Gambia is located only six hours from major destinations in Europe, making it a popular and financially accessible place for tourists. In the high season, from November until March, there are more flight options but the prices are higher, especially during Christmas & New Year time, Easter and school holidays. The cheapest available tickets are in the rainy season, between June and October. Additional option is to fly to the capital of Senegal, Dakar, which has more international connections. The public transportation from Dakar to Barra, in Gambia, is always available for not more than 10€ per person. There is no railway lines in Gambia. The country has one international airport, Banjul Airport. There are no internal flight except by private arrangements. The most common way to get around is by road or by river.
The bush taxi is the classic form of West African public transport, providing an essential public service in both urban and rural areas. Locals mostly use large vehicles, known as bush taxis. They are usually seven passengers-vehicles, delivery vans, and buses. These vehicles are not marked with a specific colour and are used for long and short distances. Prices are fixed; however, we recommend that you find out about the price before entering the vehicle. These taxis stop on the way so that passengers can enter and exit. Main roads are paved and in order, while the byroads may be in poor condition. Particularly during the rainy season, it is hard to drive on byroads.
EXCHANGE BUREAUS, CREDIT CARDS, TRAVELLER’S CHEQUES
The official currency in the Gambia is Gambian Dalasi. Changes in the exchange rate depend on the market. The exchange rates vary significantly during major holidays.
Euro ranges between 40 and 53 GMD and 1 dollar is approx. 30 GMD.
Visa Credit Cards are the most popular credit cards. You can withdraw Dalasi, but the value must not exceed 100€ and on cash points it must not exceed 200€ per day. Credit cards are accepted only in major banks, supermarkets and hotels, but you are usually charged a high commission when using them. We recommend using cash, and you can have you VISA with you in case of emergency. Money can be exchanged in banks and exchange bureaus throughout the country. Do not exchange your money on the street, even though you may be offered a better exchange rate.
HEALTH + SAFETY
Since January 2008, mandatory vaccination against yellow fever is required for entering all West African countries, including the Gambia. Vaccination against yellow fever is the only required for entering the Gambia. We recommended that, before you travel, you consult your doctor who will advice you on any other preventative health-care measures such as anti-malarial medicines (which are also available in the Gambia). If you start noticing any signs of malaria, even months after the trip, you should immediately seek medical attention. Malaria symptoms are similar to the symptoms of flu, including fever of 38 °C or more, sweating and chills, malaise, headache, cough and diarrhoea. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should immediately seek out medical attention in the Gambia or in at home, if you notice the symptoms after returning.
All food must be freshly prepared and well cooked. It is recommended that you eat only fruits and vegetables that you can peel yourself. Avoid “lukewarm food” such as unprocessed milk and biscuits stored at room temperature. Consumption of raw fish and shellfish is also not recommended. Only drink bottled water and beverages or water and beverages that have been boiled. Bottled or boiled water is also used for brushing teeth in unhygienic environments.
Gambian cuisine is really special. Arabian, British, French and Portugeese influences are everywhere. The result is a fusion of ingredients and spices prepared in a unique way to produce a complex range of flavors. When visiting The Gambia, you must try food that is offered on the streets. Not everywhere, but locals will advice you where to buy it. We believe getting to know a country through its food can bring you more close to people and their culture. We would recommend everyone visiting The Gambia for the first time to try at least one or two traditional dishes. Women are usually buying vegetables, fruits, fish, meat, chicken, fresh milk, oil, spices, rice, eggs, etc. at the local markets. Dairy, meat products, eggs, juices and similar products cost almost as much as in Europe or America.
No medical insurance will be provided by the organization. We strongly recommend that all participants invest in personal health insurance that will cover them internationally. If affiliated with a university, consider discussing international health insurance options with your university’s study abroad office. If you are not affiliated with a university, please look into insurance providers that focus on international travelers and volunteers, such as World Nomads.
Some rooms in the house serve as temporary accommodation for usual international visitors. The international participants need to bring with them a sleeping bag, a touch light or solar lantern and mosquito nets.
Calls from Gambia to Europe are quite expensive. We recommend that you purchase a local SIM card at a Gambian telecommunication provider and a coupon, which you can put money onto the SIM card of your phone. This way calls from the Gambia to Europe and within the Gambia are cheaper. SIM cards and coupons can be bought anywhere. In major cities numerous Internet cafes can be found, where you can use the internet for just a few euros per hour. Mobile Internet is the cheapest option, if you have a Gambian SIM card. Internet access via computer use USB keys rather expensive (about 65 €). Monthly subscription for unlimited Internet access costs about 85 €. You can choose between different packages. There is also a limited access option, which is cheaper.
