In The Gambia, you get charmed, you get warmth, you get friendship, and you get an abundant burst of freshness. Whether you’re visiting for a quick weekend getaway or an extended stay, there is more than enough supply of gratifying indulgences while visiting the Smiling Coast of Africa. Interestingly, Air Peace has since deployed a brand new Embraer E195-E2 on the Lagos – Banjul route
The Gambia is not called ‘The Smiling Coast of Africa’ for nothing. And while it may not have the stunning skyline of Dubai or the imposing skyscrapers of New York, there’s something delightfully charming about this coastal West African country. Characterized by enchanting beauty and defined by a smiling coast, The Gambia is an ideal destination for rewarding staycations. Whether you’re visiting for a quick weekend getaway or an extended stay, there is more than enough supply of gratifying indulgences. And to make good things even better, you get more than a smile while visiting the Smiling Coast of Africa. In The Gambia, you get charmed, you get warmth, you get friendship, and you get an abundant burst of freshness.
With a land area of mere 11,295 sq km and a population of just 2.4 million people, The Gambia is one of the smallest countries in Africa. To put things into perspective, The Gambia is actually smaller than the smallest state in Nigeria. But make no mistake about it, the small size of The Gambia takes absolutely nothing away from its beauty. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in persuasive beauty. From sandy beaches to vibrant cultures and exquisite cuisines, The Gambia is definitely a country you should explore. Here are my top picks of the things you should do while in The Gambia. Don’t forget to pack your spotting lens and binoculars, you’ll need them.
Get Deliberately Beachy
The Gambia is blessed with stretches of pristine coastlines characterized by golden sandy beaches, lapped by the soothing waves of the warm subtropical Atlantic Ocean. Unspoilt and uncrowded, the beaches are a tropical paradise, providing the perfect spots to get deliberately beachy by the sea, under the sun, and on the sand. Whether you’re travelling alone in search of solitude or travelling with family or colleagues for bonding, the beaches offer you the breathing space to reinvigorate and rediscover yourself under the watchful eyes of natural elements of the universe.
If you crave for deep mental quietude, you can relax by the beach all by yourself and listen to the soothing sound of the ocean, while soaking up the sun and a good dose of vitamin sea. It’s therapeutic. You can also take an exhilarating walk along the beach line while reflecting on a wide variety of tropical flora and fauna. If you’ve got some adrenaline and feel up to it, you can engage in one of the several adrenaline-pumping beach activities.
And if you’re travelling for business, who says you can’t mix it with pleasure? In The Gambia, there’s a long-established marriage between business and pleasure. Call it bleisure, and you would be right. So, you can negotiate a deal with business partners while indulging in beachfront dining under the shadows of swaying palm trees. Now, that’s enticing!
Step Back in Time
Whether you want to top up your history knowledge or acquire new historical perspectives, visiting The Gambia offers you the opportunity to get curious and step back in time. Visit The Gambia National Museum in Banjul and learn about The Gambia, including its pre-colonial, colonial, and post colonial struggles. Visit Fort Bullen, located at the estuary of the River Gambia and the Atlantic Ocean, and learn how 15 million Africans were sold into slavery. Established in 1826 by the British, Fort Bullen is the only fort in West Africa purposely built to enforce the abolition of slavery in Africa.
You can head to the Central River Region of The Gambia and marvel at the incredible Wassu Stone Circles believed to be the burial sites of ancient kings and chiefs. This UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to 750-1000 AD. And if time is still your friend, visit the neoclassical Arch 22, a monument commemorating the July 22, 1994 coup d’état in The Gambia.
Take Ecotourism Cruise
Beyond beaches and historic sites, The Gambia is extremely rich in biodiversity, with rich wildlife and abundant ecotourism game reserves. There are over 70 nature reserves and national parks to explore. If ecotourism is your sort of thing, The Gambia is a good place to put your binoculars to good use.
For bird-watching excursions, The Gambia has some of the best hotspots in the world and is home to over 550 species of birds. To enjoy a tropical symphony of sound, take an early morning pirogue trip through the mangroves of Lamin Creek to see the vocal Kingfishers and giant cormorants. Or take a leisurely evening walk for sights and sounds of some of West Africa’s most colourful birds. For porcupines, Civet, Hyena as well as over 250 bird species, head to the Tanji Bird Reserve, a coastal dune scrub woodland dotted with baobabs.
Also explore Bijilo Forest Park, Abuko Nature Reserve and the popular Kachikally Crocodile Pool where you’ll get to literally play with crocodiles. If you want to step up your game and spice things, you can take the scenic camel safari or explore the Savannah on a 4-wheel drive landrover for a chance to see the elusive hippopotamus. And if you want to get aquatic, you can take a refreshing sunset cruise along The Gambia River on a locally made pirogue boat, while viewing the rich coastal lines punctuated by aquatic wildlife and lush vegetation.
Mingle with the Locals
Come to think of it. What’s the point of visiting The Gambia and not mingling with the locals? The fun would be incomplete. The best way to identify with the locals is by immersing yourself in the diverse, but vibrant Gambian cultures and traditions. Among other local activities, you can attend the Banjul Demba Cultural Festival and watch an artistic display of cultural renaissance.
While in The Gambia, tease your taste buds with a variety of local dishes. For breakfast, you can try the sweet homemade Attaya tea with Tapalapa bread and Akara, made from black-eyed peas flour. For lunch or dinner, you’ll love the popular Benachin – jollof rice, cooked with fish or meat and lots of non-leafy vegetables. You should also try the delicious Domoda groundnut stew made with beef, lamb, peanut and mustard, and served with white rice. There’s also Chicken Yassa and Superkanja soup. To wash down the food, there are local drinks you could choose from, including wonjo juice, baobab juice, and palm wine. Yes, palm wine. What else can you ask for?
And just before you say ‘goodbye’ to the smiling coast, visit one or two local markets where you can buy a piece of The Gambia for your souvenir. The Bengdulas (street craft markets) and the Royal Albert Market in Banjul are some of the places you can purchase colourful souvenirs like handmade clothes, beaded handbags, and even the intoxicating traditional djembe drums.
If you don’t have a reason to visit The Gambia, find an excuse. Luckily, visiting The Gambia isn’t rocket science. Several airlines operate scheduled flights to The Gambia, including Air Peace which deploys a brand new Embraer E195-E2 between Lagos and Banjul. Now, that’s another reason to head to the Smiling Coast of Africa. Not only that The Gambia will meet your expectations, but it’ll also surpass them. You’ll be fascinated in more ways than one. And beyond the signature Gambian smile, you’ll get charmed, you’ll get warmth, and you’ll get bursts of freshness.
Practical Information about The Gambia
Language: The official language is English, although a number of local languages are widely spoken.
Religion: The Gambia is predominantly Muslim. However, Gambians are broad-minded and tolerate all faiths.
Time: GMT all year round with no daylight saving time.
Weather: The Gambia enjoys all-year sunshine. There are two seasons: Wet season (June to October) and dry season (November to May).
Currency: The official currency is the Gambian Dalasi (GMD). Foreign currencies can be exchanged at the airport, banks, forex bureaus, and major hotels.
Credit card: All major international credit cards are accepted in The Gambia.
Mobile phone: There’s good mobile phone coverage in The Gambia. You’ll also be able to roam your mobile service.
Electricity: The Gambia is mostly supplied with 220-240 Volts AC with square 3-pin plugs. However, it’s advisable to carry your travel plug adapter.