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  • Overview

    Gambia is a narrow country that stretches inland from the beautiful West African coast, following the course of the majestic River Gambia. It may be the smallest country in mainland Africa, sandwiched between north and south Senegal, but it's beginning to be noticed by the British package tour trade as an exciting alternative to the crowded resorts of Europe. It has also gained fame for its incredibly varied and accessible bird life.

    Gambia's emergence as a tourist destination was aided by the best-selling book turned television series , by Alex Haley, detailing the life of the author's grandfather, allegedly captured in the country and transported to the US as a slave. The book and television series caused a sensation in the 70s and put Gambia on the map.

    The capital of Gambia, Banjul, stands on the south side of the magnificent river estuary, a worthy commercial centre that for most tourists is little more than the gateway to the hotels spread along the 25 miles (40km) of beautiful sandy coastline.

    These palm-fringed Atlantic-washed beaches have been dubbed 'The Smiling Coast', as much for their tropical splendour as for the friendliness of the local people, who welcome visitors whole-heartedly at the nature reserves, quality hotels, and craft markets. All this is just six hours' flying time from London, close to the equator, on the same latitude as Barbados.

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    Gambia has a sub-tropical climate and is situated between the Tropic of Cancer and the equator. The country enjoys almost constant sunshine and barely fluctuating high daytime temperatures all year round.

    The rainy season is between July and October, when humidity is high and short, and spectacular rainstorms characterise the evenings. As most of the rainfall occurs at night, and can be a welcome break from the sun and heat, travel to Gambia during the rainy season is still an option, so long as you don't mind the humidity.

    Between November and June there is virtually no rainfall. During the winter months, between January and April, evenings and early mornings can be cool. Summer temperatures can hit extreme highs, reaching 107°F (42°C) at times, and the heat is particularly debilitating inland as travellers no longer benefit from the cool coastal breezes.

    The best time to visit in terms of weather and bird spotting is between November and February when the weather is dry and a bit cooler. Gambia is a great beach holiday destination year-round as it is always sunny and hot, but most travellers prefer to avoid the hottest months.

    Banjul International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated 15 miles (24km) from Banjul.
    Time: Local time is GMT.
    Getting to the city: Taxis are available to the city centre (30 minutes).
    Car Rental: Car rental is available at the airport.
    Facilities: Facilities include a bank, currency exchange office, restaurant and bar, post office, duty-free shopping and a tourist help desk.
    Parking There is a well-secured, spacious car park.
    Money:

    Gambia's currency is the dalasi (GMD), which is divided into 100 bututs. Dalasi are difficult to obtain outside of Gambia but there is a bureau de change at the airport. Currency can also be exchanged at banks in the capital, Banjul, and at some hotels and tourist resorts. Commission tends to be high. It's advisable to bring travellers cheques or cash because only a few places accept credit cards.

    Street moneychangers give the best rates, but take care not to be conned and make sure you know the current exchange rate before trading with them. Note that currency must be declared on arrival and the export of foreign currency is limited to the amount imported.

    Travellers cheques are accepted, with US dollars and Pounds Sterling the preferred currency. Some hotels and restaurants accept MasterCard and Visa, but it is unwise to rely on them and a charge may be levied. ATMs are limited to a few areas.

    Language:

    The official language of Gambia is English, and Gambians are educated in English. There are several indigenous languages, but English is the lingua franca.

    Electricity:

    220 - 240 volts, 50Hz. UK-style, rectangular three-pin plugs are standard.

    Entry Requirements:

    US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay. Visas are required, unless you are a passenger travelling as a tourist on a charter flight.

    UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days, or for passengers travelling as tourists on a charter flight.

    CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.

    AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.

    ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay. A visa is required not required for stays of up to 90 days.

    IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay. No visa is required for a maximum stay of up to 90 days.

    NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay. No visa is required for a maximum stay of up to 90 days.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    All visitors require a return ticket or proof of onward travel, sufficient funds to cover their stay in Gambia, and all necessary travel documentation for their next destination. In some cases visas may be issued on arrival, but this should be confirmed in advance from official sources.

    Passengers on a package tour, or arriving on a charter flight generally do not have to pre-arrange visas, but for peace of mind this should be confirmed before travel. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Gambia, if arriving in the country after leaving or transiting through an infected area.

