St Mary’s Island
Where the mighty Gambia River enters the Atlantic Ocean, is home to one of Africa’s smallest capital cities. Banjul is more authentically African than any of the nearby coastal resorts – and even if you’re staying on one of the Gambia’s dazzling beaches, a trip into the heart of the town, with its minarets, mosques and cathedrals, is time well spent.
Search out batik-dyed textiles, traditional carved wooden masks, leather goods, jewellery and beautifully handwoven baskets for a special memento of your trip. Although there are tourist-orientated markets within, or nearby, all the hotels, the best places to shop are in the local markets. Put your bargaining hat on and prepare to have fun. These bustling bazaars are a fantastic cultural experience. You'll find the best deals on batik-dyed fabrics by hunting through the stalls in Serrekunda but head to Albert Market (Liberation Avenue) in Banjul to get the true Gambian shopping experience; there's a section devoted to local handicrafts here.
Food & Drink
It's all about the seafood, and unless you're eating within a hotel, menu prices are incredibly good value. In Kololi, Sea Shells Bar & Restaurant (off Bertil Harding Highway) serves up scrumptious local and international feasts and is a must-do restaurant if in the area. Also in Kololi, Luigi's (Palma Rima Road) is perfect if you're missing pasta and pizza. Cheap and cheerful King of Shawarma Café (Nelson Mandela Street) in Banjul is great if you want lunch on the run. There are plenty of beach bars in Kololi, Kotu Beach, Bakau and Serrekunda. Wild Monkey in Kololi is a fun bar with African drumming displays nightly.
Dance and music performances take over the village of Kartong for this weekend festival. It's one of the best chances visitors have to watch a whole host of skilled traditional Gambian dancers and musicians.
International Roots Festival
Gambia's biggest event was inspired by Alex Haley's bestselling book (and the later TV miniseries) Roots. Evolving as a way for the Gambian diaspora to rediscover their African heritage, the festival is a celebration of Gambian culture and is staged biannually.
Kanilai International Cultural Festival
This 16-day extravaganza of Gambian music, song and dance in Kanilai attracts massive crowds of locals as well as foreign visitors. It takes place biannually, in opposite years to the International Roots Festival.
Bureng Cultural Festival
This showcase of African traditions takes place in Bureng Village in Gambia's Lower River Region. The festival highlights the music, dance, songs and crafts of Gambia.
Jamoral Cultural Festival
Held in Bujinga Village in the West Coast Region, the Jamoral Cultural Festival is a four-day celebration of the family ties which cross the borders between Gambia, Senegal and Guinea Bissau. It is held on the Senegalese side of the border every other year (odd years).
The Gambian Atlantic Coastline is perfect holiday fodder if you want to flop out on the white sands. For beachside bliss, hunt for hotels around Bakau, Serrekunda, Kotu Beach and Kololi (all within 20km from the airport). Serrekunda's top luxury spot is Kairaba Beach Hotel (Senegambia Road) while Bakau's Banjul Ocean Bay Hotel (Atlantic Boulevard) is another good choice. In Kololi, Mandinka Lodge (off Bertil Harding Highway) is a chilled out, family-friendly mid-range hotel. In Banjul itself, check out wallet-friendly winner One World Village Eco Lodge (10 Kofi Annan Street) for its super-friendly staff and homely atmosphere.