Gambia

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Languages
  • English
  • Mandinka
  • Gambian Wolof
  • Wolof
  • Fulah
Neighbors
States
  • Banjul
  • Lower River Division
  • Central River
  • North Bank
  • Upper River
  • West Coast

Wiki Voyage Travel Information

The Gambia is a country in West Africa and is the smallest country on the continent of Africa. It has a short North Atlantic Ocean coastline in the west and is surrounded by Senegal so that it is almost an enclave. The country occupies the navigable length of the Gambia River valley and surrounding hills.

Understand

The Gambia essentially consists of the flood plain of the Gambia river flanked by some low hills - the highest point is just 53 m above sea level, and it is less than 50 km across at its widest point.

Climate

Tropical; hot, rainy season (June to November); cooler, dry season (November to May); Natural hazards : drought (rainfall has dropped by 30% in the last 30 years).

History

Historically, culturally, and linguistically tied to Senegal, the Gambia was split from its neighbor in the 18th century by European powers. Most of the region was taken over by France, but a narrow piece of land around the Gambia River was ceded to Great Britain. This small area eventually became the Gambia.

The Gambia gained its independence from the UK on 18 February 1965. A constitution was written on 24 April 1970, before being suspended in July 1994 and subsequently rewritten and approved by national referendum on 8 August 1996. It was re-established in January 1997.

The Gambia formed a short-lived federation of Senegambia with Senegal between 1982 and 1989. In 1991 the two nations signed a friendship and cooperation treaty. A military coup in 1994 overthrew the president and banned political activity, but a new 1996 constitution and presidential elections, followed by parliamentary balloting in 1997, completed a nominal return to civilian rule. Elections have continued ever since, but with government intimidation and detention of opposition leaders, they aren't completely democratic.

National holidays

The Gambia celebrates its independence day on 18 February. This small country gained its independence in 1965. There is also the Muslim festival of Eid which is celebrated by virtually all Gambians and is a 2 to 3 day event during which up to 250,000 animals are slaughtered to provide food for the feast. It is also a time when Gambians, especially women, dress in their finest regalia and buying new dresses at up to D3,000 (3,000 Gambian dalasi).

People

A variety of ethnic groups live in the Gambia, each preserving its own language and traditions. The Mandinka ethnicity is the largest, followed by the Fula, Wolof, Jola, Serahule, Serers and the Bianunkas. The Krio people, locally known as the Aku, constitute one of the smallest ethnic minorities in the Gambia. They are descendants of the Sierra Leone Creole people and have been traditionally concentrated in the capital.

Regions

Cities

  • Banjul - capital
  • Brikama
  • Gunjur
  • Janjanbureh
  • Serrekunda
  • Tanji

Other destinations

  • Abuko Nature Reserve - tiny reserve near the beaches with shady paths to get close to monkeys, bushbucks, chameleons, & crocodiles.
  • Bao Bolon Wetland Reserve - mixed patched of thick forest and swamp most noteworthy for its migratory birds but also home to dugongs, otters, hogs, antelope, & hippos.
  • Makasutu Cultural Forest - a large eco-tourism project near the beaches popular as a package day trip with game drive, boat ride, & performances by locals.

Gambia has two sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Get in

thumb|upright=1.3|A beach in Gambia Gambia is becoming a popular vacation destination for Northern Europeans. Therefore, many charter and holiday operators offer reasonable airfare and accommodation if desired.

Visa

US and South African citizens must obtain a Gambian visa before entering the Gambia. Visa can be obtained at the Gambian High Commission in Dakar. Single entry visas cost USD100 , XAF35,000 (about USD69, so a better deal!) or multi-entry for three month period cost XAF30,000. New Zealanders, Australians, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Taiwanese and some Europeans (e.g. British, Dutch, Finns and Germans) do not require visas for stays up to 90 days. Canadians can acquire a 30 day visitor's visa upon arrival. Always check with the High Commission or Embassy before making travel arrangements.

A single entry visa could surely also be obtained at the border for XAF15,000, at least for Europeans and US citizens, even when the embassy in Dakar claims and insists the opposite, as they wish you pay more to them instead!

