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I travelled to The Gambia in January (2004) and am still completely enchanted by the place. Its a small country at 30miles narrowing to only 15 miles wide and 200 miles long. Its centred around the Gambia River, so the country is quite lush and green compared with other African countries. It was part of the British Colony until it gained independence in 1965. Its principally a muslim country and made up of five tribes, the largest being Mandinka.
**BEFORE YOU TRAVEL** There are several jabs which are recommended for travel to The Gambia but this is down to advise given by your GP. As a rule the following are recommended :- Hep A, Thyphoid, Dipheria, Tetenus and Polio which are all given free of charge, Yellow Fever which carries a charge of £35.00. Anti- Malaria tablets are also highly recommended. I know of some people who travel without, as the risk is fairly low during the tourist season between October and April but the delightful mossies are still about to give you a nasty nip (I was lucky surviving my trip with only one suspect bite, but Mother and Terry were covered). The wet season in August and September carries the highest threat of malaria but I personally wouldn't travel here without them. You are given a perscription for your anti-malarias but the cost varies on which type of tablet you choose to take. I opted for a daily tablet, you start the course 2 days before travel, the duration of your holiday and 28 days after your return. These cost around £28.00.
**GETTING THERE** I travelled with my other half and my parents (who went to The Gambia last year and invited us to join them this year) from Bristol (You can also fly from Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow). We stayed in a 3 star hotel on a Bed and Breakfast basis, which cost us approx £520.00 for the fortnight. I think this is very reasonable for a two week holiday. Almost everyone I spoke to before we went, assumed that The Gambia was going to be very expensive. At this point I would say, that I wouldn't recommend anyone thinking of travelling to The Gambia, to go on an all-inclusive basis, which many of the hotels are now offering. As a rule, you can eat out for cheaper and of a better quality. You land at Banjul International Airport, which it quite an experience in itself. You need to remember to have at the ready, one crisp £5 note per person, which is your airport tax. Its a small airport but it is filled with hussle and bussle. Tthere were locals very eager to take your case from the baggage carousel through customs and out to your coach. This will cost you one English pound. We travelled with The Gambia Experience who provided water and fans before you embark your coach to transfer to your hotel. This was highly welcomed, after leaving cold, damp England to enter the sunny and scortching hot Gambia, its quite a shock to the system. It's a good idea to go to your welcome meeting, organised by your toup operator for first time visitors. I don't wish to put people off, but like anywhere, you sometimes have to keep your wits about you. Also you gain valuable information, even down to the tides, as its not safe to swim in the sea on an outgoing tide, due to the strong rip tide. You need to remember that this is a developing third world country.
**CURRENCY** The local currency is the Dalasi. At the time of my visit, the exchange rate was D50 to the £. They do have smaller denominations called the Butut (there are 100 bututs to the dalasi) but as 1 dalasi is only 2 pence, you don't see bututs very often!! The Gambian government are stamping down on unauthorised exchange bureau's, so it's advisable to use the licenced bureau's or your hotel.
**BEACHES** This is mainly a beach holiday. The beaches are out of this world, and you will find bars, fresh fruit juice and gorgeous fresh mixed tropical fruit available along the miles of golden sand. I prefered the beaches between Fajara up to Kololi. The sea in the Senegambia area has recently been dredged to recover the eroding beach, which now has broken shell mixed with the sand, so not quite so pleasant. The beaches are in no way crowded. Tourism currently makes up 35% of the economy, which is about 100,000 visitors per annum. The aim is to attract one million visitors per year.
**PLACES OF INTEREST** There are two ways to see The Gambia. The first is to join the tours organised by your tour operator, although some trips are easy enough to organise yourself.
ROOTS A very interesting trip, is the 'Roots' trip, which takes you from Banjul to Albreda and Juffureh by boat. Once at Albreda and Juffureh, you are given the history of the slave trade which operated from here and was the subject of Alex Haleys television series 'Roots'. Then you meet the Chief of Juffureh, currently the only female chief in The Gambia. Next you meet the relatives of Kunta Kinte and lastly visit a craft market and museum. A short distance away by the boat is James Island - the island where the slaves were held. This trip cost £34.00 through the tour reps.
BIJILO MONKEY RESERVE This is a very large reserve, so comfortable shoes are a must. The entrance fee is D30 (about 60p). In the entrance is a large information board advising of all of the wildlife that you will see and also details of the various walks. As you start off on your walk, you will definately come face to face with the Green Vervet monkeys - there no cages here!! These are so cute and some people feed them nuts, which they take quite gently from your hand. There are also red backed monkeys, but you will need to keep your eyes peeled for these, as they are not so sociable.
KACHICALLY CROCODILE POOL Again this is an animal experience with no bars or cages!! The admission cost here is D15 (30p), which goes towards feeding the crocs with fish. Basically you are free to wonder around the pool, with crocs all around you. Guides are available to tell you which are safe to touch. One croc 'Charlie' of 33 years, actually allows visitors to shake hands!! Arghhh what a cutie!!
ABUKO NATURE RESERVE This is a massive reserve, although I thought the monkey reserve was better. Its slightly more costly at about £1.20 or D60 to get in. It does have an Education Centre, which was being renovated during our visit. Otherwise, it offers an Orphanage, which houses one Gambian lion and several hyenas. There are a couple of hydes dotted about to spot the wildlife.
**THE PEOPLE** The people are absolutely great. Each person will stop and talk to you and will remember you when they see you again. Some offer to take you to their homes, we did have a cup of green tea at the home of our friend. The people are very family orientated, they live in compounds which generally has a section for each family group around the extended family within the same compound. As there is no income support or family credit, the younger and older members of the family are supported by those who are able to work, unfortunately in some cases, the children are sent out to sell nuts or fruit to the tourists to provide an income. As it is a poor country, education is highly regarded. Those who are lucky enough to go to school, really work hard. The living conditions here, do not dampen their happy spirit. They will be pleased to chat and welcome you to the aptly known SMILING COAST OF WEST AFRICA.
**EATING OUT** Even though you are in West Africa, some many cuisines are available from Chinese to Itailian. The best food I thought was of course the local food. Benechin is a wonderful rice dish with either beef or local fish, this was by far my favourite. The local dishes would set up back around D100 (£2) for a really filing main course. International dishes would be slightly more. The local beer, brewed in Banjul is Julbrew. Its a 4% beer costlng between 40p to £1 in local bars and restaurants.
This holiday has given a little bit of everything - glorious beaches, markets, amazing people, wildlife (a real paradise for bird watchers), great food, reggae - I could go on and on. Therefore I would highly recommend the Gambia to anyone thinking of a winter sun holiday.