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Useful information before the first trip to The Gambia

My Magazine 2022/10
9 min
When you decide to visit a new and unknown destination, it is always good to know some basic information about it. So check some of the useful information and get to know a bit about your next favourite destination.

Language

The official language is English, and there are many local languages spoken (Most spoken: Wolof, Mandinka, Fula, Jola, Serahule, Serer, Manjago, Creole (or Aku)). Most of the people can speak at least two local languages. Older generations, especially in rural areas, mostly don't speak English.

We highly recommend that you learn some basic phrases in the Wolof language (greetings, how to say thank you, etc.). It is customary to greet people before starting a conversation. The most common greeting is a phrase used in the Muslim religion, "As Salamu Aleikum", meaning "peace be with you". Gambians attach great importance to traditional greetings. Avoid direct questions and take some time to greet and question: "How are you?", "How is your day?", "How is the family?". Gambians are incredibly courteous, so don't be afraid to accept their hospitality.

Weather

The climate of The Gambia is subtropical. The temperatures are high throughout the year, although there are two seasons, wet and dry. Starting in June, the wet season brings higher humidity and occasional rain, while the dry season lasts from late October to May. Read more about the weather in January, February, MarchApril, May, JuneJuly, August, October, November and December.

Time

The Gambia is in the GMT + 00:00 time zone. There is no Daylight-saving time. But in The Gambia, GMT also stands for Gambian Maybe Time. Sometimes there are delays, and things may not go according to plan or strictly by the schedule. In Africa, time passes more slowly than in other parts of the world. Buses and local guides are often late (although this is becoming less common.

Water

It is advisable not to drink tap water as there is no cleaning process for it. There may be a water shortage in certain areas (especially in villages), as water supply infrastructure is often not regulated, and water is still collected from a well. In certain accommodation facilities in the upper parts of the country, there is no hot water available. Some places do not facilitate a shower, yet a simple bucket with a cup for showering is always available. Please, handle water carefully.

Empty Bottles

Please do not throw empty bottles away, but hand them over to one of the locals, who will be happy to use them for various purposes.

Electricity

Voltage is 230 V. Standard British three-hole sockets are the most common. It often happens that the electricity runs out. Prolonged interruptions are not expected. Accommodation facilities are usually equipped with standby generators or solar panel backups to provide access to electricity.

Money

The official currency in The Gambia is the Gambian Dalasi. Exchange rates depend on the market and change markedly during major holidays. Exchange offices are at every corner of the tourist areas and town. The most common is the use of a Visa credit card. There are many ATMs, especially in tourist areas and cities, but they are often not operational. You can withdraw dalasi; depending on the cash machine, each withdrawal can either be D3000, D6000, or D8000. Credit cards are only accepted at larger banks, self-service stores and hotels but usually charge a high fee. In certain (very rare) places, it is also possible to withdraw from a Mastercard credit card, but the commission is also high (15%). Cash withdrawal with a bank card is also possible in rare places, but the withdrawal amount again depends on the cash machine. The commission per withdrawal is approximately 5%.

We recommend using cash only. You can have the card with you for emergencies. You can exchange money at banks and exchange offices across the country. It is advisable not to exchange money on the street, even though they may offer you more favourable exchange rates. Ensure you don't run out of cash when exchange offices and banks are closed (evening and afternoon, on Sundays and holidays). From time to time, you will have to "negotiate” for a better exchange rate in exchange offices.

You can also use services for money transfer, such as Money Gram, Western Union Money Transfer or services tailor-made for those coming on a holiday to The Gambia and don't want to bring cash with you. You can easily send money to yourself when you arrive in the Gambia. Check out more HERE.

Double Prices

Due to double prices, it will often happen that (especially at the market) you will be charged more for a product than the locals would pay.

Tips

Tips are expected in cities, tourist areas, on excursions, etc. Tips are accepted as a reward for a job well done. Give reasonably low tips.

Negotiation

Prices in The Gambia are not fixed, except in supermarkets. This means that every purchase needs to be negotiated. Usually, about 40% of the original price is paid when bargaining.

Begging

Once they figure out you are not a resident of The Gambia, some children and adults might approach and ask for money. Donating small sums of cash to disabled beggars is appropriate, yet it is advisable not to give money to children. Also, try to avoid giving candy to children. If you want to donate some money, it is always good to have some change prepared in your pocket and not take it from your wallet.

Gifts

If you decide to give a gift to a village, school, hospital or family, try to avoid distributing the money yourself, and instead give it to the responsible person where you are giving the gift, who will make sure that the money is distributed and spent correctly.

