Have you ever thought to visit The Gambia? We know what you're thinking- why is it called The Gambia, and not just Gambia? Well we were thinking the exact same.
The Gambia is the smallest country in mainland Africa, and is located completely inside the country of Senegal. When another small country named Zambia gained its independence in the 60's, the mail going to Gambia would often end up in Zambia.
The name "The Gambia" comes from the "The River Gambia", and the prime minister wanted to add the definitive "the" in front to distinguish it from the small country of Zambia. Well now that you know about the name, let's jump into everything you need to know to visit The Gambia, and the best things to do.
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How to Visit The Gambia
The Gambia is located right inside the country of Senegal. Many visit as a day trip from Senegal, or by flying straight into the capital of Banjul. Here's more info about what it's like to visit The Gambia from Senegal:
Visa to Visit The Gambia
There are 46 countries that have visa-free entry to The Gambia. The rest need visas, and some can get them on arrival. Visas cost 3,000 Gambian Dalasi, which is approximately $60 USD. You should check the list of countries that need a visa to visit The Gambia before going.
The Border Crossing from Senegal to Visit The Gambia
There are two different ways that you can visit The Gambia. You can take the ferry into Banjul, or you can drive via one of the land borders.
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How Visit The Gambia By Ferry
If you take the ferry, you will need to pay an extra fee for crossing with a car, and it will also cost more if the plates are from Senegal (or any country other than The Gambia). You will wait in line to be guided on with your car, and then let off in Banjul. The ferry takes about an hour and half, and is pretty smooth.
How to Visit The Gambia By Land Border
There are several land borders between Senegal and The Gambia. When you reach the border you will need to get your stamp for exiting Senegal, get your stamp for entering The Gambia, and then register your car. You will need to show all the car's documents, your license, and pay a small fee for having your car there.
Note: There are many roads that go through the border, but don't have official border control. Make sure you use your GPS on your phone as a map, as it will lead you to the official checkpoints.
Even though The Gambia is located inside Senegal, it has a ton of differences. It is a completely separate country, with a different language, currency, and electrical outlets. Here are a few things to keep in mind you visit The Gambia.
The official language of The Gambia is English. However, there are also about 10 other languages spoken by small ethnic groups throughout the country.
The official currency in The Gambia is the Gambian Dalasi. Currently (January 2022) you get 52.7 Gambian Dalasi for every US dollar, 60 for every euro, and 72 for every British pound. Every 1 Gambian Dalasi is equal to almost 11 CAF. There are many places throughout The Gambia that will accept CAF, or be willing to exchange for them, as Senegal surrounds the country.
Note: We did not find a single place in all of The Gambia that accepted credit card. There are very few ATMs outside of the capital, so make sure to take out enough cash while in Banjul.
With British influence, comes British outlets. The outlets used in The Gambia are the same as the UK, which is type G. This plug that has three rectangular pins in a triangular pattern. The Gambia operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz.
We heard a lot of mixed reviews about the water quality in The Gambia. Many say that the water is perfectly fine to drink. However, some suggest to get bottled water anyway.
This is another tricky thing, because tourists tend to tip more than needed. Locals suggest to tip up to 7.5% of the bill for great service.
Getting Around When You Visit The Gambia
Getting around The Gambia without a car can be pretty tricky. There are few public buses that circle the island, so having a car is your best bet if you are trying to explore deeper into the country.
However, we did find that the majority of the things to do in The Gambia lie right within the capital, which in this case would mean you won't need a car. If you do decide to rent a car to visit The Gambia, we highly suggest to rent a car in Banjul, as opposed to driving from Senegal.
The reason is because coming from Senegal is much more of a process. You'll have to pay to register the car, spend more time and money on the ferry to Banjul, and have much more tie wasted at police checkpoints. If you want to know more you can read about our experience traveling from Senegal to The Gambia in our there article.
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Taking Tours in The Gambia
One of the easiest and time saving ways to visit The Gambia's different attractions is to go on a tour. This is a little more costly, but it takes out the hassle of having to rent a car, and deal with all of the incessant police check points throughout the country,
There are plenty of tour offices in the capital of Banjul, making this a safe and seamless option when you visit The Gambia.
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Best Things to Do When You Visit The Gambia
Now that you know how to visit The Gambia, let's jump into the best things to do throughout the country. Here is a list of the best 13 things to do when you visit The Gambia.
1. Visit the Beaches
The Gambia hugs the Atlantic Coast, so it has plenty of beaches to visit. Stretching 60 kilometers long, there are tons of different areas to visit. One of the best to check out is Jinack island, as well as the beaches in Serekunda. There are also plenty of hotels and resorts that line the beaches of The Gambia.
2. Feed the Crocodiles
This was one of the most unique things that we did when we went to visit The Gambia. At Kachikally crocodile pool you can witness wild crocodiles in their natural habitat. The locals will bring you up close and personal, and you can even pet them! Visiting the crocodiles is safe, as the locals have been taking care of them for years.
If you go in the afternoon, you will be able to witness feeding time. Fisherman will bring tons of fish, and if you're lucky, you'll be able to help them feed the crocodiles too!
3. Go to the Serrekunda Market Mosque
The Serekunda Market Mosque is the largest urban center in the country of The Gambia. Come here to witness the chaos of Banjul, where tons of shops are set up right next to the largest mosque in town.
4. Browse the Bakau Craft Market
Bakau is the corner of the country right where the ferry goes in and out of. In Bakau there is a small craft market with really impressive arts and crafts made by the locals. Support their small businesses and grab a souvenir to take home.
