Bargaining is expected in markets. Most vendors will quote a much inflated starting price, anticipating buyers will negotiate before committing. There's no real rule of thumb – some say start at one-third of the asking price and negotiate your way up.
Bargaining is also in order when it comes to private taxis. Always agree on a price before getting in.
Dangers & Annoyances
Serious crime is fairly rare in The Gambia, though muggings and petty theft do occur, particularly around the tourist centres. Avoid walking around alone after dark. Kids will often hassle you for money or tours, but usually this is just a harmless annoyance. Beach boys are another matter.
A beach boy, also referred to as a sai sai or bumster, is a womaniser, a smooth operator, a charming hustler, a con man or a dodgy mixture of all of these. These guys are usually young, often good-looking men, who approach women (sometimes bluntly, sometimes with astonishing verbal skills) in towns, nightclubs, bars and particularly on beaches. While some of them are fairly harmless (just don't get your heart broken), others can pull some pretty sly jobs, involving sexual advances, tricking you out of money or downright stealing.
Use the same yardsticks you would at home before getting involved. It's best to ignore these guys completely. They might respond with verbal abuse, but it's all hot air.
220V. Most plugs have three square pins (the same as the UK); two round pins (same as continental Europe) are also in use.
Embassies & Consulates
Several European countries have honorary consuls, including Belgium (at the Kairaba Hotel, Kololi), Denmark, Sweden and Norway (Saitmatty Rd, Bakau).
Emergency & Important Numbers
|The Gambia's country code||220|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Visas are not needed for nationals of the UK, Germany, Italy, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Scandinavian and Ecowas countries for stays of up to 90 days.
A yellow-fever vaccination certificate is required of travellers coming from an infected area.
For those needing one, visas are normally valid for one or three months and cost D1000 or 4000; these are available upon arrival. The Immigration Office in Banjul deals with visa extensions.
If you are travelling overland, you can buy a visa at the border with Senegal; typical cost is around D3000 for a single-entry visa valid for one week. The visa should be available at all border crossings.
For onward travel, get your visa from the relevant embassy. Most embassies will deal with requests within 48 hours.
There are no particular restrictions on taking Gambian items out of the country – apart from the obvious prohibitions of illegal drugs, meat, plants, and any part of an endangered animal (skin, turtle shell, horns).
- Greetings When entering shops, restaurants, or when stopping to ask for directions, be sure to always greet people first. Politeness goes a long way in The Gambia.
- Right vs Wrong As in other Islamic countries, the left hand is considered unclean (and reserved for bathroom business). Use the right hand when passing money to people, accepting change, shaking hands, etc. If you're eating with your hands, use only the right hand.
- Dress Code It's fine to wear a bikini on the beach, but it is considered inappropriate to walk around town in skimpy clothing. Women should cover their shoulders, keep cleavage hidden and wear below-the-knee dresses; men shouldn't go topless.
The Gambia is not the place to be out. Open displays of affection can in fact place you in serious danger. Travellers have been arrested in the past for 'propositioning' locals (which included something as harmless as asking where other gay men hang out).
That said, the vast majority of gay travellers who visit The Gambia have no problems. As long as you exercise the utmost caution, there is little to worry about.
Wi-fi is common at most hotels and guesthouses, as well as some restaurants. There aren't many internet cafes left in the country.
- There is zero tolerance for illegal drugs and illicit substances in this largely Islamic country. It's really not worth putting yourself at risk to get high.
- Make sure that you have prescriptions for all medications you bring into the country.
- If you self-drive, you'll pass through many checkpoints heading upcountry. Police sometimes invent infractions for fines on the spot or sometimes simply ask for 'tea money'. It's best to be good-humoured about it, and simply pay the small bribe (around D20). Choosing not to pay can sometimes lead to long delays as they look over your documents, vehicle, baggage, etc.
- If arrested, your first point of contact should be your embassy.
Newspaper The Point is a daily newspaper published in Bakau.
