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The Gambia may be one of the smallest African countries but it manages to pack in a fantastic array of things to see and do. This African haven is a fantastic choice for families, couples and solo travellers looking for an incredible holiday in 2018 and 2019. Tropical beaches of dazzling white sand shaded by palm trees are strung out along the coastline, there are captivating towns and colourful fishing villages, and inland you’ll find magnificent nature reserves that are home to exotic wildlife such as hippos, monkeys and manatees. Best of all is the warm, welcoming people who have given the Gambia its nickname ‘the smiling coast of Africa’.
With a range of accommodation options, from self-catering to all-inclusive Gambia holidays, and cheap holiday flight deals, an African holiday is well within your grasp.
If you want more ideas on what to do in The Gambia, check out our blog!
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The beaches and slow-paced way of life are undoubtedly Gambia’s biggest draws, but this country has plenty more to captivate visitors. The Gambian capital of Banjul is a fascinating little port city, which hosts the colourful King Albert Market, a treasure trove of food, textiles, crafts and more. On the outskirts of the capital is the unmissable Abuko Nature Reserve, a protected forest with nature trails that is home to a wealth of bird and animal life. Fort James Island, part of a trio of sites related to the slave trade that has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, provides a fascinating insight into this dark period in Gambia’s history. The Gambia's ancient stone circles also have World Heritage status: the spectacular Wassu National Monument, near Janjangbureh, is the most accessible of four groups of standing stones erected in Gambia and neighbouring Senegal.
While you’ll find plenty of restaurants serving international cuisine in the main resorts, it’s well worth seeking out local eateries to try delicious Gambian dishes. Traditionally, Gambians gather around a large platter of food and eat it together, using their right hands. White rice is a staple, usually topped with different kinds of stews and sauces. One of the most popular is domada, a tasty peanut stew with tomatoes and onions, or okra stew, which is made with beef, okra, vegetables and spices. Another favourite is benachin, a rich stew which is usually made with fish but occasionally prepared with chicken. Yassa is a tasty chicken dish with chilli, lime and onion; sometimes it is made with seafood or vegetables. To drink, try some baobab juice or the surprisingly potent palm wine.
Gambia is a fantastic destination for a family holiday. The guaranteed sunshine and sandy beaches are a big draw, but the Gambia also gives kids the chance to get up close with all kinds of exotic wildlife. The Abuko Nature Reserve in Banjul is a fantastic place for kids to explore, with monkeys, crocodiles and all kinds of exotic birds to spot. Other animal-themed attractions include the Bijilo Forest Park (known as ‘Monkey Park’) near Kololi and the Kachikally Crocodile Park, in Bakau’s Old Town. A cruise along the Gambia River is always a hit, particularly if your kids spot the endangered hippopotamus. In Tanji, your kids might enjoy the Tanji Village Museum, a recreation of a traditional Mandinka village, where you can see performances of local music and dance, or join in with craft-making workshops.
Along the coast, you’ll find all the amenities for water sports such as jet skiing, wake boarding and water skiing. One of the most popular activities in The Gambia is kayaking along the Gambia River, which is home to hippos, crocodiles, and monkeys among other species. You can take a guided excursion in a canoe or kayak, while your guide points out the incredible variety of bird and animal life. The nature reserves – such as well-known Aboko or the amazing wetlands of the Niumi National Park – contain some excellent walking trails, and are also fantastic places to spot the myriad bird species for which Gambia is famous.
The Gambia has an 80-kilometre-long coastline, most of which is lined with gorgeous beaches. Swathes of golden sand shaded by palm trees, they are rarely crowded – ideal for a relaxed holiday in the sunshine. Kotu beach, which is the focal point of of the vibrant resort of Kotu, is one of the most beautiful and best equipped beaches. Amenities include parasol-rental, beach cafés, and facilities for water sports. If you’re looking for somewhere quiet to relax in peace, the beaches at Brufut and Bijilo are ideal. You won’t find too much in the way of amenities, but buzzy Kololi is just a 15-minute drive north.
Gambia is no clubbing hotspot, but there’s still plenty going on in the evenings. Kololi is one of the liveliest resorts, and is home to ‘The Strip’. This stretch of road (officially known as the ‘Senegambia Strip’) which leads down to the beach is without doubt the epicentre of Gambia’s nightlife. It is packed with cocktail bars, pubs, jazz bars, restaurants and clubs – you’ll find something to suit all tastes. The all-inclusive hotels offer their own range of nightlife, from sophisticated cocktail bars to live bands. If you’re looking for something more relaxed, there are lots of laid-back parties on the beach, as well as local open-air bars playing African music.
Romance is built into the Gambian way of life, which is slow and relaxed. You can amble hand in hand along beaches of golden sand, stop for a relaxed drink at a beach bar, and watch the sun set. There are lots of places along the Gambian coast where you can forget the rest of the world exists and just enjoy each other’s company. You could pamper yourselves with a couples’ massage and spa treatment, or enjoy a delicious seafood dinner right by the water’s edge. You could take a kayak or a cruise along the Gambia River, or sign up for an activity – there are plenty to choose from, whether you’re foodies and want to do a cooking class, or prefer something musical like a class in African drumming or traditional dance.
The Gambia boasts two fascinating UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites which should not be missed. The first is Albreda, Juffureh, and Kunta Kinteh Island (also known as Fort James Island), a collection of three sites relating to the slave trade on the shores of the River Gambia. The second is the Wassu National Monument, a remarkable collection of ancient standing stones erected between the 3rd century BC and the 16th century AD to mark the burial mounds of kings. For an insight into traditional Gambian life, visit the Tanji Village Museum, which has a recreation of a traditional Mandinka village that you can explore, and also hosts displays of local music and dance and craft-making workshops. The Makasutu Culture Forest, a private reserve, is also a good place to see traditional music and dance, as well as to explore the beautiful nature trails along the river bank.
Check out our top hotels in Gambia! Dreaming of Gambia already but not too sure where to go? Have a look at our top Gambia holiday destinations and plan your perfect break: