The Gambia has unique qualities over
many other destinations. It is only six hours away from major
European destinations, there is no jet lag, and it is a popular
and affordable winter destination attracting tourists in search
of sun, sea, sand and cultural experience of which this unique
country has plenty.
Location: West Africa – The smallest country on mainland
Africa Capital: Banjul Land Area: 11,295 Sq.km (4361 Sq. Miles) Population: 1.5 million Climate: Pleasant sub-tropical climate with two distinct
seasons Timezone: Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) Currency: Dalasi (GMD) Religion: Islam about 85 % of the population
Christianity and African Traditional Religions (ATR) 15% Official Language: English Local Languages:
Mandinka, Wollof, Fula, Jola, Sarahule, Serere, Manjango, Creole
Banjul Belly The popular English name for intestinal disorders. A Banjul
Belly is caused by lack of salt and usually doesn't last more
than 24 hours. Regular consumption of a salt solution can
prevent a lot of trouble.
Officially open from Monday to Thursday from 08.00 to 13.00 and
on Friday from 08.00 to 11.00. Some banks have an afternoon
opening from Monday to Friday from 16.30 to 18.30. For all your
financial issues and for changing travellercheques. Rates vary!
Exchange rates and cost can vary strongly, between banks and
hotels that offer the same services as well.
The coast is dominated by wide sandy beaches, in many spots
bounded by palm tree forests. Tides greatly effect the width of
There are more than 450 different species in The Gambia. A
paradise for ornithologists. Regularly new species are
discovered. Binoculars and a camera with telelens are
You can change money in most hotels and there are plenty of
banks that render the same service. Rates vary. That also goes
for traveller's cheques. Be carefull changing money on the
'black market', it's illegal. Changing money and cheques in
hotels is often restricted to private guests.
A compound is a collection of accommodations around a centrally
situated main residence, occupied by members of the same family,
within a joint fence. A compound is usually being set up because
someone settles to live on his own, for example as a result of
the existence of farmland. He buys, gets or inherites a piece of
land and builds a fence around it. In the course of time a small
house is rebuild into a larger house later. Children who get
married settle within the same fence, build a house fixed to it,
or build their own house somewhere else on the terrain.
Condoms are for sale at some chemists. There is a lot of
promotion for safe sex in The Gambia, but aids is certainly not
unfamiliar. The number of HIV-positive people however, is
remarkably lower than in many other African countries.
Nevertheless venereal diseases demand most attention of the
Accepted in some shops, in hotels, for booking excursions and
In general walking in the dark in The Gambia is safer than
walking through a big city in your own country in broad daylight.
You attract crime by behaving conspicuously as a tourist. Beware
of pickpockets on markets and other busy places (ferries, shops
a.s.o). There are hardly any purse snatchers and the further you
travel inland, the safer you can feel.
Custom officers are friendly and considerate. If your documents
are correct you don't have to expect any problems. It often
happens that they check the contents of your suitcase. New items
in original packing may result in an import procedure. If you
don't arrive in The Gambia via the airport, you have to take
into account that the Senegal borders are closed at night. Most
stations at the northern border close down when it gets dark:
there is no electricity.
Many languages and dialects are spoken in The Gambia, usually
interspersed with English and French words. The most important
ones are Mandinka, Wolof and Fula. The latter has a lot of
French words. The official language is English.
In some hotels you can find discotheques, often open to outside
guests as well. There are a few 'public' discotheques in the
vicinity of hotels too.
Hereunder are some distances, measured via the road in km:
Banjul-JanjangBureh (Georgetown) 310
Banjul-Basse Santa Su 370
Soma-Basse Santa Su 190
JanjangBureh-Basse Santa Su 60
Beer and spirits are on sale in nearly all hotels or in their
vicinity. They sell the popular domestic- and foreign brands.
Prices are not extremely high. Milk can be bought in
supermarkets, just like the most important drink: water.
