The Gambia is a tiny African country on the Atlantic coast
The Republic of The Gambia is the smallest state in Africa, located in the western part of the continent in the basin of the river of the same name. The territory of only 10.3 km2 on three sides is surrounded by Senegal, and its western borders extend to the Atlantic Ocean. The country has a narrow elongated shape, its length is 400 km, and a maximum width of barely 45 km. The Gambia – one of the poorest countries in Africa, which, however, does not prevent it to be quite attractive to tourists. The colonial past of the territory, multiplied by the local color and complemented by the unique nature and the ocean – all this makes Gambia a non-trivial place for a vacation.
The Gambia. Photo by maripau.qat.
Discovery by Europeans
The first Europeans arrived in The Gambia in 1455, they were Portuguese travelers. In the following years, the Portuguese were actively exploring the land and later assimilated with the local Wolof and Mandinka tribes, their descendants still live in The Gambia today. In the 17th century, some of the land came into the possession of Courland, whose traders established a trading base on St. Andrew’s Island (modern name James Island).
In the second half of the 17th century the struggle for the territory was led by Britain and France, which had the same goals: the slave trade and the development of gold mines. In 1765, all the land came under British control and became part of the colony called Senegambia, and later Gambia came under the ownership of the African Company.
Gambia. The author of the photo is Andres Lund.
Independence from Britain
Over the centuries, the territory of present-day Gambia has changed hands many times. Despite the fact that the local population did not want to adopt a foreign language and culture, this long period of British presence had a great impact on the development of the region.
In 1963, the country gained the self-government that Gambians had been crying out for for so many years. Gambia became a constitutional monarchy, but the early years were very difficult. Armed conflicts broke out between different tribes, whose leaders wanted to take the place of the monarch. Only in 1970 a referendum was held, and according to its results Gambia became a presidential republic. To this day, the country is in an unstable and even distressed situation, remaining an underdeveloped agrarian country.
The flag of The Gambia, The Gambia. The author of the photo is Leo Kulhoven.
Local Nature and Climate
The Gambia has a subequatorial climate with two distinct seasons, dry and rainy. The air temperature varies slightly throughout the year: +20-27 ° C in winter and rises to +32 ° C in summer. Such a favorable climate for the African continent makes The Gambia one of the best places for agricultural development. The rainy season lasts from June to October, but even then, sunny days are not uncommon.
The best time to travel to The Gambia is November to February. And if you want to save money, plan a vacation in the off-season, such as April or October, often during this time the weather is favorable and bestows clear skies and sunshine. For beach lovers without the crowds of tourists there is an option of traveling during the wet season, when the natural parks are closed, but life on the coastline continues to boil.
The Gambia. Photo by Peter Power.
Flora and Fauna of The Gambia
The Gambia has a diverse flora and fauna. In the local forests you can still see large fauna such as giraffes and elephants, the number of which is decreasing every year. Other inhabitants include hippos, hyenas, baboons, over 25 species of rodents, 31 species of bats, etc. Many rare animals can be freely encountered during a walk in one of the local national parks.
There are a total of seven nature reserves in The Gambia, the most grandiose of which are: Tandji River Bird Sanctuary with 612 hectares, Niumi National Park with 5,000 hectares, Gambia National Park or Baboon Island, a reserve for chimpanzees and others. Baboon Island is currently closed to tourists.
The Gambia. The author of the photo is Norman Sloth.
Banjul – a miniature capital of The Gambia
The tiny town is located where the waters of the river flow into the Atlantic Ocean. According to the last census, only 34,000 people live in Banjul. Despite its modest size, the town delights with its special chamber atmosphere. The streets are never crowded with newcomers, but the harbor is teeming with life. While in Banjul, be sure to visit the grand triumphal arch with the unusual name “21”, it offers an amazing view of the city and the bay. By the way, you can visit the textile museum, located inside the arch. And in the local market you can buy authentic goods as souvenirs.
Banjul, The Gambia. Photo by Brian Moore.
Serekunda is the country’s largest metropolis
Southwest of Banjul lies the city of Serekunda, the business capital of The Gambia. More than 350,000 people permanently reside here, as well as people from other cities. It was originally a small town, which as it grew, absorbed the surrounding villages. The city enjoys a dynamic life and modern tourist infrastructure. Its proximity to popular resorts makes Serekunda a favorite destination for tourists who want to combine a relaxing beach vacation with an active pastime.
Serekunda, The Gambia. Photo by DC P.
As such, there are few architectural and cultural monuments in The Gambia, and it’s unlikely that anyone would decide to make a targeted visit just for them. However, if you are in the country, in addition to the beautiful nature and the majestic ocean, diversify your vacation by visiting a couple of colorful places.
One of these attractions – the village-museum Tandja, which preserved the life of the indigenous population, who lived here for centuries. On a small piece of land are straw houses, made in different styles typical of the region. Visitors to the museum can see the work of artisans and taste traditional local cuisine.
