The Best Sights of The Gambia

10 reasons to go to The Gambia: Africa’s smiling coastline

When it comes to Africa, everyone immediately thinks of Kenya or South Africa. Anna Rykova went to explore the little-known Gambia and found 10 reasons to choose this country for an exotic vacation.

The Gambians themselves believe that their small but hospitable country attracts tourists with three S: Sun (sun), Sea (sea) and Sand (sand). Indeed, the sun shines here an average of 26 days a month, while temperatures rarely rise above 32 degrees. The Gambia is located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and extends inland along the river of the same name. The sand along the coast is fine, without stones and algae. It would seem that what else does the tourist from Europe or Russia? But The Gambia is attractive not only for beach holidays, here are 10 more reasons to visit this part of the continent, which is called “the smiling coast of Africa.

1. GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS

The first reason to come to The Gambia is the people who inhabit this country. Surprisingly friendly, open-minded and beautiful as Gods. They are the main attraction of the country. The Gambia has 8 major nationalities with their own languages, customs, and traditions. These are the same people that inhabit neighboring Senegal, only they communicate with each other (and with you) in English, not in French.

The Gambia

Mandinka, Foula, and Wolof are the three largest ethnic groups. The Gambians themselves say that they distinguish each other by the color of their skin: Mandinka, for example, is much darker than Foula. By the way, according to one hypothesis, the Fula are either natives of the Caucasus or Semites who crossed the Sahara.

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Photo by Katya Antonova

The second distinctive specter is clothing. Despite the fact that many are dressed in second hand European or national clothes made of Dutch cotton, here in the street you can find people in traditional authentic costumes. And it is not going to be specially brought for the tourists fancy dress guests, such as the Maasai warriors that organize theatrical performances in the hotels on the coasts of Kenya and Tanzania. It will be a man peacefully sipping green tea under a sprawling tree, or women leisurely going about their business, swinging their hips and carrying pyramids of basins and buckets.

by-katya-antonova-13

Photo by Katya Antonova

It is important to know that locals do not really like to be photographed. Except children – they quickly gather for a group photo or even stand with you in the frame for selfies. Gambians are inquisitive people. But here, in contrast to other tourist countries in Asia and Africa, no one will come up to you and beg for money, pester you to buy something or spend a night of passion in exchange for cash.

The Gambia

In the photo: children in Gambia, photo by Katya Antonova

They may come up to talk, but that’s all. Upon learning that you’re from Russia will be very happy (after all, the absence of a colonial past is a big plus). They will probably ask for contacts on Facebook, but they will not get in touch – there are significant problems with Internet in the country, and What’s App is prohibited.

2. VISIT NATIONAL PARKS

The British colonizers were not fools when they wrested from the French a piece of land along the Gambia River, not forgetting the Atlantic coast. The country has a unique combination of fresh and salt water, and as a result the vegetation here is lush and varied. It is the amazing flora and fauna which makes a trip to The Gambia no less attractive than in East or South Africa.

Gambia river

Almost 5% of The Gambia’s territory is occupied by National Parks and Conservation Areas. Yes, there are no mountains, but there are evergreen tropical forests, mangroves and majestic baobabs; there are not so many migratory animals, but there are crocodiles, which you can try to take selfies with in the Bakau Park, there are leopards and hippos, which are not scared of tourists, that are found in the Gambia River.

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croco Gambia

In the evenings in Serekunda, right next to Bijilo National Park, you can watch such a nontrivial phenomenon as monkeys crossing the road. These clever animals either don’t have enough room to sleep in the park or simply don’t like spending the night there, so in the evenings they cross to the other side of the park, waiting for the traffic to die down. However, many locals intentionally stop the traffic so that monkeys can cross the road quietly.

3. BIRDWATCHING

More than 500 species of birds live on the territory of The Gambia, their main habitats – the parks Bijilo and Abuko. Every year, the country hosts a bird festival that brings bird watchers and birdwatchers from around the world together.

The Gambia

This October, they are hosted by Camp Tendaba, located inland, in close proximity to Kiang West National Park.

4. TRY THE LOCAL CUISINE

Don’t expect the fruit abundance of Thailand from The Gambia. Yes, there are always bananas, mangoes and papayas, the rest – watermelons and melons – are in season. What is definitely worth doing is trying the local drinks and food. Gambian dishes, by the way, you can learn to cook at a very special master class, which also includes a trip to the market.

visiting market in The Gambia

Pictured: visit to the Gambian market, photo by Katya Antonova

The event is not for the faint of heart, but it is worth it. If you haggle with the vendors, you can get some products for free. Then you will be cooked on coals in the open kitchen, which is arranged in the backyard. The most common dishes are Benachin, a local variety of pilaf, and “soup” (the common name for gravy throughout West Africa) of Domada peanuts, which can be eaten with both fish and meat. This is a very common dish in West Africa, which is prepared a little differently in each country.

