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The Gambia - Travel and visas
A valid passport is required, and the expiry date should fall after your scheduled date of arrival in your home country. No visa is required by holders of passports from the UK, or from most member states of the EU, ECOWAS or Commonwealth countries. Other nationalities need a visa, which typically costs around £30 and requires up to five working days to process at any Gambian embassy or consulate, though it may take longer by courier or post. If you are travelling from a country that does not have a Gambian embassy or consulate then you should be able to obtain a visa directly upon landing at Banjul International Airport or at major immigration posts along the border. However, this is not always guaranteed, so safer not to rely on it.
Immigration control at Banjul International Airport will usually stamp your visa or visitors pass for 15 or 21 days, but will grant up to 28 days if you ask. If you want to stay in the country longer, the pass can be extended on a monthly basis for up to three months at the Immigration Department office in central Banjul.
If you are travelling from a country that has yellow fever (most other African countries including Senegal), you may be asked to show a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate, and might theoretically be refused entry if you can’t.
A driving licence from any country, so long as one of the languages used is English, is valid for up to three months. For longer stays, an international driver’s licence is required.
For security reasons, it’s advisable to write up all your important information in a document and email copies to yourself and a few trusted friends or relatives, together with a scan of your passport (which will facilitate getting a quick replacement if it is lost or stolen). Other information you might want to include in this document are your flight details, travel insurance policy details and 24-hour emergency contact number, passport number, details of relatives or friends to be contacted in an emergency, bank and credit-card details, camera and lens serial numbers, etc.
The Gambia maintains an embassy, high commission or consulate in several countries. These include the UK, the US, Senegal, Belgium/EU, as well as Austria, Canada, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Japan, Nigeria, Portugal, Sierra Leone, Sweden and Switzerland.
Most UK-based tourists visit The Gambia on a package, including flights and accommodation, with The Gambia Experience or Thomas Cook, and these companies, which run their own scheduled flights from the UK several times weekly, are also the best source of cheap air tickets from the UK.
From 2018, the easiest way to search for flights to The Gambia will be to use Gambia Flights, a new comprehensive flight-comparison site that can show you the cheapest fares available. Using information gathered from a range of sources, you can look in to flight options from any country, city or airport and find prices in several different currencies.
Overland from Europe
To travel overland from Europe, via Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal, is fairly straightforward, provided you have plenty of time and a reliable 4x4 suited to crossing the Sahara. Anybody planning an expedition of this sort is pointed to Siân Pritchard-Jones and Bob Gibbons’s dedicated guidebook Africa Overland.
Around Greater Banjul
Getting around the Greater Banjul area, and the rest of the southern coastal belt, is very straightforward. Indeed, if you are staying at one of the resort hotels in Bakau, Kotu or Kololi, almost everything you’re likely to need on a day-to-day basis – beach, restaurants, supermarkets, bars, and banks – will be within easy walking distance of your hotel. And for day excursions further afield, you have the choice of hiring a taxi, renting a bike, using public transport, or joining an organised excursion set up by a local tour operator or registered guide.
Two main types of charter taxi operate in Greater Banjul, both on a similar basis to taxi cabs in many Western cities, except that they are unmetered so it is conventional to agree the fare before the journey starts. The more expensive are the specially licensed tourist taxis (usually green with a white diamond on the side) that can be find outside any of the tourist hotels. These are regulated by the Gambia Tourist Authority and should be fully insured. They will run you to any destination, and usually ask a fixed price for a return trip, inclusive of a period of waiting, so may be negotiable for one-way trips or where no waiting is required.
The preferred option of budget-conscious travellers is shared taxis, which are usually painted bright yellow with green stripes, and tend to be far cheaper than tourist taxis. These unregulated and often uninsured taxis normally ply a set route and pick up passengers along the way for a set fare of usually D8. But they are also quite willing – indeed, usually very eager – to be chartered on a ‘town trip’, which is where one person hires the whole taxi to wherever they want to go for a negotiable price – typically around £2 per 5km, less than half of what a tourist taxi would ask.
A rented bicycle is a good way of getting around the hinterland immediately outside Banjul and the resorts, with the great advantage of letting you see the towns and countryside at your own pace. Do be careful when out riding though, as Gambian drivers often pass dangerously close to bicycles or cut them off. Furthermore, many roads are full of pot-holes or have their edges worn unevenly which can force cyclists into the flow of traffic.
Although most visitors to The Gambia never stray far outside the Greater Banjul area, there is a whole country out there to be explored, whether on public transport or on a self-drive basis. Note that there is no rail system in The Gambia, nor any domestic flight network, nor any river transportation (not unless you count the handful of dilapidated ferry services that connect the South and North banks), which means that public transport is all but restricted to the roads.
Road transport is very cheap, but most vehicles are quite rundown, slow, sweaty, crowded and poorly driven. Generally the best option, at least for the time being, are the recently revived and privatised Gambia Transport Service Company (GTSC) buses which have individual seat fans and in some cases air conditioning. The distinctly inferior alternative to the GTSC buses is the private passenger vehicles known as gelly-gellys (minivan size or larger) or shared/bush taxis (saloon cars or station wagons) that cover pretty much every conceivable route in the country, offering variable degrees of unreliability and discomfort.
(Photo: Local buses are one option for travellers wanting to use public transport © Marco Muscarà)
Perhaps the most satisfying way to explore The Gambia, though far more costly than using public transport, is in a rented 4x4. Brits should be aware, however, that although it is a former British colony, The Gambia follows the European and American model and drives on the right-hand side of the road. And while the new North Bank and South Bank roads are great, with smooth surfaces that tend to encourage a relatively orderly approach to road usage, all aspirant drivers should be prepared for a somewhat more anarchic environment than the one they are used to.
There are only five places countrywide where motor vehicles can cross between the South and North banks: these are the large but slow ferries connecting Banjul to Barra at the river mouth and Farafenni to Soma on the Trans-Gambia Highway, and the smaller and quicker ferries further east at Janjanbureh, Basse Santa Su and Fatoto.