The Gambia - When and where to visit


Climate
When to visit
Highlights

Climate

The Gambia has a wonderfully warm climate characterised by a long dry season from mid-October to early June, and a short rainy season from mid- June to early October. July and September are the hottest months, with average daytime maximum temperatures of around 30ºC. During this period, frequent and magnificent rainstorms cool everything down for a while, before the humidity shoots up to almost 100%. From December to mid-February the average daytime temperature falls to around 24ºC, which is fairly comfortable, especially when coming from a cold wet European or North American winter.

After February the days get steadily hotter until the rains come in June. Temperatures are generally slightly lower along the coast, owing to cooling offshore winds, but these figures are only averages, and on some days it can be a lot warmer – in the high 30s or more occasionally in the mid 40s. Average rainfall per year is around 1,020mm, but in the west it can be much higher – up to 1,700mm – while in the drier east it can be as low as 800mm. Over the past 40 years or so, a slight warming in average temperatures and a decrease in rainfall has adversely affected the livelihoods of farmers dependent on rain-fed crops.

Sunset football, The Gambia by Bart Brouwer, Shutterstock

Boys playing football on the beach at sunset – football is a massively popular sport in The Gambia © Bart Brouwer, Shutterstock

When to visit

The peak tourist season, and the most pleasant time to visit in climatic terms, broadly coincides with the northern-hemisphere winter, ie: late October to April. During these dry months, a high quota of cloudless skies and blazing sunshine is practically guaranteed to those seeking to escape colder and more northerly climes. Other advantages of travel between October and April are that it tends to be cooler and more comfortable at night, there are fewer mosquitoes and other biting insects about, and dirt roads upriver are less likely to be impassable. In addition, plenty of scheduled flights run to The Gambia from the UK (and the rest of Europe) between October and April, so it is often possible to pick up cheap last-minute package deals inclusive of flights and accommodation.

The beginning of the rainy season is the time when life starts to show itself again: butterflies and dragonflies fill the air, lizards and birds take on their breeding colours, and mango trees attract large numbers of straw-coloured fruit bats.

Out of season, May and June are also good for independent travel, with the advantage that the coastal resorts will be much quieter. Over July to September, the average monthly rainfall is above 200mm, and even though much of the rain falls overnight (and the storms can be pretty spectacular), these months are probably best avoided. The rainy season also carries a higher risk of contracting malaria, as mosquitoes tend to be abundant, while the hot and humid conditions can be very uncomfortable at night, particularly upriver where air conditioning and fans are a rare luxury.

For birders, the early dry season, from late October to December, is the optimum time to visit. Following the rains, most wetland habitats will be at their best, attracting huge numbers of passage migrants from Europe, while weavers, bishops and other resident species displaying marked seasonal plumage variations tend to be in full breeding colours. Birding remains rewarding throughout the dry season, as a significant proportion of migrants overwinter in The Gambia, but from February onwards seasonal wetlands tend to have dried up, and there is generally less wildlife around, particularly over May into early June. The beginning of the rainy season is the time when life starts to show itself again: butterflies and dragonflies fill the air, lizards and birds take on their breeding colours, and mango trees attract large numbers of straw-coloured fruit bats. Overall, though, watching the birds and other wildlife in the rainy season becomes difficult because the vegetation is so thick.

Highlights

Greater Banjul and Kololi

National Museum of The Gambia

Housed in the former Bathurst Club, this oft-overlooked enjoyable museum in central Banjul is strong both on local history and traditional cultures.

Albert Market

Handicraft enthusiasts shouldn't miss out on Banjul's historic central market, which is a good place to buy woodcarvings, tie-dyed batik clothing and much else besides.

Kachikally Crocodile Pool

Crocodiles so tame you can stroke their backs and the main attraction at this sacred pool in Bakau, though it also hosts a worthwhile museum.

Bakau Botanical Garden

Almost a century old, this small, low-key and attractively laid-out garden makes for a peaceful retreat from bustling Bakau or Fajara.

Fajara and Kotu beaches

Our favourite among several attractive beaches that line the Atlantic coastline of Greater Banjul is the long stretch of white sand connecting Kotu and Fajara.

Fajara Club

The par-69 18-hole golf course at the Fajara Club is a must for golfers, and the institution also offers several other sports facilities to day members. 

Serekunda Market

The country's largest market, set in the heart of Serekunda, might not be for the faint of heart, but it does offer an uncompromising glimspe into the many faces of modern-day Africa.

Kotu Stream

A near-mandatory first stop for birders, Kotu Stream regularly yields 50-plus species in an hour or two, and the bridge across it is a good place to hook up with local bird guides.

Senegambia Strip

Love or hate this action-packed street in Kololi, there's no arguing with the abundant choice and overall quality of the dozens of restaurants that line it. 

