What brings most people to The Gambia are the beaches – and there are plenty to choose from.
Luxurious five-star resorts that cater to your every whim co-exist with fun and busy Mediterranean-style zones chock full of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.
There’s also plenty of room for lazy days and long walks along palm-tree lined pristine coast line. Just take your pick. But there is so much more to Africa’s tiniest county!
Surrounded on all sides by Senegal, The Gambia is home to nature reserves, charming fishing villages, and a number of historic slave trade stations worth exploring.
If you’re a bird lover, it’s unlikely that you haven’t heard of this country as you can spot over 100 bird species on a single river cruise.
One of the best parts about The Gambia are the variety of day excursions that can be organized while you’re visiting.
Let’s explore the best places to visit in The Gambia:
1. Abuko Nature Reserve
Created in the early 20th century to protect a water collection point for nearby communities, Abuko Nature Reserve is The Gambia’s first reserve – officially formed in the 1960’s.
This area is rich in Gambian wildlife and is now the most visited tourist attraction in the country – with over 33,000 visitors each year.
Conservation efforts are on-going in this 260 acre reserve with three primate species here as well as antelope, porcupine, African palm civets, crocodiles, galagos, and almost 300 bird species.
A fun fact about Abuko is that it is the closest tropical forest to Europe.
The capital of The Gambia is Banjul. It’s a port city and is located on Saint Mary’s Island.
Originally called Bathurst after the Secretary of State for the British Colonies, Banjul is the government seat for the country.
For whatever reason, many tourists don’t give Banjul a second glance. But with the busy harbour, rich history, colonial architecture, and urban market, there is plenty to love about the city.
Enjoy the street hawkers from Senegal and Guinea and the shop keepers packed into old colonial trading housing all creating a chaotic vibrancy to the commercial district.
Be on the lookout for the traditional kirinting housing made of bamboo and traditionally owned by the poor farmers of the island.
3. The Albert Market
The activity hub of Banjul is the Albert Market.
It was created in the mid-19th century and named after Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert.
Even back then it was full of bartering, haggling, and chaotic buying.
The market is exciting on its most boring day – which, really, is never!
You’ll find shoes, carved wood masks, houseware, electrical gadgets, shoes, fantastic fabrics, fruit, vegetables, beauty supplies, clothes, you name it.
Plan to spend a few hours to see it all and to really hone your negotiating skills.
If you’re looking for a local food experience, Albert Market has a number of street vendors and drink stalls to choose from.
4. Old Town
Head toward wide and welcoming Ma Cumba Jallow Street just west of the ferry terminal in Banjul and you’ll find an unruly assortment of fading colonial buildings and traditional Krio-style clapboard homes.
This is Old Town, which looks remarkably like Freetown in Sierra Leone because of the many Freetown families who settled here in the early 19th century.
There’s lots of history to admire as you walk through this wonderful section of the city.
5. Bijilo Forest Park
Bijilo Forest Park, or Monkey Park, is located in the coastal zone, just 11km from Banjul.
It’s a small reserve, relatively speaking, and is a point of pride for nearby locals.
The trails here are well maintained and take you through incredibly lush flora, a gallery forest, grass and low bush, on your way to the dunes.
The three primate species are the red colobus, vervet, and patas.
Tourists are encouraged not to feed the monkeys as they can get pretty cheeky!
Bird lovers will love the more than 100 species found in the park including osprey, bee-eaters, and francolin. The reviews seem to be consistent: a charming reserve that everyone falls in love with.
6. Brufut Beach
Sitting between the Kombo South District and the Atlantic Ocean are the Brufut resort and village.
Just 23km from Banjul the beach itself has terrific golden sand and lots of privacy.
To reach the beach you have to climb down the cliffs, using paths that are quiet steep in places.
Once you’ve arrived and staked your spot you’ll notice fishermen and women sparring fish, repairing nets, and waiting for a change in tide to take them back out on the water again.
Because it’s so uncrowded, it’s great for everything – sunbathing, water sports, walks along the sand, and cycling.
Visit nearby Sannah-Mentering, a sacred pilgrimage site for Gambian Muslims hoping for a blessing.
Also known as Georgetown, Janjangbureh is an old colonial administrative hub located on MacCarthy Island in the Gambia River.
A walk through town will take you to the old Commissioner’s Quarter.
This 200-year-old house was once inhabited by freed slaves.
