Gambia holidays

Holidays to Gambia offer a small taste of West Africa. Bordered by Senegal with just 50 miles of coastline to call its own, you’ll be surprised by the amount of beauty you’ll find here. Alongside its famous waterways, you’ve got beautiful reserves housing monkeys, crocs and hippos as well as unspoilt beaches promising incredible sunset viewings. Then there’s the people! Nicknamed the ‘Smiling Coast’ the locals here are even more pleasant than the tropical climate. 

Things to do 

If you’re looking for the best things to do in Gambia, this tiny African country certainly packs in a lot, from its long history to its colourful culture and abundance of wildlife. 

Get your binoculars at the ready because Gambia’s animal sightings are one-of-a-kind. Birdwatchers will be in their element with over 500 species hiding in its reserves. But it’s not just birds you’ll spot here. Head to Bijilo Forest Park and observe patas monkeys and monitor lizards hiding among the vegetation. Or, visit Gambia’s very first reserve Abuko, whose small orphanage rehabilitates hyenas and birds. This is also where you can see its Nile crocs. Speaking of crocs, Kachikally Crocodile Pool is one of Bakau’s biggest attractions. This sacred space is often visited by locals, as its fresh waters are said to treat infertility. 

Once you’re done searching for Gambia’s native creatures, it’s time to hit the beach. Right by the mouth of River Gambia, is Cape Point. This family-friendly spot is ideal for relaxing with its thatched parasols and soft grains perfect for building sandcastles. Swimming is off the cards due to the unpredictable currents, but there’s plenty of tidal pools close by if you need to keep cool. While the touristy Kotu Beach is your safest option with its lifeguard surveillance, Kololi is just as popular with its backing of bars and evening dance troupes. For some off-the-radar sunbathing, opt for Bijilo’s remote shoreline.

But no trip would be complete without a waterway adventure cruising down the famous Gambia River. When you’re not enjoying the sunshine up on the top deck, you could be watching locals going about their daily business, from fishermen catching their bait to women collecting oysters. For a greater insight into native life, stop by one of the country’s traditional hamlets. Wander the quiet Kololi village and get involved with crafts, or learn a local dance. Want to cook up a storm with a  Gambian style culinary lesson? Then, Brufut Heights is just the spot with its renowned cooking school. With guidance from Ida (who has over 20 years experience in the industry) learn how to rustle up an authentic meal from scratch. 

Those interested in history are in luck too. Gambia’s past, although linked with the slave trade, is extremely fascinating. Fort James Island (aka Kunta Kinteh Island) is a great day-trip option with its ruined forts and prisons, once used to detain slaves. If you fancy some historical sightseeing in the capital, there’s plenty of colonial architecture worth admiring. Not to mention the impressive 114-foot Arch 22, which was built to mark the military coup d'état of July 22.

 

Map of Gambia

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20-30℃

Gambia stays warm all year with two main seasons; dry (July to September) and wet (October to June).

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6 hours

Banjul International Airport (or Yundum), which is 23km from the capital Banjul.

Gambia is best for...

Sunworshippers: From bustling Kololi Beach and its calm waters to the secluded, unspoilt sands of Bijilo, you’ll find plenty of places to relax and soak up the tropical sunshine.

Birdwatchers: Gambia is a birdwatcher’s paradise! With more than 500 species, check out Tanji Bird Reserve for the best sightings or hop in a canoe and sail upstream at dawn. For the greatest chance of seeing migratory birds, head here between November and April.

Shopping: You can pick up almost anything at Gambia’s traditional markets, whether you’re after some authentic drums, handmade clothes or a wood carving. At the heart of Banjul, is where you’ll find Albert Market. As its biggest, you’ll find all sorts across its stalls, but the great-smelling street food is bound to lure you in first. If it’s souvenirs you’re after, then don’t pass up the chance to visit Senegambia Craft Market.

Fast facts for Gambia

Language: English is the official language, but there are at least 10 other languages. Most locals are bilingual, speaking English as well as their own tribal tongue.

Currency: The currency used  is the Gambia Dalasi (GMD).

Local time: There is no time difference between Gambia and GMT/UK time.

