Sanyang International Cultural Festival
Since 2013, the four-day Sanyang International Cultural Festival has taken place, usually during the final week of January, with contemporary and traditional world music, cultural dance, a tourism fair, African cuisine, kids games, arts and crafts and organised tours to historic places and sacred shrines. Some of the money generated goes to helping local children and improving school facilities.
One of the most prominent festivals in The Gambia has been held in Kartong annually since 2006, usually over the first full weekend in February. The three-day festival takes place in the grounds of St Martin’s School and at the nearby football pitch at the southeast end of the village. It is dominated by music and dancing displays, most of it traditional, but it also includes a variety of other events and workshops.
Chill out on the coast
March is one of the best months to chill out on the coast © Marco Muscarà
March and April are among the best months to be at the coast – relatively cool at night, and towards the end of the dry season, which means mosquito and other insect activity is at its lowest.
Easter traditionally signals the end of the peak tourist season, which means that late April is often a very enjoyable time to be in The Gambia, with crowds thinning but facilities still operating in full seasonal mode.
International Roots Festival
Partly inspired by the success of Alex Haley’s book Roots, the inaugural Roots Homecoming Festival was held in May 1996 and, now known as the International Roots Festival, it has since become a biennial week-long event held in May or June of every even year. The festival is a celebration of Gambian culture through music, dance, arts and crafts and also commemorates the enslavement and transportation of millions of Africans to the Americas.
(Photo: A traditional band playing at the Roots festival in Banjul © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library)
Take a backpack upriver
May and June are among the best months for independent travel, with pleasantly dry weather but falling outside the main tourist season, which means that the coastal resorts are relatively quiet.
The height of the rainy season, July isn’t a great time to visit the Gambia.
Take a birdwatching boat trip
Between September and December visitors can take daily boat trips from the Tanji Bird Reserve to see the stunning birdlife on the Bijol Islands.
A pre-season taster
Though it can be very hot in the interior, this is a great time to explore the coast, offering pleasantly dry weather prior to the abrupt start of the tourist season.
The early dry season is the optimum time for birdwatching © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
The early dry season, from late October to December, is the optimum time for ornithological trips to the Gambia. Wetland habitats are still moist and green, following the recently ended rainy season. November in particular sees plentiful passage migrants from Europe, while many resident species enter full breeding colours.
Spot a dolphin off the coast of Jinack
A highlight of a visit to Jinack has to be the possibility of encountering dolphins, especially around December and January. Bottlenose dolphins can sometimes be seen on the boat trip between Barra and Jinack, cavorting and playing in the waves. Sometimes also a large group of Atlantic hump-backed dolphins will swim along only 100m or so from the shore, giving anyone on the beach an excellent view. This last species is a real speciality as they are found only along the coast of West Africa. There appears to be a group of 20 or so dolphins that spend part of their time off Jinack and the rest of it further north in the Delta du Saloum.