There is little tourist infrastructure here, which will the town more or less desirable depending on the type of holiday you’re on, but the number one reason that most people come to Janjangbureh is for the bird watching.
Stay at a lodge or resort outside the city centre and spend a few days with the exotic birds of the area.
8. Sanyang Village and Beach
This is a sleepy beach village of about 7,000 people made up mostly of Wolof, Mandinka, Fula, and Jola tribes. Sangyang Beach, which is made up of Paradise, Osprey, and Pelican beaches, is considered by many to be the best beachfront in all of The Gambia.
It was a popular attraction long before the tourist trail made its way there and has a long stretch of remote shore, surrounded by mangroves and lagoons.
Perfect for those who want to get away from the crowds. The main economy is fishing and as such there is a fantastic fish market in the village.
Great for people watching and meeting the locals. As a bonus, the area has many shaded footpaths for nature trekking.
9. National Museum of Gambia
Once the white only Bathurst Club, this historic building now houses the National Museum of Gambia.
You’ll find a wide range of exhibits and displays here, including traditional Gambian life, the colonial history of Bathurst, information on the Senegambia stone circle sites, music, and dance.
Though it is small, the museum is well planned to reveal the rich culture of this wonderful country. You won’t be able to miss the giant Kankurang mask hanging in the main hall.
This powerful ritual mask is used during rites of passage and coming of age.
10. Wassu Stone Circles
Located in the Central River Region, these circles are believed to be the burial sites of ancient kings and chiefs.
Dated to 750-1000 AD, the stones and layouts vary from 4-6 metres in diameter, with anywhere from ten to 20 stones each.
Each stone has an average height of six feet and many tourists and archaeologists have puzzled over their origins and true meaning.
Though the biggest concentration of stone circles is in the Wassu area, there are hundreds of circles throughout the country.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006, local legend has it that if anyone disturbs the stones they will be cursed – a good clue as to why they have remained undisturbed for so long.
11. The Kachikally Crocodile Pool
Sitting on nine acres in Bakau Old Town is the Kachikally Crocodile Pool.
Locals believe in the healing powers of the water and it’s a popular place to come for a blessing.
There are about 80 crocodiles that call the pool home and a cool dozen are usually immediately visible when you arrive.
Also on site are an ethnography museum, souvenir shop, café, and nature trail.
12. Makasutu Culture Forest
This is a private woodland reserve dedicated to ecotourism in the Kombo Central District.
With over 1,000 acres, the protected area is a pristine forest of riverine, palm and hardwood trees, mangrove creeks, salt flats, and savanna.
In the 1990’s two Britons stepped in and began conservation efforts on this almost bare forest.
This sacred land is now a popular day excursion that gives visitors a chance to see one of the most beautiful forested areas in The Gambia.
13. The Gambia River
There’s a popular quote that helps to explain the relationship between the country and the river: “The Gambia River is the Gambia and the Gambia is the river Gambia.”
The country exists as two strips of land on either side of the river and it’s definitely the dominate feature of the country.
It’s become a popular tourist destination as it provides access to the interior as well as to Senegal and Guinea.
A river boat cruise will bring you to some interesting wildlife, historic slave trade stations, and beautiful countryside.
The largest town in The Gambia is Serrekunda, a market town with a population of just under half a million people.
This is where you’ll find the Batik Factory, where tie-dyed and batik fabrics are made.
It’s the perfect place for beautiful and personal souvenirs for home.
The national pastime of the Senegambia region is wrestling and in Serrekunda they take it quite seriously.
Each wrestler has a small group of drummers who amp up the crowd with energetic beats before a bout. T
he rules are pretty loose, but if it gets too dirty, someone will step in and stop the bout. Usually!
The Gambian coast is full of fishing villages along the coast. The busiest and most popular is the village of Tanji.
Everything happens right on the beach, which doesn’t make for good swimming, but does make for dramatic people watching.
Enjoy the fish market and the fish-smoking centre right in the heart of it all.
The Tanji Village Museum educates visitors on Gambian traditions and lifestyle.
Bird lovers will enjoy the Tanji River Bird Reserve – six square miles of savannah habitats and marine wetland along the river.
There are over 300 bird species here include 34 raptors. You’re also likely to see bushback, hyena, green monkeys, and the red colobus.
If you’ve got the time, be sure to check out the Bijol Islands, where they have over 20,000 birds and seals and whales have been spotted from time to time.