General InformationA Wikipedia list of regional birds of The Gambia
Frequently Asked Questions
I want to go bird watching and would like to know how I can arrange it so that I will make the most of my valuable time and not waste money.
The best way to go bird watching is to hire an experienced birdguide who knows his way around the country and who will know the best locations for you to see the species you would like to see, who speaks excellent English, who is honest, friendly, well organised, punctual and has a good sense of humour. Junkung Jadama (known to all as JJ) is just such a person. If you know where you would like to go and what you wish to see contact JJ well in advance of your arrival as, because of his extensive bird guiding experience, he gets booked up in advance. JJ will take your wishes into consideration when planning a trip for you so that it meets your expectations. Any fee he quotes you for your trips include transport and driver where necessary, admission charges to protected areas and his fee for services rendered. If you wish to visit Tendaba Camp or other bush camps JJ will arrange your accommodation too. Contact JJ by letter, e-mail or mobile and discuss your requirements with him. He normally collects e-mails on a Monday and Thursday, but if he is up country with clients it may take a little longer. Please be patient – a trip organised with JJ is well worth the effort taken to organise it. His charges for arranging bird watching trips are very reasonable and will vary on where you want to go, the number in your party, admission fees to protected areas, accommodation (if needed) and such like. Each trip is organised to meet the wishes of each individual or group and as such represents very good value for money and will leave you with wonderful memories to take home with you. By contacting JJ in advance you can work out how much money you will need for your trips together with anything else you may need during your stay. JJ will be glad to arrange to meet you at your hotel if you would prefer.
I am going bird watching – which bird guide should I take?
The best one to use is A Field Guide to The Gambia and Senegal by Clive Barlow. He lives in The Gambia and knows the avi-fauna intimately. The latest edition was published in January 2006 and so is absolutely up to date.
What will there be to photograph in The Gambia?
For anyone who is going for the purpose of bird watching make sure you take vast amounts of film or plenty of room on your digital memory cards. There are over 550 species of birds for you to see in The Gambia and you will want to capture as many on film as you can. In a week it is possible to see well over 200 species if you organise yourself in advance and arrange your trips carefully. Because of the dust everywhere you may wish to protect your valuable optical equipment such as cameras, lenses, binoculars, digiscopes by putting them in large plastic or canvas bags. If you don’t want to photograph birds or the countryside you can always take pictures of your companions having a great time so that you can show them to friends and family when you get home. Please remember, however, that some people do not want to have their picture taken for religious or other reasons. Please respect their wishes. If you would like to take a photograph of someone you may have befriended whilst at the resort it is polite to ask them if they have no objections before doing so. If you venture out into the local protected areas please remember to “Take only photographs and leave only footprints”.
When is the best time of year to travel to The Gambia?
Remember where you are going! This is sub-Saharan Africa and has a tropical-monsoon type of climate. Temperatures all year round will be 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and above. During the dry season (November to March) there is very little chance of rain and temperatures increase steadily during February and March leaving the countryside looking parched and brown. There is a risk of a hot, dry wind (the Harmattan) blowing off the Sahara during this period. In the wet season (June to October) you will have increased humidity to take into account which can be very draining. During the wet season you may find that your accommodation works out cheaper, the temperatures may be slightly cooler and you may not encounter as many tourists - but you will certainly encounter more mosquitos!
Do I need any vaccinations to visit The Gambia?
Yes. If you travel regularly to exotic far-away destinations you may already have had some of the necessary vaccinations and may get away with having boosters. It is really important to check with your GP at least 4 to 6 weeks before your intended date of travel to see what is currently recommended as requirements may change. You will definitely need a yellow fever vaccination for which you will receive a certificate. Please note that you may be refused admission to The Gambia if you cannot produce this when asked. Other vaccinations you will probably need include polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis A and typhoid and sometimes a cholera vaccination may be recommended. Depending where you live you may have to pay for your yellow fever vaccination (about £40 but check as costs may vary from one practice to another) but most of the usual ones are available on the NHS if you live in the UK. Make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to fit in all the different vaccinations you may need so as to give things a chance to start protecting you, and also, if you do get a slight reaction to anything it is better to have it at home so that it doesn’t spoil your holiday.
What about malaria?
Malaria is widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa. There are 4 different types of mosquito which carry malaria. Increasingly many of the older type of drugs taken to prevent malaria are no longer effective as mosquitos have developed resistance to them. Speak to your GP or Practice Nurse about what they recommend. “Malarone” tablets are expensive (around £3 per tablet) but is effective and very well tolerated. You need to start taking one tablet a day about 2 days before you travel, throughout the time you are in The Gambia and for 7 days upon your return home. Remember that one bite from an infected mosquito wouldn’t just spoil your day it could spoil your whole life and that of your family. The number of deaths amongst people who have not taken anti-malarial prophylaxis is rising.
What language do they speak in The Gambia?
English is the official language of The Gambia and all children are taught in English at school. There are a number of tribal languages of which Mandinka and Wolof are most widely spoken. In urban areas you will find most people speak English. If you are planning to cross the border into Senegal, however, it would be useful to brush up on your French!