Main voltage is 220 volt. Outside hotels you will often find
deviant sockets. If you are going to make a journey through the
inland, take into account that there might be no electricity.
Embassy or consulate
If there are problems with your travelling documents or if you
want to contact your ambassador or consul in The Gambia, always
do so through your host(ess) or through the hotel reception.
Should events be organised at all, they happen in or around
hotels. Don't expect too much about cultural highlights in The
To be booked with most touroperators who work in hotels.It is
also possible to make direct reservations. Think twice before
booking excursions with non registered persons no matter how
reliable they may seem, no matter how highly recommended. It
might go okay, but only in case of problems you find out the
comfort of insurances, professional guides and drivers who are
trained to cope with these situations.
Export of money
You are not allowed to export more than 75 Dalasis. Besides, the
Dalasis you have left are probably not convertible at home. At
the airport you have the opportunity to change money into your
own currency. You can also ask your hostess.
Possible to receiving and sending at the Gamtel offices, open
from 08.00 to 22.00. Up country not every Gamtel office has this
It is possible to cross the river Gambia throughout the entire
country. Fares on the official ferries are low. They sail
according to schedule. There are private ferries as well. Agree
on the fare beforehand.
Film and Photography
Materials can be obtained in The Gambia, but they are pretty
expensive. Always pay attention to the expiry date.
ATTENTION: Children will stand in front of your camera the
moment they think you are going to make the ultimate picture or
film. Never make pictures or shoot a film of people without
explicitly asking permission before. This also goes for objects
and even cattle that is accompanied. Refusing permission is
usually a matter of religion, sometimes it has to do with the
fact that you don't give any money or too little money. If you
do get permission, offer a trifle: money, a pen or something
like that. Don't forget to thank him or her and you do that by
shaking hands at least.
The national flag of The Gambia consists, from top to bottom, of
the colours red, white, blue, white and green. The white bands
that separate the colours red, blue and green may vary in width.
The colours have the following meaning: red stands for the
alliance with the sun, white means peace, blue represents the
river Gambia and green is connected with agriculture.
For sale in hotel boutiques, both in the English and in the
Dutch language. They give more detailed information than this
A lot of people present themselves, often in a very pushy way,
as guides. The only guides who are reliable without reservations
are in the pay of a touroperator or a hotel. They are
recognizable as such.
Alledgedly precautions are not necessary. That is not true!
Malaria is rife in The Gambia. That is why a malaria cure is
very important. Drinking a lot is an absolute necessity in The
Gambia. Although drinking water on the coast is safe you are
advised never to drink tap water and not to consume water-ice.
Be careful with drinking cold drinks.
If you need a doctor, the hotel reception will help you. There
are some clinics in the vicinity of hotels, some hotels have
their own clinic.
After you have left The Gambia you will finish your malaria cure
of course. That means that you must take your pills for another
week or more. If you catch a serious cold within (about) a month
after your departure, or if you feel uncomfortable or if you
fall ill, always consult a doctor and tell him that you spent
some time in West Africa.
There is a mixture of Christian- and Islamic holidays. The most
important ones are:
New Year's Day: 1 January
Independence day: 18 February
Good Friday: March/April*
Easter Monday: March/April*
End of Ramadan (Fid-al-Fitr): April*
Labour day 1 May
Day of the offering (Fid-al-Adha) **
Mary Ascension 15 August
Birthday Mohammed (Mouloud) September*
Christmas 25 December
* dates differ from year to year.
** Tobaski: if they can afford it, a sheep, goat or chicken is
slaughtered and eaten with family and/or friends; it is
celebrated 2 months and 10 days after the final Ramadan
In a lot of places, both on the coast and up country, you will
meet the ice-man. A little shop where you can buy cooled water
or lemonade in little bags and water-ice. Don't do it!
English is the language that is adequately spoken by nearly
everybody in The Gambia. More up country you might be surprised.
Usually French will serve you in hotels as well.
