Gambia, also known as The Gambia or The Republic of Gambia, is the smallest country on mainland Africa, bordered by Senegal and a small coastline. Gambia has an estimated population of 1,700,000 and its capital is called Banjul. Gambia used to be part of the United Kingdom until 1965 when it was granted independence and became part of the Commonwealth. Gambia is a relatively stable country having had only one short spell of military rule in 1994. Its economy depends entirely on farming, fishing and tourism.
Although Gambia may not necessarily be the first place you would think of for a winter sun holiday, it has fascinating culture, rich history, vast landscapes, good restaurants, intriguing markets as well as beautiful beaches. It also hosts parks and reserves housing monkeys, crocodiles, hippos and over 500 species of birds.
The resort of Baboon Island, also known as Chimpanzee Island, stands in a group of five islands in the middle of the River Gambia. It is approximately 100 miles east of the coastline where you will find the landscape changes to thick forest. You can visit the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project, founded by an Englishwoman in the 1960s, which gives orphan chimps a home and the opportunity to grow and develop in their natural environment. They occupy three of the islands and there are currently 74 residents who live and breed successfully.
A visit to Baboon Island is also economical. The exchange rate of Gambia's Dalasi to the Pound has stayed level for the past two years which means your money will go a long way. £1 sterling will buy you around 400 Dalasi and exchange rates are better locally than here in the UK. It is worth having small denominations of money as most of your shopping will be done in markets. Credit and Debit cards are only sometimes accepted so travellers' cheques would be preferable.
Due to its location Baboon Island has plentiful sunshine and high daytime temperatures with virtually no rainfall for six months of the year (November to June). The coast nearby is the only part of Gambia which really notices a change from winter to summer. From July to October it is very humid and short sharp showers can be experienced. Inland temperatures can reach up to 42 degrees centigrade.
There are no compulsory vaccinations needed to enter Gambia but it is generally advised that anti-malarial medication is taken. It is also advisable to take a supply of medicines to treat dehydration, stomach upsets, bites and cuts, high factor sun cream, mosquito nets and repellents.
To reach Baboon Island from the airport and travelling around Gambia can be difficult. Organised packages will obviously supply transport to the resort. Otherwise, Gambia does not have a reliable public transport system, but its roads are slowly improving. The capital city does have a limited bus service, but otherwise there are taxis. Taxi fares should be agreed before starting your journey and bear in mind they are not regulated like here in the UK. Car hire is expensive and not recommended.
Gambia is well known for its fresh sea food including, Atlantic prawns, lady fish, barracuda to name but a few. There are four traditional Gambian dishes you should look out for and try:
- Benachin – rice, meat/fish, vegetables and tomatoes
- Domoda – meat in peanut sauce with rice
- Superkanja – ochre, meat/fish, palm oil, onions and pepper
- Chicken Yassa – chicken, fresh lime, onions, black pepper
Gambia is considered a developing country so water in particular is a precious commodity and should not be wasted in any way. When visiting Baboon Island be mindful of dripping taps, use showers instead of baths, fill basins rather than running taps and report leaks immediately.
Handshaking is a common form of greeting and Gambians are very friendly and welcoming, so don't be afraid to accept their hospitality. Gambians speak and understand English well and follow western customs and beliefs. Gambia's main religion is Muslim but despite this, casual wear is suitable for out and about but beachwear is only acceptable on beaches or by pool sides. Traditional cultures, music, dancing and crafts can be seen deep in the country but do ask locals permission before photographing them.
Shopping for souvenirs and gifts in Gambia is mainly done at the market where bartering is the name of the game. You can usually reduce the price by 25 to 50%. On offer in the marketplace are shoes, elaborate wood carvings, handcrafted straw, leather and cloth goods, sand paintings and batik pictures. Silver jewellery can also be bought but proceed with caution.
Baboon Island is a fascinating resort in Gambia, a small, unspoilt, idyllic African country. Gambia is full of tradition and culture, has high temperatures all year round and beautiful beaches. Take a trip to this beautiful gem of Africa and experience a different but exciting winter sun holiday!