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Holidays to The Gambia: exciting inland trip

by Elisa Flitter Fever
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During our holidays to The Gambia we traveled inland for two days. In Georgetown we learned more about the slave history and admired the UNESCO stone circles of Wassu. During a beautiful boat trip on the Gambia River we spotted chimpanzees on Baboon Island. At night we slept in a traditional Gambian hut. An adventurous, 2-day mini trip that you don’t want to miss during your Gambia holidays!

Watching monkeys at Baboon Island Gambia holiday
Watching monkeys at Baboon Island

Our holidays to The Gambia

We stayed in The Gambia for 8 days at the adult-only Balafon Beach Resort. We two of those days inland. Looking back, I wished our holidays to The Gambia would have lasted longer. Although of course you should always have something left to be desired for next time…

Unfortunately, from the Netherlands there are no daily flights between Amsterdam-Schiphol and Banjul, the capital of The Gambia. But I really can’t complain anyway; this holiday to The Gambia was a gift from my boyfriend for my 40th birthday. How cool is that?! Best present ever!!

Our last-minute holiday to Gambia was great
It’s nice at the pool, but not every day
Sun, sea, beach in Gambia vs. Uganda

After quite a bit of searching, I received the golden tip via Facebook to contact Aladin from River Gambia Tours. Bingo! Super nice guy, clearly a lot of experience, neat car, fair price, reliable with Dutch business partner. We decided to go out with him 3 times during our holidays to The Gambia, including a 2-day trip inland.

To give an impression of our 2-day domestic mini adventure during this holidays to The Gambia, I describe our experiences below. We made this inland trip a few days after arriving in The Gambia. First we relaxed a bit on the beach at our resort. But we also wanted to get to know the country better and not just stay in our resort. And we didn’t regret it!

Gambia River
Gambia River

The Gambia holidays: inland trip

On days three and four we have a two-day trip into the interior with Aladin. We are picked up early in the morning from our hotel in Kololi, the most beautiful beach in Serekunda. The Gambia is also called ‘the tongue’, surrounded by Senegal, ‘the mouth’. From the coast we drive in a southeasterly direction, inland, along the south side of the Gambia River.

Market stalls are filled with merchandise. People on the street are on their way to school or work. Junkyards, lines of waiting yellow taxis… Vibrant Gambia!

After about an hour of driving eastwards, the area becomes increasingly rural. A fairly flat landscape with fields, rice fields, baobab trees, termite mountains. We pass countless small villages, each with at least one (often poorly maintained) mosque. Mud houses, houses with corrugated iron roofs. Children playing, goats running loose, donkeys, crammed cars, buses and trucks. The roads are better than we expected and we are amazed along the way.

Mosque in village in the interior of Gambia
>95% of Gambians are Muslim
All vans are packed in Gambia
All vans are packed as full as possible

Every few kilometers we pass a military checkpoint. Our car is actually checked once. The driver occasionally makes a joke with the controlling man or woman in office. Guide Aladin is cheerfulness himself. Fortunately, he doesn’t let himself being bogged down. For example when a guy tries to cut the line at the gas station.

Soma pit-stop

Around 11 o’clock we make a pit stop in a lively town, Soma. At a local roadside eatery, scrambled egg sandwiches are freshly prepared for us, delicious! While we wait for our food, there is a pleasant daily hustle and bustle of people, animals and vehicles around us. We enjoy our favorite activity when traveling: people watching. Aladin is very much at home here.

After we eat our sandwiches, we buy a large bag of lollipops to hand out to local children. A quick visit to the toilet at the bus station and off we go to Georgetown.

Brunch in Soma Gambia inland trip
Brunch in Soma
No place like home Gambia holiday inland trip
Well I feel quite at home here

The Gambia holidays: Georgetown

Once we arrive in Georgetown, it is clear that the British have held sway here for years. The architecture, Anglican churches, the street art. The Gambia became independent in 1965; Independence Day is celebrated every year on February 18. Until 2006, the country was under a dictator. Here and now there is also dissatisfaction with politics and the government, but in which country there isn’t? Gambians are usually cheerful in nature, not grouchy.

In Georgetown we stop at a building with a large mural on it. The art leaves little to the imagination. What took place here in the past is clear – slavery. Aladin has arranged an appointment for us and we enter the building, which is located diagonally opposite the ferry jetty.

Street art in Janjanbureh a.k.a. Georgetown Gambia holiday
Street art in Janjanbureh a.k.a. Georgetown

The building is old and has fallen into considerable disrepair, but it turns out it is definitely worth a visit. A local man tells us about the gruesome past. His father did the same before him. This is where hundreds, if not thousands, of slaves were held at the same time, under appalling conditions. Imagine…

A muddy floor full of vermin, hardly any daylight, chained up, almost nothing to eat or drink, pain and sadness. Hungry, angry, sick and screaming people crammed together for god-knows-how-long. Some of the slaves did not survive and died on the spot. Survivors were traded and shipped to overseas areas. By both the colonializer and local traders. Sad and terrible.

