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The ultimate guide to solo travel in Banjul, Gambia

About The Gambia


Africa is a continent often overlooked as a possible tourist destination. West African countries, in particular, have hugely impacted the continent. From cuisines, music to clothing, and much more and The Gambia is no exception.

The Gambia is the smallest country on the continent (excluding the islands) situated on the coast of West Africa. Though the country does have a bit of a coast, apart from this part, the country is entirely surrounded by Senegal.

Absolutely! The Gambia is one of the safest west African countries to visit. Especially for solo female travellers. Though no country is 100% safe. If you’re in the capital Banjul, it’s best practice for you to be mindful of your things, whether that’s your bag at a restaurant or drinks at a bar, never leave your things unattended.

 

Its safe and calm atmosphere makes it a perfect holiday destination and a great place to relocate to. With neighbourhoods like Ghanatown, and an undeniably huge reggae influence, the country has an intriguing mix of cultures.

The Capital, Banjul has so much to explore but before we get into that let’s talk about some things you should know before getting there. The Gambia is a very relaxed and liberal country but is still an Islamic country so modesty should be taken into consideration.

With the rise of tourism to the country’s capital, Banjul has a lot of cheaper accommodations are now available. Backpacking in the Gambia is definitely doable as there are hostels that you can stay in to meet others and transport is cheap, but you won’t find that many people backpacking in the Gambia.

The best area to stay in The Gambia depends on what type of experience you are looking for. I’d advise staying in Senegambia (the popular tourist neighbourhood) and or Serrekunda (a quieter neighbourhood) which are the suburb regions of Gambia. They are more upscale with a lot of nice bars, restaurants, and shops without the noise of the bustling city center

Accommodation in the Gambia varies from $20 – $100 per night per person. Something worth knowing is that a lot of cheaper accommodations are usually owned by private hosts as hotels are often more expensive. So Airbnb’s maybe the way to go for you here.

There are also many eco-lodges, From floating lodges on the River Gambia to stylish safari tents in nature reserves, there are a number of accommodation options that will allow you to truly get back to nature. Mandina Lodges is one of our most popular: made up of nine beautifully designed lodges hidden in the African bush on a mangrove-lined tributary of the River Gambia.

Though, a tiny African country, Gambia is vast in its attractions offering something for everyone. Here are some must-see areas in the Capital, Banjul.

 James Island
This island, also known as Kunte Kente island is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Popularised by the film roots, a lot of people do not know that this island is a very real place. Marking the story of slavery in the Gambia, the Island allows you to explore the Gambian history from pre-colonialism up until their independence. Truly a must-see island! 

The National Museum 
This is a great place to learn about Gambian culture and history. This museum displays so many cultural and historic African pieces. With rooms showcasing the history of Gambian art, clothing, music, weapons and more, this is the place to explore more about Gambian history.

Abuko Natural reserve
This beautiful wildlife reserve was created in the early 20th century and is home to a plethora of wildlife and animals. Fun fact! This is the closest tropical forest to Europe so why not pay it a visit?

 

Bijilo Forest Park
Also known as the monkey park is a breath of fresh air. This quiet and peaceful forest is located in Serrekunda. With clear paths, this park is the best place for nature and animal lovers.

 

Tanje village museum 
Located in Tanji is a unique history museum as not only does it give you a unique look into Gambian, history, art culture, and beautiful nature. You get a guided tour of the grounds and a traditional performance. Well worth the visit!

 

Albert market
The biggest market in Banjul(the capital) is a great place from both locals and tourists as it’s got something for everyone. Created in the early 19th century, this market has expanded over time and making it quite possible to get lost in, but with so much to see and great local street food everywhere, it’s isn’t a bad place to get lost in if you ask me.

 

Tanji Bird Reserve

Home to over 540 different bird species, this national park is every twitcher’s paradise and a must-visit for nature and bird lovers.

The Gambia, though a small country, is packed with so many attractions for tourists. Here are some unique things to do in the country;

Try their renowned rice

Wolof rice also commonly known as jollof rice is a popular staple dish across west Africa that has existed for centuries! It is said to have originated in Senegal and Gambia. This dish can be commonly found in most restaurants and is typically served with meat or fish and salad. Why not try it out and tell us what you think?

Visit Stone Circles of Senegambia
Commonly referred to as Africa’s stone henge, The circles of Senegambia are a UNESCO World Heritage site is Stone Circles of Senegambia which dates back to the 3rd century BC. and are located in both Senegal and Gambia. Whilst some speculate these stones to be a burial ground, others believe the stones were placed there by Gods and have spiritual meaning. Either way, these stones are an archaeological wonder.

Get snappy!

Kachikally crocodile pool is a crocodile pool located in Serrekunda, gives all the exciting opportunity to get up close and personal with some crocodiles  in their natural habitat.

