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Colourful fishing boat in Bakau, Gambia ©qiv
Like a long splinter inserted into the side of Africa, just at the bulge, Gambia is a narrow strip of a country that stretches inland from the beautiful West African coast, following the course of the majestic River Gambia. It may be the smallest country in mainland Africa, sandwiched between north and south Senegal, but it is beginning to be noticed by the British package tour trade as an exciting alternative to the crowded resorts of Europe. It has also gained fame for its incredibly varied and accessible bird life.
Gambia's 'discovery' as a tourist destination was aided by the best-selling book turned television series , by Alex Haley, detailing the life of the author's grandfather, allegedly captured in the country and transported to the US as a slave. The book and television series caused a sensation in the 70s and put Gambia on the map.
The capital of Gambia, Banjul, stands on the south side of the magnificent river estuary, a worthy commercial centre that for most tourists is little more than the gateway to the hotels spread along the 25 miles (40km) of beautiful sandy coastline. These palm-fringed Atlantic-washed beaches have been dubbed 'The Smiling Coast', as much for their tropical splendour as for the friendliness of the local people, who welcome visitors whole-heartedly at the nature reserves, quality hotels, and craft markets. All this is just six hours' flying time from London, close to the equator, on the same latitude as Barbados.
The international access code for The Gambia is +220. The outgoing international code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). No area codes are required. There are GSM mobile telephone networks, but not all countries have roaming agreements. Coverage is limited to Banjul and a few other areas. Internet cafes are available in Banjul and the major tourist resorts.
Emergencies: 17 (Police); 16 (Ambulance); 18 (Fire).
The official language of Gambia is English, and Gambians are educated in English. There are several indigenous languages, but English is the lingua franca.
Visitors arriving in Gambia are permitted to bring the following goods into the country without paying duty: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; one litre of spirits and one litre of wine or beer; 284ml of perfume; and a still camera and film for personal use.
220 - 240 volts, 50Hz. UK-style, rectangular three-pin plugs are standard.
Gambia has a sub-tropical climate and is situated between the Tropic of Cancer and the equator. The country enjoys almost constant sunshine and barely fluctuating high daytime temperatures all year round. The rainy season is between July and October, when humidity is high and short, spectacular rainstorms characterise the evenings. As most of the rainfall occurs at night, and can be a welcome break from the sun and heat, travel to Gambia during the rainy season is still an option, so long as you don't mind the humidity. Between November and June there is virtually no rainfall. During the winter months, between January and April, evenings and early mornings can be cool. Summer temperatures can hit extreme highs, reaching 107°F (42°C) at times, and the heat is particularly debilitating inland as travellers no longer benefit from the cool coastal breezes.
The best time to visit in terms of weather and bird spotting is between November and February when the weather is dry and a bit cooler. Gambia is a great beach holiday destination year-round as it is always sunny and hot, but most travellers prefer to avoid the hottest months.
All visitors require a return ticket or proof of onward travel, sufficient funds to cover their stay in Gambia, and all necessary travel documentation for their next destination. In some cases visas may be issued on arrival, but this should be confirmed in advance from official sources. Passengers on a package tour, or arriving on a charter flight generally do not have to pre-arrange visas, but for peace of mind this should be confirmed before travel. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Gambia, if arriving in the country after leaving or transiting through an infected area. If a yellow fever certificate is required, but missing, the passenger will be vaccinated on arrival. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Gambia. Tourist visas, when required, can be issued on arrival.
British citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Gambia. For British tourists no visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for period of intended stay in Gambia. For Canadian tourists no visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Gambia. For Australian tourists no visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of their intended stay in Gambia. A visa is required, except for those travelling as tourists on charter flights.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for the intended period of their stay in Gambia. No visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for the duration of their stay in Gambia. No visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days.