Benachin, a local kind of pilau, photo by Katya Antonova

Pictured: Benachin, a local variety of pilaf

Almost all dishes are very spicy and have a peculiar taste due to the addition of dried fish or shrimp. The fact is that the Portuguese once brought their famous dried Basalao cod to Africa. Since then, locals have been actively drying all available sea food and adding it to dishes to enhance flavor. It turns out a kind of monosodium glutamate, only natural.

cooking seasoning in Gambia

In the photo: cooking spice, photo by Katya Antonova

The fish and seafood is the main thing that you should not deny yourself during a visit to The Gambia. They are fresh here despite the heat. They are best cooked in simple beach bars: grilled, lightly seasoned with hot peppers. And when it’s in season, it makes sense to try Manioc dishes.

fish on market in Gambia

Pictured: Fresh fish at the Gambian market

Since Gambia is a Muslim country, you will not find a variety of alcoholic beverages here. The only things you will find here are local beer and palm wine. The latter, in my experience, you can not get, because the winemakers themselves do not mind to drink their product without waiting for a buyer.

5. DRINK THE SUPER-HEALTHY JUICE OF THE BAOBAB FRUIT

But what is really worth drinking in The Gambia is Wonjo, a hibiscus flower drink, ginger juice, and baobab fruit juice. By the way, baobab fruit juice has 10 times more vitamin C than orange juice and 5 times more calcium than milk. For people who are lactose intolerant, it’s a genius substitute. Too bad you can’t make pancakes with it! The juice is also rich in antioxidants and Omega 3-6-9 fatty acids. A true elixir of youth. It may not taste so good, but you can’t beat it for beauty.

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6. LISTEN TO THE BARK OR DANCE.

People who live on the continent, have a unique ability to extract the rhythm from anything, even from an aluminum pelvis. We had the opportunity to see this for ourselves in one of the villages, when the women and children surrounded us and dragged us into a dance to the beat of this very pelvis.

Music and Dancing in The Gambia

In The Gambia, along with Senegal, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Burkina Faso, it is necessary to listen to the bark. The music extracted from this stringed instrument is melodic and unhurried. It is often melancholic, and thus to some it may seem dull. Until the twentieth century, the tradition of bark music was aurally transmitted and not recorded, only sometime in the mid-70s did Western enthusiasts begin to write scores for bark.

Music and Dancing in The Gambia

Pictured: bark playing

The skill of bark playing is passed down from father to son, but only in the male line. In The Gambia, however, there is a Sona Jabarteh – the only female Jali – which is the name of the musicians who not only play the bark, but certainly also tell stories in chant. Musicians who play the bark, not so easy to find in the popular local institutions, their performances will have to be specially booked. The easiest way to join the music and dance traditions – to stop by one of the villages.

Music and Dancing in The Gambia

Maybe they’ll give you an impromptu dance right after they teach you to wear a bucket on your head. Or they might gather the whole village to show you their skills, and ask you to join in. It will be hard to refuse, because your feet are ready to dance to the rhythmic beats of drums, singing and clapping hands.

7. GET ACQUAINTED WITH FOLK ARTS AND CRAFTS.

At one time imported by the Dutch wax-print cotton, the one which now is the epitome of “African” textiles, because of its low price has completely displaced the local dying and decorating techniques. Everywhere on the continent, from the West to the East, women and men wear clothes made of this cheap imitation of expensive batik, and clothes made of traditional, authentic fabrics are allowed only on major holidays.

The Gambia

Classic for this region painted cloth Bogolan, has its origins in Mali. Their production is labor-intensive and long, using a fermented mixture of earth and water for painting and dyeing – basically, mud, to put it simply. These fabrics were once wrapped around hunters, but are now used exclusively for decorative purposes by interior designers around the world and are especially popular in the United States.

The Gambia

Another traditional technique is tai dai using indigo, a natural dye derived from those very mangrove bushes. Tai dai and batik can be purchased at many tourist markets. In case you can not find a cloth of suitable size, it can be created to order and delivered the next day to your hotel or other convenient location. True, in this case, you have to make a 40% deposit.

8. LEARN WHAT LAAMB WRESTLING IS AND WATCH BEACH SOCCER

Laamba wrestling is the most popular national sport in The Gambia. Spectacular competitions are held in countless official and clandestine arenas. Competitions traditionally take place after the rainy season. All male wrestlers are allowed.

Struggle Laamba

Pictured: Laamb wrestling.