By plane

Vueling a low cost airline operates regular flights to/from Barcelona (Spain) with onward connecting flights to many cities in Europe. Royal Air Maroc from Casablanca. Brussels airlines from Brussels. Arik Air from Accra and Lagos. Senegal airlines from Dakar. During the tourist season (October to April), there are regular scheduled flights direct from cities such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Brussels. Current charter operators include Monarch Airlines, First Choice Airways, Thomas Cook Airlines, Transavia, and Arkefly. you can get a one-way ticket from The Gambia to Europe with Vueling Airlines.

By car

Sept-places or bush taxis run from Dakar to Banjul and Banjul to Ziguinchor.

It is possible use your private car to drive from Senegal to The Gambia via the border town of Amdalli (just north of Barra). The border crossing is pretty straightforward. You will need your V5 logbook. The road approaching the border from Senegal is terrible and its easier to drive next to the road as opposed to on it. Check before you travel if it is ok to bring in a right-hand drive vehicle, as there are conflicting reports on the possibility of this (though it has been done).

By bus

There are direct GPTC buses running from Barra (a ferry ride away from Banjul) to Dakar 1, but these are not recommended as they are slower than the bush taxis.

By boat

It is possible privately charter small fishing vessels from Dakar and neighbouring areas; though this can be fairly expensive and slow should one not be proficient at bargaining.

Get around

By car

A 4WD is recommended if you plan to rent a car, since the roads often are in bad condition and only a minority is paved.

By taxi

There are two types of cabs: green ones (tourist cabs) and yellow ones (regular cabs). Green cabs are expensive and the price is regardless of the number of passengers. Although there is no MOT system in Gambia, these taxis must have basics such as seat belts and working indicators. Yellow taxis are much cheaper and the price depends on the number of persons in the cab. They are used mainly by locals, and in many tourist areas they are prohibited from picking up tourists. Often it is worth it to walk a little to get a yellow taxi.

By bike

You can rent a bike from pretty much anyone that owns one at a negotiated rate. Cycling on major roads can be risky, as motorist safety is unreliable, some roads are not well-maintained, sand and steep shoulders cause road hazards, and pedestrians may walk or veer onto the open road without warning. In high traffic areas, taxis and vans often cut off cyclists to pick up travellers and the car horn may be used excessively to warn of impending passage.

By thumb

No, don't use your thumb. It is an obscene gesture in Gambia, instead wave if you want a car to stop. As anywhere, hitching is quite risky business, so be careful with what cars you enter and never hitch at night. Also, Gambian motorists will expect you to pay for the ride, so have some cash ready.

By boat

The Gambia River is navigable the entire length of the country.

Guided tours

There are many companies that offer guided tours in Gambia.

There are also official tourist guides that will arrange transportation and guide you. They offer a good service and you will get to travel in a small group (usually 1 to 6 persons). Beware that there are false official guides, so always meet them at their offices, around tourist resorts.

Talk

Languages spoken in Gambia are English (the official language), Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, sarrancule and other indigenous languages.

See

Entrance to Abuko Nature Reserve

Do

  • Four Wheel Drive Adventure. Very popular tours visiting schools, country homes, and distilleries.

Buy

Money

Gambia uses the dalasi as its currency, denoted by the symbol "D" (ISO currency code: GMD). The dalasi is divided into 100 bututs. Banknotes come in D5, 10, 25, 50, and 100 denominations and you may find D0.25, D0.50 and D1 coins in circulation.

It is better you take CFA francs, euro or dollars with you. If you have a Visa credit card and don't use a PIN or you forgot it, then the only bank that can help you out is (the bigger) GT Bank in Banjul, which only requires your card, your passport, and your signature.

ATMs

  • MasterCard and Visa can now be used at any GT Bank or EcoBank ATMs to withdraw cash.

