Think of The Gambia and sun, sea and sand package holidays might spring to mind. However, many visitors are starting to explore beyond the beaches. This is Africa's smallest country and one of the best budget travel destinations. Our travel expert, Lynn Houghton, gives us the ultimate list of the best things to do in The Gambia.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for visiting the world.
The museum has some interesting information but folklore is much more exciting: talk to the Stone Man, the site’s erstwhile caretaker. He says you can see lights shining from behind the stones at night – a common occurrence according to the superstitious locals.
The centre was started by Leslie Brewer-Marsden in 1979, The first chimps brought here were rescuées and mistreated pets, and there are now 107 completely wild chimpanzees that thrive on these three islands. From Thursday through Sunday, visitors can follow behind a feeding boat to see the chimps in their natural habitat as they come to the riverside to grab a meal.
A Mali King, along with his troops, once managed to make the forest his stronghold but he was ousted by a local tribe. According to folklore, the king’s head, throne and crown are buried somewhere on the land.
Today, things are more peaceful. The area has been developed into a sustainable tourism project, the Matasuku Cultural Forest, in partnership with the Gambian government and now includes lodges and a base camp with an arts and crafts market run by local Kembujeh villagers.
A visit to Bao Bolog Wetland Reserve is one of the best things to do in The Gambia @ Image by Lynn Houghton
Though fishermen work at a feverish pace, women are equally busy hauling the fish from the boats into large baskets balanced on their heads. Take a wander along the shore and see other workers taking gutting and scaling the fish ready for sale; anyone can purchase a fresh seafood breakfast for a just few Dalasi.
Gunjur Village, Atlantic Coast. Image by Lynn Houghton
Lawrence and Gambian artist, Njogu, work as a pair and have named themselves the ‘Bush Dwellers’. Many street artists are publicity shy and prefer to be known by a name they choose for themselves that reflects their work.
Visitors to the park can also enjoy walking the well-maintained trails in the park, while bird lovers can choose to walk the so-called ornithological trail, with 133 bird species provided in the park.
Discover more African parks with our guide to the best little-visited African national parks.
The park's gallery of evergreen forests, runs along the Lamin Creek, occupying about one-third of its total area. There are several small pools at the lower end of the reserve, the largest of which is called the Bamboo Pool, which is a great vantage point for crocodiles and bird watching. Trained guides can help you find birds and animals along the trail, and although it is not obligatory, it is common to express gratitude in the form of a tip.
Albert Market is the capital's main market and is great for both shopping and immersing yourself in the local culture. Technically, there are three markets here. A wholesale and retail market sells everything locals could possibly need. The produce market has a wide range of fruit, vegetables, fish and meat. Finally. a tourist market houses craft stalls and is where you can buy souvenirs and local art.
Find more accommodation options to stay in Banjul.
There are also a number of recreational activities in the area ranging from hiring bicycles from the hotels and horse riding to simply lying on the beach and sunbathing. Kotu Beach is also known for its rich birdlife, with the surrounding mangroves creating an ideal habitat for a variety of bird species. Bird-watching enthusiasts can see many migratory and resident birds here.
For more beach break destinations read our list of the best beaches in Africa.
Before reaching the pool itself, you pass through an entrance with a wall painted with wildlife scenes. Next is a descent down a path surrounded by trees with monkeys and birds. There are about 80 crocodiles in and around the pool and you may see some of them napping on the shore.
The local crocodiles are known to be docile and you will often see visitors stroking or touching them. However, it is important to note that although crocodiles here are used to human presence and interaction, caution should always be exercised. Guides ensure visitor safety and provide instructions on approaching and interacting with the crocodiles.
This crossing takes about half an hour and the process is repeated, in reverse, on the other side. The experience probably isn't at the top of anyone’s health and safety list but should be on the list of the best things to do in The Gambia.
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Top image: Concentric Senegambian Stone Circle at Sine Ngayene © DorSteffen/Shutterstock