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Magnificent palm-fringed beaches – all powdered white sand and azure sea – are a huge lure for visitors to this diminutive West African country

There is so much more to see – even a visit to an exuberant market will be an experience.

Go on safari and river trips to see wildlife including baboons, colobus and vervet monkeys, and over 500 species of birds. Look out for cranes, storks, hornbills, vultures, Senegal parrots and the iridescent blue-bellied roller.

Uncover the dark history of the West African slave trade at Kunta Kinteh Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and see the megalithic Wassu stone circles at Jangjangbureh.

Food utilises local produce, so expect masses of rice, with fish and chicken, local vegetables, groundnuts and citrus fruit – and don’t be startled by other diners, in Gambia it is considered polite to belch after a good meal!

 

Culture and history

The Gambia is a multicultural society where a number of ethnic groups live together harmoniously, the largest being Mandinka and Wolof. This is an Islamic country, and though tolerant in approach, a modest dress code should be observed.

Here, traditional long and flowing Gambian dress is still the norm, though western influences are creeping in; men favour white kaftanesque garments, while women wear colourful grandmuba and cloth wrap headdresses.

The family is central to life, and tends to be large – men may take more than one wife. In this society elders are highly respected. Independent since 1965, the economy of this former British colony relies on farming – groundnuts (peanuts) are an important crop – and the expanding tourism industry.

Look out for griots – traditional musicians who play the kora, a 21-string harp, and enjoy the local sound, a fusion of traditional drumming – sabar – and western music. Markets are a cacophony of noise and colour and you should be prepared to negotiate your price – bargaining is expected!

Wrestling is the traditional sport, and fascinating to watch if you are lucky enough to see it at a wrestling festival – just don’t be tempted to participate.

Flight time

It takes a mere six hours to fly to the Gambia. Few other places such an exotic escape so close to home.

Currency

Dalasi -

The Gambian currency is the dalasi, divided into 100 butut. You can usually change travellers cheques and foreign currency at banks, bureau de change, and authorised hotels.

Dalasi are available in the UK but you will get a better exchange rate in Gambia – sterling and euros are the most easily convertible currencies.

ATMs accept Visa cards and are found in larger towns and cities. Most hotels, restaurants and larger shops accept Visa debit and credit cards. Maestro is not accepted. There is an ATM in the tourist area of Senegambia and several other locations but, please note, ATMs are often unreliable.

Passports and visas

Visit GOV.UK for more advice on passports and visas.

Timezone

The Gambia is on GMT so there is no time difference – and no jet lag either! However in summer, when the clocks go forward in the UK, The Gambia will be one hour behind.

Electricity

Both square and round-pin wall plugs are used – mains voltage in the Gambia is 220-240 volts AC (50 Hz).

Language

English - English is currently still the official language of the Republic of Gambia and is widely spoken. However numerous other African languages and dialects are spoken including Mandingo, Fula, Wolof and Jola. Most Gambians are at least bilingual.

Tipping

A service charge can be added to your bill in larger establishments, but a tip is usually discretionary and much appreciated. Most services are provided with the expectation of small tip.

Climate

The Gambia has a year-round tropical climate, with daytime temperatures around 24°C in the winter and 34°C in the summer.

The dry season is between October and April, when you can enjoy uninterrupted sunny days, cool sea breezes and very pleasant sub-tropical temperatures.

The rainy season is from May to September, but most of the rain falls during the evening in short, intense bursts – nevertheless, a light waterproof jacket or umbrella may prove useful in these months. Between January and April, early mornings and evenings may be cooler than you'd expect, so remember to pack some slightly warmer clothes.

Health

As health information can change at any time, we’d advise you to consult your GP at least 12 weeks before departure.

Country-specific information and advice on possible health risks is also published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre, and The British Foreign and Commonwealth Travel Advice Unit provides important health and safety information for British nationals travelling abroad.

Population and size

Africa’s smallest country on the continental mainland, the Republic of Gambia is a mere sliver that cuts into Senegal – and is encircled by it – on its northern, eastern and southern borders. On the west is a 50-mile Atlantic coastline.

The whole country measures just 30 miles from north to south, and 210 miles from west to east, a length rather less than the UK at its widest point. It is dissected west to east by the meandering downstream River Gambia. The country has a population of around 1.2 million – that’s approximately half the number that reside in Birmingham!

Smoking

The Gambia has a smoking ban in public places which includes enclosed restaurants, bars, and reception areas.



Climate