Submitted by Cathie Johnson on December 12, 2015
This long and narrow West African country stretches itself into the middle of Senegal. With the far west edge of The Gambia touching the Atlantic Ccean, this country offers an abundance of opportunities for culture and wildlife. Though The Gambia holds the title for the smallest country in Africa, that doesn’t mean it lacks a big personality. Countless colorful birds can be spotted throughout the country and nature reserves nestle deep within the landscape allowing people to immerse themselves in the earthen surroundings.
The capital city of Banjul sits atop the coastline and provides visitors with a chance to engage in the colorful energy of the Gambian culture. Markets, coastal parks, and even a pool full of crocodiles dot the coastline of The Gambia and invites everyone to delight in the whimsy of this small (but largely vibrant) country.
The River Gambia runs through the center of the country like an artery pulsing life into its veins. Due to the dominance of the waterways, you can’t help but be reminded of the complex history surrounding The Gambia, including when England took control of the mouth of the River Gambia in the mid-1600s. Stepping into The Gambia is like stepping back into time – a time when a simpler way of life was the only way to live.
WHEN TO TRAVEL – WEATHER
Gambia is known for having a distinct rainy season and a distinct dry season. The rainy season runs between June and September and is a time when many facilities are closed and roadways become slightly more difficult to navigate.
When visiting The Gambia between November and March you will see the least amount of rain with the highest amount of nature and wildlife. This is the prime time to visit The Gambia if you are hoping to take advantage of the extensive bird population in the country, as well as taking advantage of the breathtaking beaches nearby.
Keep in mind, however, that if you should find yourself in the upper region of the country between February and May you will most likely encounter the Harmattan winds, which are the strong dry winds blowing in from the Sahara. These powerful winds can bring with them heavy dust residue and low visibility. This is especially important to take note of if you suffer from breathing difficulties or ailments such as asthma.
If you venture to The Gambia during the warmer, more humid season between June and September, be sure to bring insect repellant as the number of mosquitos present grows with the increase in rain and moisture.
When packing for The Gambia make sure and pack in accordance with the season in which you are visiting the country. Proper footwear is a necessity, as well as waterproof clothing for the rainy season and light breathable fabric for the warmer season.
GAMBIA CUISINE AND DRINKS
The staple item seen in many popular Gambian dishes is white rice. Usually served under a blanket of flavorful spices, white rice is often the heartbeat of any meal shared in The Gambia. Meals are often enjoyed together and shared from one large communal bowl placed in the center of the group of people. Using the right hand, you will often find large pieces of fish, meat or vegetables waiting to be turned into smaller pieces for easier consumption. One of the more popular rice-based dishes you will see throughout the country is Jollof Rice which is a sort of pilaf meal made with a tomato puree sauce and a variety of vegetables.
Chicken Yassa is a common meal enjoyed throughout the country. The chicken is often cooked alongside lime, onions, mustard, and a variety of spices and extra flavorings. Most restaurants and hotels offer some form of this dish and visitors to The Gambia will quickly become familiar with its colorful blend.
One of the more popular beverages found throughout The Gambia is attaya, which is a sweet tea that is often brewed in the homes of locals. Another popular drink in The Gambia is baobab juice. This juice is made from the fruit of baobab trees and is non-alcoholic and is quite sweet. Palm wine is also a popular beverage, though it is alcoholic and can be quite potent. Made from the sap of palm trees, it is often made locally and is enjoyed with meals.
POPULAR SITES OF GAMBIA
Bijilo Forest Park: Located just a few miles south of the capital city of Banjul, this small but lush park is a tranquil getaway from the bustle of the crowded urban life. This idyllic forest park is home to colorful birds, playful monkeys, and swaying palm trees in the ocean wind. It gives visitors a perfect glimpse into the wildlife of The Gambia without having to travel far from city comforts.
Albert Market: This market, situated in the heart of Banjul, has been around since the mid-1800s. With endless items to look at, and countless people to barter with, the Albert Market is truly a place where visitors can absorb the energy and colors of The Gambia’s lively capital city. Spend a few hours looking at the variety of trinkets, housewares and clothing before stopping by a food cart to buy a refreshing beverage.
Kachikally Crocodile Pool: One cannot visit Banjul without also making a quick stop at the notorious Kachikally Crocodile Pool. Found right along the coast of Banjul, this fascinating spectacle draws visitors from near and far. While tourists love to marvel at the 70+ Nile crocodiles who call this pool home, local women come here to pray and wash if they are struggling to become pregnant. The crocodile is a symbol of fertility for the people of The Gambia and this crocodile haven holds spiritual importance for the locals.
Boating on The River Gambia: Whether you’re hoping to spot some of the many colorful birds that thrive along the river or you’re looking for local villages, spending time on the river will offer you a unique perspective on one of the most important resources for The Gambia way of lie. Spot hippopotamuses in the water and enjoy the leisurely pace as you take in all the landscapes around you.
Visitors from The United States are required to have a visa for their visit to The Gambia. In addition you will also be required to have a valid passport and a certificate showing you’ve had a yellow fever vaccination.
You will not be able to obtain a visa on the borders of Senegal. However you can still obtain one from the Department of Immigration (located in downtown Bajul) and should see the visa within 72 hours.
Banks and Currency
The Lari (GMD) is the official currency used within The Gambia, though you are also able to use the West African CFA in most parts of the country. The CFA bill is found in the following denominations: 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, and 10,000. CFA stands for “Coopération financiére en Afrique centrale” and is the currency found in the majority of West Africa.
If looking to change money into the local currency you will predominately do this near the coast, in the capital city of Banjul. It is on the coast where you will be able to find the banks and hotels who are able to change your money. However, keep in mind there are many black-market changers looking to change your money and may not provide the best exchange rates.
ATMs are not readily available throughout the country, especially once you head inland away from the coast. The best way to manage your money is changing cash while in the capital and keeping the cash securely safe with you at all times.
If arriving from an infected area, a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required upon entry to The Gambia.
The Gambia is a relatively safe country, with demonstrations and large scale acts of violence being rare. However, areas of Senegal are prone to conflict and visitors to The Gambia should stay aware of what is currently going on the culture of Senegal to the interconnectedness of the two countries. In addition, small street crimes such as pickpocketing and theft are common in crowded areas. When visited dense areas, such as public markets, be sure to have your important documents and cash held securely in a travel belt or something similar.