Earth : Africa : West Africa : Gambia
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.
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).
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 24th April 1970, before being suspended in July 1994 and subsequently rewritten and approved by national referendum on 8th August 1996. It was reestablished 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. The country undertook another round of presidential and legislative elections in late 2001 and early 2002.
The Gambia celebrates its independence day on 18th 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 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.
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 $100 USD, 35,000CFA francs (about US$69, so a better deal!) or multi-entry for three month period cost 30,000CFA. New Zealanders, Australians, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Taiwanese, British, Finns, Dutch, and some Europeans may 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 15,000CFA francs, 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!
There are regular flights from Nigeria by Bellview which come 2 times a week on Wednesdays and Fridays. Also, there are daily flights from Dakar provided by Air Senegal and Slok Air. Spanair operates regular (weekly) flights to/from Barcelona and Madrid (Spain). During the tourist season (October to April), there are regular scheduled flights direct from cities such as Manchester, Amsterdam, and Brussels. Current charter operators include Monarch Airlines, First Choice Airways, Thomas Cook Airlines, Transavia, and Arkefly. However, several of these often book tickets through tour operators. It should be noted that booking one-way or round trip tickets originating in Gambia on these airlines can be difficult or impossible.
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 stright forward. You will need your V5 logbook. The road approching the border from Sengal 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 possiblity of this (though we did).
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 is possible privately charter small fishing vessels from Dakar and nehiboring areas; though this can be fairly expensive and slow should one not be proficient at bargaining.
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.
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 if 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 travelers and the car horn may be used excessivly to warn of impending passage.
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.
The Gambia River is navigable the entire length of the country.
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.
Languages spoken in Gambia are English (the official language), Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, sarrancule and other indigenous languages.
The country's currency is the dalasi (GMD), which is divided into 100 bututs. Banknotes come in 5, 10, 25, 50, & 100 dalasi values and you may find 25 & 50 butut and 1 dalasi coins in circulation. The exchange rates as of May 2012 are: US$1=30GMD, €1=39GMD, £1=49GMD, and 1 dalasi=17 CFA francs. Maestro is not accepted at all. Many tourists have problems because of that. 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.
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.
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 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 favors, 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.
Gays should note that they could be in extreme danger in Gambia - subject to possible arrest or even killing.
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.