There are several sorts of maps, that often contradict each
other. Signposting is minimal and not reliable. If you set out
on your own it's advisable that you take several maps with you.
Medical knowledge and the quality of medications round hotels is
good in The Gambia. Up country there is often a lack of
medications. Doctors and medications must be paid cash. With the
receipt you may get refunded by your insurance company.
The Gambian monetary unit is called Dalasi. The Dalasi is
divided into 100 Butut. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50
Butut and 1 Dalasi, and there are bank notes in the denomination
of 5, 10, 25, 50 and 100 Dalasis.
Nightlife in The Gambia doesn't mean too much. There are some
nightclubs and discotheques on the coast. You find them either
inside some of the hotels or in local places.
Opening hours of shops, banks etc are not the same everywhere.
Particularly supermarket-opening hours varie strongly.
The enumeration hereunder is nothing more than an indication.
Banks: Mon-Thu and Sat 08.00-13.00, Fri 08.00-11.00, some banks
also from 16.30-18.30h.
Postoffice: Mon-Fri 08.30-12.15 and 14.00-16.30, Sat
Telephone(Gamtel): daily from 08.00-22.00h.
Shops: Mon-Fri 08.30-12.30 and 15.00-18.30, Sat 08.30-13.30, in
touristical area's from 08.00-20.00, minimarkets sometimes
24hours a day.
There is a petrolpump almost everywhere in the touristical area.
If you have rented or borrowed a car, always inform what petrol
you have to tank. Pumps up country do not always work because of
power failures. Sometimes they pump manually, you will often get
the advice 'to come back in an hour or so'.
Trouble or getting stuck in a certain place can be prevented by
filling up the tank whenever there is the opportunity to do so.
There are only a few pharmacies in the country. Medications are
supplied by doctors. The hotel reception will help you further.
Painkillers are to be obtained at some chemists. If you buy
medications yourself, pay attention to the expiry date.
Police are considerate and polite, always willing to help
tourists. The uniforms of the officers bear a strong resemblance
to those of their British colleagues. If you have a talk with
them, they will easily ask you some personal questions. This has
got nothing to do with suspicion, but everything with curiosity.
Don't hesitate to call in their help if you think you have a
reason to do so.
Police control post
Post and stamps
Postcards, stamps and postboxes near or in hotels. Post offices
in larger places. The average mailing time from the coastal area
is 10 days. Officially! In reality 3 weeks is closer to the
truth. If you want to be sure that your post will arrive on time
it's best to mail it in your own country (give it to somebody
who is about to leave!) You'd better not send any post from the
inland. Cards and letters posted at a post office reach their
destination a lot quicker than when you post them from your
hotel. You buy your stamps from traders, in your hotel or in the
Prices are fixed in shops. In the street you have to knock down
There is hardly any streetwalking in The Gambia. Sometimes
services are rendered on the beach and in hotels and nightclubs.
Radio and television
There are two local radio transmitters in The Gambia, Radio
Gambia and Radio Syd. The latter is a Swedish initiative. There
is a television transmitter, most hotels, however, have got a
cable and/or satellite reception.
Renting a car
If you want to set out into the terrain or up country, book a
4WD. To be able to rent a car you must be 25 years old at least
and you must be in the possession of a current driving licence.
More words than actions in The Gambia, with the exception of so
called 'bird safaris'.
Senegal and The Gambia together are called Senegambia. At any
time these two countries should have been joined together and
that is why you come across that name in so many places.
You do your shopping in shops with fixed prices, but mostly you
do that in the street or on markets. Knocking down prices (to 40
or 50% of what is asked) is expected from you.
Average opening hours are between 08.00 and 19.00. Often closed
at lunch time for a few hours and sometimes on Friday and
To be obtained in and around hotels, on markets and from
merchants you meet everywhere. Woodcarving and batik products
are very popular, but wicker baskets and (fake) jewels are in
great demand as well.
