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First-time visitors to The Gambia - Dos and Dont's

My Magazine 2023/05
3 min
The Gambia. A small country in West Africa situated on the Atlantic coast and surrounded by the neighbouring country of Senegal. If you have yet to hear of The Gambia, this is an excellent time to let you know that the famous Kunta Kinteh in Alex Hailey's bestseller Roots comes from a town in The Gambia called Juffureh.

The Gambia is not among the top 15 countries to visit in Africa or the best 30 must-see places in Africa. It doesn't have the big five that animal lovers are eager to see. But if you have never set foot in Africa and are hesitant to venture into the unknown lands, The Gambia is the best country to begin your African adventures in.

So what is it about The Gambia that brings tourists in thousands every year? 

It's a myriad of reasons, such as the beautiful beaches, birds, sunshine, culture, peace, security, political stability and the country's biggest asset - the friendliness and hospitality of The Gambian people. Hence, The Gambia is known as part of "The Smiling Coast of Africa"! 

Tourists can apply for a visa upon arrival in The Gambia and are typically granted a 28-day stay in The Gambia upon arrival. Some countries do not even require a visa to enter The Gambia.

So, if you're looking for a rich cultural holiday, try The Gambia - you will love it and keep coming back. 

However, like any other holiday destination, you must keep your head on your shoulders to stay safe and have a fantastic holiday. We hope our recommendation comes in handy when setting off for an incredible Gambian journey. 

Do's

  • Do some research to know where you're going and what to expect. The culture of The Gambia is probably entirely different from yours. However, sometimes it is best to set yourself on a journey of unpredictable exploration without any expectations, but that way of travelling only favours some. 
  • Politeness and kindness are always promising approaches. 
  • Do consult about the possible risks of tropical diseases in The Gambia, such as malaria and make sure you pack tablets as prescribed by your doctor. Yellow fever and Meningitis vaccinations are strongly recommended.  
  • Carry a little torch/your mobile phone with a power bank with you as power cuts are quite often, especially in less developed areas (upcountry).
  • The roads and paths are very sandy, so wearing closed shoes will be an excellent way to prevent your feet from getting sandy (unless you love the feeling of sand).
  • We recommend foreign money exchanges in The Gambia as there are many exchange offices, and you will probably get better rates. Note that smaller bills like 5s, 10s and 20s are sometimes difficult to change. Alternatively, quite a few ATMs are available, although not all might always work. The best is to bring your holiday money in cash and keep the daily budget with you while the rest stays safe in the accommodation's safety deposit box. 
  • When you change foreign currency, always count your cash before leaving the exchange bureaus.
  • Be polite but careful when meeting strangers, especially in tourist-concentrated areas, as quickly-created friendships might sometimes carry some alternative motive behind them. 
  • If someone offers to be your guide and show you around for free, we instead recommend agreeing to a guiding fee in advance if you accept the offer. However, getting a reliable guide with recommendations for your exploration ventures is always a good choice. 
  • If you need a taxi, please ask your accommodation place or host to arrange one or book transport with My Gambia. But if you are looking for a taxi on the road, always agree on a price before getting into one. The green taxis are for tourists, and their tariffs usually are higher. You will need to haggle to bring the fare down.
  • Hitching is prevalent in The Gambia, but we advise you to be careful. If you ask for a lift, have some cash ready in case your driver expects you to pay for the ride.
  • If you want to explore local cuisine or street food, always ask your host to recommend places with minimal risk of stomach problems. 
  • Drink plenty of water and always carry a large water bottle. Residents mostly drink tap water, but bottled or boiled water is strongly advised for travellers.
  • Use plenty of sunscreens even when it's cloudy and windy. 
  • Take a small first aid kit that should include medicines for headaches, pains, upset stomachs, allergies, antiseptics and any particular medications you use.
  • It is a good idea to bring insect repellents, sunscreens and other health items from your home country since your favourite brands may be hard to find here and could be more expensive.
  • You can bring an unlocked phone (or use your phone with a vacant secondary SIM sloth) and use a local SIM card for cheaper calls. Remember to register it (a passport is normally required) when getting the SIM.
  • When swimming, be aware that the currents in the Atlantic waters can be intense. Always look out for flags on the tourist beaches indicating the level of danger on a red—yellow—green scale.
  • Do keep $20, 20 euros, 20 pounds or 1000 Gambian Dalasis ready to pay at the airport upon arrival and departure from The Gambia.
  • Explore the country outside the concentrated tourist areas to get a feel of The Real Gambia. We recommend you opt for a day trip, at least to the rural area, where the country's heartbeat is entirely different. There are many opportunities to explore local culture and tradition and engage with local communities. 
  • If travelling outside tourism-concentrated areas, please note that communities are more conserved and religious; therefore, respecting the local beliefs is a responsible way of exploring. Dress respectfully if visiting local communities and show a polite approach, especially to the elderly members there. 
  • Learn a few words in the local language as this will open doors and make you included in the local area quicker. 
  • Do make sure to be appropriately dressed in public spaces such as restaurants, cafes or on the street. Being a majority Muslim country, wearing swimming attire outside of the beach or pool areas is frowned upon.

Dont’s

  • Ensure you don't do anything here you wouldn't do in your own country.
  • We recommend being very selective when sharing your personal details.    
  • It is better to avoid walking (alone) along unlit roads at night away from the tourist areas and avoid walking on deserted streets during the day.
  • Small talk with random people can bring you a constant companion while you're here. Therefore, remain polite but firm in rejecting the offer of companionship if you prefer to remain unbothered. 
  • Don't leave valuables or phones unattended anywhere; always use the safe if provided in your room.
  • We recommend keeping passport copies with you or a digital copy on your phone while keeping the original in the room safe.
  • When talking with strangers on the street, note that not all sad life stories might be honest, and there might be an alternative motive or scam behind sharing their situations. Gambians usually don't tend to share their problems out in the open, especially with strangers. 
  • Please don't comment on the politics of The Gambia, as critical opinions against the government are considered a crime.
  • Using your thumb to hail a taxi is considered an obscene gesture in The Gambia. Instead, you could wave if you want a taxi to stop. 
  • Do not tip anyone in coins or small bills from your country because they cannot change them at exchange bureaus. The locals will prefer to be tipped in the Gambian Dalasis.
  • Do not go with unknown locals to their homes or villages. Like any country, there are good and not-so-good people, so it's always better to err on the safe side.
  • Scams also exist where marijuana is offered to tourists, or they are invited to smoke in a home, only to find police waiting for a hefty bribe. A simple "Sorry, I am in a hurry" could suffice to dismiss them.
  • Many of Gambia's unemployed young men have discovered that engaging and sometimes hassling tourists can be as rewarding as a real job. It's not a coincidence that there's a name for such persons: Bumster. Be prepared for personal questions, sob stories, not-asked-for "favours", and self-proclaimed friendships, all to win your favour or open your wallet. Those not desiring such attention must use a combination of polite declination, wit, and, when necessary firm refusal if they want to be left alone.

Having said this, The Gambia is a great holiday destination, but keep your guard up at all times and enjoy your holiday, as there's plenty to see and do, and it's a great destination. We call it home, as do the thousands of people from various countries who have settled here.

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