    It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

    Travel Health:

    No inoculations are compulsory for entry to Gambia, except for a yellow fever certificate required by those arriving from yellow fever infected areas. However, it is recommended that travellers take health advice at least three weeks before departing for the country.

    Malaria is prevalent throughout the year, but the greatest risk is between June and November. Travellers should obtain up to date medical advice on the appropriate prophylactics, as some may not be adequate for Gambia.

    It is possible that your doctor may also advise that you are vaccinated for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, tetanus-diphtheria, and meningococcus (for the Gambian dry season). Visitors are also advised to carry preparations for dehydration, stomach upsets, insect bites and cuts, as well as mosquito repellent and sun block, as these are not always readily available in Gambia.

    Waterborne diseases such as schistosomiasis do occur and travellers should not swim or raft in contaminated fresh water. Travellers should drink only bottled water, ensure meat and vegetables are well cooked and avoid unpeeled fruit and vegetables. Emergency medical facilities are of a low standard so travel insurance with provision for emergency repatriation is recommended.

    Tipping:

    A 10 percent service charge is usually added to hotel and restaurant bills, and further tipping is discretionary. Generally all services rendered require a small cadeau (gift or tip).

    Safety Information:

    Crime involving tourists is rare in Gambia and safety is not a major concern, but robberies involving travellers are on the rise, particularly the stealing of passports and valuables from hotel rooms. It is wise not to carry valuables or large sums of money or display them in public, and valuables left in hotels should be kept in safes whenever possible.

    The most popular beaches are manned by tourist police or hotel security officers. Take precautions on more isolated beaches, in unlit areas and in spots away from the tourist track. Driving in Gambia can be hazardous and many taxis are not roadworthy.

    Security checkpoints are common on all major roads within the country. Road travel from Gambia to southern Senegal should be avoided due to fighting between rebel factions in the area and incidents with bandits.

    Women should be on the lookout for male scammers who try and develop romantic relationships with them as this is a common ploy to get money in Gambia. Apart from scams and road safety issues, crime tends to be petty and mainly consists of bag-snatching and pick-pocketing.

    Local Customs:

    Gambia is a Muslim country and therefore it is considered disrespectful to dress immodestly away from the beach, swimming pools or tourist centres. Religious customs should be respected, particularly during the month of Ramadan where eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet.

    Homosexuality is illegal and strong action is taken against travellers found to be in possession of drugs. It is prohibited to photograph military institutions.

    Business:

    Business is conducted formally in Gambia and a formal dress code should be observed. Punctuality is expected. Business cards are catching on and advisable to bring along. Greetings are important and a formal handshake is the norm for men and women.

    It's important to acknowledge every member at a meeting, regardless of status or gender. A personal approach to business is favoured and Gambians like to get to know the person with whom they are conducting business. Business hours are generally 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

    Communications:

    The international access code for The Gambia is +220. No area codes are required. Coverage is limited to Banjul and a few other areas. Internet cafes are available in Banjul and the major tourist resorts.

    Duty Free:

    Visitors arriving in Gambia are permitted to bring the following goods into the country without paying duty: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; one litre of spirits and one litre of wine or beer; 284ml of perfume; and goods up to the value of D1,000.

    Useful Contacts:

    Gambia Tourism Authority: www.visitthegambia.gm

    Gambia Embassies:

    Gambian Embassy, Washington DC, United States (also responsible for Canada): +1 202 785 1399

    Gambian High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7229 8066

    Gambian Consulate General, Toronto, Canada: +1 416 440 0777

    Gambia Embassy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (also responsible for Australia): +96 61 205 2158

    Gambian Consulate, Johannesburg, South Africa: +27 11 884 3710

    Foreign Embassies in Gambia :

    United States Embassy, Banjul: +220 439 2856

    British High Commission, Banjul: +220 449 4508

    Canadian Embassy, Dakar, Senegal (also responsible for Gambia): +221 33 889 4700

    Australian High Commission, Accra, Ghana (also responsible for Gambia): +233 302 216 400

    South African Embassy, Dakar, Senegal (also responsible for Gambia): +221 33 865 1959

    Gambia Emergency Numbers : Emergencies: 116 (Ambulance); 117 (Police); 118 (Fire)
    Gambia