The country of Gambia has an unusual shape because its designated boundaries which were drawn up in 1889 reflect years of dispute between the European countries who would like to control the area. At the time of the Middle Ages, this country was once part of the medieval empire of Mali. It was later divided into independent local kingdoms before being torn apart by the European slave traders during the 1600’s.
Britain and France fought over the control of trade on the Gambia River, but the entire Gambia stayed under the British occupation up to the 1900’s. After gaining independence in 1965, the soil condition was poor, the climate humid, and the Gambia River was lined with salt marshes and swamps.
The small country survived by basic farming as peanuts and cotton were grown successfully. Tourism is now a major source to help boost their thriving economy. It is a popular beach destination in the African continent that is easily accessible to Europeans.
Below are the top ten not to be missed places when in Gambia.
River Gambia National Park
Located in the capital city called Banjul, grab the chance to cruise the
River Gambia National Park
and enjoy the sights that can be admired in the five flat islands that complete this entire tourist attraction. It is a piece of wide rivers that culminates to form an estuary.
The Gambia River NP is very worthwhile. One can cruise silently on board the small rented boats and go through the a mangrove area where there are many rare birds and other animals like; red apes, family of chimpanzees roaming around the chimp island, water crocodiles, and partially submerged hippos enjoying a dip in the river . Also worthwhile is the elephant island with many huge baobab trees.
The Gambia River has up to 250 km of river tour into the countryside up to the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean. The water current is fast flowing especially along the Kunta Kinte island where the first African slaves were used to be held captive. Being there gives one a chance to look deeper in the country and people of the Gambia and understand their culture.
There are back to basics tour where you can cross the border to Senegal with a donkey cart through the beautiful nature and pass to a community where cars cannot go. It is a common sight to see women cultivating rice along the rice valley part of the Gambia River. Bring enough water, because it is very hot. Arranged two day tours provide meal, the ferry ride and lodge accommodations.
Bijilo Forest Park
The Forest Park is very small, about 3 x 1 km and Inside there are trails that leads through the park where you can see many monkeys and even the rare red apes. One can feed the cheeky monkeys with peanuts. Hire a very nice guide who can explain the rich biodiversity and all about the flora and fauna of this park in Banjul, Gambia. Aside from having a chance to observe the habitat and the huge presence of the African eagle, there are other migratory birds to observe in this park.
There are many monkeys that roam even on the hotel grounds or jumps from one tree after another. Tour guides provide the peanuts to tourists so the monkeys will come closer for a photo opportunity and a chance to be petted and fed. Stay safe with the monkeys as they move fast and nasty and a close encounter may or may not turn out to be as good as expected.
The park also has a medicinal plant garden where the guides can explain what herbs or plant can cure a simple cold and other common diseases. Within its proximity a nice beach can be explored on foot and enjoy great food and an impressive sunset view.
Kotu is a beautiful wide beach with a cozy atmosphere. One tip is to take a slice to go horseback riding, so you see the whole beach in a special way. It is dotted with huge parasols and beach lounge chairs and beds provided by the restaurants that line its beachfront area.
The locals are very friendly and you can always speak to them in English, their official language. There are no annoying hawkers who will keep following you around just to buy their stuff. Staying on this beach is an enriching experience that a traveler would not want to miss.
There are several good restaurants that are within walking distance. On the beach side, there are private sellers of fruit peels, freshly squeezed juices, and other local fruit varieties arranged and sold in a fruit bowl.
There are lots of shade with a nice thatched cabana and the fine golden sand to enjoy a day in the beach. There are nature trails located within the vicinity where you can see a huge selection of birds and endemic monkeys. The beach water offers strong waves and current that is ideal for water sports adventure.
Makasutu Culture Forest (Serekunda)
Situated in the city of Serekunda, the Makasutu Culture Forest is a little paradise on earth with a great hotel and a beautiful beach with a great peek into the interesting tribal culture of Gambia. The place can be reached after a 15 minute drive along the National road after passing through a long highway.
From the park you can take a canoe trip in the shallow river where the kids can swim and play. After that you must take a long walk in the forest that is full of monkeys that are not wicked at all unless they are provoked. Here you can witness the natural beauty of the forest after discovering the beauty of water and nature around the river.
Afterwards, you will find an area lined with huge mango and mahogany trees and meet a cultural minority where you will learn so many things and watch their ethnic dances, cultural presentation, fortune telling services and partake in their buffet and other local delicacies served in a sumptuous banquet presentation with a great view of baboons and amazing birds that live in the forest.
