GENERAL INFORMATION

THE GAMBIA
zastava gambia

Capital: Banjul
Area: 11,295 km2
Language: English and local languages: Wolof, Mandík, Fula
Currency: Dalasi (GMD)
Population: about 1,900,000
Density: 121 km2
International Dialling Code: +220
National anthem: For The Gambia, Our Homeland
The President: Yahya Jammeh (since 1994)
Official name: Republic of The Gambia
Independence: since 18.2.1965

The Gambia is located in the West African region and it  is one of the smallest country in Africa. It has many attractions and it is becoming one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world. The Gambia is bordering on the Atlantic Ocean in the west, and on Senegal from all other sides. It is 320 kilometers long and 20 to 30 kilometers wide. The Gambia River flows for 322 km through Gambia on its way to the Atlantic. With its glorious low-key beaches, bustling towns that combine colonial architecture and traditional activities and wealth of wildlife, The Gambia is the most approachable of all West African countries.

In 1651, it became an English colony, although all the rest of West Africa belonged to France. The English defined Gambia borders by sailing into the inland of Gambia in the eponymous river and determining the borders with Senegal with a range of artillery shells. Today this small country looks like a finger stuck into the inland of Senegal.

The capital, Banjul, with its street culture that keeps away the tourist spirit of major tourist cities, is a unique African experience. Banjul is situated at the mouth of the Gambia River flowing to the Atlantic Ocean. It has about 35,000 inhabitants and is one of the smallest capitals in the world. Banjul has been given its name in 1973. As lies on a peninsula, the first town named by the English was called the Island of St. Mary. Later, it was renamed into Bathurst after the Registrar Office of the British colony, Henry Bathurstu.

Banjul is mainly a commercial and business center. The best time to enjoy the capital is after 5pm or on Saturdays and Sundays, when many business have closed for the day and private sector workers left the town. Tourists attractions and things to see in Banjul are Arch 22, Albert Market, Gambia National Museum and commercial area. There is also a great spot for bird watching and sports fishing. Other places to see in Banjul are the War Memorial & Fountain and MacCarthy Square. There is not many restaurants in the capital but though out the day a lot of delicious food is offered by street vendors. After 7pm the capital is almost empty. There is nothing in the capital city by way of night clubs. Gambians and visitors that stay in Banjul, are usually spending evenings in front of their compounds or a place of accommodation, drinking Attaya and chatting.

WEATHER

Gambia is known for the most favorable climate in West Africa. Weather is tropical with dry and rainy seasons. Coastal areas are dry from mid-October to mid-June, while the rainy season lasts from June to October. Inland, the cold period is shorter, and from May to June, the daytime temperatures are very high. Most days are sunny even during the rainy season. Many tour operators invite visitors only during months from November until January of February when the rains are over, humidity has dropped, the dirt roads are passable, and the bush is still green and busy with birdlife. We believe you can travel to West Africa any time of the year. Every time of a year is something special. Temperatures in the resort areas, beside Atlantic vary little all year, while humidity levels fluctuate. Rainy days are few in the rainy season. It is usually raining at night. Sometimes it can be sunny in the morning, heavily raining at the noon time and again sunny in the afternoon. The malaria risk is higher than usual during rains and some road are waterlogged; however, birds, flowers and fresh vegetation are all abundant at this time, mangoes are in season, the resorts are uncrowded, the sea is at its warmest, and, between the spectacular thunderstorms, the days are bright and clear.

Average temperature is 30 C. Sunshine hours from December to July are from 9 to 10 hours.

GETTING THERE

The Gambia is located only six hours from major destinations in Europe, making it a popular and financially accessible place for tourists. In the high season, from November until March, there are more flight options but the prices are higher, especially during Christmas & New Year time, Easter and school holidays. The cheapest available tickets are in the rainy season, between June and October. Additional option is to fly to the capital of Senegal, Dakar, which has more international connections. The public transportation from Dakar to Barra, in The Gambia, is always available for not more than 10€ per person. We can also organize transportation for you from airport in Senegal to The Gambia for best available price. Crossing with ferry to the capital Banjul, will cost you less than 1€.

