One week in Gambia

One week in Gambia

Gambia, also known as the “smiling coast of Africa,” is the continent’s smallest country on the mainland. Although we had heard of it before, my partner Samantha and I were not initially interested in visiting until someone recommended it to us. After conducting research, we remained hesitant until stumbling upon a link on my phone (which raises the question of whether advertisers can listen to private conversations) one Saturday morning in November 2019 after breakfast in Romford. Our original intention was simply to gather more information, but we somehow left the Thomas Cook office with tickets in hand, having impulsively booked our flights and accommodations. We allowed ourselves three months to obtain visas and necessary vaccinations, which proved to be sufficient time.

Visas are not required for short stays (less than a month) in Gambia for certain nationals, including British citizens. However, even if a visa is required, the process is straightforward.

As of September 2019, The Gambia introduced a new visa policy which allows visa-free entry for citizens of all countries for stays up to 90 days. This means that visitors can obtain a visa upon arrival at the Banjul International Airport or any other port of entry in The Gambia. The only requirement is a valid passport with at least six months remaining before expiration. The new visa policy is aimed at boosting tourism and making it easier for visitors to enter the country. However, it’s important to note that the visa-free policy does not apply to people travelling for employment, study or residency purposes.

In the first week of November, we departed rainy, cold, and foggy London for a six-hour flight to the Smiling Coast of Africa. Upon arrival at Banjul airport at around 2 pm, we were immediately hit by the intense heat as soon as we stepped off the plane.

When I arrived at Banjul airport, my first impression was that it was quite small and basic compared to other international airports I had been to before. The airport lacked some of the modern conveniences that I had come to expect, such as air conditioning. Despite the warm and humid weather outside, the airport felt quite stuffy and uncomfortable inside.

One thing that stood out to me was the limited number of flights that arrived and departed from the airport each day. Banjul is not a major hub for international air travel, and as a result, the airport does not see a high volume of traffic. This was reflected in the size and layout of the airport, which was designed to accommodate only a few flights at a time.

Despite its small size, however, the airport was well-organized and efficient. The immigration and customs process was relatively quick and hassle-free, and there were plenty of porters and taxis available to assist travelers with their luggage and transportation needs. Overall, while Banjul airport may not be the most impressive or modern facility, it was functional and served its purpose well.

The warm welcome from the dancers and the journalists at the airport immediately made us feel special and appreciated as soon as we arrived in The Gambia. The dancers, dressed in colorful traditional outfits, swayed their hips to the rhythm of the drums and sang welcome songs as we stepped out of the airport. We felt like we had entered a completely different world, far from the hustle and bustle of London.

The journalists from Gambia National TV were eager to hear our thoughts about the country and what brought us there. Although we had just arrived and hadn’t had the chance to explore much yet, we told them that we were excited to learn more about the culture, history, and people of The Gambia. The interview made us feel like we were already part of the Gambian community, and we were excited to see what else the country had in store for us.

As we boarded an old bus to head towards our hotel, we couldn’t help but admire the vibrant scenery around us. The lush greenery, vibrant markets, and friendly locals waving at us from the streets gave us a sense of excitement and adventure. It was the perfect start to our Gambian adventure, and we couldn’t wait to see what else was in store for us.


Most of the hotels in Gambia are situated in a designated tourist area that is located right by the beach and does not contain any local residential buildings. This means that tourists can enjoy a secluded and safe environment without any disturbances from the local community. However, this also creates a divide between tourists and locals, as the area is surrounded by restaurants and cafes that are not affordable for many Gambians.

While the restaurants in the tourist area are not expensive for tourists, the reality is that Gambia is a poor country, and the majority of the population cannot afford to dine out in these establishments. A typical expensive dish at a restaurant in this area would cost around 300 dalasi, which is approximately £4. For many Gambians, this is an unaffordable amount, especially since most people work low-paying jobs and are often the sole provider for a large family. The average monthly salary for a decent job in Gambia is only between 1000 to 2000 dalasis. As a result, spending 200 or 300 dalasis on a single meal is not a feasible option for many locals.