The fire dance segment is one of the exciting part of the show as well as getting the chance to take pictures with the performers after the presentation.
Kachikally Crocodile Pool
Located in the city of Bakau, the Kachikally Crocodile Pool is a natural reserve that houses more than 100 crocodiles. It is a small animal park with an adjacent museum that highlights the history of the city, its involvement as Britain’s allies for airline operations, musical instruments, weapons, utensils and other handcrafted items made by the local tribes.
You can walk through the garden to reach the lake with crocodiles where you can also see them close to their natural habitat. There are walking paths to easily tour around the park and also chance to pet and stroke a crocodile. The caretaker of the crocodiles gives a great showmanship while he feeds them and shares funny and informative anecdotes about the habits of the crocodiles.
Picture taking with the crocodile is made possible when you get near the gravel edge of the pool. The guides will assure you that it is safe to get close with the crocodiles and it is one of the adventurous things to do when in Gambia. It is fun and certainly not expensive. The park is worth seeing and a good option to learn about the educational history of the country and its friendly people.
The only architectural monument in the city of Banjul, Arch 22 is nice to see and the spiral staircase climb to reach the top is worth it. Once there, you can admire the panoramic views that and the neighborhood that surround the island of Gambia. Halfway through the arch is a small room that is furnished with period items like; clothes, costumes, masks, and other things that are obviously not maintained to put up an exhibition with.
It is equipped with two lifts that go direct to the top but has been left un-maintained also and tourists have no option but to use the manageable but unlighted spiral staircase. It was built since 1965, the year when the country gained its full independence from Great Britain.
There is a guide assigned for every group of tourists who enter the monument after the payment of the entrance fee. They are knowledgeable, friendly, speaks English and aware about every part of their country’s history by heart. Picture taking inside and outside is allowed and there are nearby café and restaurants where one can enjoy a refreshing snack after a visit to the tower.
has many souvenir stalls selling handmade stuff and shows how they are made. The streets that lead to the location of the market is very narrow making it quite difficult to find it. It is a fantastic market where most tourists and locals haggle and deal for the last price of their purchased item.
This flea market has everything that relates to clothing, handicrafts and much more. Getting around all the shops and observing what they sell leaves an impression that Gambians are hard working people and will do anything to earn money by relying on their being resourceful and creative.
The way they interact and treat their visitors with respect is something to be admired. You will not get lost in this simple market because everyone is helpful and polite when tourists asks for direction on where can they buy the best stuff about souvenirs and personal items.
Abuko Nature Reserve
Exploring the Abuko Nature Reserve is just one of the experiences a traveler must not miss when in Gambia. It can be done with the help of the so called African Jungle Man who welcomes every visitor at the entrance gate. He leads all the tourists to a tour of the preserved jungle where everyone can have the opportunity to interact with wildlife animals up close.
He offers cold drinks and you will enjoy a good time chatting with him while enjoying the exotic location with a drink in one hand. He loves to put the flags that bring customers and strike up a nice conversation.
Do not fail to visit the huge area for all the indigenous and endemic African birds that can only be seen in Gambia. You can feed peanuts to the monkeys and observe the enclosures of the hyenas and vultures. The baboons are already so used to people and gives quite a show by hanging on ropes, trees and swing with such grace and balance. The best time to visit is early morning when the crowd is minimal and you can have a much better appreciation of animals and nature. There are interesting souvenir shops, diners, and restaurants scattered all over the park.
Bakau Fish Market
A tour of the Bakau Fish Market is the best option if you prefer to buy fresh fish caught by the local merchants. The men catch the fish and the women sell them.
Boatloads of fish dock in its harbor carrying the day’s catch and with a good guide, you can also walk through the factory with to the area where the fish are getting cleaned and smoked to preserve its freshness and taste.
It may seem odd or smelly for some who are not used to seeing how a fish gets cleaned and prepared but the fantastic experience of mixing with the locals is the most interesting part of the visit to the fish market.
Bakau Crafts- Sand Art Shop
The Bakau Crafts offers not just their handcrafted art but also selflessly shares the knowledge behind their interesting sand art creations. The place is ideal for children who are into making art and exploring their creativity and self expression through anything they can work and lay their hands on. They sell paintings, wood carvings, miniature woodworks, and other crafts.
The owner’s son teaches for an hour the step by step basic instructions on making an impressive sand art piece. It is worth a visit and the kid’s will have a great time learning the whole process in such a short time.