Family Vacation in The Gambia

My Magazine 2022/04
15 min
More and more families are looking for new destinations for their holidays. In the fast pace of life in a material world, parents strive to enrich their children with a unique experience. Time spent with children is never wasted. However, if children learn something new about another culture, way of life, animals, music, and village customs on their trip, this is precious knowledge for life.

Is The Gambia suitable for families?

In our opinion, it is. However, before travelling, it is necessary to do your homework and find out where you are going. Travelling to almost any world’s destination requires careful planning. 

The Gambia is an appropriate place for a family vacation and experiencing diversity together. The children will enjoy playing on the long sandy beaches, splashing around in the pool and the activities organized for them. If you decide to spend your vacation beyond the tourist strip, you will have plenty of socializing with the locals, making new friends, having fun, and learning for the whole family ahead of you. Animals, people, music, cuisine and exploring the culture are the right guarantee for an unforgettable family trip.

The Gambia has fascinating flora and wildlife, vibrant ecosystems, varied landscapes and many different animal species. From savannas to mangroves, beaches to cities, bushes to villages. There are no “Big 5″ in The Gambia, but there are over 500 bird species and many other animals to be spotted, which makes it a heavenly destination for animal lovers. Animal and bird life is extremely diverse and exotic. The wildlife of the Gambia is dictated by several habitat zones over its total land area of about 10,000 square kilometres. Birds, monkeys, chimpanzees, baboons, crocodiles, snakes, hippos, tropical fish, and much more is waiting for you in The Gambia.

As the smallest country on the mainland of Africa, it has many attractions in a short distance and therefore you can discover it all without spending a lot of time and money. This is also one reason it is becoming one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world. It does not fail to compete with others. On the contrary, it has more attractions in one place than many other African countries.

Here are some general recommendations for family holidays in The Gambia:

Health Precautions

All individuals planning travel should seek advice on the potential hazards in their chosen destinations and understand how best to protect their health and minimize the risk of acquiring the disease. Forward planning, appropriate preparation and careful precautions can protect their health and minimize the risks of accidents and of acquiring the disease.

Seek advice from your doctor (or travel clinic) to find out which vaccines are recommended for your family. Yellow fever is mandatory only for those entering from a listed country (for example, Senegal).

You can also read the information on WHO (World Health Organization) website.  

Also, seek malaria advice.

Travel clinics shall give you more detailed information and recommendations on taking paediatrics antimalarials. It is very important to follow prevention advice. You can bring a mosquito net with you but know that many accommodation facilities have a mosquito net.

There are quite a few natural repellents on the market, as well as others that can adequately protect you. Bring a child-friendly insect repellent with you as it is pretty hard to find it in The Gambia. You can also buy electric liquid mosquito repellent in The Gambia, which chases away mosquitoes out of your room. If there are no nets on the windows, make sure doors and windows are close properly.

Before booking an accommodation place, find out if they are child friendly. Quite a few capacities are adults-only (some do not accept children under 12, some under 16), but there is an increment of child-friendly accommodation places in The Gambia. Ask for an extra bed or baby cot in advance if needed. Some facilities have a children’s pool, a children’s menu, and animation for children.

You can stay in a hotel with a swimming pool directly on the beach, in self-catering apartments, lodges, guest houses or an African hut in an eco-lodge in the middle of nature. Some have a pool, and some are close to the river.

Booking a flight

Some flights fly directly from some airports, such as Brussels, Barcelona, Casablanca, Istanbul, Lisbon, and London. You have connected flights from other airports. If you have more time, you can combine a holiday with a destination where you are crossing.

When booking a plane, we recommend that you insure your trip in case of cancellation risk.

A child car seat must be requested in advance. In practice, children do without seats. If you do take the trouble to pack a car seat, find a driver who has seat belts and hire him for the duration of your stay. Carry a colouring book, booklet, game, tablet, and baby food with you on the plane.

Baby strollers are useful only in large resorts. Otherwise, you do not have many options to go for a walk as there is sand and no pavements to walk along.

What to bring with you?

Bring light, short, and long clothes, hats, and sunscreen. 

You can buy all kinds of floaters in The Gambia, but the offer is limited, so you can bring some with you.

Diapers, porridge, milk powder, and baby care products can be purchased at well-stocked stores but may be more expensive than in your country.

Take the basic/needed medicine with you. There are some better-stocked pharmacies in the vicinity of Serrekunda, which also offer some dietary supplements, vitamins, and supplements. We definitely recommend that you have essential medications and probiotics with you.
Never go out without water.