What money do they use in The Gambia?
The local currency is the dalasi which is made up of 100 butut. As currency exchange rates vary check with your high street bank or go on to the Internet to find out what it is at the time you are planning to travel. You cannot get dalasi in the UK to take with you so make sure you have enough money - £ sterling, US dollars or Euros to cover your individual requirements for the duration of your stay. Credit cards are accepted in some restaurants but generally speaking The Gambia is a cash economy. There are ATMs in some of the larger towns but they don’t always work. You can exchange either currency or travellers cheques at banks (which are found in the larger towns like Banjul, Bakau and around the resort areas), but all the major hotels will change money for you at their reception desk. You will probably get a little bit less than at a bank, but it is quick and hassle free.
What is the best way to travel to The Gambia?
The vast majority of tourists will arrive by air on package holidays. There are regular flights from the UK and depending upon the travel company you book through you may be able to fly from Manchester, Birmingham, London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds/Bradford, Newcastle, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Humberside, Southampton and East Midlands. It takes approximately 6 hours to fly to The Gambia from the UK and as local time is the same as GMT (translated locally as “Gambia Maybe Time”!) there is no jet lag. If you look on the Internet you may be able to find flight only deals which, if you don’t wish to remain in one location during your stay, may be more convenient for you or, alternatively, if you have arranged your accommodation independently. Self-catering holidays are becoming increasingly available in The Gambia and if this is your choice see your travel agent or look on the Internet. There are supermarkets available but you may not be able to find the range of goods that you are used to.
Is the water safe to drink?
Yes, but you may prefer to buy bottled water which you can purchase from local supermarkets. If you are taking excursions out of the main tourist areas make sure that you take sufficient water with you for your journey. Remember that in the high temperatures you may become dehydrated quite quickly. If you have to get water from wells in rural areas either take water purifying tablets with you or carry a small stove with you so that you can boil the water for a minimum of 3 - 4 minutes. People tend to drink lots of cold drinks such as beer or soft drinks when it is hot but a warm drink such as a cup of tea may quench your thirst more effectively.
Is it safe?
Attacks on tourists are rare, but please remember that The Gambia is one of the poorest countries in West Africa. Be sensible with your belongings and don’t leave cameras, binoculars or other valuables unattended – especially if you go to the beach. Also don’t flash large amounts of money around. Most of the hotels have safety deposit boxes which you may hire for a small charge for the duration of your holiday or alternatively lock valuables inside a suitcase in your room. Keep your passport, travellers cheques, currency and other valuables secure. Make a copy of your passport to carry with you at all times. If you are going up country you may be asked to show a form of identity at police check-points. There is no terrorist activity in The Gambia but you are advised to check with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in the UK (www.fco.gov.uk/travel) or equivalent organisation in your own country to see if there are any notices advising tourists to stay away from particular areas.
What should I do about medications which I take at home?
If you are on prescription medicines from your GP back home make sure that you have sufficient of everything for the duration of your stay and some extras in case of delays, etc. It is advisable to take a copy of the prescription issued by your GP with you to show that these medications have been prescribed especially for you. Containers or packages normally have sticky labels attached with the name of the dispensing chemist or surgery, your name, date of issue, how much to take together with any special instructions written on them. If you can find room in your luggage for medications in original packaging so much the better. Make sure that anything you need during your journey is put in your hand luggage. If, for example, you are a diabetic who requires regular insulin injections or you need to inject yourself for any other medical condition please tell the cabin crew when boarding. Make sure that you take a sufficient supply of insulin, sterile needles and syringes or insulin pens with you as you should assume that you will be unable to replace them when you get to your destination. Follow the manufacturers instructions for storing insulin when travelling to hot countries as you will need to keep it cool. If it is kept at too high or too low a temperature it may deteriorate and you will not be able to use it. Many hotels either have fridges in the rooms or you can hire one for a small local charge. If you are not sure about anything in connection with your medications speak to your GP or Practice Nurse. If you have a serious health problem or problems it may well be advisable to make a list of your health problems and medications and give it to a friend or relative that you are travelling with in case of emergency. Medic Alert bracelets or pendants are also useful for the same reason. If you are liable to have hypoglycaemic episodes remember to carry some sweets with you and let someone in your party know. The Gambian authorities do not take kindly to anyone trying to import or export (recreational) drugs so do not agree to take packages for anyone else.
What should I take for first aid whilst in The Gambia?
Take such things as you would have in a First Aid Kit at home. Take some antacids in case you get indigestion from a change in food (or you overindulge!), plasters for blisters or cuts and scrapes, antiseptic cream/solutions to put on small wounds, an anti-diarrhoeal such as Imodium in case you get an upset stomach. You might also wish to take to take re-hydrating sachets, such as Dioralyte, in case of vomiting which could lead to dehydration. All these things will be available from your high street chemist or supermarket. Also take some sterile dressings, tablets for headache, high factor sun cream, lip salve, calamine lotion or similar to sooth sunburn, insect repellent which contains DEET to protect against mosquito bites together with anything else which you may feel could come in useful. Things like baby-wipes are useful and can be used for a variety of purposes. If you have forgotten to take anything that you may need the chances are that you won’t be able to get it when you get to your destination. There is a great shortage of first aid material in The Gambia. If you have any dressings, antiseptic creams/liquids, etc, left over at the end of your holiday why not think about leaving it for someone at your hotel or donating it to The Gambian Red Cross.