GETTING AROUND

There is no railway lines in The Gambia. The country has one international airport, Banjul Airport. There are no internal flight except by private arrangements. The most common way to get around is by road or by river. There are some option to choose but all depends of what you are interested to see or which side of a country you want to go. The main roads are generally well maintained with street lights.

Tourist taxis
They are usually marked with a sign “tourist taxi” and painted green with white diamonds on the sides and bonnet. These taxis have a licence given by the Institute for Tourism in The Gambia – The Gambia Tourism Authority, and are only intended for transporting tourists. They have to pass inspection every year and should be fully insured. Usually are located in front of hotels and resorts using the principle of the queue and have fixed prices to all destinations to and outside the Gambia. Sometimes there is little room for negotiation.

Yellow and green four door taxis
These vehicles are yellow and green, and can usually accept up to four people at a time. They drive a standard route the whole day by fixed price (just few dalasis) and offer shared taxi services, which means that you can get on and off anytime and share a taxi with other passengers. Do not forget that they have a standard route going only from point A to point B on the main road. If you want a car for your own trip, out of standard route, you can charter a taxi and negotiate for a good price of your “town trip”. If you have a serious and reliable taxi driver, you can arrange the time to pick you up and take you back to the place of accommodation or anywhere you wish.

Bush Taxi
The bush taxi is the classic form of West African public transport, providing an essential public service in both urban and rural areas. Locals mostly use large vehicles, known as bush taxis. They are usually seven passengers-vehicles, delivery vans, and buses. These vehicles are not marked with a specific colour and are used for long and short distances. Prices are fixed; however, we recommend that you find out about the price before entering the vehicle. These taxis stop on the way so that passengers can enter and exit.

Main roads are paved and in order, while the byroads may be in poor condition. Particularly during the rainy season, it is hard to drive on byroads.

If you plan to drive in The Gambia, bring your international driving license issued in English language. Although be aware that driving in the The Gambia is a more hectic experience than driving in Europe. Generally, we do not recommend renting vehicles and we are not responsible for the decisions of our guests.

HEALTH INSURANCE AND MEDICAL ASSISTANCE

We do not recommend that you travel to Africa without health insurance. Almost all insurance companies offer international health insurances. The cheapest way is to get an annual insurance policy, which can be used in all countries you visit during the year

Contact the insurance company for health insurance policies that include medical assistance abroad. Do not forget to mention that you are heading to the Gambia. We also recommend that you get the accident insurance in case you get hurt during your stay.

VACCINATION AND TREATMENT

Although only yellow fever vaccination is obligatory, it is recommended that, before you travel, you consult your doctor who will advise you on recommended vaccinations and prescribe anti-malarial medicines (which are also available in the Gambia). In some cases, they require special procedures for immunization of children and pregnant women. We recommend that you bring medicines to treat dehydration, less serious diseases, gastrointestinal disorders, insect bites and cuts, along with mosquito repellents and sunscreen with a high SPF.

Sexually transmitted diseases (including AIDS) are a serious worldwide health problem. We recommend being highly cautious during your stay in the Gambia. Latest tips can also be found with the World Health Organisation.

Yellow fever – Since 15.1.2008 mandatory vaccination against yellow fever are required for entering all African countries, including the Gambia, especially, if you were in one of the areas where there is an increased risk of yellow fever in Africa or South America. You can receive vaccinations at the Institute of Public Health in your country. The vaccine is active for 10 years.

It is also recommended to get vaccine for hepatitis A and B, but it is not obligatory.

Prevention – Hygiene is very important because viruses are concentrated in faeces and blood of an infected person even before he/she starts showing typical symptoms. Disease spreads rapidly in areas with inadequate hygiene and difficult social circumstances. Your health can be protected by regularly washing your hands with soap and then dried before eating or touching your mouth. The risk of infection is highest in toilets, and washing your hands after using the toilet is crucial. We must wash our hands as often as possible. We recommend using wet wipes in places where there is no access to clean water.

