One thing is for sure: tourism is increasing in the Gambia. Although it used to be a hidden gem in West Africa, the last couple of years tourism has been growing 25% per year. In 2020, the country expects to welcome an average of 500.000 tourists! So what is it that makes this country so attractive? I discovered The Gambia for the first time, and these are 7 things I absolutely recommend you to do:
Relax on a deserted paradise beach
The Gambia is known for its unspoiled and immaculate beaches offering unprecedented access to the sun, sand and sea. It is incredible how you can walk to the shore, look left and right, and don’t see a living soul around you (except for maybe a cow or two). Although the Gambia only has a small coastline, there is plenty of choice. The beaches in Serrekunda area are absolutely fabulous. Furthermore, you can go more south and explore the beaches in Gunjur area such as the one next to Boboi Lodge. You can also opt for the private beaches belonging to one of the hotels. Only there you will find toilets, showers and drinks.
Go birdwatching and wildlife-spotting
For admiring the Big 5, the Gambia is not the place to be. Nevertheless, I recommend you to take your binoculars as you will spot plenty of beautiful animals in the various nature reserves. First of all, this country is the ornithologist’s paradise. Thousands of bird watchers come here every year to observe through their binoculars over 560 bird species of dazzlingly plumed birds. Although the Gambia only has a small territory, it has a considerable and heterogeneous avian population of both resident and Palearctic migratory birds. This unexpected phenomenon is due in part to the Gambia’s geographical location in West Africa, combined with the large river and its accompanying banks.
Furthermore, green velvet monkeys and iguanas can be found everywhere. They are even a common sight in the hotel areas. For the more adventurous ones amongst us, the Kachikally Crocodile pool is a must do! Its considered by the Gambians as a sacred pool, used as site for fertility rituals. Dozens of Nile crocodiles have their home here. Some of them are tame enough to be touched and be photographed. Impressive!
Admire street art in Galloya
The Gambia is a place where local street life meets international art. The idea for Wide Open Walls was born from Lawrence Williams’s (American artist) work with a local artist. Lawrence’s vision was to create something lasting that could both function as a valid art installation and at the same time promote the Gambia as a tourist destination. The basic idea was to turn the village of Galloya into a living art project. Since then, international street artists have been coming over and leaving their trace in the village. Even Roa, the anonymous Belgian artist from Ghent, painted several houses and walls.
Explore local culture in Tanji Village Museum
The Tanji Village Museum is the Gambia’s first privately owned museum, started in 1997. Built in the style of a traditional Mandinka compound, it consists of a couple of houses that show authentic artefacts and furniture. If you are interested in knowing how Mandinka families live, it probably is a good idea to pass by this museum. Moreover, a quiet nature trail filled with trees, herbs and birds makes you experience the fauna and flora of the Gambia.
The Belgian cycling guide from West Flanders, Bernard Ugille, organizes cycling tours in the Gambia and Senegal. One of his tours takes you through the Gunjur and Berrending area. If you like cycling but you are not the most adventurous type, then the Gambia is an ideal place to cycle around! One the one hand, the paved roads are not too jammed with traffic, which makes it safe. On the other hand, the sand roads are easy enough to ride. My unequivocal highlight was cycling on the beach! The azure ocean on my left, the tranquil dunes on my right and the wind in my hair… I’m still dreaming of this sublime moment. Make sure you cycle until the incredible Gunjur mosque on the beach! In the middle of nowhere on the deserted beach, this extravagant and yet elegant mosque appears on the horizon.
More info: http://www.lifeandbike.be/
Visit Tanji Fishing Center and prepare a local dish with Ida Cham
A very popular activity in the Tanji area is Ida Cham’s in-house restaurant. This charming and ravishing Gambian lady studied in the UK and is a prominent figure in the Gambian tourism sector. First, she takes you to the Tanji Fishing Center and guides you through the noisy, hectic and colorful alleys to buy ingredients for lunch. Because we are making… Benachin! A typical Gambian one pot rice dish with fish.
The Tanji Fishing Center is located on the beach. Imagine a very active and crowded beach scattered with old, shredded gillnets, sea snail shells, smelly rotting seafood, plastic bags floating on the water or resting on the shore. The air is filled with the smell of smoked fish. An unimaginable number of flies swarm around the seafood, seagulls flutter in the air looking for scraps, fishermen drop their fresh catch in the baskets on the heads of local women, who then ferry it to the shore. It all seems so chaotic and messy, yet they work surprisingly efficient!
Now, it’s time to put your apron on! The ingredients you need for making Benachin are: garlic, cassava, white radish, parsley, bitter tomato, common tomato, eggplant, onion, wonjo leaves, carrots, cabbage, okra, chili, tomato paste and vegetable oil to fry everything. And according to your preference: fresh fish, chicken or meat. Preparing Benachin is not difficult at all. Cook the ingredients in a large pot, starting with whatever needs the longest cooking time, then add the rice and any additional liquid needed and simmer until the rice is done: enjoy!
More info: https://www.facebook.com/ida.cham.52
Hop on a boat in Lamin Lodge for a tour on the Gambia River
Lamin Lodge is a popular destination for creek trips and birdwatching. Hidden between the mangrove bushes, Lamin Lodge looks like an enormous treehouse made of mangrove wood. In fact, this place started as an oyster-farm. Thanks to the wonderful scenery, they made a lodge of it where you can drink and eat. It is situated on the snaking Lamin Bolon, one of the River Gambia’s many saltwater tributaries.
The path to Lamin Lodge is made of crushed oyster shells and big piles of shells lay alongside the path. Because oysters in The Gambia are attached to the roots of the mangroves, women go by low-tide onto the river to collect them. The oysters are first cooked before they’re consumed and the shells are used for making roads.
In terms of fauna, you will notice many green monkeys wandering around, more bird species than you have ever seen, and if you’re lucky you will even spot a crocodile!