Boy on bicycle at former slave house in Janjanbureh Georgetown Gambia holiday
Boy on bicycle at former slave house
People queuing outside for ferry tickets
People queuing outside for ferry tickets

These days the locals prefer to call their city – formerly known as Georgetown – Janjanbureh (also written as Jangjangbureh).

Ferry over The Gambia River

After the museum visit we take the ferry to the north side of the Gambia River. The sun shines high up in the sky. During the river crossing, three colorful local ladies sit next to me. A young lady in a green striped outfit, wearing gold jewelry, stands out in particular. Following the henna on her feet, we make some contact with a smile. Aladin explains what tribe she is from and that she recently got married. Beautiful, I wish her the best of luck.

Gambia holidays: stone circles

On the north side of the Gambia River is an important cultural attraction: the Stone Circles of Senegambia in Wassu. The Stonehenge of Gambia, so to speak. There are three places in Gambia and one in Senegal with these types of stone circles, of which the one in Wassu is the best known. In 2006, these stone circles were jointly declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When we arrive at the stone circles in Wassu there are no other visitors, only guide Lucas and us. We walk to the first stone circles and he starts to talk about them. Each circle is about 4-6 meters in size and consists of about 10-20 stone poles of approximately 2 meters high. People are buried underneath, just like the dolmens in Drenthe, The Netherlands. In Wassu there are – as far as I could see – six such stone circles. Special! There is also a small museum with it.

Fun fact: the stone circles of Wassu are on the 50 Gambian Dalasi note.

The stone circles of Senegambia UNESCO Wassu Gambia holiday
At the stone circles of Wassu Gambia
Stone circles Senegambia 50 Gambian Dalasi banknote
The stone circles of Senegambia on the GMD 50 banknote

Kuntaur

After our visit to the Wassu stone circles we had lunch at Kairoh Garden Guesthouse in Kuntaur. I understand that name (which sounds like Cairo), because it’s like being in Egypt on the Nile. Due to the short lines that guide Aladin maintains with all locals, we do not have to wait long anywhere. At this restaurant too, our food (delicious chicken) was served within ten minutes after we arrived.

Thirst quenched, bellies well filled… time to start our boat trip on the Gambia River! The boat is already ready for us and in no time we are in the middle of the water. it is wonderfully quiet here. A local man drives the boat. I forgot his name, but not his friendly smile. Great guy.

On the Gambia River by boat
On the Gambia River by boat
The skipper of our boat on the Gambia River
Our friendly skipper

The Gambia holidays: spotting chimpanzees

The Baboon Islands archipelago consists of one larger island and four smaller islands. I tell you, this is THE attraction of River Gambia National Park. Although strangely enough we saw virtually no other visitors. A hidden gem then!? Confiscated and rescued chimpanzees have been released here since the late 1970s. Chimpanzees disappeared from the wild in The Gambia at the beginning of the twentieth century, so this is a great recovery project.

Officially, you are not allowed on the island as a visitor. However, with the right permit, boat and captain/guide, you can sail around Baboon Island and see if you can spot the chimpanzees from the water. A lot easier than the Chimpanzee Tracking I did in Uganda a few months before!

Adult chimpanzee on the Gambia River Baboon Island
Adult chimpanzee
Chimpanzees are found in f.e. Uganda and Gambia
Generations of chimpanzees live together

More than 140 chimpanzees now live on the island. Every now and then they are fed from the water. This is for purposes such as counting, observation, deworming and contraception. Knowing this and when will greatly increase your chances of seeing them here. We saw at least a dozen different chimpanzees during the boat trip.

Further on we saw a number of Vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus), West African red colobus monkeys (Piliocolobus badius) and various bird species, such as a Palm-nut vulture (Gypohierax angolensis) and Pied kingfishers (Ceryle rudis). Love this! We were told there are also crocodiles here, but we didn’t see any on this boat ride. You can’t force nature, right?!

You can find them along the river here Baboon Island Gambia holiday
You can find them along the river here
West African red colobus monkeys Gambia River Piliocolobus badius
West African red colobus monkeys on the branches

Hippos at the Nile

We didn’t have much luck spotting hippos during this boat trip on the Gambia River. They mainly stayed under water here. Hippos can stay there for about 15 minutes before they have to come up briefly to breathe. And that goes super fast, so it is difficult to photograph and requires a lot of patience. Very different from during boat trips on the Nile in Uganda, where we saw a lot of hippos.

The sun sets towards the horizon and it soon becomes cooler on the water. It is December after all. Time to sail back to our car and drive to our overnight stay. A group of children are watching curiously at the quay. We joke around with them and take a photo together.