You can learn more about the country’s colonial period at the Slavery Museum in the village of Albreda. The museum is located in a 19th century building built by the British. The exhibits collected here, do not leave anyone indifferent – shackles, whips, collars – all this vividly describes a harsh and unjust reality of that bitter period in the history of the African people.
The stone circles of Wassu and Kerr Butch are an ancient monument reminiscent of English Stonehenge. Many stone blocks are concentrated on the northern bank of the Gambia River, and historians speculate that they were used by local tribes in burial rites and other sacred rituals. The largest stones weigh several hundred kilograms, while the smallest specimens can be lifted by hand.
Wassou, The Gambia. Photographed by David Nyoku.
Local population and customs
About 1.7 million people live in The Gambia, of which 99% are indigenous peoples. 90% of the population are Muslim, 9% are Roman Catholic, and only 1% of Gambians remain faithful to the ancient cults of animalism, fetishism, and the cult of ancestors. English is the official language of the country, but Gambians speak more than ten languages, including Mandingo, Fula, Wolof, Diola, etc.
Virtually the entire working population is engaged in agriculture, particularly in the cultivation of peanuts and rice crops, which contribute the lion’s share of the country’s income.
Culinary Traditions of The Gambia
National cuisine as well as other local cultural aspects have been influenced by the people who have lived in the territory. Much has been learned from the English, French, and Portuguese culinary traditions.
The staple food of the Gambians is rice, usually served as a side dish with an abundance of vegetables, spices, fish or meat. One of the most popular dishes is stew with rice, meat, and peanut butter. In coastal areas you can enjoy dishes from fresh fish and a variety of seafood. Because Gambia grows peanuts in large quantities, they are served with literally every dish, regardless of what you ordered at the restaurant.
Of drinks, a special favorite is sweet green tea, which is served with lots of foam. Holidays in The Gambia, be sure to try the palm wine, decoction of sorrel flowers and baobab juice – such exotic drinks can be tasted only when you are in Africa. The most common drink we are used to is Jarblu beer, a lager sold by the bottle or on tap.
Jarblu beer, The Gambia. Photo by Egoitz Moreno.
Tourism in The Gambia
Because the country is quite well developed tourism, there is a large choice of hotels with European level of service. All hotels are concentrated on the Atlantic coast, and in the interior of the country to rent an apartment is problematic, the only exceptions are nature reserves and parks, where you can stay overnight for no more than one night.
Russian citizens do not need a visa before the trip if your visit to the country does not exceed 59 days. At the same time, it is useful to get medical insurance to protect you from contingencies and various problems. Meningitis and yellow fever vaccinations, as well as malaria medication, should be taken before your trip.
The Gambia has an international airport near the capital Banjul, which receives flights from European capitals. It is best to plan your trip in advance, as you will most likely have to fly with several connections, and planes from Europe do not fly here as often as you would like.
Sunset, The Gambia. Photo by Paul Wilson.
Step by step across the planet
Gambia, or the full name of the Republic of The Gambia, is a West African state that is the smallest state in continental Africa. The country stretches in a narrow ribbon along the fertile delta of the River Gambia, over which there is not a single bridge. Gambia – a colorful country with beautiful ocean resorts, rich flora and fauna, colorful African markets, slavery museums and archaeological sites, which tell stories of primitive human history. The main income of the state derives from the export of peanuts, and three quarters of all working Gambians are engaged in agriculture.
The Gambia is a colorful “crumb” of Africa.
The capital of The Gambia is Banjul, which is the administrative, cultural and industrial center of the country located on St. Mary’s Island. Banjul is the principal seaport and river port of the state, linking all parts of The Gambia and the capital’s well-defended harbour provides an all-season supply of ocean-going craft. The city was founded in 1816 as Bathurst, then a slave supply center and later an English colony. Gambia gained independence in 1965, and Banjul became its official capital. Today Banjul is a fairly modern city, with numerous green parks and gardens, small cafes and souvenir shops.
The Gambian flag is a rectangular cloth, with a side ratio of 2:3, the field of which is divided into five horizontal strips, unequal in width. The upper stripe is bright red, the equal in width lower stripe is dark green, in the center of the flag is a smaller dark blue stripe. The blue field of the flag is separated from the red and green by thin white stripes.
- The red color symbolizes the sun
- green is the equatorial jungle
- white symbolizes peace and prosperity
- Blue symbolizes the Gambia River
For all the flags of the countries of the world, see here.
The coat of arms of The Gambia is a composition with a shield in the center, held on both sides by lions. The shield is painted in three colors: green, white and blue, and in its center is a gold axe and hoe, which are also in the paws of the lions. On top of the shield is the heraldic helmet of the knight and a palm branch. At the bottom of the shield is the national motto of The Gambia: “Progress – Peace – Prosperity”. Which in English means: “Progress – Peace – Prosperity”.
- The two lions represent the colonial history of the country.