If you can only watch the wrestlers during a certain period, you can admire the beach soccer or jogging every day. It is enough to go out to the ocean, whose coast in the evenings turns into a public gym for young Gambians of both sexes. They run, squat and do push-ups, play soccer, and you think if your country had 365 sunny days a year and a beach near your home, you’d be all trim and muscular too. But instead it is winter in Moscow for half a year, and that is the time when you don’t want any sport at all.

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9. TO SEE THE RINGS OF MEGALITHIC STONES.

There is a national museum in Banjul, but it’s not a place you have to go. All the more or less significant monuments of applied art were removed long ago by the former colonizers, and now the best that was once created on the continent and has real historical and cultural value is on display at the Branly Museum in Paris, the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. What is a must-see are two UNESCO World Heritage sites. One is the megalithic stone rings in Senegambia.

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Made up of four groups, the site includes 93 rings as well as a significant number of funerary tumuli mounds, some of which have been excavated to yield material that allowed the rings to be dated from the 3rd century BC to the 16th century AD. This fascinating site is just part of a vast archaeological area that includes more than 1,000 megalithic monuments. The site stretches for 350 km along the Gambia River and is unrivalled in size and complexity. The beautifully shaped pillars, each weighing 7 tonnes, bear witness to the skills of their creators and suggest a thriving, well-organized and long-lasting society.

10. VISIT THE ISLAND OF KUNTA KINTA

The second Gambian attraction has a very sad history. It is the small island of Kunta Kinte (formally James Island) on the Gambia River with a nearly ruined fort in whose tiny cells slaves from West Africa were held under inhumane conditions before being shipped to Europe and the Americas. It also served as a base for exporting gold and ivory.

The Gambia

Since the first Europeans landed on the island, it has shrunk considerably in size. During tides and storms, Kunta Kinte is almost completely submerged in water, which certainly does not affect the preservation of the island’s buildings.

WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE GOING TO GAMBIA?

You should get a yellow fever vaccination before your trip, and the health center should give you a memo about what you should have in your first aid kit. Do not ignore the advice.

The Gambia

Stock up on repellents, take light clothing with long sleeves so you don’t get burned in the sun. In search of adventure, you risk forgetting to use a cream with SPF and you can get sunburned.

HOW TO FLY TO GAMBIA?

Many European carriers fly to The Gambia, such as Brussels Airlines. On the way you need to be prepared for an overnight stay in Brussels, and it’s better if it’s still a hotel in town rather than an airport. So worry about the Schengen and room reservations in advance. Gambia visa is issued upon arrival at Banjul airport. On the Brussels-Banjul leg there will be another technical stop in Dakar, where passengers are disembarked and boarded, and hand luggage is counted and identified on the plane. The stopover takes an hour and a half, and the flight itself lasts six hours.

WHERE TO STAY?

The country has hotels for all tastes. For lovers of eco-tourism, there are a number of lodges, where you can experience the local color and live the life of an average Gambian. Be prepared for the fact that in many of these camps there is no light and hot water, and the shower is practically over the toilet. Whether it is worth going so far for the experience, which is enough at home – you decide for yourself. For a more comfortable stay there are 5-star hotels and boutique hotels.

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On the photo: swimming pool at the hotel Ngala Lodge

For example, a boutique hotel Leo’s – it has only 5 rooms, but all of them have a modern design, the hotel is located near the ocean, there is excellent cuisine, and the owners of the hotel permanently reside on its territory.

Leo's Boutique Hotel Gambia

Pictured: Ngala Lodge Boutique Hotel

Another great boutique hotel, the Ngala Lodge, has a beautiful garden, delightful ocean views, an excellent wine selection, and very good food. The decor is a bit eclectic, but the rooms themselves are spacious, some with several rooms and even their own pool.

Boutique Hotel - Ngala Lodge

Pictured: Ngala Lodge Boutique Hotel

There are smaller, more upscale and downscale options. One of them is Senegambia, the most popular local hotel, which is located in a lively place with many restaurants and nightclubs.

The Best Sights of The Gambia

If Egypt and Tunisia with their rich tourist infrastructure and comprehensive offer have already bored you and you are looking for an alternative destination for an exotic vacation, but not yet ready for a real African adventure in the jungle, Gambia will be a great choice .

This country will allow you to get used to the African realities. It is a very small country, occupying a small piece of land 50 km wide on the banks of the river of the same name. The Gambia is the smallest country in continental Africa – its total area is only 11,000 km2. The Gambia is surrounded on three sides by Senegal, and on the fourth by the Atlantic Ocean.

Tourist flow to The Gambia is growing every year, offering tourists the best conditions. Interesting nature, high temperatures and a rich tourist infrastructure makes The Gambia an increasingly popular holiday destination. The rainy season lasts from June to September, when it can be very hot and heavy rains fall. The best time to travel to The Gambia is in the dry season, from November until early spring. Then you have a guarantee of good weather, pleasant warmth, no heat, low humidity, which means you can enjoy your vacation when in Russia there is only snow, rain and mud.

