquito repellent clothing

When I first heard about mosquito repellent clothing I was a little dubious but, having tried it for myself, I can verify that it works. My favourite item is this sarong, but there’s a great range of shirts, hats and trousers available with mosquito repellent impregnated with mosquito repellent.

4. Plug converter

The hotels in The Gambia use a variety of electrical sockets. Many fit English style three pin plugs, while others afit continental two pin plugs. Make sure you take the right converter so you can’t get caught out.

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