- The hoe and axe symbolize the importance of agricultural work for the country
- The palm branch symbolizes the Gambian flora.
For all the coats of arms of the world, see here.
“For The Gambia Our Homeland” (“For The Gambia Our Homeland”) is the national anthem of The Gambia, adopted in 1965 after the country’s independence. The lyrics were written by Virginia Julie Howie and composed by Jeremy Frederick Howie. The anthem is based on the traditional Mandinka song Foday Kaba Dumbuya. Read the text of the Gambia anthem…
The official currency of The Gambia is the Dalasi (denoted as GMD), equal to 100 Bouthuts. Coins in denominations of 25, 50 bututs and 1 dalasi are in circulation, as well as banknotes in denominations of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 200 dalasi. The obverse of all banknotes depicts birds native to Africa.
Banknotes of The Gambia
The Gambia on a world map
The Republic of The Gambia is a country located in West Africa, bordered to the east, north and south by the Republic of Senegal and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean. The Gambia is the smallest country on the African continent at only 11,300 km². Much of the country is a plain, covered by rainforests.
Geographically, the territory of The Gambia can be divided into 3 districts:
- The lower valley (about 40% of the country) – located directly by the Gambia River and its tributaries, subject to seasonal flooding, which contributes to the formation of seasonal swamps;
- rugged sandy plateau (56% of The Gambia’s territory ) – consisting of sand hills and small valleys;
- The sandstone plateau (4% of the country) – occupies the eastern part of The Gambia, consisting of low stony sandstone hills, not covered by vegetation.
What is worth seeing in The Gambia?
Here is a small list of sights, which should be paid attention to, when making a plan of excursions in Gambia:
- The Stone Circles – The Wreckage of an Ancient Civilization
- Abuko National Reserve
- National Museum of The Gambia
- Gambia National River Park
- Tanji Bird Sanctuary
- Virgin Mary Assumption Cathedral
- James Island Old Fort
- Arc de Triomphe 22
- Banjul, the capital of The Gambia
- Nema Kunku
- Basse Santa Su
The Gambia has a subtropical monsoonal climate, hot throughout the year with a dry season from November to May and a rainy season from June to October. The average annual air temperature is +26 ° C … +32 ° C and in some regions of the country the thermometer rises to + 40 ° C. Rainfall ranges from 750 – 1100 mm per year in the interior to 1500 mm on the coast. The best time to visit The Gambia is in November and March.
The population of The Gambia is 2,094,227 (data as of February 2017), of which 98% are Africans (40% Mandinka, 19% Fulbe, 16% Wolof, 10% Diola, 9% Soninke, 3% Serer, 2% Manjang, 1% Balante), 1% Creole and 1% Lebanese, Syrians. About 80% of the working-age population is employed in agriculture. Life expectancy for females is 56 to 58 years and for males 52 to 54 years.
Migrants and refugees from Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone live in The Gambia. Labor migrants from Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and other African countries arrive every year to work in the peanut fields.
English is the official language of The Gambia, but Mandinka is the most commonly spoken language, spoken by 40% of the population, as well as the Fula language by 21%, Wolof by 18%, and Diola by 4%. English is the only language of official use and education, but according to Gambian President Yaya Jammeh: the country has decided to abandon English as an official language and the inhabitants should speak their own language.
The Gambia has been declared an Islamic Republic by the President since 2015. About 90% of the population are Muslim (Sunni), 8% are Christian (mostly Catholics), and 2% are followers of traditional African beliefs such as animalism, fetishism, ancestor worship, and the forces of nature.
- January 1 New Year
- December-February, Tabaski (the African name for the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr)
- February 18 Independence Day, which The Gambia received in 1965
- spring-summer Mawlood Nabi (Mawlid-an-Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad)
- May 1 Labor Day
- 22 July – anniversary of the 1994 coup
- October-November – Korita (the African name for the Muslim holiday of Uraza Bayram or Eid al-Fitr)
- December 25th – Christmas
Here is a little list of the most common souvenirs that tourists usually take from The Gambia:
- djembe drums
- wicker baskets
- ritual masks
- wooden carvings by local craftsmen
- Colorful cotton clothing.
“No nail, no rod,” or customs regulations
The Gambia’s customs regulations do not restrict the importation of national and foreign currency, but a declaration is mandatory. Exportation of imported foreign currency is permitted with a receipt for exchange and exchange back.
Duty-free import of up to 200 pieces of cigarettes, or 50 cigars, or 250 grams of tobacco, perfumes, household items, radio, photo and video equipment – within personal needs – is allowed. Food, liquor, clothing, fabrics, gold, silver, malachite and ivory, and masks may be taken out of the country. All precious stones and jewelry may be taken out of the country only with a document certifying the legality of their purchase.
Importation of alcoholic beverages and any kind of pornographic material is prohibited.
Voltage in electrical network
Voltage of the electric grid in The Gambia: 230 volts, 50 Hz. The socket type: Type G.
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