The Gambia is a narrow strip of a country and is the smallest (only 48km wide) on the African continental mainland, officially known as the Republic of The Gambia but is more generally referred to as Gambia. It is bordered to the north, east, and south by Senegal, and has a small coast on the Atlantic Ocean in the west. The River Gambia is the major landmark of the country and the main source of irrigation, flows through the middle of the country and into the Atlantic Ocean. The Gambia was formerly part of the British Empire but gained its independence in 1965.
A bloodless military coup d’etat took place in the capital Banjul on July 22, 1994. The then President Dawda Jawara was overthrown and replaced by the country’s current President Yahya Jammeh. Arch 22 was built as a gateway to the capital to honour this occasion. This 35m high gate is at the middle of an open square and houses a textile museum.
The climate in the Gambia is subtropical with cool and hot seasons. For the most part of the year, hot and humid weather prevails with the rains from June to October. The highest temperatures during this time can reach around 43˚C with lower temperatures in areas near the sea. The cool season is from November to May with continuous dry weather, with temperatures as low as 16°C in Banjul and surrounding areas.
The Gambia has a wide range of natural and historical heritage to discover besides the glorious sandy beaches such as: forts, historic towns and villages, forests, national parks, ancient ruins, museums, historic monuments and wildlife. Beaches in The Gambia are sandy and not particularly crowded and the main beaches are in the resort areas. Do remember though, the Gambia is a Muslim country and you should dress accordingly away from the beach, swimming pools or tourist areas.
Cape Point has a wonderful large sandy beach and there is water sports centre at the Sun Beach Hotel that offer activities such as jet skis, canoes, windsurfing and sailing.
The Gambia is a bird watchers delight, attracting bird enthusiasts from all over the world. There are over 500 various species of bird in what is considered a comparatively small area and many birdwatchers return every year.
Wrestling is the national sport in the Gambia and it is commonly known as “Borreh”. During each fight, musicians beat drums until one man is pinned to the ground on his back. The winner then circles the crowd in a victory dance after each session to collect money for his success.
Attractions in the capital Banjul include the lively Albert Market which sells a range of products and includes local handicrafts. The Gambian National Museum showcases some very interesting and informative maps and text with reference to archaeology, African culture and the colonial era.
The Abuko Nature Reserve is Gambia’s oldest protected area; it is situated outside the village of Lamin in the Kombo North District around 25km from Banjul. It covers some 180 acres of land and is a perfect location that attracts numerous species of exotic bird and wild animals like crocodiles, hyenas, antelopes, lizards and monkeys. There are more than 50 varieties of trees and the reserve also protects and conserves a large area of gallery forest.
The woodcarving Centre at Brikama offers an insight into the production of wood carving and occasionally you can see the craftsmen at work. A fantastic variety of woodcarvings and souvenirs can be bought at a fair price.
Makasutu is a palm forest located on the bank of a pretty winding tributary of The Gambia River (Mandina bolong), not far from Brikama. It is a mixture of several diverse eco-systems with dense forest, Savanna and mangrove regions. Numerous varieties of birds inhabit the area, monkeys, monitor lizards, pygmy deer and maybe even baboons are also amongst the wildlife found there.
Kiang West National Park (KWNP) is located in the Lower River Division in the Kiang West District, around 145km from Banjul and covers an area of around 11,000 hectares. In 1987, it was established as a National Park. Dry deciduous woodland and guinea savannah covers most of the Park; there are wide stretches of mangrove creeks and tidal flats. The West African Manatee, otters, sitatunga and roan antelopes have been spotted. Additionally, there are more than 300 species of birds have been sighted in the park.
The Bao Bolon Wetland Reserve is located on the North Bank of The Gambia River opposite the Kiang West National Park. Bao Bolon has four main ecosystems – estuary, woodland-savannah, salt-marsh and mangrove forest. Crocodiles, Clawless otters, warthog, hyena and jackal are amongst the wildlife. The birdlife is exceptionally good there, and some rare species such as the goliath heron can be seen. You can reach this reserve by taking a boat trip across the river from Tendaba.
The River Gambia National Park (Baboon Island) is home of the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Trust and is the longest running chimp rehabilitation project in Africa – since 1969. The trust gives orphaned chimps the chance to grow and thrive in their natural habitat rather than some unthinkable fate.
James Island is located in the middle of the River Gambia around 25km upriver from Barra. Fort James was originally built in the 1650’s and was destroyed and subsequently rebuilt a few times during battles between the British and the French- now in ruins. The fort was abandoned in 1779 when Britain withdrew from the slave trade. The island is affected by heavy erosion, and is now only a fraction of its original size. The ruins of many of the British administrative buildings have now been protected against further erosion, but as the island is very low and vulnerable to flooding, the buildings are lashed by waves. It is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The British built Fort Bullen is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located on the river’s north bank at Barra Point opposite Banjul. The fort was built around 1926 to protect the trading route of the Gambia River and fend off any attacks on what was formerly Bathurst (now Banjul). Fort Bullen was once more put to use as an observation post and artillery base by the British Army during WW2 to protect against potential attacks.
Janjangbureh is located on the north side of MacCarthy Island and has ferry services from both the north and south bank. It was known as Georgetown in Colonial times and was a busy, thriving administrative centre filled with grandiose buildings. Nowadays it has a more relaxed ambience. The old commissioners quarters, post office, police station, slave house, market and restaurants are all within close proximity of each other.
There are around 40 sites of stone circles from Farafenni to Basse and more which extend north into Senegal. These circles of stones date back over a thousand years and are believed to be burial sites. The stones at Wassu are the most well known and contain some remarkable stone. There is also a museum which has models and photographs which depict the history of the stones. The number of stones in each circle varies from 10 to 24, diameters up to to 7m, from just under a metre to a little over 3m in height.
Niumi National Park is located in the north-west part of the country and stretches from just outside of the town of Barra to the northern border with Senegal and close to the Delta du Saloum National Park. Ginak Island is incorporated into the park detached from the mainland by the Niji Bolon channel. There are two villages on the island and around 15km of narrow sandy beaches. There is a small coastal lagoon on the island with salt marshes, mangrove, mudflats and rice fields and the rest of the island is dry woodland. The mainland part of the park has more widespread, high mangrove forest and additional smaller areas of salt marsh and mudflats.
Bijilo Forest Park is a small coastal reserve dominated by Rhun Palm is just a short walk from Kololi and is more commonly known by the locals as Monkey Park. There are well kept trails of varying lengths that takes you through the abundant and shaded vegetation, and you’ll easily see monkeys and many species of birds.
Katschi-Kali is a sacred pool in the town of Bakau and is home to over a hundred crocodiles. The pool was discovered by the inhabitants of Bakau centuries ago.
The book “Roots” by Arthur Haley is about Kunta Kinte who discovered his roots in the Gambian village of Juffureh. This inspired the “Roots Homecoming Festival” in commemoration of the enforced slave trade.
The Tanje Village Museum is a small open air museum depicting the natural history and traditional culture of how life was in The Gambia a century or so ago. There are various houses that you can go inside and explore to see how things were done back then. Visitors can also take a walk around the museum’s garden and take a closer look at a variety of plants, trees and bushes that can be found in The Gambia. There is a fact sheet available to explain the names of these and their uses.
Tumani Tenda is a traditional Jolla village located around 25 km East of Brikama and 3 km from Kafatu Bolong. The village is home to around 300 inhabitants and there is an eco tourism camp just outside of the village where visitors can stay to experience the culture of this almost self sufficient community. The accommodation consists of round traditional African houses constructed with local resources and blends in with the natural environment.