No inoculations are compulsory for entry to Gambia, except for a yellow fever certificate required by those arriving from yellow fever infected areas. However, it is recommended that travellers take health advice at least three weeks before departing for the country. Malaria is prevalent throughout the year, but the greatest risk is between June and November; travellers should obtain up to date medical advice on the appropriate prophylactics, as some may not be adequate for Gambia. It is possible that your doctor may also advise that you are vaccinated for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, tetanus-diphtheria, and meningococcus (for the Gambian dry season). Visitors are advised to carry preparations for dehydration, stomach upsets, insect bites and cuts, as well as mosquito repellent and sun block, as these are not always readily available in Gambia. Water borne diseases such as Schistosomiasis do occur and travellers should not swim or raft in contaminated fresh water. Travellers should drink only bottled water, ensure meat and vegetables are well cooked and avoid unpeeled fruit and vegetables. Emergency medical facilities are of a low standard so travel insurance with provision for emergency repatriation is recommended.
Crime involving tourists is rare in Gambia and safety is not a major concern, but robberies involving travellers are on the rise, particularly the stealing of passports and valuables from hotel rooms. It is wise not to carry valuables or large sums of money or display them in public, and valuables left in hotels should be kept in safes whenever possible. The most popular beaches are manned by tourist police or hotel security officers. Take precautions on more isolated beaches, in unlit areas and in spots away from the 'tourist track'. Driving in Gambia can be hazardous and many taxis are not roadworthy. Security checkpoints are common on all major roads within the country. Road travel from Gambia to southern Senegal should be avoided due to fighting between rebel factions in the area and incidents with bandits. Women should be on the lookout for male scammers who try and develop romantic relationships with them as this is a common ploy to get money in Gambia. Apart from scams and road safety issues crime tends to be petty and mainly consists of bag-snatching and pick-pocketing.
Emergency Phone Number
Emergencies: 17 (Police); 16 (Ambulance); 18 (Fire).
* For current safety alerts, please visit Foreign travel advice - GOV.UK or Travel.State.Gov
Gambia's currency is the Dalasi (GMD), which is divided into 100 bututs. Dalasi are difficult to obtain outside of Gambia but there is a bureau de change at the airport. Currency can also be exchanged at banks in the capital, Banjul, and at some hotels and tourist resorts. Commission tends to be high. It is advisable to bring travellers cheques or cash because only a few places accept credit cards. Street moneychangers give the best rates, but take care not to be conned and make sure you know the current exchange rate before trading with them. Note that currency must be declared on arrival and the export of foreign currency is limited to the amount imported. Travellers cheques are accepted, with US dollars and Pounds Sterling the preferred currency. Some hotels and restaurants accept MasterCard and Visa, but it is unwise to rely on them and a charge may be levied. ATMs are limited to a few areas.
Exchange RateNot available.
Embassies of Gambia
Gambian Embassy, Washington DC, United States (also responsible for Canada): +1 202 785 1399.
Gambian High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7229 8066.
Gambian Consulate, Johannesburg, South Africa: +27 (0)11 884 3710.
Foreign Embassies in Gambia
United States Embassy, Banjul: +220 439 2856.
British High Commission, Banjul: +220 449 5133.
Canadian Embassy, Dakar, Senegal (also responsible for Gambia): +221 33 889 4700.
Australian High Commission, Accra, Ghana (also responsible for Gambia): +233 302 216 400.
South African Embassy, Dakar, Senegal (also responsible for Gambia): +221 33 865 1959.
Gambia is a Muslim country and therefore it is considered disrespectful to dress immodestly away from the beach, swimming pools or tourist centres. Religious customs should be respected, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet. Homosexuality is illegal and strong action is taken against travellers found to be in possession of drugs. It is prohibited to photograph military institutions.
Business is conducted formally in Gambia and a formal dress code should be observed. Punctuality is expected. Business cards are catching on and advisable to bring along. Greetings are important and a formal handshake is the norm for men and women; it is important to acknowledge every member at a meeting. A personal approach to business is favoured and Gambians like to get to know the person with whom they are conducting business. Business hours are generally 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday.
A 10 percent service charge is usually added to hotel and restaurant bills, and further tipping is discretionary. Generally all services rendered require a small cadeau (gift or tip).
Public Holidays in Gambia
Map of Gambia
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