This winter I was looking for a place to visit that wouldn’t be too long to fly to, not expensive to get and containing lots of sun and high temperatures. After considering different options like Canary Islands, Turkey and Portugal, I found the perfect match: The Gambia. In 6 hours you fly from Amsterdam to the ‘smiling coast of Africa’.
What to expect?
Well, The Gambia will certainly be a new experience, regarded to wherever or whatever you’ve been before. Whereas in European countries you just enjoy the beach and the sun, getting comfy with all the western facilities you have at home as well, in Gambia you can not ignore the fact that you are situated in a complete different culture than you are used to. Very interesting if you ask me! Expect the nice beaches, a loooot of sun and palmtrees where you came for, in combination with some insides about the Gambian culture.
Where to stay?
Next to the coast, there’s one paved road running from north to south (the highway) along whom you will find side roads to hotels. The tourist zone stretches from Monkey park/Bijilo Park up to Fajara golf club. See map below. Through this whole part you will find hotels, restaurants and shops on the beach. It’s a walk of about an hour from one to another. Most stuff is concentrated around ‘the Strip’ , a vertical boulevard just north of Monkey Park. There’s also a separate tourist area around Cape Point, where I haven’t been. If you don’t like to move around too much, you can best stay close to The Strip. I stayed at Badala Park hotel, close to the golf course. I found the river mouth and the beach here very pretty and calming. There are also enough restaurants within walking distance (<30 mins).
What to do around the Gambian coast?
Our local friends will make clear that you are able to do (day)tours with them. I’m sure it’s a good way to experience Gambia but be careful not getting ripped off. With any gesture or invitation there will come costs as well so discuss the arrangement in advance, even when it looks like a get together as ‘friends’ (;
– bike rental The distance along the coast are just a little too far to walk, but perfectly done by bike! Almost every hotel rents out bikes, we paid 50D/hr and cycled from the Golf course to Monkey park in 20 minutes.
– Monkey park/Bijilo park Situated next to ´The Strip´, easy to find and nice to explore. If you take the main entrance, you pay 150 D (€4 pp) and they will try to set you up with a guide and peanuts for the monkeys – although they advertise everywhere to nót feed the monkeys. A guide isn’t necessary. You won’t get lost and can spot the the green velvet monkey and the red colobus monkey yourself. Try to find the latter, it will be a fun challenge.
– Abuko national park a little controversial, because they have some (wild) animals in cages below European standard. It wasn’t so bad as I expected, though. I liked the taxi drive (800 D return, taxi waits) to the park through the local villages of Gambia. To get into this park you pay 150D. They set you up with a guide. The tip for the ‘guide’ (a young fella who was on his mobile phone most of the time) was voluntarily. Unless the cons of this park, there’s a very big and beautiful crocodile pool to spot wild crocodiles. There were also plenty of the shy red colobus monkey to watch, several birds, monitor lizards and if you are lucky some antelopes.
– Daytrip Your tour operator will probably offer (day) tours to national parks and local villages. We went with the four wheel truck to about 5 places (elementary school,cattle market, beach, local village and fisherman village) in a day for €50 pp (incl. lunch). This was very nice and I can recommend it.
– fireflies between our hotel and the beach, there were fireflies at night!! not so many to see because of light pollution, but still, magical. See map below.
The way the locals live their relaxed life is appealing, and might be just what you need for your getaway. The people you meet are all very friendly, want to get to know you and are proud to show their country. In the tourist area, most conversations head into more commercial grounds. Don’t be pulled of by this, people will always stay friendly and if you are firm, they will stop proposing. The staff of hotels and restaurants do everything to help you, and you will notice especially some ‘older’ women come to enjoy the services of young Gambian man 😉
Being a vegetarian, you can cope. They’ve probably never heart of Tofu or Soya beans, but a nice curry with an egg aside you can get everywhere. Most restaurants try to offer a western kitchen. The menu contains fries, burgers, pizza and spaghetti. Don’t expect too much of this all, especially the pizza’s are an interesting interpretation of the Italian delicacy, with kind of every canned vegetable on it you can think of. The locals eat rice and love sugar, so if you want to be sure you eat proper, go along with them :). On my map I point out the restaurants I recommend, we especially liked Solomon.
If you like animals and nature, you will be happy to find yourself in Gambia. I’ve never experienced it so easy spotting monkeys, crocodiles and lots of bird species. Probably because the lack of industrialism, nature and humans seem to life in harmony. Even the cattle looks happy, walking all day along the road, doing there natural stuff. On our daytrip we went to a market for cows, goats and sheep. They get treated very well and it was nice to see this. There are several national parks you can visit (see above).
Money and Expense
In The Gambia, the local currency is the Dalasi (1 euro = 43 Dalasi). The local income is about 2000 Dalasi a month, so you can consider yourself an incredible rich man with a couple of euros in your pocket walking around the Gambian tourist ‘Strip’. Prices in restaurants, shops, tours, taxi’s and even supermarkets, are all tourist prices. So although everything is more cheap than back home, it’s hard to travel on a very tight budget. Some prices are: (vegetarian) diner €7 , cigarettes €1,60, bottle of water € 1,50, fruit shake on the beach € 2, (tourist) taxi drive 20 mins €8, key hanger souvenir after bargaining €1,75, Daytour €50. You can use Visa cards on every ATM, but Mastercard or Maestro only at the orange and grey GT-bank machines. There’s one opposite The Strip.
What to bring for the locals?
Bringing goods for the locals will be appreciated. They are happy with everything, but what they certainly like are man and children clothes, educational stuff and medicines. You can make the hotel staff happy or give your goods away when you take a tour to some remote villages.