Gambia is a popular tourist destination in Africa that is surprisingly easy to miss on a map. The tiny country is just 500 kilometres in length and 50 kilometres wide and entirely surrounded by Senegal, apart from its 80-kilometre shore line. However, tourists flock to Gambia to see its incredible natural beauties – the gorgeous coast and the bustling and colourful fishing villages – and to stay in luxurious beachfront resorts. However, there’s more to Gambia than just sun and luxury. The nature reserves, such as Kiang West and River Gambia National Park, are incredible destinations, along with the historically important St James Island (a former slave station) and Jufureh, which are both peaceful and traditional. Gambia’s culture adds yet another intoxicating element into the mix. It is busy, vibrant and strong on performance and community. The welcome you get from the local people makes this country difficult to forget.
But what should you see and do on your holiday in Gambia? Below we take a look at 10 great things to see and do in Gambia.
Georgetown is a sleepy, faded, former administrative centre of the colonial regime and it’s a lovely place to venture for day trips. Situated on the north edge of MacCarthy Island, it has good ferry links but little infrastructure. However, there are plenty of interesting historical sites and some great bird watching opportunities, with guided tours available for visitors. These guided tours are a good option for learning more and are often very reasonably priced.
This huge, meandering river feeds into the Gambia River in Senegal and is lined with lush mangroves. Check out Bintang Bolong Lodge, which is an eco-friendly visitor camp made from locally sourced mangrove woods. It can house up to sixteen visitors in pretty huts that stand on stilts close to the river. From here, it’s just a step into a canoe to go fishing or bird watching. The camp also has excellent food and a friendly staff. It’s a real experience staying in the stilt huts and listening to the wildlife in the mangroves and on the river at sunset.
Abuko Nature Reserve
Abuko Nature Reserve is unusual compared to most such reserves in Africa, in that it’s easy to get to, tiny and well managed, with an incredibly rich diversity of animals and vegetation. Over 250 species of bird have been recorded in the reserve and 52 mammals call it home, including various endangered species. You will be able to see Nile crocodiles, pythons, vervet monkeys and green mambas.
Bijilo Forest Park
You could also visit the Bijilo Forest Park, which is set on the coast and is extremely beautiful. It doesn’t get state funding but runs educational campaigns about the dangers of deforestation and relies on donations to survive. Guided tours are available and there are great trails through the forest, with plenty of birds and monkeys to see along the way.
The Wassu Stone Circles
These are believed to be burial sites, dating back around 1200 years. The stones vary in size with some of them being over seven feet in height and weighing several tonnes. There’s also a small and well-laid-out museum which presents several suggestions as to the circles’ possible origins and explains the history of African traditional burial rituals over the last millennium and earlier.
Markets and Souvenirs
Albert Market in Banjul is packed with a wealth of fascinating stalls, selling everything imaginable, including shoes, hair extensions, fabrics and foods. Packed with flavours, colours, smells and noise, this is as much a feast for the senses as anything else. The area just beyond the main market place contains the Craft Market, which is packed with souvenirs, gifts, jewellery and knick knacks. It’s well worth keeping a couple of hours free to wander around and you’ll need to haggle to make the most of it!
Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital
Again located in Banjul, this is the main hospital in Gambia and offers tours of its complex to visitors. The tours last for two hours and are extremely interesting, with insights into research programmes, history and breakthroughs on the medical front. These tours are free but the hospital very much welcomes donations. It says much about the country’s reliance on tourist income that the hospital has to do these types of tour.
Tanbi Wetland Complex
This area of mangrove along Kankujeri Road is ideal for bird watching and is a favourite among keen bird spotters, thanks both to the large number of species that can be viewed and the accessibility of the spot.
Head west, away from the ferry terminal and towards Ma Cumba Jallow Street for an interesting spot filled with crumbling colonial buildings and clapboard houses with steep roofs and balconies. They resemble buildings in Sierra Leone’s Freetown, as many of the families who came to Banjul were originally from Freetown. See the famous gate of Arch 22, built to celebrate the coup of 1994 and the tallest building in the whole of Gambia at 35 metres high.
Of course, Gambia’s coast is one of its main attractions and a gorgeous thing to see. It is lined with luxury guest houses and resorts and there are many different water sports to enjoy. You have your choice of bars and restaurants and there are plenty of loungers on the beaches for you to relax on and make the most of your stay in this beautiful part of the world.
With so many great things to see and do in Gambia, the majority of which are free, the Gambia is an ideal budget holiday destination.