Fly to: Banjul International Airport ( BJL), which is around 50 minutes transfer time or less from Banjul Beach, Bijilo, Brufut Heights, Kololi Beach and Kotu Beach.

Flight time from the UK: Around 6 hours.

Tourist information:  Further tourist information can be found at the official website for tourism in Gambia.

Visa / health: Before you travel, check the latest advice from The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

 

 

Getting around Gambia

By minivan: Often shared with other passengers or hired by large groups, these vans are a great way to hop from one resort to the next.  

By taxi: It’s likely you’ll find tourist taxis near your hotel, in the city and along the coast. Often pricier than bush taxis, these vehicles are fully insured and regulated by the GTA (Gambia Tourism Authority. There should be a price board on display, so the fare is fixed before you set off.

By ‘bush taxi’: You can’t miss these green and yellow cars. Popular with the locals (and cheap), they’re a great way to zip around, but make sure you check the price before you get in.

Events in Gambia

Kartong Festival: Early in February, this colourful celebration brings the sleepy village of Kartong to life; it’s a vibrant festival paying tribute to Gambian music, arts and culture.

Roots Festival: Every other May, this lively event comes to the quiet fishing village of Albreda. Inspired by historian Alex Haley’s book Roots, it explores the country’s history and its role in the transatlantic slave trade.

The Fanal Parade: Held between Christmas and New Year, watch as brightly lit bamboo boats covered in white paper are carried through the streets. Accompanied by music, this end-of-year celebration has a great atmosphere.

National Independence Day of The Gambia: Each year on 18th February, Gambia celebrates its independence from Great Britain. Taking place in McCarthy square in Banjul, expect a parade of army, civil servants and schoolchildren.

Gambia safety and security

Gambia passport requirements state that British citizens must hold a full UK passport, which is valid for at least the duration of their stay.

Do I need a visa?

If you’re taking Gambia holidays for less than 28 days, you do not need a visa. On arrival, your passport will be stamped, stating the date by which you must leave. If you intend to stay any longer, you’ll need to apply for an extension. 

For up-to-date advice on entry requirements please visit the FCDO website.

Should I get travel health insurance?

You should have comprehensive travel health insurance whenever you go abroad. It protects you against the financial cost of unexpected events, such as illness and accidents. With a good policy behind you, the cost of things like medicines, treatment and even returning to the UK can be covered. However, it’s worth reading through your documents to check what is and isn’t included, especially if you’re planning on doing any extreme sports such as scuba diving.

 For up-to-date advice on travelling to Gambia, please visit the FCDO website.

Any other tips?

  • While the locals are very friendly, it’s always worth asking permission if you want to take a photograph of someone.
  • The markets can be overwhelming to begin with, and as a tourist, you’re likely to attract some attention. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to anyone trying to sell you something you don’t want, or to the locals offering their services as guides. Be polite, but firm.
  • Don’t use tap water for anything other than washing. Stick to bottled water and avoid ice cubes, salads and fruits which  may have been washed under the tap. 

 

Gambia weather

Temperature: Average temperatures range from 29°C and 34°C.

Best time to visit?

Well known for its glorious weather, there’s no bad time to travel here. For a cooler climate and minimal chance of rain, book your Gambia holidays between October and June. This is the dry season, when temperatures average around 24-28°C. If you like things hotter, the months between July and September see temperatures climb into the 30s and, occasionally, the low 40s. However, this is the rainy season so expect some hefty downpours, especially in the afternoon and evening.

What should I pack?

Whether you’re taking your holiday to the Gambia in the dry or rainy season, sunscreen is an absolute must. Mosquito repellent is also crucial; while there are fewer during the dry season, you can still get bitten. If you’re travelling here in the wet season, it may be a good idea to pick a room with a bug zapper and a mosquito net for an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

While the Smiling Coast is famous for its friendliness, it is a relatively conservative country. Save your swimwear for the beach and cover up in public. Light and airy clothes, made from fabrics such as linen, cotton or bamboo will offer further protection against the sun, help to keep you cool, while showing respect for the local culture.

For men, it’s a good idea to pack some smart casual clothing (trousers and a shirt) in case you decide to venture outside the resort to sample one of the country’s many restaurants. Travel adaptors are also essential so you can use your UK appliances safely. 

 

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