 

Visit the beaches
The Gambia has some of the best beaches in Africa, don’t believe us? Click here to read about it. Some of our top picks are Kololi, Bijilo, and paradise beach. Bijilo Beach is attached to the forest park mentioned above so do make sure you also take a stroll through the forest too.

 

Take a cruise on the Gambia River

The Gambia offers various excursions and experiences to visitors. For a more laid-back day, enjoy floating along the Gambia River on a traditional Gambian pirogue from where you can witness local fishermen going about their day. You could also just observe some aquatic birdlife including storks and ospreys if you don’t feel like doing too much. If you’re lucky, you could spot some monkeys on the banks of the river. You could even swim in the river or try your hand at fishing. 

 

Understand the never again statue

Located in Albadarr, is a statue of a man breaking free from shackles with a plaque reading “never again”. It stands as a reminder of the horrors of slavery faced by the people who once lived in this region of the country. 

This eye-catching statue is located on the mainland of The Gambia, facing the Kunta Kinteh Island. The island was once a key location during the Atlantic Slave Trade. Enslaved people were often imprisoned on the island before being transported to the United States. The statue serves as a reminder of the darker side of humanity but also stands as a sign of hope. 

 

 

Party it up in the capital
Gambia’s nightlife is huge with it all happening in the Senegambia region. The Senegambia strip has so many great bars and clubs such as the green mamba garden. If you are planning on seeing the vast music and nightlife scene in this country, then this is the area to be in.

Walk with lions!

Yes, you can live your very own lion king life by walking with lions in the Gambia. You can experience this amazing unique tour at Fathala wildlife reserve located on the boarder of Senegal and Gambia.

The best time to visit The Gambia is between November and May, during the country’s long dry season. It’s the ideal time to travel as the weather is optimal and cool at night.

    • Get the currency

    The Gambian currency is Gambian Dalasi which is about 6,300 dalasis for £100 as of 2020. Dollars are commonly taken in tourist attractions, but it is still handy to take some dalasi with you also.

     

    • Be prepared to share

    Shared taxis are very much a thing in the Gambia alongside people hitching a ride. So, don’t be afraid if someone else hops into your taxi.

    • Sun Scream!

    The Gambia sits just above the equator so as you can imagine things can get pretty hot so make sure you pack as much sunscreen as possible!

     

    • Be Modest

    Senegal is a very relaxed and liberal country but is still an Islamic country so modesty should be taken into consideration.

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    • Get a sim

    If you plan to stay in the country for a long time, it may be useful for you to get a sim card, these can easily be bought in phone shops. Public Wi-Fi is not really common. Though some upscale restaurants do have Wi-Fi, it may be safer as a solo female traveller to stay connected on your go throughout the city too.

Meeting locals won’t be hard here as everyone is very warm and friendly. I found that just by walking around the neighbourhood (of Serrekunda) so many people greeted me. I was able to meet people in parks, restaurants and even on the beach, Now I know that this may not be something that others are willing to do so some other great ways to meet people are;

 

  • Stay in a hostel. I’ve found that staying in hostels really helped me to meet new people and go on adventures together and Banjul was no different. With so many cheap hostels around, it’s more than worth a try.

 

  • Take a tour. There are so many experiences and tours in Banjul which will not only help you see the sights of the city but are also a great way for you to meet fellow travellers.

 

  • Joining some clubs. Now I didn’t personally use this method, but I did hear from other travellers that this is a good way to meet people. Using sites like Facebook and joining groups is a great way to get the ball rolling.

 

There’s only one main airport in Gambia called the Banjul International Airport (BJL)

Depending on your itinerary, I’d say a week is enough to really see what the capital has to offer.

Can I drink the water? No

Is tipping expected? Yes, in certain restaurants. Though not a requirement it is often expected.

Fixed price or barter? Haggling in certain areas such as markets is expected but with transport, you won’t need to. There are set locational prices that you will quickly pick up after a few taxi rides.

Any ATMs? Yes, there are many in tourist hotspot areas but less in rural areas.

Which side of the road do they drive? Right

Good for vegetarians? Unfortunately no, Like many west African countries, fish and meat are a big part of Bissau – Guinean diets.

Any seven wonders of the world? No

Plan a trip to the Gambia

If you are ready to solo travel in the Gambia here are some useful links to help you plan your travel.

Facts

Budget – (£20 – £50 a day, minus accommodation)

Capital – Banjul

Population – 2.3 million

Language spoken – English

Local Currency – Dalasi

Do I need a visa? – No for ECOWAS passport holders, Yes for UK passport holders

Flying time to Gambia  – 7 hours

Did you know? Fun Fact! The country is the 70th smallest country in the world! But what this country lacks in size it sure makes up for in scenery.

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