5. Donate to the Children
If you're checking out the craft market in Bakau, then there's another surprise waiting for you around the corner.
A local elementary school sits right behind the market, where children are eager to show their education and talents to foreigners. The owner of the school Mamadou Kaddy Demba encourages tourists to come in and have the students recite the alphabet, sing, and dance.
They ask for donations so that they can purchase more supplies for the education of the students. Giving a little bit of money to the school is truly rewarding and a special thing to experience on a visit to The Gambia.
6. See an Island of Chimpanzees
One of the main highlights in The Gambia is its Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center. Located in the middle of the country, we suggest getting a car for this one.
Years ago there were groups of chimpanzees rescued and brought to a few small islands in The Gambia. They were left there to build a community, and be left in peace from humanity. The owners of the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center take care of the chimps, but also leave them in their habitat to thrive.
The island itself cannot be visited, but there are boat trips that circle the islands to go to see the chimpanzees in the wild. You can spend a night at the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in The Gambia, but you must email them in advance, as they don't take reservations upon arrival.
7. Go Hippo Sightseeing
Did you know that there are hippos in The Gambia? We were pretty shocked by this, because truly there are not many large wild animals in the West of Africa. However, head towards the east of the country, and you can spot hippos along The River Gambia. We suggest asking locals to help you find them.
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8. Check Out the Brikama Wood Factory
The Brikama Wood Factory is a center for wood carving and furniture making in The Gambia. This is usually something you find as a stop on a tour. However, you can still go on your own if you'd like to drive there yourself.
9. Visit a Mysterious Stone Circle
Scattered throughout a few sots in Senegal and The Gambia, lie these peculiar stone circles (kind of like Stonehenge). The stone circles are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and four of them can be found in The Gambia, along The River Gambia. One of the most popular is The Wassu stone circles, which are located in Janjanbureh in the central part of The Gambia.
Note: Janjanbureh is also the small village where you can get boat trips to visit the chimpanzees on Baboon Island. There are a few simple hotels and restaurants here if you would like to spend a night.
10. Take a Boat Trip
Did you know that The River Gambia stretches the entire country of The Gambia? Taking a boat trip is one of the best ways to see the great nature that The Gambia has to offer. Most boat excursions can be easily found by reaching a tour agency in the capital of Banjul.
11. Make a Stop at Arch 22
Arch 22 is one of the most iconic monuments in The Gambia, as it is significant for the Independence of the country. The arch towers over the road going into the capital, and also offers great views of the city below.
12. Explore the Tanji Fishing Village
Want to experience the chill vibes of the local villages in The Gambia? Head to Tanji and you will see endless colorfully painted wooden boats lined along the beach. Here you can learn about the fishing culture of Tanji, or even join in on the fun.
13. Have a Night Out in Serrekunda
One of our favorite parts about visiting The Gambia was the nightlife. The bars in Banjul had such a fun vibe, and the locals really know how to dance. But it's a little bit different in The Gambia. Rather than seeing drunk guys trying to pick up girls, there are groups of both guys and girls break dancing.
The way they move their feet is insane, and the atmosphere was vibrant and super fun. The best area to go out in Banjul is in Serrekunda, where there are several bars lined up next to one another.
Want to see just how fun the vibe was out at night? Check out our Instagram Story Highlight.
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Things to Know When You Visit The Gambia
Now that you know all of the different things to do on your visit to The Gambia, there are a few other things to be aware of. Here are a few things to know for when you visit The Gambia.
The Country Is Basically Cash Only
When we first got the The Gambia, we were extremely low on cash. This came to be a huge struggle during our visit, as literally nowhere took credit card.
After a lot of searching, we found one restaurant that took credit card, and we had to teach them how to use the machine. There was one supermarket that accepted credit card, but their machine didn't even work. So our tip is to make sure you bring plenty of cash with you.
There Are a Lot of Police Check Points
Driving in The Gambia was a huge pain in the ass as a foreigner. There are police checkpoints every few minutes, and they take 5-10 minutes of your time every time. Make sure you have your documents ready, are friendly, and have a lot of patience.
The police will also expect some kind of "bribe". We urge you not to give money. We offered cookies instead, as it is a nice gesture, but isn't straight up giving our money away.
Watch For Animals in the Road
If you are driving make sure you pay close attention. It is very common that herds of goats or cows will randomly go in front of you.
Gas Stations and Banks Are Far and Few Between
As we said, there are parts of driving in The Gambia that are not the most fun. Another problem we ran into quite a bit is the lack of resources. Gas stations were scattered pretty sparsely throughout the country, and the same for banks. Make sure you take out a good amount of money (especially since you can't use your credit card), and fill up your tank any chance you get.
Wifi and Cell Service are Rare
Wifi is very rare to find in The Gambia, so we got a SIM card. This helped us a lot since we needed to work while we were visiting. Cell service is pretty decent in and around the capital. But expect pretty weak service throughout the rest of the country.
Bug Spray is Necessary
Being in a super humid climate, there are a lot of mosquitos in the area. Make sure to bring bug spray if you visit The Gambia, and apply it regularly.
Safety in The Gambia
Many people have the misconception that all of Africa is super dangerous. We found to feel very safe in The Gambia. Especially since there are a lot of police monitoring the roads, you shouldn't have anything to worry about safety wise.
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Now you have all of the information to visit The Gambia! Are you ready for an adventure?
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