The Best Sights of The Gambia - Photo 2

The Best Sights of The Gambia

The Gambia is really worth remembering because it is famous for its beautiful sandy beaches, vibrant cities, beautiful colonial architecture and amazing nature. Gambia was once a British colony, so you can communicate with almost everyone in English. Tourists from Russia have only recently had the opportunity to get acquainted with The Gambia, which was not previously on the offer of travel agencies. Perhaps that’s why you still know so little about it and wonder what it has to offer. Below are five of the most interesting sights that are worth your attention, which may convince you to choose The Gambia as your next vacation destination.

Serekunda

The largest city of The Gambia, located just 20 km west of the capital, is the main accommodation base of the western part of the country. Near the city there are beautiful beaches and bathing places on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and the Abouko Nature Reserve. It is worth a visit to the famous fish market by the port and the market in the center, where the local hostesses stock up. This is a great opportunity to see what local wonders make their way onto the plates of The Gambia.

The Best Sights of The Gambia - Photo 3

Serekunda

Abuko Reserve.

Its origins go back to 1916, although it wasn’t officially founded until 1986 . The reserve, like almost everything in this country, is small and is the smallest reserve in Africa, but in this limited space there is an unimaginable wealth and diversity of exotic fauna and flora. Abuko is visited by 1/3 of tourists coming to The Gambia, the second largest group of visitors are school trips, which come here for hands-on nature lessons.

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About 1/3 of the reserve is gallery forest, thanks to which conditions are favorable for birds, there are about 280 species. Among them are mostly rare species of kingfishers. The Abuco Reserve is also home to rare mammal species such as the red gereza, green vervet, patas and galago, as well as the short-nosed and Nile crocodiles. The reserve also has an animal shelter and rehabilitation center for various species of monkeys, including chimpanzees, hyenas, and parrots.

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Abuko Reserve.

Banjul

The capital city of The Gambia, on St. Mary’s Island at the mouth of the Gambia River which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Tourists are greeted by beautiful post-colonial buildings of the port area and colorful markets, where you can buy almost anything, from local handicrafts to food. Access to the beach is only available at hotels, but you can head outside the capital to nearby towns to sit by the ocean. Just a 15-minute drive from Banjul are the charming towns of Cape Point, Cotu, and Cololi, where you can watch the locals live a quiet life and enjoy the moment.

A monumental gate, resembling a triumphal arch, leads tourists to Banjul from the airport and beaches . There is a historical and ethnographic museum and a summer café with a beautiful view of the surrounding area. At the traffic circle in front of the gate is the tomb of the unknown soldier. The city is so small that it can easily be explored on foot and it does not take long. Banjul is a city of contrasts, next to beautiful colonial mansions, there are unpaved streets with open sewers outside the central area . However, even in the poorest neighborhoods the tourist can feel safe even after dark, because the Gambians are extremely friendly and cordial. The city’s biggest attractions, including the Presidential State House, are located near Albert Market. It is important to remember that it is strictly forbidden to take pictures of any government buildings where secret agents are in charge of keeping order.

The Best Sights of The Gambia - Photo 5

Banjul

Kunta Kinteh Island

Uninhabited island is a relic of colonization of Courland. It is definitely worth going there for a boat trip. On the territory you can visit the ruins of a military fort. If the name of the island sounds familiar to you, no wonder, since it is named after the Gambian hero of Alex Haley’s bestselling novel Roots, who also became famous thanks to a television movie. The character Kunta Kinteh described in the book was a brave warrior kidnapped in his youth and sold to a Virginia cotton plantation owner. Of course, this was a fictional character, but he is still ingrained in Gambian culture.

The Best Sights of The Gambia - Photo 6

Kunta Kinteh Island

Kiang West National Park.

One of the largest protected areas in The Gambia, located 145 km east of the capital, on the southern bank of the Gambia River. It features a diverse landscape and habitat for many species of animals. Kiang West on land and water is home to extremely interesting wildlife: dolphins and manatees, various species of monkeys and 290 species of birds, including 21 species of birds of prey and all members of the kingfisher family.

In addition to these and other attractions, tourists to The Gambia are attracted by the beautiful sandy beaches. The most interesting and picturesque are on the smiling coastline of more than 50 km. White sand, azure and clear water, and pleasantly blowing trade winds from the east, and that’s all that makes you want to vacation here. One of the most popular beaches is near the town of Kololu Kotu. There are many hotels near it, each with its own beach access. In short, forget the crowded beaches of Egypt and go to The Gambia.

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