It’s easy to miss The Gambia on a map of mighty Africa. This tiny sliver of land is a mere 500km long and 50km wide and, with the exception of an 80km shoreline, it’s entirely enveloped by Senegal. But beach-bound tourists have long known how to trace this oddly shaped country on the map. Its magnificent coast invites visitors to laze and linger, tempting with luxurious beach resorts and bustling fishing villages.
But there’s more to Africa’s smallest country than sun and surf. Stunning nature reserves, such as Kiang West National Park and River Gambia National Park (also known as Baboon Island), and the historical slaving stations of St James Island and Jufureh offer peaceful pauses from the clamour of the nearby coast.
The Gambia’s vibrant culture is always there to be taken in by open-eyed visitors. Traditional wrestling matches regularly take place; the thriving markets of Banjul and Serekunda have you soaking up the atmosphere and sharpening your negotiation skills; the striking performances of kora-strumming griots can be experienced during weddings, baptisms or public concerts.
Bird-lovers will truly enjoy this compact country. On a tour upriver, the sounds of over 300 species will follow you as your pirogue (traditional canoe) charts a leisurely course through mangrove-lined wetlands and the island of Georgetown. Even if your ornithological skills don’t go beyond identifying an inner-city pigeon, you’ll be tempted to wield binoculars here and can rely on an excellent network of trained guides to help you tell a pelican from a flamingo.