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.
The Gambia knows 2 distinct seasons: A rainy season (June to November) and a dry season (November to May).
The rainy season is marked by high air humidity, (sometimes oppressive) heat and occasional rainfall, mostly occuring in the evening or at night. The rainfall during the rainy season can be quite heavy. As a result of this, some dirtroads may become inacessible. During the rainy season the natural beauty of The Gambia is amplified by the lush and colourful vegetation that swallows the landscape due to the rainfall.
The dry season is one of The Gambia's main attractions, luring in many tourists who enjoy a sunny winter holiday destination. As the pleasant dry heat is accompanied by a near-constant fresh sea breeze in the coastal areas, it makes for a perfect sunny climate. Temperatures can fall up to about 18° degrees in the evening and at nighttime, thus ensuring comfortable nights during the entire dry season.
As The Gambia is fairly close to the Equator, the sun is very strong and can therefore cause quick and severe skinburn as well as heatstroke. Be sure to apply sunscreen during the daytime and try to stay hydrated at all times.
Flood plain of the Gambia river flanked by some low hills — the highest point is just 53m above sea level.
The Gambia gained its independence from the UK on 18th 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 the 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. The Gambia undertook another round of presidential and legislative elections in late 2001 and early 2002.
A constitutional crisis in the Gambia started after the presidential elections on 1 December 2016, and ended with the outgoing president Yahya Jammeh being forced to step down in favour of his elected successor Adama Barrow on 21 January 2017, after resistance.
Although long-serving incumbent President Yahya Jammeh initially accepted the surprising victory of Adama Barrow, he rejected the election results eight days later. Jammeh called for the election to be annulled and appealed to the Supreme Court. Troops were subsequently deployed in the capital Banjul and Serekunda.
After ECOWAS delegates failed to persuade Jammeh to step down, a coalition of military forces from Senegal, Nigeria, and Ghana invaded the Gambia on 19 January 2017 to compel him to relinquish power. Two days later, Jammeh surrendered presidential duties in favour of Barrow and left the country to exile in Equatorial Guinea.
The Gambia celebrates its independence day on 18 February.
There is also the Muslim festival of Eid which is celebrated by virtually all Gambians and is a 2 to 3 day event where up to 250,000 animals are slaughtered to provide food for the feast. It is also a time when Gambians, especially female, dress in their finest regalia and buy new dresses at up to 3000 dalasi.
Gambia is becoming a popular vacation destination for Northern Europeans. Therefore, many charter and holiday operators offer reasonable airfare and accommodation if desired.
Nationals of all EU/EEA member states (except Estonia, France, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain), plus United Kingdom, Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Fiji, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Kiribati, Kosovo, Liberia, Laos, Lesotho, Macau, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Micronesia, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Nauru, Nepal, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Swaziland, Taiwan, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, the United Arab Emirates, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela and Zambia may enter the Gambia visa-free for up to 90 days. Belgian nationals may also enter the Gambia using a national ID card in lieu of a passport.
Nationals of Russia may enter the Gambia visa-free for up to 56 days.
Nationals of the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Haiti, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, the Philippines, Seychelles, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda and Zimbabwe may enter the Gambia visa-free for up to 90 days on the condition that they obtain an entry clearance from the Gambian Immigration prior to travel unless travelling as a tourist on a charter flight.
Tourists from all nations arriving in the Gambia on a charter flight may enter visa-free for up to 90 days.
A single entry visa could surely also be obtained at the border for XOF15,000, even when the embassy in Dakar claims and insists the opposite, as they wish you pay more to them instead!
Information about obtaining a visa on arrival is available at the website of the Gambia Immigration Department.
A list of countries whose citizens can enter without a visa is available at the website of the Gambia Immigration Department.
Many visitors arrive by plane at Banjul International Airport (BJL), which is served by many scheduled and charter flights from across Europe and West Africa.
Be aware: in March2017 visitors from Europe are report that a customs official has pulled them into a side room and made vague questions about the content of their baggage before asking for a "small gift"; this happens just after the bags are scanned before leaving control; watch carefully; if this happens to you, a smile, laugh and an a definite no seems to work, or maybe just ask to do the inspection here outside rather than in the small room.
Booking one-way or round trip tickets originating in Gambia on charter airlines can be difficult or impossible.
Sept-places or bush taxis run from Dakar to Banjul and Banjul to Ziguinchor.
It is possible to 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 straight forward. 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 (although some have).
There are direct GPTC buses running from Barra (a ferry ride away from Banjul) to Dakar , but these are not recommended as they are slower than the bush taxis.
It's possible to 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.
By public transport
You can travel via shared taxi, if there is already someone sitting inside, you will pay 8 Dalasi per route. If there is no one else sitting in there, tell the driver you don't want a "town trip" (privat taxi), you want a shared trip. You can also take shared minivans, just ask before where they're going, it's slow but it will just cost 8 dalasi.