Souvenirs

  • Kora is the main music instrument of the Mandinka tribe, and could be considered the national instrument of Gambia. It is 21-stringed and built from a large calabash cut in half and covered with cow skin to make a resonator. It sounds like a mixture of harp and flamenco guitar. Real koras can be very expensive but small souvenir versions are also available.
  • Tailor made clothes can be bought at cheap prices.
  • wood carvings
  • wooden masks
  • African drums
  • hand-woven table runners and place mats.
  • Batik and tie-dye fabric.

typical craft shop

Eat

  • Benachin or Jollof rice - a traditional West African rice dish with onions, spices, tomatoes or tomato paste mixed with meat, fish or vegetables.
  • Chicken Yassa - chicken boiled with onion, black pepper and lime or lemon.
  • Domoda - meat stew with rice and peanut butter sauce.
  • Lots and lots of peanuts, the main crop of The Gambia.

Drink

  • Gambia's own beer, Julbrew is worth a try. It's made by Banjul Breweries, who also make soft drinks.
  • Palm Wine is juice from palmtrees that is collected and fermented. It is used as a kind of wine by the locals, and you may get a chance to try it if you go on a tour to rural Gambia.
  • Baobab juice

Baobab fruit

Sleep

There are many luxury 4 and 5 star resorts along the Atlantic coastline. Further in land there are eco camps and lodges which offer basic accommodation usually in natural surroundings.

Work

Stay safe

There are a number of very commonly used scams in the Gambia. If someone stops you on the street, they may tell you that they remember you from the hotel you're staying at and that they work there. They may invite you to another hotel, but this could be a scam to attempt to rob you. Also, because people are constantly looking for ways to support themselves, if they offer you assistance or directions, it may be understood that they expect some monetary compensation.

Sadly, many Gambian military have an unfavourable view of Brits (sometimes caucasians in general) and can be extremely racist - despite the British taking the territory from the French and abolishing slavery. Expect it especially at border crossings as you will almost always be asked to pay to have your passport stamped and receive more than a few insults aimed at not only your country but also yourself when you refuse to pay. As always, do NOT pay any bribes as you're only making the problem worse, not just for tourists but the locals that are already struggling to fight the rampant corruption. Absolutely do not mention calling an embassy as this will only enrage them and start another string of abuse, as your embassy has no control over them and they hate the thought of it. If you've made friends with a Gambian they might possibly be able to help but as The Gambia is seen as one of the most repressive countries in Africa, they may be putting themselves at risk of punishment - so don't get annoyed if you're not assisted.

Scams also exist in which marijuana is offered to tourists or they are invited to come smoke in a home, only to find police waiting for a hefty bribe. A simple "Sorry, I am in a hurry" could suffice to dismiss them. But don't tell them why you are in a hurry and don't say anything else after that as this may lead to a conversation - and this could lead to unwanted attention and possibly a scam. Also remember that some Bumsters are not unemployed or young and never fall for hardship stories. One last word of warning: should you feel you want to give a person some money out of sympathy or just to get rid of them it will certainly lead them to ask you for more money at a later date should you meet again. Some recommend a stern and harsh response to such requests, but this should be informed by your values and the relationship formed with the individual in question. Keep in mind, however, that you may see this person again, and they could truly be helpful if you're in a jam or need information. Many people in tourist areas are merely 'friendly facilitators' who may hope for an exchange of favours, but are genuinely harmless. Being overly guarded could deny you an offer to join a local family for a traditional meal, or to personally meet one of the craftspeople who make the local goods for sale.

The Gambia is a great holiday destination but just keep your guard up at all times.

When swimming, be aware that the currents in the Atlantic waters can be strong. Always look out for flags on the tourist beaches indicating the level of danger on a red - yellow - green scale.

Be careful about your political opinions, as such critical opinions against the government are considered a crime.

Active homosexuals could be in extreme danger in Gambia - subject to possible arrest or even killing.

Stay healthy

Yellow fever vaccination is strongly recommended. Meningitis vaccination is recommended. Anti-malaria pills are also necessary. Most cases of malaria in the Gambia are contracted between June and December. Mefloquine, Doxycycline or Malarone are the medicines of choice for the Gambia, and for most of sub-Saharan Africa, because of the increasing chloroquine resistance.

It is a good idea to bring insect repellent, sunscreen and other health items from your home country since these may be hard to find in some areas.

Respect

Always ask before you take a photo of anyone. Some Gambians have certain beliefs about having their picture taken, in particular by a stranger.

Go next

  • Senegal is both north and south of Gambia. There are excursions to Fathala Reserve just north of the border.

Connect

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