Seek advice about where to eat, as the locals eat pretty spicy food.

The Atlantic Ocean can have dangerous currents, so swimming in deep water is not recommended. It is best to paddle in the sea and swim in the pool.

Touching monkeys and other animals is not recommended (it can be very dangerous). The observation will be extremely interesting for your children.

Children will probably love the pools and paddling on the beach together with animal spotting. You have a huge range of activities for children.

What to do with children?

It depends on the age of your children but here are some suggestions.

BEACH

There are many amazing places on the beach where children can enjoy playing with the sand, paddling in the water, playing with a ball and horseback riding. There are many beaches with bars & restaurants, sunbeds, and shades. Most places offer international dishes with some fast-food options like French fries, fish & chips, pizza, hamburgers, etc.

You can also come with your own food and drinks and spend a day under palm trees.

VISIT A LOCAL NURSERY OR SCHOOL

Ever thought of volunteering in a local nursery with your children? Or do you just want to pay a visit to a Gambian school?

It is one of the most unique and meaningful experiences you can have as a family. Voluntary work provides young people with the unique chance to express their commitment through unpaid and full-time voluntary activities abroad. In this way, they develop solidarity, have mutual understanding and a higher level of tolerance among people back in their home country.

Please note that it is not recommended to take photos of the children and post them on social media without parents’ approval.

Do you want to come to visit Kids Are The World nursery in Ghana town, Brufut? Contact them on Whatsapp +220 791 2618.

CHIMPANZEES & HIPPOS IN A NATURAL ENVIRONMENT

In addition to all other experiences, The Gambia can give you a magnificent view of chimpanzees and giant hippos in their natural environment. Did you know that there are only a few countries in the world where you can see chimps in their natural habitat and how fantastic it is that The Gambia is one of them! There are over 120 chimpanzees on the islands, and 2 families are living on Baboon Island. There is a rehabilitation project running to save these amazing creatures.

Really magical and magnificent!

Hippos can be spotted at the River Gambia National Park. It is recommended to take a riverboat trip at low tide to have more chances to spot them. Giant hippopotamuses are the second heaviest land mammal in the world and are very dangerous animals as they come very close to humans in order to eat. Boat trips on the river Gambia offer a fantastic experience and a chance to look inside the animals’ natural environment living in The Gambia.

It is good to know that River Gambia National Park is approx. 250km away from Senegambia, so it is recommended to dedicate at least 2 to 3 days to spend upriver region. There are so many things to see and do there! And people are really kind and helpful.

GUNJUR SEA TURTLE ECO EXPERIENCE

Your holiday in the Gambia and supporting the Gunjur Sea Turtle Eco Experience is one of the best ways you can personally help in promoting a sustainable alternative to the negative impact of mass package tourism in The Gambia. The sea turtle conservation program in Gunjur is geared toward raising environmental awareness and nurturing grassroots economies and social development. Spending a day out with this team of conservation volunteers is a real-life experience you cannot afford to miss in your life. Please contact us at info@my-gambiacom if you want to know more about the program and available dates.

HISTORICAL SPOTS

If you are interested in history, then you should investigate historical spots in The Gambia. For visitors to the city of Banjul, the capital of The Gambia, the Arch 22, National Museum, King Fahad Mosque, St. Mary Cathedral, Monument to the Unknown soldier and the Banjul State House are popular sights to see. In Tanji you will find Tanji Village Museum, in Bakau there is Kachikally Museum and Crocodile Pool and Village museum in Gunjur. An important historical attraction can also be found in Barra, the Fort Bullen. Slavery museum in Juffureh/Albreda and Kunta Kinteh island. Stone circles can be found in remarkably large numbers in Wassu. Kankurang museum, Freedom tree, Methodist Church, and Colonial cemetery can be visited in Janjanbureh. These are just a few of the most visited and known. There is much more to be explored.

MUSIC & DANCE

Music and dance colour every corner of daily life in The Gambia. Live performances, which often continue late into the night, are an unmissable introduction to Gambian social life at its most exuberant. But traditional music is far more than just entertainment; it is the most valued and celebrated of the arts, used to spread news, tell stories, cement relationships and express religious beliefs. As such, it has a crucial role in cultural rituals.