Gambia River with sunset
Sunset over the Gambia River
Happy children in Kuntaur Gambia holiday
Happy children in Kuntaur

The Gambia holidays: Jang Jang Burreh Camp

Jang Jang Burreh Camp is simple but great for an overnight stay near River Gambia National Park. As far as I’m concerned, because my friend actually thought it was a bit too basic, without electricity and only cold water. Very different from our beach resort. The bed slept well, so I’m happy. My advice: bring a headlamp with you if you spend the night here.

The road to Jang Jang Burreh Camp is quite bushy. But luckily Aladin drives a good 4×4 car and we got through without any problems. You have dinner and breakfast at the camp, there is even wine and beer! You sit right next to the river, beautiful views guaranteed. There is also a group of monkeys hanging around, who come and take a curious look every now and then.

At night we hear exotic sounds around our hut. It is pitch dark, the stars are clearly visible in the sky. The next morning at breakfast, other travelers talk about their nighttime walk, where they lost their way, oops haha. After breakfast we pack our things and drive back to our hotel on the coast.

Vervet monkey at Jang Jang Burreh Camp Gambia
Vervet monkeys for breakfast
Jang Jang Burreh Camp Gambia holiday
Jang Jang Burreh Camp

The Gambia holidays: Bintang Balong

On the way we stop at Bintang Bolong for lunch. There we had a delicious meal of domoda and a glass of wine… Great view over the lake and the mangrove forests. There are also dolphins swimming in the river here, but we did not see them. Perhaps if you go up the river with a boat. Many vultures circle above the river.

Domoda is a super tasty, typical Gambian dish, which consists of: rice, spicy peanut sauce and stew or chicken. Highly recommended to try. Or learn to cook yourself, because they also give cooking lessons at Bintang Bolong. Unfortunately I didn’t know that in advance, otherwise I might have added it to my list of most memorable cooking classes around the world.

Bintang Bolong is an hour’s drive east of Brikama, where there is a nice market with authentic wood carvings. In a next article I will tell you more about this, and what else you can do during your holidays to The Gambia.

Lunch with a view over the Gambia River Bintang Bolong
Lunch with a view over the Gambia River
Domoda is a delicious Gambian dish
Domoda is a delicious Gambian dish

Map The Gambia holidays

This map includes places and spots mentioned in this article (and more). This one is ‘smartphone friendly’; you can easily use it via the Google Maps app. Click the icon at the top left to open the menu and see the categories. To adapt the map to your own preferences and interests, (de)select a category. Via Google Drive you can copy the map to your own My Google Maps account.

If you travel into the interior of The Gambia on your own, you could also consider staying overnight at Sesending River Lodge or the aforementioned Kairoh Garden Kuntaur. But don’t expect luxury there either. There is no regulated public transport, locals travel in improvised, packed vans. The well-known car rental companies are conspicuously absent in The Gambia, making taxis a must.

Can you see yourself getting into a van like that?
Can you see yourself getting into one of those local vans?
Local women and teenagers in Gambia
You will be amazed by The Gambia

River Gambia Tours

Tours with Aladin from River Gambia Tours are private and professional, highly recommended! The River Gambia Tours website contains a number of tour suggestions, but everything is flexible and negotiable. You can read reviews on their Facebook page and Tripadvisor, among others. Feel free to send a Whatsapp message to Aladin or call him on tel. +220 771 02 53 for current availability and prices.

We paid one price for 4 days of tours with Aladin in total, so it is difficult to say exactly what this inland trip cost us. But Aladin was really competitively priced compared to other providers I inquired and looked at. On sites such as GetYourGuide and Viator, the offer in this case (inland tours The Gambia) is very limited and more expensive. The preferred method of payment for tours in The Gambia is cash euros, so I would definitely bring that with me from the Netherlands.

This article was written on my own initiative and based on my own opinion and experience. My recommendation towards River Gambia Tours is independent and is not be financially rewarded in any way.

Aladin will pick you up at your hotel on Gambia holiday Balafon Beach resort Kololi
Aladin will pick you up promptly at your hotel
With our Gambian guide Aladin River Gambia Tours
Pictured with our Gambian guide Aladin

Traveling to The Gambia

Before you book and leave for your holidays to The Gambia, always check the current travel advice by your country’s government first.

Don’t forget to take out good travel and cancellation insurance for your holidays to The Gambia, for example with World Nomads or Safety Wing.

Check out flight possibilities and prices with Skyscanner.

Are you going to travel to The Gambia and want to stay online? Stay connected with Airalo eSIM to avoid high roaming fees.

Learn more about the country and culture, meet local people and try traditional dishes. In my opinion, a trip inland is highly recommended as part of your Gambia holidays. Do you have plans to go to Gambia? I hope you found this article inspiring. Please give Aladin my regards when you see him. And feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this article if you have additional tips or a question.

Palm-nut vulture Gambia River Gambia holiday eagle
Palm-nut vulture spotted at the Gambia River
Father with child Soma Gambia holiday
Father with child in Gambia

More travel articles about Africa

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Last Updated on 02/21/2024 by Elisa Flitter Fever

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