The Gambia: Why travelling to this West African nation is far easier than you think

Whether you want to sit on the beach, discover the region’s history, explore the bustling urban life or see wildlife up close, The Gambia has something for everyone. Here are just a few ideas…

Ruby Pratka
23 February 2023

The Gambia, often described as ‘Africa for beginners’, had more than 200,000 tourists visiting this tiny West African nation last year. Many of them flew into the sleepy capital, Banjul, and got on buses bound for seaside resorts ­– though there’s much more to explore here.

The Gambia is a safe, stable country which offers all of the adventure of off-the-beaten-track tourism with very few of the inconveniences. Whether you’ve come to The Gambia to relax on the beach, to discover the region’s rich history, plunge into bustling urban life or see fascinating wildlife up close, The Gambia has something for everyone. Here are just a few ideas:

Discover the haunting history of Kuntah Kinteh Island (Dreamstime)

1. Discover the roots of…Roots

A western red colobus procolobus badius monkey resting on a branch (Dreamstime)

When African-American author Alex Haley was researching his family history, he traced his ancestry back to a man named Kunta Kinteh, born in the Gambian village of Juffureh and sold into slavery around 1750. Haley turned the story of Kinteh and his descendants into an award-winning book which inspired the iconic TV series Roots — and incidentally, transformed Gambian tourism. James Island, off the coast of Banjul, a former holding facility for slaves, was formally renamed Kunta Kinteh Island in 2011. Take a boat tour to the island and discover its dark history. Many tours also stop in Juffureh itself and in the neighbouring village of Albreda, where the slavery museum is worth a visit.

Spices hanging in Serrekunda Market (Shutterstock)

2. Explore Bijilo Forest Park

Watch out for the huge Nile crocodiles when on safari in Abuko Nature Reserve (Dreamstime)

Go back to nature within walking distance of major resorts at Bijilo Forest Park. The 126-acre forest is home to a fascinating range of monkeys, lizards and other surprising animals. Over 133 bird species including sunbirds, honeyguides and even peregrine falcons — the fastest birds on earth — have been spotted here.

A chimp and her baby swinging over the edge of The Gambia River (Shutterstock)

3. Get lost in Serrekunda Market

A surfer enjoying The Gambia’s waves (Shutterstock)

Three kilometres inland from the resort area of Kololi, you’ll find the bustling market town of Serrekunda (pop. 390,000), The Gambia’s commercial centre. The town’s famous market is said to have been started over 100 years ago by a few women selling dried fish, but now sprawls over a large area of downtown. Find everything from auto parts to fresh fish to local fabric at this vast market. Haggling is to be expected. Around the market, there are plenty of opportunities to stock up on souvenirs and watch craftspeople at work.

Explore lively Banjul by joining some locals for a run (Dreamstime)

4. Go on safari at the Abuko Nature Reserve

The Abuko Nature Reserve is known as a fantastic place for birdwatching, but is also home to several species of monkeys and a variety of snakes, including pythons and cobras. It’s also famous for its crocodiles —the Nile crocodile, which can be up to five metres long, and the endangered dwarf crocodile. The reserve, best explored as part of a small group, is along the road from Serrekunda to Brikama. 

5. Check out the chimps at the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre

This chimpanzee sanctuary, home to over 100 chimps, is located on three islands in the River Gambia National Park. Getting to the park is a trek in itself — the village of Kuntaur, where boats to the sanctuary pick up passengers, is 214 kilometres from Banjul  – but the trip is worth it.  Boat tours and trail hikes allow you to meet chimps, baboons, crocodiles and hippos, while learning about the sanctuary’s animal protection work. The sanctuary was established in 1979 to allow formerly captive chimps from around the world to return to the wild. The park is only open from Thursday to Sunday. 

Cook’s Club Gambia, Kotu Beach

6. Go surfing

Bakotu Hotel, Thomas Cook


Surfing is growing in popularity all along the coast of West Africa, so it’s no surprise that travellers to The Gambia, are catching the wave (sorry). The Gandah Surf School has been moving from beach to beach since early 2018, and some beaches also offer surfboard rentals. The Gambia also offers a great variety of waves….Most mapped spots are just west of the capital, Banjul. But if you venture down the coast you might just stumble upon a whole line of great breaks. Surfing season runs from September to March.

7. Get your running shoes on with Banjul Hash House Harriers 

There are few better ways to see a city like a local than to go running with the locals. Hash House Harriers —just Hash to devotees — is a network of informal running clubs in hundreds of cities around the world. Hashers meet up weekly for a three-to-five-kilometre run, walk or hike, followed by a social event. It’s a great way to stay in shape, meet locals and other travellers and discover parts of the city that aren’t on most tourist itineraries. Banjul Hash meets on Mondays at 5:45 p.m. Contact them on Facebook for specific meeting place information.


Practical information 

Getting there and around

Air: Several Tour operators, such as Thomas Cook offer charter flights to Banjul from the UK

Bus: The Gambia Transport Service Company offers regular service to and from Dakar (Senegal) and Bissau (Guinea-Bissau). Taking night buses is not recommended in West Africa due to poor road conditions and a risk of highway robbery.

Getting around: The Gambia has a system of tourist taxis, which charge a flat rate depending on your destination and are usually found outside hotels and resorts. Collective taxi vans (bush taxis) go from town to town. If you have an international driver’s licence, you can rent a car; you may also be able to hire a car and driver.

Time, visas and money

Time difference: When it’s 12 noon in Banjul, it’s 1 p.m. in London. 

Visas: British, Canadian and Australian citizens can enter the Gambia without a visa and stay for up to 90 days. Citizens of other countries should check with the Gambian embassy or high commission in their country.


The currency is the dalasi (1 GBP = 64.32 dalasi). Dollars, euros and pounds may be accepted in tourist areas. Credit cards are accepted at some hotels and restaurants.

In the Gambia, the cost of living is generally far lower than in Europe. However, Westerners are often charged higher prices than locals for the same goods. If you make a Gambian friend, they may offer to negotiate for you…take the offer!

Health and saftey

Malaria prophylaxis is recommended in the Gambia — visit a travel clinic to learn more. To prevent malaria, use mosquito repellent with DEET, wear long sleeves especially in the evening, and seek medical attention quickly if you develop flu-like symptoms.

Travellers should get hepatitis A and B, typhoid, yellow fever and meningitis vaccines before visiting the Gambia. Proof of yellow fever and meningitis vaccination may be required to enter the country. A rabies vaccine is also recommended if you’re visiting rural areas. 

Keep money and valuables out of sight to avoid tempting pickpockets.

Where to stay?



Stay in Cook’s Club Gambia

Cook’s Club is a new generation of hotels perfect for the new generation of travellers, offering you the chance to escape the ordinary. Cook’s Club Gambia is situated on one of the best beaches in The Gambia, offering stunning sea views. The rooms are stylish, yet simple, offering a stripped back alternative to accomodation that only focusses on the things that matter. 

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Stay with Thomas Cook

Thomas Cook has a range of luxurious accommodation options in The Gambia, from beachside bungalows to ocean-facing bed and breakfasts. With Thomas Cook, your flights, accommodation and transfers are organised for you, with ongoing support throughout your trip. Exploring this remote part of the world has never been easier or more affordable. 

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