A great way to immerse yourself in The Gambia’s musical traditions and get under the skin of local culture is to sign up for a series of lessons with a professional musician or dancer. A number of kora, djembé, sabar and balafon players are happy to offer interested visitors an introduction to the basics of their instrument; the musicians who play at the resort hotels can sometimes make useful introductions or offer themselves as a tutor. A lesson could be a simple jamming session on the beach or a more intense session of detailed technical instruction. Children will love it!

CEREMONIES

During your stay, you are very likely to hear, before you see, a Gambian ceremonial occasion taking place. Occasions such as weddings, naming ceremonies, initiation ceremonies and other special Muslim and Christian festivals are celebrated by lavish feasting, drumming, music, and dancing. A village will also celebrate the arrival of a special guest, the event being marked by the dancing of the kanali – a group of women dancers. If you are invited to a celebration, do not miss it out.

 

THE TASTE OF A VILLAGE LIFE

A visit to some of The Gambia’s most remote villages is a great way to learn about tribal rituals and rural life. Culturally, there is much to discover about rural Gambia in this region, particularly if you have a good guide to translate. Tribal traditions are in many ways more intact here than anywhere else in the country, and villagers are generally proud to share and explain elements of their culture, such as music and dance with interested visitors.

FISHING

If you are an adventurous angler, we invite you to the smiling coast of Africa where you will get the best fishing adventure. Coming with your family, The Gambia offers activities that fit any travel style.

Sea and river fishing is good all year round, particularly line-fishing from the beaches along Gambia’s southern seaboard. Deep-sea fishing up to 30km offshore is the best from the middle of May to October. Sportfishing is excellent during the summer from June to December but good all other months. Boat anglers who prefer to avoid rough waters, and saltwater bolongs, are perpetually tranquil and appealing. Wild waterways make an ideal habitat for a range of tropical fish and an ideal marine environment for the light tackle angler. With more than 70 different fish species in many inshore reef sandbars, rocky outcrops, and deep channels, as well as the Gambia river, these features provide an ideal marine environment for creek fishing.

COOKING WITH LOCALS, YOGA, DRUMMING OR DANCE CLASSES

And more! You can choose among numerous activities in The Gambia. Many owners of smaller hotels, lodges or guesthouses are deeply involved in communities therefore, they offer plenty of things to do and experience. Cooking experience, yoga sessions, drumming or dancing classes, batik workshops, sand painting, wood crafting, soap making and more.

If you think there is not much to do, we can assure you that you can have a very busy schedule!

RIVER CRUISES OR KAYAKING EXPEDITIONS

River cruises are one of the most fascinating activities in The Gambia. You will feel like you are part of a documentary film that you watched recently on TV Channel. See life unfurl along its banks by hopping on board a traditional-style river pirogue, motoring past oyster creeks and through mangroves. Watch the local fisherman or the oyster ladies in their dugout canoes while pelicans and ospreys fly overhead. Kayaking trips also offer you a truly unique way to see the River Gambia.

LAZY BOAT TRIP

Sailing along the River Gambia offers a unique experience for many holidaymakers visiting the country. With so many things to see and do in The Gambia, make sure that sailing along this majestic river or creeks is at the top of your list-to-do.

There are several options on how to spend a day on the river or creek. You can go for sports fishing, kayaking, river cruise, lazy boat trip, sailing on a small pirogue, explore the countryside with the boat while relaxing on the deck of the boat, birdwatching trip, or visit historical spots. Kunta Kinteh and the island of Janjanbureh are two such attractions often toured by tourists.

SAINE POTTERY

Saine Pottery is proud to be Gambia’s first pottery studio, established in 1980. It was founded by Idirisa Saine. He travelled to many countries to learn this craft, from Norway, Indonesia, to England. He later ended up in the Gambia as the first modern potter. Saine Pottery is located at Brikama Kémbujé.

They hold training for Gambian students for their visual art practical examinations every year. Guests can also have the opportunity to experiment and experience working with clay during a workshop. One can witness the whole process of making a clay product with different techniques. Depending on the workshop’s choice, one can test own skills in making a clay art or two and take a souvenir back home. You can also visit Saine Pottery and get familiar with this specific craft and buy some souvenirs for your friends.

MAKASUTU CULTURAL FOREST

This pristine tropical 1000-acre reserve borders five miles of the Mandina Bolong (river) and encompasses five different ecosystems – gallery forest, savannah, mangroves, palm forest and wetland/salt flats. These diverse ecosystems sustain a great assortment of wildlife that includes a vast array of birdlife, monitor lizards and troops of migrating baboons.