What should I take to wear?
This will depend on whether you are going to chill out round the hotel swimming pool for the whole of the duration of your holiday or you are going to be more active and go bird watching or fishing or planning other excursions in the area. If you are going to spend most of your time around the pool please take care in exposing yourself to the sun when you first arrive. Build up the time spent in the sun over a few days and avoid the hottest part of the day. Everyone wants a suntan in the shortest possible time, but if you get burnt it could spoil your holiday. Long term damage to your skin as a result of sunburn can cause premature ageing of your skin, but far more seriously, can cause skin cancer. Use high factor sun screens and be sure to top it up regularly especially after swimming. Invest in a decent pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare. Drink plenty of water to ensure they you do not get dehydrated. Wear a wide brimmed sunhat when going out in the sun. If you are planning to be more active you need to do all of the above and more. Wear stout walking shoes if going out into the bush as you may risk a hookworm infestation if you do not. Similarly do not go paddling or wading through fresh water without proper protection (rubber boots/waders) as bilharzia is endemic throughout the tropics. Wear light coloured, loose cotton shirts with long sleeves and preferably with a collar to protect the back of your neck and long cotton trousers to prevent against sunburn, insect bites and scrapes and scratches. If you are planning a longer trip to stay at a bush camp or plan to go on a river trip make sure you take plenty of water and insect repellent with you. The roads are full of pot-holes and transport will not be an air-conditioned mini-bus with comfy seats. You will need a fair amount of stamina for the longer trips! A blow up cushion could come in handy. Don’t forget that whether you are staying at your resort or venturing farther field the mornings and evenings tend to get a bit chilly and so you may wish to take something suitable for these times. The ladies should remember that wearing beachwear away from the beach or poolside may cause offence. Whilst one may be used to wearing a bikini to go to the supermarket whilst on holiday at popular European resorts to do so in The Gambia would show a disregard for the ideals and customs of the country you are visiting.
Do I need to take out medical insurance for my trip?
Yes, you need comprehensive medical and travel insurance. If you are a young, fit, healthy young adult the insurance offered by your travel agent may well be adequate. If you are older and have a pre-existing medical condition you may want to shop around to see who will give you the best deal. Make sure you declare all pre-existing medical conditions together with any medications that you are taking. You may have to be screened by the company which involves answering questions (usually over the telephone) to see if they will cover you for your declared illnesses. Some will, some won’t. Make sure you are adequately covered for medical emergencies and, if necessary, repatriation back to the UK. An air ambulance to get you back to the UK or other destination would cost you thousands. If your situation changes prior to your holiday contact the insurance company and inform them of the changes. Many older holiday makers find themselves in trouble when they become ill overseas and find their insurers will not cover them because they have forgotten to declare something. Check your household insurance policy to see if you are covered for items that you remove from your home, for example, cameras, binoculars, etc.
Transport in The Gambia.
Transport in The Gambia is primitive by Western standards. There is no rail network within the country. Buses serve the larger towns but they are fairly few and far between. The normal way of getting around is by hiring a taxi which you will recognise by its yellow number plates. In addition to private taxis there are also bush taxis. They pick up from special taxi stands in the towns and villages. The bush taxi will not leave until it is full and although you pay a fixed price for a seat you may have to pay extra for luggage. You can get on, or off, the taxi anywhere along its route but, as a visitor, if you are not familiar with this means of transport you may find it confusing. If you are going on longer journeys it is best to hire a taxi and driver. Ask at your hotel to get an idea of what the trip may cost and then negotiate the price before you set off. You don’t normally pay until the end, but remember the driver may need some money up front to pay for fuel. There are ferries which cross the River Gambia at various places – Banjul, Yelitenda, Georgetown, Basse, etc. These ferries may vary from car ferries to simple dugout canoes. Car hire is not well established in The Gambia.
What about the bumsters?
You will find bumsters in most of the tourist areas and beaches. They are usually young men who offer their services to you in exchange for money. You may find them intimidating, but they are usually harmless. They may offer you trinkets and when you ask “how much?” they will reply “give me a donation from your heart”. So when you give them (say) 50 or 100 dalasi they will reply that it is not enough! If you really do not want to be bothered be firm but please be polite. On the other hand some of these young people may be able to show you things in the resort or its environs that you might not have found on your own. You may wish to hire them – in the loosest possible sense – to escort you to and from your hotel so reducing the chance that you will be pestered by anyone else. Negotiate a price! Please remember that these people are only trying to make a living.
Are there any guide books that I can get on The Gambia?
There are a number of travel guides which you can get either in your local bookshop or over the Internet. These include The Rough Guide to The Gambia by Emma Grigg and Richard Trillo; The Bradt Travel Guide Books and Lonely Planet Guides. There may be others but these are amongst the best known ones. A lot of information can be obtained by using search engines such as Google on the Internet.