Gambia - Not my favorite country


This was my second attempt at getting to the Gambia. I should have been here already two years ago, but back then the flight from Senegal was canceled and I had to stay longer in Senegal. That was a bit annoying because the Gambia is difficult to reach from other countries in Africa, except Senegal.

There might be enough flights from Europe, but getting on a return flight specifically and solely for visiting Gambia? - No, I had definitely no interest in that. I like to leave THAT seat in the plane to others. I'm glad I reached this country this time and don't have to make any other plans for another attempt.


How to get from Guinea-Bissau to Gambia?

One of the few remaining options to visit the country in a combination with a surrounding and not yet visited country was with from Guinea Bissau, which is almost Gambias neighbor. However, the Gambia is completely landlocked by Senegal. Coming from southern Guinea Bissau, the Gambia is therefore also only accessible by crossing Senegal.


After getting from Guinea-Bissau to Senegal, I took a minivan from the major hub "Ziguinchor" to "Jiboro" and it costs for everyone 2500 CFA. Jiboro is the town where the border to Gambia is. From the border, there are many minivans to Serrekuna and costs for everyone 60 Dalasi. Serrekunda is the major hub from where it's easy to continue to Banjul or Senegambia.


Corrupt Gambian Border

Crossing the border from Guinea Bissau to Senegal was easy, no visa was required for Senegal. From Senegal to Gambia it would also be simple, at least if the police officers were not so extremely corrupt. 

Rarely experienced so corrupt border officials in any other country I've visited. Getting into Gambia does not require a visa in advance. I got this confirmation from several sources.
  

First attempt to get their bribe money: "You need to pay for visa!"

The Gambian immigration officers led me back to a small office and told me I need a Gambian Visa for 50 Euro (3000 Dalasi).
 

I told them that I checked and according to my sources I do not need a visa as Tourist. However, they claimed I indeed need one because I'm not entering the country via the airport. I said OK but asked for a receipt if they can write me an official receipt for the visa and the payment. They discussed and went outside, came back and told me they don't have receipts anymore so therefore they also will waive the visa fee. Put the stamp in it for 30 days and let me go.

No one wanted to see any Yellow Fever or Covid Vaccine or PCR Test.


Second attempt: Maybe he has false money

After leaving the office, the next Inspector Gadget came up to me and asked me to follow him into the next cottage. Here they wanted to search the whole luggage and I have no problem with that. But when the policeman began to analyze every single one-dollar note, it was again obvious that they were looking for a little extra cash.

We have to check if there is fake money!

There was no counterfeit money, so they had to find something else. 


Third attempt: Drug smuggling accusation

The policeman's eyes began to sparkle when he saw the vitamin tablets. He left the rest of the bills and switched to the vitamin C and magnesium pills. Quickly the question followed:

Do you have prescription for these and why ae they not labeled - we need to see prescription!

No, I did not have a prescription for the vitamin tablets. 

So the tablets are not identifiable and that is a problem. A discussion that there is no need for prescriptions for vitamin tablets led nowhere. The policeman told me that the tablets have to be sent to the laboratory for identification and that I will be summoned to the police station in Banjul (the Gambian capital) as soon as the result of the analysis is clear.
 
You need to wait and go to court. You didn't obey the Gambian Law. But if you want to settle it here right now we might issue a settlement agreement and then you are a free man.  

It went into another room where I was given a speech. I've been told I cannot bring tablets without a prescription to this country. 

Tourists are not above the law. We issue a fine of 200 Euro.

A fine it will be. I again asked the officials for a receipt, which obviously was annoying them and made them angry.  So there is no receipt (what for, there have never been receipts for corrupt deals) and I had probably no other choice than pay the "fine". However, I thought the amount of the "fine" was too steep and so they let themselves be negotiated down to 100 euros. After payment, they were like other people - suddenly friendly again and wished me a nice stay. 

The corrupt officers finally had achieved what they wanted. 

Now that borders "after" Covid are open again and tourists are slowly showing up again, the 1.5-year Covid-dry spell without many opportunities to rip off tourists has to be compensated. And soon it will be Christmas and/or Ramadan, so we tourists come just right on time.




Arriving in Gambia, now drive to Senegambia

The onward journey to Serrekunda took 1 hour from the Senegal border. As mentioned above, there are many minivans from the border to Serrekunda for 60 Dalasi.



It's ready for tourists

At Serrekunda Garage (Garage - this is how the major bus stops are called), I was released from the minivan and took a cab for 250 Dalasi to Kotu/Senegambia, where I should have my hotel. "Should" because, the hotel was under reconstruction and upon arrival, I was rebooked to another one in the middle of the Senegambia district. The new hotel was at least better than the one under construction.

I had no idea how touristy the Gambia will be, but I quickly realized that this is the major tourist district of the Gambia.



Gambia after Covid

Due to the great appeal to British tourists over the last decades, many hotels and resorts have opened here, accordingly also restaurants. Today, because of Covid, many buildings are empty, broken, dirty and simply abandoned. Many restaurants and hotels have been put up for sale. Everything seems very abandoned.




Empty beaches and restaurants because of Covid

Even though I knew now that this is the tourist area, I wasn't disappointed by the fact that because of Covid the whole beach area was empty and most of the restaurants are still operating with maybe 10% of guests compared to pre-covid times.

The country is definitely not one of my African favorites, but I certainly hope that the Gambia can get back on track after Covid and welcome the many British tourists - at least, then they stay away from the more beautiful areas of Africa.

Senegambia Beach

This is the beach in the middle of the tourist hub. Incredibly annoying are the street vendors on the street and beach who want to sell you all kinds of crap, from boring overpriced tours, or cab rides that you do not need or eat or exchange money. Just incredibly annoying. So far nowhere experienced to this extent in Africa.



Bijilo Beach

Further south is the Bijilo beach. Same empty, it's nice. 




Visit to Banjul Downtown

The city of Banjul Far away from everything and it seems it has been built only for logistical purposes. Is it boring? Well yes. In many other African capitals there is nothing special, but here in Banjul, I did not get a "wow" impression, like when visiting other cities or capitals in other African countries.



Banjul Downtown is covered with storage halls and it all over feels like a port for shipping companies.




The Arch 22

One really cool thing is Arch 22, the huge gate through which everyone has to pass to get to Banjul downtown. For 100 Dalasi I got up the stairs to the 4th floor of the Arch 22. 

On the top floor, there is a balcony on each side to overlook the whole Banjul downtown.



Banjul Market

Then there is the Banjul market. A typical African market, I gave it a walkthrough. I didn't have much motivation to visit the areas further away from Banjul. Too time-consuming and with a tourist-tour too expensive. So to speak, time/effort and reward would not be in the correct ratio.




Departure. Airport is far away

The airport of Banjul is far away from the city. The departure was in the middle of the night. In order not to spend the whole day in the hotel district I went to Busumbala. A place on the main road very close to the airport.




I'm not going back to the Gambia !

Somehow I do not like Gambia. I don't know why there are so many tourists coming to visit Gambia, because there are so many more beautiful countries in Africa than here. Is it because they speak English there and was a former British colony? Probably.


I wish I had planned less time in The Gambia and instead spend a little more in Guinea Bissau.

But the unplannable events during Covid and possible visa problems as well as border crossings and long drives would have quickly taken up a few days that I would have missed the opportunity to visit Gambia for the second time. To try getting to Gambia for a third time would have been horrible! But even if it was only a few days in Gambia now, it was way too much for me as a non-accustomed non-resort tourist type. 

Because of this, The Gambia will get a place far up on the list of countries that I will not visit again.  

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