Gambia, the smallest country in Africa, is just a short flight away, but it is a marvellous exotic destination. The entire country is surrounded by Senegal, with the exception of a short stretch of coastline. Gambia is marketed as ‘the smiling coast’ and you certainly won’t be able to wipe a smile off your face during this exciting encounter with Africa. If you are looking for sunshine, then there are palm trees and endless white sandy beaches, most of them completely deserted but for a few cows. But Gambia has far more to offer than the beach and sun.
This inexpensive destination for European travellers is also a tremendously poor country. However, this should not put you off. Poverty is an unfortunate feature of our imperfect world that we mere travellers cannot change. What you can do, though is spend some tourist dollars on local products and talk to people when you get home to encourage others to visit.
So what’s beyond the beach? Superstition and traditional culture are part of daily life. Don’t be frightened if you see strange figures in the streets dressed in weird suits made of tree bark. What are they doing? Leading groups of boys away to be circumcised! There are sacred crocodile pools to visit, monkeys to feed (watch your fingers) and enchanted forests full of amazing medicinal plants. Find a local guide to take you about and make sure you ask plenty of questions. You’ll find these people and their beliefs fascinating.
Pop down to the coast near Serakunda in the afternoon and soak in the sights and smells of the fishermen’s beach. You won’t forget the smell of the smoking fish in a hurry and the experience will be the highlight of your trip. Mingle with the crowds and photograph the swooping seabirds as the women chop up the freshly caught fish. Or why not get up at dawn and drift along the River Gambia under a pink and purple sunrise to spot this country’s world-famous birds?
If it’s nightlife you want you’ll hear music everywhere, great music with an infectious beat that will have you dancing the night away.
You’ll see so much in a week in Gambia. Cattle markets, main roads are lined by scores of unfinished buildings, Albert Market in Banjul, litter, incredibly ramshackle vehicles, stalls everywhere… and the poverty. For most people there is no source of sustainable income. While you are in Gambia try to visit a village or a school and if you can, donate some money. If you can make room in your suitcase for some trainers or children’s clothes, you’ll find it much appreciated. Pens and other school supplies are also good things to take with you.