Leave the following at home or email copies to yourself, so that you can have them in online:
- A copy of your passport;
- A copy of your plane ticket,
- A copy of the international certificate of vaccination,
Keep another copy of all the documents mentioned above with you. For example, always keep the copies separate from the originals. If your copy is stolen, you can ask someone at home to send you a fax with a new copy. Another option is to scan your documents and send the scans to your email that you can check anywhere. A copy of your passport can also serve as an ID on the street, or when you want to exchange money at banks or exchange bureaus, so you can keep the original passport somewhere safe.
Backpacks with locks: We recommend using a backpack with double zipper, which can be locked with a small padlock.
- Tagged baggage: All items of baggage must be marked in visible places with labels that includes your personal data (name, address). Highlight pockets inside your baggage the same way.Do not carry sharp objects in your hand luggage Luggage that you take with you on an airplane must not contain any hazardous or sharp objects such as sets manicure scissors, large and small knives, other cutting blades, metal nail files, etc.).
- Permitted luggage weight is usually 20-23 kg per person.
When you receive your plane ticket, immediately check the dates, departure time and your name.
ETIQUETTE TIPS FOR A PLEASANT JOURNEY
- Be tolerant of public workers. If you get upset, they will have even a harder time understanding you and work even slower.
- Never criticize the condition of the country in front its officials.
- Respect the local way of life, customs, traditions, religion, etc. Remember that you are a guest in their country.
- In Africa time goes by more slowly than in Europe. Buses and local guides are often late (although this is becoming less common).
- Always ask permission before taking pictures and do not be offended if they refuse, or if payment is required. NEVER take pictures of state institutions (military establishments, airports, embassies, bridges, etc.) If you are caught, your camera may be taken away without further explanation.
- Show that you care about the environment by not littering.
- Never give money to children.
- If you buy candy or fruit for children, split it, if you have enough for everybody.
- Avoid racist jokes and sexual jokes.
- Do not tell how much money you have with you, how much you make and what you can afford to anybody.
- Take into consideration the values and moral principles of our association.
- Do not try to change the way of life of the locals and do not impose your opinions.
- Respect the people you are visiting despite the fact that you have come to help them.
- Do not go out alone in the evenings or at night.
- Drink only bottled water: Make sure that you drink industrially packaged bottled water.
- The sun is very hot. Temperatures may exceed 30 °C, so do not forget a hat, sunglasses and sun cream with a high SPF. Bring lotion to relieve sunburn.
- Mosquito protection: Bring mosquito repellents along with long pants and thin long-sleeved shirts.
- Prohibited things that cannot be taken out of the country: drugs, plants, animals, archaeological pieces, minerals…
- Before going home: Leave valuables at home – leave everything that is not vital for your journey (necklaces, bracelets, earrings, expensive devices, mobile phones, etc.).
- Dress code: Bring clothes for warm and cooler weather. Walking in swimsuits, bikinis or topless is seen as inappropriate outside beach areas and hotels. We recommend wearing light cotton clothing, T-shirts with short or long sleeves, and shorts. It is important, they do not wear revealing clothes, and to respect the culture and religion of the country as most people are Muslim. In the Gambia, you can also buy clothes at very affordable prices.
Hidden pockets: Sew small, inconspicuous pockets at several places on the inside of your clothing. In them, you can hide folded banknotes and traveller’s checks. It is also a good idea to carry a fanny pack.
Official language: English and local languages of Wolof, Fula, Jola Serehule, Mandinka, and Aku ethnic groups. Time zone is GMT + 01:00. Tips are expected in cities, tourist areas, and on trips. Tips are perceived as rewards for a job well done. Give a reasonably low tip. Electricity is 230V; standard British sockets with three holes are most common.
People are very friendly but it is possible that they will be intrigued by your skin colour and approach you more often than you are used to. Some of them will want a way to take advantage of you, while the some will follow you shyly or just stare at you. Avoiding direct eye contact is a sign of respect and humility. In principle, people will want to talk to you if you are communicative and friendly.
Stereotypical notion that white people are “wandering wallets” is still present, so children and adults will often approach you and ask for money. DO NOT reach for your wallet on the street or in a car with the windows open. Have some change on hand (not in your bag) in case you want to give them some money.
Intimate distance varies from culture to culture, and it is much shorter in Africa than in Europe. This can be noticed best using public transport, in shops and offices. Do not expect that people will wait in line and patiently wait for their turn. In most cases, the principle “stronger wins” prevails.
Toubab is a word that you hear often. People use it while referring to white people and it means “a person with a light complexion.” The word is not an insult. In fact, it has a positive connotation and it refers to all white people. Children will sometimes yell after you “Toubab! Toubab! “, but you will quickly become accustomed to it.
We strongly recommend that you learn some basic phrases in Wolof (greetings, how to thank someone, etc.). It is recommended that you say hello to people before you start the conversation. Handshakes are usually accompanied by the phrase “As-Salaam Aleikum”, which means “peace be with you.” Most Gambians are Muslim. During the visit, you need to respect their religion and traditions. When you receive gifts or give them yourself, always use the right hand. Gambians are extremely hospitable, so do not be afraid to accept their hospitality.