PREVENTION IN RELATION TO FOOD:

All food must be freshly prepared and well cooked. It is recommended that you eat only fruits and vegetables that you can peel yourself. Avoid “lukewarm food” such as unprocessed milk and biscuits stored at room temperature. Consumption of raw fish and shellfish is also not recommended.
Follow these rules: cook, bake, peel, or do not eat at all!
Water and other drinks:
Only drink bottled water and beverages or water and beverages that have been boiled. Do not add ice.
Bottled or boiled water is also used for brushing teeth in unhygienic environments.

Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is an infectious disease that affects the liver.

Transmision
The maximum concentration of virus can be found in the blood of an infected person, and in saliva, semen, and vaginal discharge, especially when they are mixed with blood. In traces, it may be present in urine, faeces, sweat, tears, and breast milk.

It is most commonly transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse.

PREVENTION
Most infected persons do not about their condition, and therefore do not know that they are the carriers. To avoid the disease, responsible behaviour is vital.

We suggest:

• using adequate protection during sexual intercourse (a partner you trust, use a condom),
• avoiding contact with bodily fluids of others (acupuncture, piercings, tattoos, medical interventions, medical needles, etc.),
• using your own cosmetic devices (razors, toothbrushes, etc.),
• that an infected person seeks out medical attention, as it can prevent complications and spreading of the disease,
• getting tested if you were exposed to circumstances, which could cause an infection.

MALARIA

The Gambia is just one of many countries with a high risk of malaria, but can prevented if appropriate preventive measures are taken. Before you book your trip, we recommend that you consult your doctor who will prescribe the appropriate medication against malaria. We also recommend that you use an effective insect repellent, in order to protect yourself against infection. Keep taking your medicine during the entire time of your visit, and even after you return to Europe.

Malaria is an infectious parasitic disease, and it was confirmed in 99 countries and territories worldwide in 2010. It is transmitted by mosquito bites that transmit the malaria parasite. There are four types of malaria, which affects humans. All types are serious, but most deadly is the malaria falciparum.

This is the reason many people do not rely solely on classic pest control techniques such as repellents and sleeping under mosquito nets. Not all mosquitoes are carriers of malaria. Mosquitoes with malaria (Anopheles genus) appear at night and remain active until morning, so sleeping with mosquito nets is advisable.

Malaria symptoms can appear from one week to one year after infection and are very similar to flu. Health of patients with the worst forms of malaria can quickly deteriorate, resulting in difficulty in breathing, kidney failure, liver failure, seizures, hallucinations, shock, coma and even death.

If you start noticing any signs of malaria, even months after the trip, you should immediately seek medical attention. Malaria symptoms are similar to the symptoms of flu, including fever of 38 °C or more, sweating and chills, malaise, headache, cough and diarrhoea. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should immediately seek out medical attention in the Gambia or in at home, if you notice the symptoms after returning.

EXCHANGE BUREAUS, CREDIT CARDS, TRAVELLER’S CHEQUES

The official currency in the Gambia is Gambian Dalasi. Changes in the exchange rate depend on the market. The exchange rates vary significantly during major holidays.
Euro ranges between 40 and 53 GMD and 1 dollar is approx. 30 GMD.

Visa Credit Cards are the most popular credit cards. You can withdraw Dalasi, but the value must not exceed 100€ and on cash points it must not exceed 200€ per day. Credit cards are accepted only in major banks, supermarkets and hotels, but you are usually charged a high commission when using them.

We recommend using cash, and you can have you VISA with you in case of emergency. Money can be exchanged in banks and exchange bureaus throughout the country. Do not exchange your money on the street, even though you may be offered a better exchange rate. It is important that you do not run out of money when exchange bureaus and banks are closed (evenings and afternoons, Sundays and public holidays). It is possible to pay in euros and dollars, but in this case, the exchange rates are less favourable. In general, it is more convenient to use the local currency. Occasionally it is necessary to “negotiate” in exchange offices for a better rate.