Tourism is a vital industry for the Gambia, and it provides employment opportunities for many Gambians. Most of the restaurants and hotels in the touristic area are run by Westerners, especially Europeans, who have invested in the country. However, the staff in these establishments are predominantly locals. This provides valuable job opportunities for Gambians, who may not have many other options in a country where unemployment is high.

In the tourism industry, Gambians have the chance to interact with people from all over the world, learn new languages, and develop their communication and customer service skills. Many Gambians take great pride in their work and are passionate about providing visitors with a warm and welcoming experience.

Tourists are generally well-received by Gambians, who see them as a source of income and a way to showcase their country’s culture and hospitality. Visitors are often greeted with smiles and friendly greetings, and many Gambians are happy to share their knowledge about local customs, traditions, and attractions.

Our week in Gambia was an adventure full of surprises. When we arrived on a sunny Sunday, we quickly realized that the locals were spending their time on the beach. We didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to learn about the culture and meet new people, so we decided to explore the area. As we strolled along the beach, we were greeted by many young people who wanted to chat with us. Some just wanted to welcome us, while others were trying to sell us something. A few even wanted to become friends and show us around. We ended up going out with some of them and had a great time.

However, we knew that we needed to be mindful of the economic differences between us and the locals. We were aware that many of them could not afford to dine out or purchase expensive drinks, so we made sure to offer to pay when we went out to eat or drink. It was important to us to be respectful of their financial situations and to show our appreciation for their hospitality. Despite these differences, we found that the locals were very welcoming and friendly towards us. We made some great new friends and learned so much about the culture of Gambia.

During our week-long stay in Gambia, my partner and I decided to be mindful about our spending habits. Instead of booking tours from the hotel or travel agency, we opted to hire a local guide named Omar and a taxi driver to show us around. By doing so, we not only got a chance to experience the country more authentically, but also contributed to the local economy.

Omar (here is his number +220 703 9939) was an excellent guide who took us to places that we would have never known about if we had booked a tour from a travel agency. He showed us the local markets, where we tried some delicious street food and interacted with locals. We also visited some of the natural attractions in the country, such as the Abuko Nature Reserve, where we saw a wide range of wildlife species.

By hiring a local guide and driver, we were able to save a significant amount of money compared to booking through a hotel or travel agency and he helped us bargain. We felt good knowing that our money was going directly to the local people, rather than to large corporations that may not even be based in Gambia.

Overall, we highly recommend hiring a local guide and driver when traveling to Gambia. It’s an excellent way to experience the country authentically and to support the local economy.

Some might argue that trusting locals could be risky, but Omar showed us that Gambia is a safe country. Despite being poor, Gambians are rich in spirit and hospitality. We carried a significant amount of cash with us, but we never felt concerned about being robbed. There are many Western Union kiosks where you can exchange your money safely and without any serious security or theft concerns.

We learned so much about the Gambian culture from Omar. He took us to local markets where we could find souvenirs at reasonable prices and also showed us some hidden gems that we would not have found on our own. We were surprised by how much we enjoyed our time with Omar, and he even invited us to his family’s home for dinner one evening. It was an amazing experience, and we felt grateful for the opportunity to connect with locals and learn more about their daily lives.

Visit to Omar’s family

During our visit to Omar’s compound, we experienced the true Gambian hospitality. As soon as we arrived, we were welcomed by everyone with a big smile and warm greetings. We were invited to sit in the courtyard where people were sitting, chatting, and enjoying the cool breeze. We were offered some water and tea while we waited for Omar to finish preparing the food.

As is customary in many cultures, we decided to bring a gift for Omar and his family as a token of our appreciation. We had been advised that bringing rice and onions would be the best favour to do for Gambians. So, we bought a large bag of rice, a big bag of onions, and some goodies for the children who lived in the compound.

We handed out the goodies we brought to the children, and their faces lit up with joy and excitement. It was clear that they were not used to seeing foreigners, the children were curious and fascinated by us. They asked us questions about our home country and what life was like there. It was a heartwarming experience to connect with the locals in such a personal way and share our cultures with each other.

