This is the smallest country on the African mainland. On all sides it is surrounded by Senegal and more or less formed by the hinterland and coastal estuary of the Gambia River. The country enjoys a modest seaboard along the west facing Atlantic so much of the local color is provided either by river folk or a small coastal enclave of fishermen and traders. The intermingling of a Moslem majority and a Christian minority with a kaleidoscope of smaller ethnic identities has produced a heterogeneous nation with almost no history of serious internal disruption.
One of the most common identifications made with The Gambia has always tended to be slavery. Alex Haley of Roots fame traced his origins to a village at the mouth of the Gambia River which overnight became famous. During the height of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade the whole region was awash with slave processing ports and clearing houses and The Gambia was certainly one of these. While not as visible here as in other locations along the coast the images and remnants of that time have nonetheless been well preserved.
Inland the country has a slower pace that is dictated by the ebb and flow of the river. The geography is marked by a low-lying flood plain with a few squat hills at the peripheral edges. Nowhere does the land rise far beyond 50m above sea level. The Gambia is a mineral scarce nation so the local economy tends to be agro and tourist based. Thus on the whole the country is a pleasant backwater with a modest infrastructure and a sense as you travel that you might just be off the beaten track.
Travel To And Within The Gambia
Why Travel to The Gambia
There are those who say that the best thing about The Gambia is Senegal, but in one of the most ethnically diverse region of Africa it is hard to believe that this is true. Although culture certainly dominates the landscape it is also the landscape itself that is compelling. The Gambia has a small selection of national parks that between them showcase an unusual and surprising local ecology. None of these are particularly heavily visited which is a shame since it is only really tourist dollars that can guarantee the conservation of many of these small but valuable ecologies.
The biggest wildlife conservancy in the country is the Kiang West National Park. It is situated on the south bank of the Gambia River straddling a wide area of wetlands and tidal flats. Among the species to be seen is the West African Manatee and Clawless Otter with some 200 bird species also recorded in and around the park area.
Kiang West National Park Abuko National Park Bijilo National Park Niumi National Park River Gambia National Park
A good way to see the country is by riverboat, and the best way to do that is to take an Alex Haley cruise. While journeying slowly up the wide Gambia River you can learn all about this great and terrible human folly. Thereafter you can enjoy the beach culture at Kartong or swim in the warm waters of Gambian music, arts and craft. Drums, fabrics, woodcrafts and batiks can all be found for sale at many of the lively and colorful street markets.
Bunjul is small city protruding into the bay on the end of a narrow spit of land. Downtown the streets are as crisply clean as any regional city with plenty of the usual rusting corrugated iron to place it on the African coast. The city has been eclipsed in recent years by its neighbors but still maintains its status as the main economic and administrative center of the country. Banjul is also the center of the celebrated Gambian music scene.
There are a number of big names on the Gambian music scene as well as hundreds of smaller cultural and world music artists and bands. Among these is Ifang Bondi, a band that grew out of Afro/pop roots but blossomed into an inspired roots outfit exploring the depths of Gambian traditional music culture. Gambian Kora artists and drummers are among the best in the region and attract drum and world music disciples from all over the world. Check out the the Gambian Roots Festival.
When To Visit Gambia
Avoid the summer rainy season between June and October. Although hotels and accommodation options are much cheaper at this time extreme heat, humidity, rain and mosquitoes can also be expected.
The best time to visit the country is between November and February when temperatures are more moderate and conditions are drier. The Gambian Roots Festival is staged between May and June.
Bumsters are the rogues and bad-boys of the urban centers in The Gambia. They are learning quickly from the Nigerian fraudsters whose students nowadays more or less blanket cover West Africa. Gambian scams are a little less sophisticated than Nigerian, and are not that difficult to spot, but now and again a sharp shooter might cross your path so treat any help, advice or invitations offered with caution.
Gambia has a high Muslim population so a theoretical threat of terrorism exists. No incidents have yet been reported however and the whole religious fundamentalism is absent in the country.
Road use standards can be very erratic and the road network itself patchy.
Gambia is a poor country so street crime is prevalent and rising. More than the usual application of caution in this regard is necessary both in the countryside and in the urban centers.
Gambians like all Africans are apt to get excited quickly so avoid any situation with political overtones or any public gatherings.
Gambia has a relatively low incidence of HIV/AIDS, but the exercise of caution is always advisable