A 4x4 is recommended if you plan to rent a car, since the roads often are in bad condition and only a minority is paved.
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 vehicle safety inspection 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.
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.
The Gambia River is navigable the entire length of the country. Some river creatures, both large and microscopic, can be dangerous, however.
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.
Be part of the ROOTS festival in May/June 2015.
The country's currency is the dalasi (GMD), which is divided into 100 bututs. Banknotes come in 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 & 200 dalasi values and you may find 25 & 50 butut and 1 dalasi coins in circulation. The exchange rates as of June 2021 are: USD1=GMD51, €1=GMD61 GBP1=GMD71, and 1 dalasi=11 CFA francs. There are many ATMs at the airport and in major tourist areas, most of which accept Visa and Mastercard. Note that all ATMs charge a 150GMB (approx. US$3) fee for each withdrawal, only some ATMs will tell you of the charge in advance, and others will not.
The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 18, although it is not strictly enforced. However, it is illegal for anyone of Islamic faith to consume alcoholic beverages.
There are many resorts along the Atlantic coastline between the airport and Banjul to stay in. Whilst they may claim 4 or 5 stars, when translating to western standards, the best you can expect is 3 or perhaps 4 stars. The difference between a good and bad hotel will be on upkeep and service, rather than facilities. You do tend to get what you pay for; so in cheaper hotels expect many things to be broken or otherwise non-functioning, although the pictures on the website will not hint at this. More expensive hotels will be in better shape. Further inland there are eco camps and lodges which offer basic accommodation usually in natural surroundings. You can also find cheap Guesthouses everywhere around the country, the accommodation is relatively basic but they are cheap. Between 12 and 40€ for a double room.
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.
Scams also exist in which marijuana is offered to tourists or they are 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 necessarily unemployed or young - 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 favors, but are genuinely harmless. Being overly guarded could deny you an offer to join a local family for a traditional meal (only likely outside of tourist areas), or to personally meet one of the craftspeople who make the local goods for sale. If someone has been genuinely helpful and has given you 10 or more minutes of their time GMD20 is sufficient.
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.
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.
Always ask before you take a photo of anyone. Some Gambians have certain beliefs about having their picture taken, in particular by a stranger.
Guide for getting from Banjul to Dakar:
Get up early, you want to catch the first ferry at 07:00 as it is the only one which is not very busy and full of pickpockets. Leave your hotel at 06:30 if in Banjul or 06:00 if in Serrakunda area, take yellow taxi. Ask for "Barra Ferry Terminal", go in, buy your ticket for GMD10 and then wait inside. Watch your bags. Board the ferry and cross. When you arrive, ask for a taxi to the Gambia border (if he asks if you want him to take you to Senegal border say no) and refuse to pay more than GMD200. Go to Gambian customs, you will be asked questions, answer honestly. After exit stamp change your dalasis to CFA francs as this is difficult in Senegal, there is a Bureau next to customs office which has better rates than the street guys. Also change pounds sterling as they are difficult to get rid of north of Gambia. Euros and US dollars are OK. Do not give to begging children until you have done all this, otherwise you will be mobbed by kids. Walk 50m to the Senegal border, get the stamp. This is easy, no questions. Take a moto taxi from the border to the gare routier (bus station), do not pay more than XOF200 and ask them to take you to the Dakar sept-places (seven seat bush taxi). Taxis go via Kaolack, if you are prompt you can make it all the way to Dakar in a day before darkness, however you may want to spend one night in Kaolack to get used to the differences between Senegal and Gambia before taking on the big beast of Dakar. Make sure you know where you are going to stay in Dakar, if you ask taxi driver for a hotel they will take you somewhere very expensive.
If doing the reverse journey and you get stuck at the border town of Karang/Amdallai for the night, the best option would be to spend the night on the Gambian side. There is a British run NGO called Helping Charity  which has a guesthouse there - with some very nice accommodation. It is less than 2km from the border on the Gambian side and is highly recommended as place to stop for the night or even to spend a day or two as there is a local school on site, also. Paid GMD400 per person, per night.
Internet speeds improved in 2012 with the introduction of ACE undersea cable connecting Gambia with Europe.
Major hotels have wifi (speeds from 0.5mbps to 1mbps). There are internet cafes. 3G is available on most networks (definitely Africell and QCell). 3G speeds are variable, for example 0.5mbps Qcell costing costing 350D for 1.5gb, and 3mbps Africell costing 750 for 4gb. Mobile 4G is not available. Static 4G is possible with mains powered installed antenna systems (from Qcell and Netpage, who claim speeds up to 5mbps, costing approx. 100 Euro for the device plus 100 Euro per month for service with unlimited data).