Bijilo Forest Park

Red colobus, giant monitor lizards and plentiful forest birds are among the attractions of this small pedestrian-friendly reserve only five minutes’ walk from the Senegambia Strip. 

The Coastal Belt

Tanji Bird Reserve

The recently opened eco-lodge in this community-owned reserve seems set to become a favourite of birders. Equally tantalising are day trips to the bird-rich Bijol Islands and a walking trail to Tanji Bridge.

Tanji

This down-to-earth village, among the largest on the south coast, is renowned for its fascinating artisanal fishing beach and private village museum, as well as offering enjoyable camel safaris.

Tujering Beach

South of Tanji, this ranks among the country’s most beautiful and safest swimming beaches, with the bonus of offering good birding, not to mention tasty food at a locally run beach bar.

Karting Bird Obesrvatory

Established as a ringing centre in 2010, this excellent facility overlooking a community wetland reserve is the best starting point for exploring a corner of the country famed for throwing up avian rarities and new records.

Gambian Reptiles Farm

At once a rehabilitation, breeding and community education facility, this herpetological centre outside Kartong is a great place to see (and learn about) snakes, tortoises, lizards and crocodiles at close quarters.

Abuko Nature Reserve

The Gambia’s largest surviving tract of Upper Guinean forest supports a wonderful variety of birds (270 species recorded in 1km²) and small mammals such as monkeys and antelope.

Brikama Craft Market

For serious handicraft buyers, this well-organised market near Brikama is the best place in the country to pick up quality work at source.

Makasutu Cultural Forest

Enjoyable day tours, night extravaganzas, and extended stays at the architecturally flamboyant Mandina Lodge are offered at this owner-managed private reserve – the most westerly site to possess a genuinely ‘upriver’ feel.

Albreda, Juffureh and Kunta Kinteh (James) Island

This trio of slave trade-related historic sites, collectively inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the target of the popular Roots Excursions to the North Bank and Fort James.

Jinack Island

Comprising the entire Atlantic coastline north of the river mouth, budget-friendly Jinack is both the centrepiece of Niumi National Park and the country’s ultimate ‘desert island fantasy’ destination.

Upriver Gambia

Tumani Tenda

This simple but well-run ecotourism camp, only an hour’s drive inland from the coastal resorts, offers good birdwatching along with an interesting set of cultural activities.

Bintang Bolong Lodge

Probably the most characterful goal for a budget overnight trip upriver is the stilted lodge with saltwater swimming pool set among the mangroves.

Tendaba Camp

The largest upriver camp, Tendaba is a birdwatcher’s paradise and the best base for canoe trips into the vast Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve, home to several rare and eagerly sought species.

Kiang West National Park

The country’s largest terrestrial reserve protects a little-visited tract of savannah and riverine woodland rich in monkeys, antelope and birds –as well as being home to a few elusive leopards.

Ker Batch National Monument     

The less impressive but more off-the-beatentrack of the country’s two ancient UNESCO-inscribed stone circle sites is famed for its unique lyre-stone and an adventure to reach.

Museum display at Ker Batch Stone Circles, the Gambia by Ariadne Van Zandbergen, www.africaimagelibrary.com

Museum display at Ker Batch Stone Circles, the Gambia © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, www.africaimagelibrary.com

Wassu National Monument

The most accessible and famous archaeological site in The Gambia, UNESCO-inscribed Wassu comprises 200 megaliths arranged into 11 stone circles.

River Gambia National Park

The top mammal-viewing destination in the interior is home to a renowned Chimp Rehabilitation Project (and excellent clifftop camp). Monkeys and birds are also prolific on boat trips to the islands.

Janjanbureh

This small but historic town, set on a forested island in the middle of the River Gambia, is a popular chill-out venue thanks to its many small camps and eateries.

Kunkilling Forest Park

Monkeys and forest birds are the main attractions of this small community-managed park upriver of Janjanbureh.

Basse Santu Su

The most remote and least Westernised of Gambian towns has an attractive riverside setting and compellingly traditional feel.

Back to the top 

The Gambia articles

View all

Gambia – for crocodile pools, handicrafts and indulgent eco-lodges

Didn't think it was possible to get a taste of Africa in a long weekend? Think again.

Read more...

The Stone Circles of Senegambia

Author Philip Briggs explores these ancient stone circles, each one reminiscent of a miniature Stonehenge, which form one of Africa’s most enigmatic and intriguing archaeological relicts.

Read more...

Alex Haley, Juffureh and the Roots saga

The Roots Tour to Juffureh and environs remains one of the most popular excursions from the resorts that line the coast south of Banjul thanks to Aley Haley’s Roots.

Read more...

Related guides and other books

View all