The Gambia, a tiny country on the West Coast of Africa that remains something of an undiscovered destination.
The smallest country in Africa is full of surprises and has so much more than its magnificent coastline.
The Gambia is primarily considered a beach holiday destination. Just six hours by flight from the UK or elsewhere in Western Europe, it is becoming a place for adventurous sun seekers. And while it does have some stunning beaches, there is a good deal more to this country than just lying in the sun.
This effervescent little nation is also home to wonderful African wildlife. Best of all, you don’t need a guided safari to explore it all. In The Gambia you can make your own safari.
Essential Information About The Gambia
Before entering the world of hippos and colobus monkeys, here is some important information to help you plan a holiday.
Where is The Gambia and how do you get there?
The Gambia is completely surrounded by Senegal on Africa’s western coast. It’s increasingly an exotic holiday destination for people escaping the cold European winter months.
A seasonal climate dictates when people visit. November to April is cool and dry, especially along the coast. July to September is the rainy season and while the rain isn’t too bad, the humidity can be a challenge.
There are direct flights to The Gambia from London Gatwick, along with seasonal winter flights from Manchester and Birmingham in the UK. Frankfurt and other European cities also offer direct flights.
The country’s coastline is only 80 km long but wow it is magnificent!
Swaying palms cast their shadows across golden beaches. Little lagoons are sprinkled with small fishing villages and incredibly biodiverse coastal reserves.
There is surf on some of the beaches and the resorts are of an excellent standard, especially in comparison to people’s negative preconceptions of West Africa.
The greatest highlights are the people and wildlife you can meet. Gambian people are warm of heart and eager to converse. From fishermen to farmers, bracelet sellers to customs officials, the people will always make you smile.
While the country is home to ten different languages, English is the national language. So you can easily communicate with the friendly Gambian people.
Then there is wildlife. And what wildlife you can find when going off the beaten track!
Create Your Own Wildlife Safari in The Gambia
Due to its size and population density, the Gambia doesn’t have the ecosystem to support sweeping herds of wildebeest, or roaming packs of hyenas.
However, what The Gambia does have is an astonishing array of bird life, with some 560 species recorded in the country. From rainforest to woodland, estuary life to open pastures, the country has a haven of habitats for contrasting species.
Then there are monkeys, hippos, crocodiles, and a handful of other wildlife secrets just waiting to be discovered.
And the best thing? How accessible it all is. You can create your own self-guided wildlife safari in The Gambia by traveling to these four superb destinations.
Location 1: Bakotu Hotel Gardens
Mentioning a hotel garden with regards to wildlife might seem an odd thing, but in many ways Bakotu is like a microcosm of The Gambia.
Sit awhile in the shaded spot at the back of the hotel grounds, or simply sit outside your room and the wildlife will come to you: buzzards, vultures, whistling ducks in the sky overhead, bee eaters, gonoleks and red-cheeked cordon-bleus flitting through the trees.
Then there will be baboons and green monkeys foraging for food in the dense foliage. Plus huge monitor lizards padding noisily through the leaf litter shed by the huge fig trees.
Location 2: Brufut Woods
The woods at Brufut are something of a local secret and a great place to go off the beaten track in The Gambia.
They can be reached by first passing through the labyrinthine backstreets of Serrekunda, then crossing the scrub-land that characterises the Gambian hinterland.
Here you’ll find an active community project and some of The Gambia’s rarer bird species, from the white-faced scops owl to the unbelievable long-tailed nightjar.
Location 3: Gambia River tributaries
If you travel anywhere in The Gambia you’ll invariably come across either the main body of the River Gambia, or one of the many hundred of tributaries that fan across the country. A boat trip on these mangrove-lined waterways is a quintessential part of any trip to the country.
From one of the larger boats or hand-carved pirogues you’ll see all manner of sea birds, including ospreys, giant storks and pelicans. And if you’re lucky you may just see one of the saltwater crocodiles that populate the area.
Location 4: Upriver in The Gambia
The Gambia River is over 700 miles long and descends from the Fouta Djallon plateau in northern Guinea. Various settlements dot its banks, from the rudimentary to the more populous, including the old capital of Janjanbureh.
Hippos bathe in the upriver waters, grunting and guffawing through the day. Crocodiles can also be spotted and upriver is renowned for some excellent freshwater fishing.
One of the most interesting places is Chimp Island– a chimpanzee rehabilitation project set up by Stella Marsden in 1979. It is 300 km inland and can be quite a trek to reach, but the eye to eye encounters are wonderful.
The rehabilitation center has a great set up, with excellent accommodation and a genuinely caring environment for the animals, all of whom have been rescued from appalling circumstances.
As well as the resident chimpanzees, you can also see plenty of other wildlife including resident hippos and noisy red colobus monkeys.
Discover More of The Gambia
At Africa Freak we like to celebrate all of Africa. While many of our articles focus on the wildlife-rich areas of East and Southern Africa, we also love to venture off the standard trail into countries like The Gambia.
This Gambia website is an excellent resource to help you discover more about Africa’s smallest country. You can explore things to do, wildlife to see, cultures, traditions and more.
Have you been to Gambia? We’d love to get your thoughts as well.