As we sat there, we observed how Gambian families live together in these compounds, sharing their meals and daily activities. It was a very humbling experience for us, especially when we learned that many of the families in the compound were struggling to make ends meet. However, despite their financial struggles, they were happy and content with what they had.

When the food was ready, we were served a delicious meal of rice and fish stew, which was cooked by Omar’s mother. We also had some vegetables and salad on the side. The food was simple but incredibly tasty, and we enjoyed it a lot.

During the meal, we talked about our experiences in Gambia and Omar shared some of his own stories with us. He talked about how difficult it was to find a job, and how he had to work hard to become a tour guide. He also shared his dreams of one day traveling outside of Gambia to see the world.

After the meal, we spent some time playing with the children in the compound. We brought some toys and sweets for them, and they were thrilled to receive them. We also had a chance to talk to some of the adults and learn more about their way of life.

It was a very touching experience for us, and we felt grateful for the opportunity to get a glimpse into the real lives of Gambians. It was a reminder that even though we come from different backgrounds and cultures, we share a common humanity and can connect with each other on a deep level. We left the compound feeling enriched by the experience and grateful for the friendships we had made.

It was a reminder of how important it is to connect with locals and learn about their culture when traveling. We also felt humbled by the simplicity of their way of life and the resilience of their community, despite facing so many challenges.

Places we visited in Gambia?

During our trip to Gambia, we visited a variety of places that gave us a unique and memorable experience.

Firstly, we visited the Kachikally Crocodile Pool, a sacred and historical site located in Bakau. This natural wonder is home to dozens of crocodiles, and it’s believed that they possess mystical powers that bring good luck and fertility to those who touch them.

Another place we visited was the Tanji Fishing Village, which is a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of the local fishermen. We had the opportunity to see them work, and even taste some of their fresh catch at one of the local restaurants.

Roots Village, also known as Juffureh or Juffure, is a historic village located in the North Bank Division of the Gambia. It is known for its role in the transatlantic slave trade and is the birthplace of Kunta Kinte, the main character in Alex Haley’s novel “Roots.”

The village has a museum that showcases the history and culture of the region, as well as a replica of Kunta Kinte’s house. Visitors can learn about the history of the slave trade, see the traditional homes and lifestyles of the local people, and participate in cultural activities such as drumming and dancing.

The village also has a vibrant market where visitors can purchase traditional clothing, crafts, and food. It is a popular tourist destination, and many visitors come to learn about the history of the region and pay homage to those who suffered during the transatlantic slave trade.

What did I feel when leaving Gambia?

The memories we created during our time in Gambia will stay with me forever. It was truly a unique experience, unlike any other trip I have taken before. While most of my previous travels had been to places filled with modern technology and luxuries, Gambia was different. It felt like a journey back in time, to a simpler era where people relied on community and personal relationships rather than technology.

The trip also opened my eyes to the beauty of lesser-known destinations. Gambia is not a popular tourist destination like other African countries, but it has so much to offer. Its rich culture and kind people made me want to explore more undiscovered parts of the world.

Leaving Gambia was bittersweet. On one hand, I was sad to say goodbye to the beautiful country and the wonderful people we met. On the other hand, I was grateful for the unforgettable memories we created, the lessons we learned, and the new perspectives we gained. Gambia will always hold a special place in my heart.

If you have never been to Gambia, you are missing something special. Visiting Gambia is an experience like no other. It is a place where you can truly immerse yourself in a new culture, and learn about a way of life that is vastly different from what you might be used to. The Gambian people are incredibly welcoming and hospitable, despite having very little in terms of material possessions.

During my visit to Gambia, I was struck by the kindness and generosity of the people. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with smiles and warm greetings.

What struck me the most about my visit to Gambia was the contrast between the simple way of life and the happiness of the people. Despite not having much in terms of material possessions, the Gambians we met were some of the happiest people I have ever encountered. It really made me reflect on what is truly important in life.

All in all, my visit to Gambia was a life-changing experience. It made me appreciate the things I have, and taught me the importance of human connection and kindness. I would highly recommend visiting Gambia to anyone looking for a truly unique travel experience.

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