Barra Point

Most visitors to the Gambia come to this beautiful West African nation looking for a beach break or wildlife-spotting adventure that goes a little beyond the obvious and whilst the beaches and the natural landscape are indeed attention-grabbing, the colourful culture and frenetic pace of city life in the Gambia help to make a holiday here even more memorable. Whilst most visitors' end destinations are likely to be plush beach resorts or secluded jungle lodges, it's well worth setting aside at least a day or two to experience what passes for 'big city life' in the Gambia.

The capital city, Banjul, will be the point of entry for most UK visitors to the Gambia and although the city is pocket-sized by international standards, the colourful atmosphere and culture here make it worth an overnight stay. Just across the River Gambia from Banjul lies Barra Point - of interest to tourists primarily for its fort, Fort Bullen, which was built by the British Armed Forces in the 1820s as a means of controlling the trafficking of slaves along the River Gambia. Even if the fort itself holds little interest, the ferry ride across the river to Barra Point is worth the journey in itself. As a slice of colourful Gambian life, it can't be beaten - although be sure to take your patience and sense of humour along for the ride with you.

Departure times are unpredictable to say the least and actually queuing and paying for your ticket is a frantic and chaotic experience - the best way to play it is to make as the locals and just go with the flow and to heck with the travel itinerary! Handily, as the Gambia is a former British colony, English is widely spoken here (in addition to several native languages), so at the very least it is possible to ask the locals if you need help and advice.

Once the ferry actually arrives, visitors to the Gambia will find themselves crushing on board along with hordes of locals and at times it can seem ass if half of the passengers are trying to sell some product or service to the other half. Throughout the journey, vendors jostle through the crowds, noisily advertising their wares - which range from sweets and peanuts to a quick shoe polish. Don't be shy about saying no if you don't want to buy, although you may need to be firm with some of the sellers.

The ferry ships vehicles as well as foot passengers over to Barra Point and both embarking and disembarking can be a little daunting, but just take your time and rest assured that, somehow, everyone and everything will fit on board.

Most visitors to Barra Point will find that it is possible to see all that the area has to offer in a few hours, but there are a handful of decent and very affordable guest houses here for anybody who wants to stay the night. Visitors heading to Barra Point hoping to explore Fort Bullen may be sorely disappointed - it is closed to the public, but does make a good photo opportunity when viewed from a distance.

However, as the ferry chugs its way over the mighty River Gambia, visitors will begin to get some sense of the scale of this magnificent West African river. And if the boat trip gives you a taste for life on the waters, it is easy to arrange boat safaris along the River Gambia. Tourist agencies in Banjul and the nearby beach resorts such as Kololi are able to arrange trips ranging from a few hours to a few days, although try and get some personal recommendations before handing over your tourist dollar.

Gambia river cruises run the gamut from luxurious trips aboard well-appointed vessels, with drinks and meals included, to back to basics adventures. The latter option is the best bet for travellers with a seriously restricted budget and can offer the best chance of seeing some of the river's animal inhabitants - but don't forget the mosquito repellent!

Barra Point is also a good base for border crossings into the nearby French-speaking nation of Senegal, although less experienced travellers may find this is best done with the assistance of a guide as it can be a rather baffling and somewhat daunting experience to the uninitiated.

Whilst not the most alluring of tourist attractions in its own right, Barra Point is worth visiting if only to take in the colourful journey, the colourful local characters and even, if you are lucky, the colourful bird and animal life native to the area.

International flights to the Gambia will arrive at Banjul International Airport and visitors stopping for a night or two in the capital will find it is inexpensive and easy (in theory at least...) to make the famous river crossing to Barra Point.

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