In a country that's 4 times smaller than Netherlands, there's a surprising amount of interesting attractions and activities for tourists in Gambia. Gambia's tourism industry is slowly but surely recovering from the 2014 - 2016 West Africa ebola epidemic (Gambia was severely affected even though it was ebola free) and we should be thankful for this, because for a small-in-size destination, Gambia packs a lot of punch.
Aside from having plenty to keep you busy with while on vacation in Gambia, the country has two major claims to fame that you should know about.
#1 Gambia is the smallest country on the continent
Gambia is surrounded by Senegal and has just 80 km of coastline - but for this West African favourite, smaller means mightier.
Gambia offers enough must-see beaches, seafront lodges and deserted sandy stretches to keep visitors coming back season after season. Interested in learning about the elemental history of the West African slave trade? Gambia's Juffure and Kunta Kinteh island should be on your list. What about stone circle monuments from the 3rd century B.C.? Gambia has that too.
Considering they're the smallest country on the continent, Gambia doesn't hold back. It's easy to fall in love with Gambia, thanks to it's close proximity to Europe and broad list of attractions. On top of this, Gambia is an English speaking country, making it an obvious choice for first time Africa travellers.
#2 Gambia is home to an international award winning tourism project
Searching for an unforgettable wilderness and cultural experience? Don't limit your choices to the iconic East African wildlife destinations of Kenya and Tanzania. Gambia is home to one of West Africa's best parks, Makasutu Culture Forest, known for its serene ecosystem and unprecedented birdwatching.
Makasutu Culture Forest is a protected wilderness region located directly south of the Banjul capital, with an award-winning eco-resort and tourism project. Local legend says the woodland is a sacred space, which was largely uninhabited for centuries, aside from being a place for prayer and tribal rituals.
With modern development, Makasutu now offers nature trail and culture tours. Itineraries include a cruise through mangrove creeks in an African pirogue, and trek through a diverse ecosystem of savannah and tropical woodland.
I left Makasutu brimming with knowledge about the cultural importance of local plants and their use as traditional medicines and materials. It was fascinating to encounter a number of different monkeys throughout the forest, and try to catch a glimpse of the Forest’s 100 bird species.
#3 Gambia is viewed as a haven of stability in West Africa
Before leaving the Makasutu Culture Forest we went for a swim in the irregular shaped pool (designed to look like an amoeba), and while drying off, the staff struck up a friendly conversation with us. They were eating lunch and invited us to join them, so we sat down for a chat.
Somehow the conversation quickly evolved to one about religion, and we learned of the small Christian population living in Gambia - about 3% of the total population. Our new friends were equally split, some being Christian and others Muslim. They were very proud to share stories with us about how they live peacefully in Gambia, each person having the religious freedom to worship freely.
Regardless of the political uncertainty Gambia has experienced due to recent transitions, the peaceful nature of its people should be considered a claim to fame. The Gambia is an ethnically and religiously plural nation, yet has had a mostly tranquil and peaceful history.
As tourism returns to the region, visitors will have the chance to experience the Gambia's wealth of attractions and small-but-mighty character.