If you’re looking for an affordable luxury escape, then look no further than The Gambia. Located on the Atlantic coast of Africa, one of its biggest pulls is its sunset-perfect 80km coastline; and while that number might not be impressive in terms of numerical value, the picturesque butterscotch sands make it a peaceful alternative to busy Mediterranean or Canary Island resorts (and at an amazing price).
But The Gambia isn’t just beaches. Its moniker is ‘the smiling coast of Africa’ thanks to the friendly warmth of its natives. And like all of Africa there is an abundance of culture to be found – from local markets to National Parks. Interest piqued? Below we’ve rounded up a selection of must-know information to help you choose The Gambia for your perfect sunshine escape.
What to do
Gambia has a wealth of things to do, whether you’re after beaches, sport, culture or some relaxation. Here’s just some of the activities you can get up to.
The Gambia boasts an unspoilt Atlantic coastline and the warm waters that run along it are the same as you would find in Cape Verde. Most beaches have hotels adjacent to them and will be decorated with sun beds, either provided by the hotel or a beach bar. Surfing is also growing in popularity thanks to waves that are available all year round and waters that are incredibly safe.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, James Island can be found in the Gambia River 30km inland on the north bank of the river close to Juffureh and Albreda (Gambia Day Cruises are popular). On the island lies the fort known as Fort James (named after James, the Duke of York, later King James II of England) and provides a fascinating look at the African-European history of the nation.
Visit a National Park
The Gambia has several national parks, all brimming with rich wildlife. Choose between Niumi National Park, Kiang West National Park, Tanbi Wetlands National Park or River Gambia National Park.
A twin-centre adventure that includes the neighbouring Senegal is a popular option when looking for a trip to The Gambia. Day excursions that cross the border and back are also available, in particular to the vibrant city of Dakar or Goree Island.
When to visit
The Gambia is a year-round destination, but winter is its high season when average temperatures reach heights of 32°C. Summer is also a great time to go for sunshine, and is a relaxing alternative to the busy beach resorts of Europe.
The Gambia is only a 6-hour flight from the UK and works within the same time zone, meaning travellers won’t be subject to jetlag. During the summer there are weekly daytime flights from Gatwick; and during the winter there are regional flights twice weekly from both Manchester and Birmingham.
It’s also worth noting that UK visitors don’t need to organise a visa in advance, unless they plan to stay more than 28 days.
Where to Stay
Affordable luxury is very much a reality in The Gambia, with a great selection of luxury hotels, boutique hotels and unique lodges that are a lot cheaper than those in other long-haul destinations. All-inclusive package options and adult only resorts are also available.
The currency used in The Gambia is the Dalasi, and you can get roughly 60 of these for every pound. Everything is also cheaper in The Gambia and typically speaking you can get a three-course meal in a high-end restaurant for what would be £25pp in the UK. A bottle of beer is roughly £1.
The Garden Route along South Africa’s breath-taking coastline is simultaneously world-famous and secluded. A place where every year travellers come to strike a long-awaiting tick on their bucket-list but still remains pleasantly undisturbed and basks in natural organic beauty. Between its start and end points, travellers will awe at rugged but leafy cliffs that look out onto undisturbed stretches of ocean – with plenty of hidden gems to discover along the way.
It’s not just people who appreciate the beautiful landscapes of the Garden Route – some of Mother Nature’s most fascinating creatures do as well. The town of Oudtshoorn has been named the ‘Ostrich Capital of the World’ and many travellers stop by here to visit one of the many ostrich farms. There is also the nearby Cango Caves and Wildlife Reserve that is home to some of Africa’s best-loved felines.
When leaving Oudtshoorn you can also make the choice to carry on along the Garden Route or turn onto the Route 62 wine route – where some of the finest African port wines originate.
This aptly named town is wedged between the Kaaimans River and the Goukama Natural Reserve, and boasts year-round sunny temperatures. Around the town lies beautiful lagoons, stunning beaches, and tranquil seas that are known to attract whales and dolphins.
3. Plettenberg Bay
If your favourite kind of wildlife is connected to the ocean, remember to park your car by Plettenberg Bay. Its coastal areas are home to a large Cape fur seal colony, a seasonal penguin colony and waters where the ripples are caused by pods of whales. With waters this rich it has naturally become one of South Africa’s best places for diving and surfing.
Acting as the gateway to the Garden Route, this is the sixth oldest town in South Africa that will greet travellers with a charming welcome. The town is backed by the stunning Outeniqua Mountains, and is steeped by history with the George Museum and the old Moeder kerk, which is a Dutch reformed church. The town’s picturesque charm is topped off with the backdrop of the Outeniqua Mountains, where you’ll find the Outeniqua Railway Museum and the Outenique Choo-Tjoe train.
Every famous coastal route has a hub dedicated to impressive seafood, and Knysna holds this title for the Garden Route. If you’re road-tripping in late June/early July, your taste-buds will appreciate a visit to the Knysna Oyster Festival. Also popular in this area is golf, thanks to its collection of first-class ranges such as Pezula Golf Course, Knysna Golf Course and Simola Golf Course.
Africa, for many, is a dream destination. One of the many reasons why someone chooses this continent for their bucket list is the desire to go on safari and spot animals they've only ever seen on TV. Though some people see this as a holiday that will remain a dream.
A safari in Africa is not as unachievable as some travellers might imagine. It is a long journey down to southern Africa – where most safaris take place – and can be perceived as an expensive holiday. Africa is now, however, becoming a more accessible holiday option for British travellers with many special packages including flights, hotel and a safari trip. If you're tempted to book your first safari here are some of our top tips to make sure you get the most out of it.
1. Know what animals you want to spot
A safari isn't like a zoo where different animals have been purposefully brought together for visitors. Out in the wild, the animals decide where they live. Leaving some safari parks better suited to predators such as leopards while some are better located to spot tamer animals like giraffes. The time of day you go for a safari is also important (lions, for example, tend to be easier to spot in the morning). Some will also provide more local culture – such as tribal dances – than others. When choosing which country – or even which reserve – researching where certain animals populate is essential to making sure you tick off as many bucket-list sights as possible.
2. Buy a camera with a good zoom
You'll want to take home some great pictures for your loved ones and for yourself to cherish forever. The animals, however, might not move close enough for you to get decent pictures and you'll be wishing you had a camera with a high-zoom lens. If you've been thinking about upgrading your camera anyway before your safari is the perfect time to do so. If you're generally quite happy with your camera equipment and don't want to purchase anything new for one trip, you can instead look into renting a camera or even just a lens.
3. Drink plenty of water
It's hard to imagine just how hot Africa can get unless you've actually experienced it. It's hot with dry air, therefore it doesn't take long for that thirsty feeling to creep in. Drink plenty in the morning before you leave and take a water bottle with you while you're out and about.
4. Dress in lightweight clothing but pack waterproofs
A lot of safaris involve boarding a boat to see the wildlife on islands and swamps. Keep a thin waterproof poncho in your bag and make sure your bag itself is waterproof to protect your camera and other valuables. Remember a big sunhat and sunglasses too!
5. Bring binoculars (and patience)
These are wild animals that are not trained to interact with humans. Guides can't always get up close to the animals and safaris don't work to a set schedule. Take a pair of binoculars so when you do see one of the Big 5 lurking in the distance, you'll be able to take a closer look (without getting scarily close).