The Amateur Overview
Probably the most up to date info on The Gambia in the World right now. Seriously, we just left 2 days ago.
Population: 1.7 mill
Economy: GDP (PPP)- $2.6 billion (161st), Per Capita (PPP)- $1 430 (155th)
Exchange Rate: 1 Euro: 36 Dalasi’s
Human Development Index: .456 – 168th
Sporting Trivia: The Gambia is yet to win an Olympic medal. The national Football league has one team named after the national phone carrier GamTel and also a team from the Armed Forces.
>>> Travel Info: Refreshingly English Speaking. It’s Africa’s smallest country but what it lacks in size it makes up for with charm. The entire coastal area is easy to navigate with shared taxi at a low price. Up country is a different affair with terrible roads being the order of the day, but you pass through lively small villages. Also, we are just impressed that it has ‘The’ in its title ‘The Gambia’, it’s unique and quirky much like the coastal sprawls. The people are super friendly across the country and you’ll find their smiles more than contagious.
Visa Requirements: For members of Commonwealth nations a visa isn’t required, so entry is free. There were a few people having some issues at the border when we came through, so make sure you get the correct stamps in and out of Senegal.
Parlez-vous Anglais? 85%. Yes, its English speaking but it’s still not 100%. Gambians converse in their local tongues and sometimes the Australian accent meant we often struggled to get our point across in the first instance.
@ Banjul & around the Atlantic Coast
Where did we stay? In Banjul we stayed at Princess Diana Hotel right near the July 22 Arch for 250 Dalasi’s (7 Euro) which had decent rooms and friendly staff. We spent a couple of nights staying @Kanifeng YMCA Hostel, basic rooms, with sketchy shared bathrooms for 180 Dalasi’s (5 euro). They are doing some good work with the local community with various development projects and a school run out of the building.
In Eastern Gambia – @Bassa Bante Su where electricity is the feature you’ll need to search for. We found probably the most basic place we’ve ever stayed for 100 Dalasis (2.80 Euro), probably the cheapest place we’ve ever stayed, but the power outage early morning was like a bad nightmare – it’s steaming hot in April and with no fan you can expect an extremely long night.
How did we get there? From Dakar we jumped in a sept place (9 – Seater shared taxi) to the border at around 7am.
This is a look at our actual ride to The Gambia and beyond with a few bits and pieces in between.
Difficulties: A fair few people around who want to help and chat. Using lines like ‘we’re all one blood’ etc to get you to see a shop etc. Still it’s nothing if you keep calm, the worst we had was being told we weren’t friendly as we didn’t buy a coffee for a bloke who had tried to get us to an Irish bar. A few locals tried to lead us there – our advice would be don’t go, it’s obviously a haunt for the local ‘bumsters’ looking for foreigners to make a quick buck.
Learn from us: Due to the heat, most of the street food stands close down around 12pm. Make sure you get in before 11am to get the freshest foods otherwise you’ll have to wait until dusk before the locals bring their best meals back out to the street.
If you’ve been travelling about Northern or West Africa in the Francophone countries, you’ll find this is a great place to rest up before continuing the journey on. If you’re looking for Internet, most of the connections in Banjul are sketchy, but you will one that is very reliable in the park next to the Arch.
The traveller scene: First of all, we fdid find it slightly amusing. You can read the gist of it here. The Gambia is home to a thriving sex tourism scene, mostly in the form of Western women visiting The Gambia to meet young local guys. At any bar you head to you’ll find the dance floor filled with +50yo ladies dancing to a reggae groove with their new companions.
Getting a feed: We stumbled across our cheapest feed so far in Bakau. Fish balls, delicious beans on a bread roll at a small street stall for 9 Dalasis (20 Euro cents). It’s amazing and around other places you’ll find grilled meat & onion on a baguettes for between 15-50 Dalasis, although its hard to find after lunchtime. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the soup dish FuFu, a Nigerian dish along Independence drive in Banjul. It’s pretty special and dirt cheap.
Out on the town: There’s lots going on around the coast – bars, clubs, prostitutes and European ladies with young local guys. You can do anything here but make sure you get involved with the very cool local music scene loaded with reggae. You can do anything here and party pretty hard if you’re that way inclined. We hit up a few bars around Sinatra’s on the main strip in Bakau, a cool local bar and here you’ll also find young men who’ll want you to buy them a beer in exchange for drugs. You can grab beers at bars for 25 Dalasi’s (80 euro cents) and i’ts nearly always ‘happy hour’ at any of the bars on the Senegambia strip. The Senegambia strip is full of touts, all friendly enough and you’ll soon become a pro at working out how best to fend them off. If you need a club Wednesday night is ladies night at Wow nightclub and it brings in a pretty diverse crowd which makes for a fun night out.
Banjul itself doesn’t have a great deal to offer however there is an Australian opening up a new bar on the main street just down from the Arch in town.
>>> The Amateur Low Down
Highlight: After our Senegalese Visa debacle we decided to try secure our Malian visa before travelling the 1000km to the border. We searched in vain for the Consulute to no avail until we asked a young Gambian Navy officer. We were led to a small shopfront and told the consulate no longer exists, however, here an old Malian businessperson calls a guy who calls another guy who calls back to organise an official approval for a Visa for when you reach the border. It’s an experience and lesson #47 in unorthodox ways to obtain a Visa. Via this way, your only expense is the 50 Dalasi’s to top up the old Malian’s phone credit.
Biggest Surprise: It might be the smallest country in Africa but it punches above its weight in breweries. The local beer Julbrew was by far the best we’ve come across to this point. It’s definitely worth knocking back a few to get amongst the Gambian beer of choice. You’ll hear about the sex tourism scene here, but seeing is believing.
One thing you can do to break down a barrier: The signs on the sides of the streets here are remarkably progressive, with information about littering, AIDS and many other development issues. Our impressions were that Gambia has better infrastructure (along the coastal strip anyway) than the other African nations we’d come across so far.