Image via @ Aleutia
It may be easy to miss tiny Gambia on the enormous map of Africa – it’s completely enveloped by Senegal – yet surprisingly, Africa’s oddly-shaped, smallest country is also one of its most accessible. Gambia holidays are just six hours away from most major European destinations, there is no time difference (hurrah – no jet lag) and it is an affordable way to feel as though you’ve travelled somewhere incredibly far away and incredibly exotic.
Its nine main resorts (Bakau, Cape Point, Kololi, Fajara, Kotu, Brufut, Bijilo, Senegambia and capital, Banjul) offer some excellent activities for tourists, including stunning nature reserves, such as Kiang West National Park and River Gambia National Park (aka Baboon Island), informative excursions through the historical slave trade islands of St James Island or Jufureh and immense stretches of white sands across the entire coastline.
Accordingly then, this week, Purple Hearts… our guide to Gambia holidays. Enjoy!
Gambia has a wealth of restaurants that are rapidly gaining an international reputation for their high quality and expert chefs. From casual beach bars to formal gourmet dining, from Italian to Lebanese, you’ll easily find something to suit your taste. However for the adventurer within you, have a go at the local dishes. These are extraordinarily rich nutrition-wise, containing fresh, in-season vegetables provided by the local producers’ gardens. Try Pepeh Soup, a tasty, thick stew prepared with fish or beef or Domoda, a typical mandinka dish made from groundnuts, which form a wonderful piquant peanut paste (Domo means eating whilst Da means the stew pot). Nyombeh Nyebbeh, if you can pronounce it, is a very popular dish made with cassava, beans and fried red snapper.
Places to go:
Banjul is peaceful, exotic and rich in history. Located on St Mary’s island at the mouth of the Gambia Rive, the city is a former centre of the slave trade, exhibited particularly well in the exhibitions of the Gambian National Museum and the collection of paintings and statues in the African Heritage Museum. For a slice of some modern Gambian culture, tourists can take a trip to the famous Albert market, brimming with the beautiful colours and inviting aromas associated with African life.
Bijilo Forest Park
One of the several forest parks in Gambia, Bijilo Forest Park is primarily a nature reserve. Easily accessible from Kololi, just short of the coast near the Senegambia tourist area, this park is famed for its huge species of birdlife and of course, its mischievous monkeys.
Bakau is a tiny, densely populated coastal town tucked away on a low cliff between Banjul and the Atlantic. Home to a vibrant, mixed community, the town offers a definitely down-to-earth atmosphere, despite its central beach doubling as a busy fishing centre. The best beach in the area then, is at nearby Cape Point, where the sand is the well-kept and the environment is relaxing. Fajara beach to the west, is, on the other hand, a favourite spot for impromptu beach football matches (but not so great for sunbathing). However, Bakau’s most famous attraction has to be the Katchikali crocodile pool. The pool is even sacred to the local Mandinka tribe, who believe that bathing in water from the pool will cure infertility. But if you’re interests are less cathartic, you’re can great some great snaps of the family of docile-looking Nile crocodiles lazily sunning themselves the pool.
Things to do:
Sail on the River Gambia
Gambia is named after this majestic river, which slices like a knife through the country, splitting it into two halves, fringed by mangrove swamps and jungle forest. Several species of birds, monkeys and other wildlife can be seen along the river, including dolphins (seen up river), crocodiles and hippos (spotted in the fresh water sections of the central River and Upper River Division). Reptiles to watch for are snakes (including pythons, cobras and mambas), and other reptiles such as lizards (including the large monitor lizard), geckos and tortoise. Grab your camera and jump on one of the boat trips, which run regularly year-round.
Although the birds of Senegambia are one of the region’s main attractions, baboons and three types of monkeys (vervet, patas and red colobus) also inhabit the country, particularly present in the Abuko Nature Reserve. In fact, Gambia has six national parks and reserves, plus several forest parks, which have been set aside to protect representative samples of main habitat types and their associated fauna. In the forest areas you also may see oribi and duikers (small members of the antelope family), while drier grassland areas are occupied by cobs, roans, waterbucks, derby elands, warthogs and bush pigs. River Gambia National Park, aka Baboon Islands, is a 580 hectare park established mainly as a rehabilitation sanctuary for chimpanzees. Visitors are not permitted on the island.
Visit a Holy Forest
Makasutu Cultural Forest, now an all-in-one excursion comprising of a guided forest walk, a boat ride, bird watching, and cultural entertainment galore, has an incredible history. Meaning ‘holy forest’ in Mandinka, legend has it that tribal wars took place in this forest centuries ago, during which a King was killed and his head, crown and throne all buried in the forest. The local community avoided the area, for another reason however; the legend has it that the forest was home to a more sinister resident: the devil himself.To read more about Makasutu, click here.
Depart from Banjul on your cruise ship for the day, where you will enjoy a delicious lunch while visiting a series of historical sites. Beginning at Albreda, which used to be a French trading post during the slavery era, you’ll visit the freedom flag pole and a slave museum. From here you proceed onto Juffureh, hometown of Kunta Kinteh, the famous slave who was forced into slavery in the mid seventeen century and on whom Roots was based on. You then come to the main hightlight of the roots trip, the visit of the Kinteh clan. Experience a 2-mile sea cruise to Kunta Kinteh Island, which was used to keep slaves before they were shipped to Goree Island. The most characteristic thing is the dungeon remaining on the Island, one of an original fourteen once used to punish slaves who rebelled, by chaining their hands and legs and serving them only one meal a day in order to weaken them.
For more information or to book cheap Gambia holidays get in touch with the team at Purple Travel.