The local currency, dalasi (D), fluctuates strongly. It's best to have hard currency (British pounds, euros or US dollars) on hand and exchange it as needed. ATMs exist on the coast, but are not practical.
- Restaurants Tipping isn't expected at smaller local restaurants; at more touristic places, a 10% tip is fairly common.
- Guides At many reserves and parks, guides will be available – sometimes even included in the admission price. Regardless, it's always polite to tip the guide. While it's hard to give guidelines, D50 or more per hour is a benchmark.
- Bumsters Don't tip people who hassle you or harass you for money.
There aren't any official changing points at the border, just very persistent black-market changers. You'll be fine using CFA, though, until you get to the coast, where changing money is easier. Many hotels can recommend an informal changer, though the rates may be similar to those the banks propose. Many hotels will accept UK pounds sterling.
There are ATMs around the coast, but relying on them is impractical with such low daily withdrawal limits (D5000). There are no ATMs up-country; it's best to chnage all the cash you think you'll need at the coast.
Banks From 1pm to 4pm Monday to Thursday, with lunch break from 1pm to 2.30pm Friday.
Government offices From 8am to 3pm or 4pm Monday to Thursday, and from 8am to 12.30pm Friday.
Restaurants Lunch from 11am to 2.30pm, dinner from 6pm.
Shops and businesses From 8.30am to 1pm and 2.30pm to 5.30pm Monday to Thursday; from 8am until noon Friday and Saturday.
The postal service is fairly reliable for postcards and letters. For packages, you may want to use a private service such as DHL.
As well as religious holidays, a few public holidays are observed.
1 January New Year's Day
18 February Independence Day
1 May Workers' Day
May or June Eid al Fitr
July or August Eid al Adha
22 July Revolution Day
15 August Assumption
25 December Christmas
Officially, smoking is banned in public places in The Gambia. The law isn't always enforced however. Most restaurants are smoke free.
Taxes & Refunds
The 15% VAT is usually included in listed prices for hotel rooms and restaurant dishes.
The telephone country code is 220.
If you have an unlocked phone, you can purchase inexpensive SIM cards along with talk time and data bundles at service centres around the coast. The only problem: you may have to visit a few shops, as they often run out of SIM cards.
The main mobile providers are Africell, Q Cell and Gamtel.
Coverage is generally good all around the coast, but can be spotty when you head up-country.
The Gambia is on GMT.
Gambian toilets are generally of the squat variety, though most places catering to tourists offer the standard sit-down type. Public toilets are rare. Always have a pack of tissues handy.
The Gambia Tourism (www.visitthegambia.gm) This website has a wealth of information.
Tourism Office Located on the Senegambia strip in Kololi.
Travel with Children
- Start doing your research well in advance. Vaccinations for young ones may require multiple injections spaced a month apart.
- Most travelling parents err on the side of extra caution when it comes to mosquitoes, bringing coils, nets and plenty of spray.
- A pram isn't always handy negotiating the sandy and rutted streets. You may prefer to do as locals do and simply carry your child on your back.
- Once you get over the logistical hurdles, you'll find The Gambia a warm and welcoming place for children. There's plenty to keep kids amused, from days on the beach or at the hotel pool to wildlife-watching on short excursions.
The Gambia can be a challenging place to visit for travellers with disabilities. Badly pockmarked and unpaved roads, broken and missing footpaths, and a general lack of facilities pose the greatest obstacles.
A handful of places along the coast offer accessible rooms, including the following:
It's best to organise a volunteer placement before travelling to the country. The African Volunteer Network (www.african-volunteer.net), which lists a wide range of volunteer projects, would be a good place to start your search.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The Gambia uses a mix of the UK imperial system and the metric system.
Work opportunities are extremely limited. If you have special skills (medicine, finance, hospitality management), you'll have a better chance of finding employment. Start the search by checking listings on Gamjobs (www.gamjobs.com). Access Gambia (www.accessgambia.com/employment.html) also has links to job sites.