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Top Destinations for 2015: The Gambia

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Shaped like a writhing snake and nestled within Senegal - but with direct flights from the UK, guaranteed sun even in the depths of our winter and a magnificent 80km of coastline - The Gambia (aka “The Smiling Coast of Africa”) is a travel destination that you might never have considered, but one that you are unlikely to ever forget.

It’s not just sunshine and beaches in this tiny country, though. The Gambia is also a cheaper alternative to other North African and European resorts, has an exotic and vibrant cultural make-up, and is a champion of eco-tourism as well as being home to over 560 species of exotic bird. What’s more, the country is celebrating 50 years of independence in 2015 – so if you want to get a real slice of the Gambian party, this is probably an optimum time to visit. Oh, and flight time from the UK? A meagre six hours, with no time difference, and as a result zero jetlag.  

Beaten track? Why would we stay on that?!

Where to go

There are two popular options for when staying in The Gambia. The majority of tourists, and those looking for comfort and relaxation, head to the four main resorts areas that are dotted along the Atlantic coast – an area commonly referred to as “the palm-fringed coastline.” The resort complexes in this area are usually self-contained, and are comprised of luxury hotels, self-catering apartments, guesthouses and lodges – so there’s a lot of variety. One of the most popular touristy resorts is the town of Kololi.

The more adventurous amongst us might choose to shun the resort complexes and head into the “real” Gambia for a more rural and less polished experience. If this is your bag there are numerous camps, lodges and motels in rural locations and along the River Gamie, which offer basic but comfortable accommodation, plus food, for tourists who want to explore the country as well as those on excursions from the resorts.

If you’re stopping off in capital city Banjul, you’re likely to want to check out new conservation centre Eagle Heights Gambia, the River Gambia and Bihilo Fests national parks, and traditional Banjul market.

What to do

Be a responsible tourist

The Gambia is possibly best known for its eco-tourism credentials, which serve to keep the country’s tourism in good shape and raise the living standards of the Gambian people. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t fully indulge in this as a visitor - various eco-tourism resorts are just waiting to welcome you in their famously hospitable Gambian way, including the Sandele Eco-Resort, which is owned by the local community, and the award-winning Safari Garden Hotel, a stone’s throw from one of Gambia’s best beaches. Which leads us right on to...

Top up your vitamin D

The peak season in The Gambia is December to February, when the dry climate means that the sun is guaranteed to shine on the country’s 80km of beaches – just as the January blues are tempting you to jump on the first plane out of the UK! Well, why not...?

Meander on the waterways

The Gambia is famous for its waterways, which cut down the middle of the country for almost its entirety. Various excursions allow you to sail down the River Gambie, taking in the creeks and bolongs (river tributaries), as well as the mangrove swamps and the women harvesting oysters from dug-out canoes from your sundeck.

Don’t forget the dark history

Journalist Alex Haley’s 1976 book “Roots: The Saga of an American Family” tells the story of the author’s own family, going back to the days of slavery when his ancestor Kunta Kinteh was kidnapped in The Gambia and transported to Maryland. There are now excursions based on “Roots” (which was later turned into a film starring Marlon Brando) that show visitors this part of The Gambia’s history – from a yacht down the river, you can visit slavery exhibitions, Kinteh’s home village of Juffureh and the former slave fortress of James Island. If you’re lucky, on the boat ride back you may have the chance to swim with dolphins.

Every other May, the quiet fishing village of Albreda also plays host to the Roots Festival, a celebration of The Gambia’s long past.

Go on a bush or beach safari

Who says safaris are just for the bush? Various companies offer safari excursions in The Gambia, giving you a chance to spot the monkeys and birds that the country is famous for. To keep yourself sustained during your animal trekking, you’ll also be rewarded with a picnic lunch on the beach. If baboon-spotting is your thing, River Island National Park in capital Banjul is a good bet for wildlife watching.

Visit the freely wandering crocodiles

In Bakau, around ten miles from Banjul, you’ll find Kachikally Museum and Crocodile Pool, a sacred crocodile pool used for fertility rituals, where the crocodiles wander freely and you can (according to Trip Adviser) reach out and touch them.  Go on, we dare you...

See our full list of top destinations for 2015 here.

 

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