Shopping

Supermarkets

Well-stocked self-service shops can be found in Banjul, Bakau, Fajara, Westfield, Serekunda and tourist areas like Kotu, Senegambia, Bijilo, and Kololi. Most shops are open from 9:00 to 17:00; some shops are also open until midnight. Most stores are closed on Sundays.

Markets

We highly recommend visiting the main markets in Banjul, Serekunda, Bakau and Brikama. There is nothing that the owners of these stalls would not sell. Please be aware that exporting products made from the skins of wild animals, ivory or feathers of protected animals is illegal. Violators are punished with high fines, and illegal products are seized. Be aware that the price needs to be negotiated. However, avoid bargaining for a product you do not intend to buy, as this is considered disrespectful.

Infrastructure and facilities

Toilets

Beyond tourist areas, toilets are pretty different from those you are used to. Toilet paper is often unavailable as the locals do not use it, but a pot and water are available. A local toilet space can have different forms, from holes in the ground with a simple fence made of straw, corrugated iron or pieces of fabric, masonry toilets or squat toilets; some families have bathrooms by the standards known to you.

Roads and transport

For public transport, there are few options—small buses or vans driving on the main roads' routes, tuk-tuks or taxis.

Taxis for tourists

You can distinguish them by their green colour. These taxis have a license granted by the Gambia Tourism Authority and are intended only for tourists' transport. They usually stand in front of hotels and resorts. They have fixed prices for all destinations in and outside the Gambia.

Yellow and green taxis

They are yellow and green vehicles, usually for four people. They offer a shared taxi service, which means you can share a taxi with other passengers. You will sometimes hear the expression ten-ten, which means the amount you pay for a route. They can also be used for a "town trip", which means a ride to a specific agreed location for a negotiated price just for you. The price depends on the distance. It is also possible to order a taxi to pick you up at a specific place and time. The price must be agreed upon in advance (or negotiated).

You can also check the 1Bena app booking facility that provides you with an easy platform to find a nearby taxi service and book transportation through the app.

Gelleh Gelleh or Bush Taxi

Gambians usually move around in large taxis called bush taxis. These are mostly seven-passenger vehicles, delivery vehicles, vans and buses. These vehicles are not marked with a specific colour and are used for long and short-distance transport. Prices are fixed. However, we recommend that you inquire about the ticket price before entering. These taxis stop on the way so passengers can get in and out. Main roads are paved and paved, while side streets may be in poor condition. Therefore, it is more challenging to drive on side roads, especially during the rainy season. If you plan to drive in The Gambia, it is advisable to bring your international driving license with you in English. However, be aware that driving in The Gambia is a more hectic experience than you are used to.

Photo by Alen Herić

Tuk-Tuks

Like yellow and green taxis, tuk-tuk provides two types of service. Shared transport on specific routes for D10, which is somehow a hop-on-hop-off way of commuting, and town trips, were the same as with taxi drivers; you agree on a price before the trip. You can also arrange for tuk-tuk pickup. The three-wheelers are designed for three to six passengers. Read more about one of the providers, TUKTUK The Gambia, HERE.

Internet

Some hotels, restaurants and some residential complexes provide wireless internet access. In some places, they offer the service free of charge, and a surcharge is required in some areas. In any case, the internet connection is significantly slower than you may be used to at home. Using a local SIM card, you can also access the internet through mobile devices and the mobile network. You can top up your card with different amounts of credit from a few cents onwards. The mobile operators in The Gambia are Gamcel, Africell, QCell and Comium. It is usually necessary to register the phone and card at the time of purchase. They typically do this on the spot or send you to a company office nearby. The SIM card is free; you only pay for the credit for data or calls. However, you must have an identity document with you.

Safety

The Gambia is a relatively safe African country, but tourist destinations do not only attract tourists. Pickpockets are most active in places of interest, such as bus stops and markets, so keep an eye on your money and documents. Be careful when using your mobile phone while driving with the windows open or in open places, as it may be stolen. The crime rate in The Gambia is generally lower than in other countries in the region. The most common crimes are petty theft and burglary. We advise not to walk outside alone at night or early in the morning.

Sun protection

The sun in The Gambia is powerful. The temperature can exceed 30°C, so don't forget a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen with a high protection factor. Also, bring a lotion to relieve sunburn.

Mosquito protection

Most accommodation places have mosquito nets on the windows or above the beds. Especially in the green season, we recommend bringing mosquito repellents, electrical repellents in case of torn mosquito nets and lightweight long-sleeved T-shirts and pants.

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