We definitely advise you against doing that during your first
few days. You will get sunburnt even under a sunshade. A good
sun tan lotion with a high protectionfactor (15 or higher) is a
necessity. All popular brands of lotions and aftersuns are
available. Topless sunbathing is allowed round the hotel
swimming pool or on the hotel beach.
There is a real danger you might have one. If you travel in an
open car, walk around the whole day or are exposed to a lot of
sunlight in any other way, wearing a hat is strongly advisable.
Consult a doctor right away if you suspect a sunstroke, lie down
and keep your head cool (literally).
You will find them in the vicinity of hotels. They are mostly
called minimarket. This also goes for the little shops you come
across throughout the country. There are a few large supermarket
Making calls is simple. It is possible from every hotel, but
there are dozens of phone booths, some of them in places you
would not expect them to be. Some telephones are coin-boxes, for
others you need phone cards. It is wise to have such a card with
you, they are for sale at Gamtel offices, which are the cheapest
opportunities to make calls at the same time. Gamtel is open
from 08.00 to 22.00. After you have dialed the entry code for
the country (00220), you can dial directly the number, there are
no city dialing codes in The Gambia Connections are not always
Some hotels have (free) tennis courts.
In The Gambia they have GMT, Greenwich Main Time. Very funny
people also call it Gambian Maybe Time.
In general service charge is included. A 10% tip is usual in
hotels, bars etc. Room service personnel also expect tips, but
it is wiser to give them a small amount regularly, than waiting
till your departure. You agree on the fare with taxidriver
beforehand and when you are satisfied about his guidance you
show this by giving him a little extra. With some salaries of
around Dal 1.250 per month a tip of Dal 10-50 is already quite a
This is one of the very few words that have the same meaning in
every dialect. It literally means 'white man' (or woman).
Tours through The Gambia and Senegal are organised. Take into
account that you will probably travel in international company.
Make reservations via the official channels only. Consult your
host(ess) or this guide.
There is relatively little traffic. They drive on the right, but
if the condition of the road doesn't allow that, it is normal to
drive on the left. The condition of roads is often bad, there is
no or inadeqate sign posting. There are police checkings in
several places, but they leave tourists practically undisturbed.
The road on the South route
Traffic from the right has right of way, fast traffic gives way
to slow traffic. If there is a maximum speed this will be
indicated, on most roads the maximum speed is self-evident.
Drinking a lot of water is advisable. However, don't take it
from taps. Bottles of water are for sale in hotels and
supermarkets. Prices for the same brand may substantially differ.
A little bit of help is so simple
Nobody is starving in The Gambia, hardly anybody, nobody has to
starve. The Gambia is a poor country, but this poverty is not to
be compared to the one that is prevalent in many other African
countries (of radio and TV fame). Gambians are generally well
fed, are decently dressed and are cheerful and hospitable.
During our journeys through the country we noticed that the many
means needed to develop the country are available, but they are
not exploited. Can not be exploited for the simple reason that
there are no financial means. We do not talk about erecting
buildings or machines, but we're talking about a fundamental
business called education. There are schools, there are
qualified teachers and there are children who like to be
educated. Unfortunately that is not everyone's share, because
education costs money. Primary education is cheap, a child can
go to school for a whole year for about 100 Dalasis, but going
to school is not compulsory. If parents do not have enough money
to buy the necessary things, their child will not go to school,
or only their oldest child will go for a term or two. The reason?
Lack of money of course. There is no money to buy pens, pencils
or other necessary writing materials. Or there is too little
money for decent clothing or a school uniform.
Do something about it! If you are going to travel through The
Gambia, put some of these simple things in your suitcase. Visit
a school and talk to the headmaster. He will see to it that your
things will go to good use. A lot of excursions call at a
school. You must realize that that is usually the same school
every week. Schools away from the tourist routes are deprived of
this help. Visit another school, preferably one that is not (yet)
subsidized. You can also have a good look around when you are