Visitors to Makasutu are taken on walks with expert guides through the bush after orientation on the history and myths of the area. These guided walks bring visitors face to face with the indigenous people of the area who still make Makasutu their home. Visitors have the chance to sample palm wine directly from the source, observe the local oyster women in their daily collections and visit Makasutu’s very own Marabou (holy man).


Note: you need to check if the place is open before going there.

WEEKEND BAZAARS, EVENTS AND WORKSHOPS

There is always something happening in The Gambia.

Yosh Restaurant in Fajara organizes bazaars every year, including Christmas Bazaar. Vendors located in The Gambia come and introduce their products. If you want to have a unique souvenir from The Gambia, you will definitely find it there. On the ground and first floor, stalls are offering natural products, clothing, shoes, bags, products for skin or hair, products made of grass, wood, silver, gold, yarn or clay, yoga mat, jewellery, home decor, perfume, beaded slippers and much more! Food and drinks are always available.

Follow our page to know when the next bazaar is being held.

The Fajara Club also organizes many events for families, especially around the festive seasons such as Easter, Eid, Christmas, and more.

Coco Ocean Resort & Spa invites families throughout the year, especially during the green season. Events are mostly organized around holidays and important days of the year.

Phenomenal Woman, a wellness centre for women dedicates Saturdays to children. Follow their social media to know more.

Child-friendly places for workshops and activities are also organized at My Farm – Start-up Gambia, Alliance Française De Banjul, QCity, and MO2 restaurant in Kololi.

FESTIVALS THROUGHOUT THE YEAR

There are several festivals that take place each year in The Gambia. Children usually enjoy music, masquerade, dance, and different performance. One of the most interesting festivals is the Janjanbureh Kankurang festival. The main purpose of the festival is to showcase the unique cultural expression of the Kankurang and other masking traditions of West Africa so that the Island will gain visibility and attract more and more visitors who would like to experience an intangible authentic cultural heritage. The 5th Janjanbureh Kankurang Festival is usually scheduled around the end of January every year.

Apart from the Janjanbureh festival, there are many others based around the high season (especially December- March) and other annual Islamic and Christian festivals.

If you follow our page, you will know when some of the festivals will take place, like Kartong Festival, Sanyang Festival, Kora Festival,  Coming home – roots festival, Gambia – Cultural & Reggae Festival, Gambia Food Festival, Fashion Week and more.

ENJOY DAY BY THE SWIMMING POOL

We highly recommend booking an accommodation place with a pool. Children will love it. But if you are staying in a place where there is no pool, there are several places offering an opportunity to spend a day around the pool for families. Charges differ.

If you want to make a reservation or you need more information, please send an e-mail to info@my-gambia.com or call/WhatsApp us at +220 214 0000.

KACHIKALLY CROCODILE POOL, BAKAU

Kachikally is one of the most known places in The Gambia, but mostly by the touristic aspect of it. Many people visit it because of the unique experience of touching the real-life crocodile. Alongside more than 200 crocodiles living in Kachikally, you are also able to do the forest walk and learn from the exhibits in the ethnographic museum. But amongst the locals, Kachikally is known for its healing powers of the water. We got a chance to talk with the Alkalo (village leader) and descendant of the Bojang family, who has been taking care of the place since the beginning. He explained how it all began and what are the three most important aspects of the site today.

REPTILE FARM, KARTONG

The reptile farm is an institution privately owned but working with the government. The aims are to participate in research, collect data or samples, help preserve the natural fauna in The Gambia, and mainly to help Gambians live-in peace with their wild population of reptiles in general and snakes in particular.

Photo by Kaja Horvat

You can combine a trip to Kartong with other interesting activities.

PLAYGROUNDS FOR CHILDREN

The biggest indoor and outdoor playground is available at QCity. In the green season, it is only open from Friday to Sunday. In high season, it is open every day. They have a children's pool and restaurant as well.

Another great place for children and adults is The Fajara Club but you need to call for a reservation. For more information send an e-mail to info@my-gambia.com.

If you want to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner together with the children's playground, there is Village Complex in Kololi. An open-air shopping area with a multitude of stores, restaurants and businesses fits any taste and budget. Some of the restaurants offer children's meals. There is a dental clinic and a supermarket available.

Please note that it was closed during the pandemic.

New Baileys Beach Bar & Restaurant located in Kotu has a small playground for children on the beach.

Send an e-mail to info@my-gambia.com or WhatsApp message to +220 214 0000 if you need information or you want to book accommodation, a trip or anything else with your children in The Gambia.  

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