Fast sending money bureaus like Money Gram and Western Union are on every corner in the Atlantic resort area.

COMMUNICATION

Calls from Gambia to Europe are quite expensive. We recommend that you purchase a local SIM card at a Gambian telecommunication provider and a coupon, which you can put money onto the SIM card of your phone. This way calls from the Gambia to Europe and within the Gambia are cheaper. SIM cards and coupons can be bought anywhere. In major cities numerous Internet cafes can be found, where you can use the internet for just a few euros per hour. Mobile Internet is the cheapest option, if you have a Gambian SIM card. Internet access via computer use USB keys rather expensive (about 65 €). Monthly subscription for unlimited Internet access costs about 85 €. You can choose between different packages. There is also a limited access option, which is cheaper.

SAFETY

The Gambia is very stable and peaceful country. There is no war and most of Gambians are friendly and hospitable people. Freedom and peace are also mentioned in their national anthem. It is very important for all the nation. As a man of peace, President Yahya Jammeh continues to play a major role in peace making and peace keeping in West Africa, other parts of the continent and in the world at large. His expressed commitment to the principle that “development on the continent will never be possible without lasting peace and stability” is exemplified by the indefatigable efforts he deploys and his success achieved to this end (source: http://www.statehouse.gm/).

Gambia is a relatively safe African country but this tourist destination does not only attract tourists. It is easy to exaggerate the potential hassles and disasters of travel in The Gambia. Many visitors feel safer in The Gambia than in their home country. Pickpockets are most active in interesting places for tourists such as markets, ferry terminal and other crowded places so watch out for your money and documents. The crime rate in the Gambia is lower than in other countries of the region. The most common crimes are minor theft and burglary.

If you decide to live with locals in unsecured apartment than leave all your precious belongings at home.

HISTORY

The first known inhabitants of what is now The Gambia were a succession of ethnic groups who migrated to the fertile basin of the River Gambia from elsewhere in West Africa. European traders began to settle near the river from mid-fifteenth century and the present-day borders of The Gambia were first drawn in 1889, in Paris, by British negotiators, with ruler and compass.  Legend has it that the country’s optimum dimensions were determined by measuring the extent of territory that could be defended by cannon-fire from a gunboat sailing up the river – hence The Gambia’s long, thin and crooked shape.

Gambian prehistory

The earliest people of the Gambia valley may have been the Jola, who by tradition have a very limited oral history. The hundred or so Gambian stone circles, including the famous ones at Wassu, are compelling evidence of a civilization that lived near the river between 800BC and 1000AD, but hard facts about their ethnic origin have so far eluded archaeologists and ethnographers. The first known written record referring to the River Gambia appeared in the Carthaginian Hanno’s account of his voyage around the west coast of Africa around 470BC. His mission was to establish colonies on the Atlantic coast for the purpose of trade in ivory and gold, and it is thought that he made it all the way to Cameroon and back. Hanno’s account, though geographically sketchy, was still being used as a reference by seafarers in the age of exploration two thousand years later.

Knowledge of the intervening centuries is very incomplete. The introduction of camels to Africa in the second century AD, facilitating long-distance desert travel, opened up West Africa to Arab traders in slaves and gold, who gave the indigenous Africans an appetite for commerce. Between the fifth and eights centuries AD, the area that is now The Gambia was part of the ancient kingdom of Ghana (capital in present-day Mauritania, and from which the modern state of Ghana took its name), that was ruled by overloads from the Fouta Djalon plateau in Guinea, part of the Songhai empire. By fifteenth century, most of the valley was under the control of small Mandinka kingdoms founded by immigrants from the Mali empire.

Source: THE ROUGH GUIDE to The Gambia (Rough Guides)

Read more about Gambian history by clicking HERE.

Photo: Jana Snuderl

Photo: Jana Snuderl