One of the first questions you will have when planning your trip is an important one: is the Gambia safe for visitors?
The great news is that the Gambia is fundamentally a safe place to visit. Local people are welcoming, with a strong moral compass, and are keen to make sure visitors are looked after during their stay.
However, that’s not to say that safety isn’t an issue. The following Gambia travel advice will help you get the most out of your stay by making you aware of the risks and how to avoid them. Experience Gambia in the best possible way by being prepared!
Harrassment in The Gambia
Attention from locals, especially directed at lone foreign women, can be intense but is rarely dangerous – it’s all part of the Gambia experience. That said, even walking up the street can be challenging at times! Just politely ask to be left alone, and walk away if the message isn’t getting through.
Female and male tourists alike will find that, should they be the victim of real harassment, nearby locals are likely to swoop in to see off their unwanted admirer. Should a local attack a foreigner, especially a foreign woman, then they can expect a much more extreme intervention from witnesses. You will be looked after wherever you go.
Theft in The Gambia
The Gambia is a poor country, and the difference in wealth between locals and visitors can make it hard to avoid temptation.
Avoid overt displays of wealth, and make sure that any valuables are locked away in a safe or other secure location (even within your hotel room). Take particular care in crowded areas such as markets, or isolated areas like beaches.
A phenomenon which has increased in recent years is what is known as the “bumster”: a young male, often to be found on beaches in the Gambia, who may approach offering to help solve a problem or to act as a guide.
To avoid scams, always make sure you use licensed guides (such as those working for Gambia Tours), and take special care when travelling cross-border into Senegal, as unlicensed “guides” may not comply with the correct immigration procedures.
Female travellers, in particular, should take care if they form relationships with local men. There are plenty of genuine guys about, but bumsters in Gambia may also strike up romances for the express purpose of gaining money or a ticket out of the country.
Travel in The Gambia
Infrastructure in the Gambia has some way to go to catch up with other tourist destinations. Roads can be potholed, vehicles are often in poor repair, and ferries may not comply with the safety standards you would expect at home. It’s all part of the experience, and most travellers experience no problems, but apply common sense and make sure you understand the risks.
Theft on public transport is not uncommon, so keep valuables out of sight and be aware of your surroundings.
Security checkpoints are common on the Gambia’s roads. Always pull over, be polite and helpful, and you should experience no problems. Be aware that most police officers at these checkpoints are volunteers, and you may be asked for money. To avoid trouble, it’s best to hand over a small number of dalasis and remember that the sum is worth far more to them than it is to you.
Demonstrations and unrest
Gambian politics have been heated in recent years, as the country has replaced a dictatorship with a democracy. Protests are becoming more common, especially in the popular Gambia beach district of Kombo. Stay away from any protests to avoid becoming caught up.
Gambian travel health
Malaria is present in the Gambia, and care should be taken to avoid bites. Anti-malarial medication is also strongly recommended. See the Health section for more information on this and other health issues to be aware of during your trip.
Wildlife in The Gambia
Although the Gambia doesn’t have any big game, there is still wildlife here that is best not approached. Take care to avoid crocodiles, especially if swimming in the River Gambia; jellyfish are also a consideration. Avoid contact, too, with monkeys and other animals that can scratch or bite.
Rabies is present throughout West Africa; if you get scratched or bitten, get yourself to the nearest clinic or hospital for a shot.
Physical affection and LGBTQ+ in the Gambia
Is the Gambia gay-friendly? Unfortunately not. The bad news for the LGBTQ+ community is that any form of sexual activity between people of the same gender is illegal and subject to heavy penalties. Is it safe to travel to Gambia with your gay or lesbian partner? The reality is that same-sex couples do travel to the country with no problems, but you need to be prepared to stay under the radar – for right or wrong.
Physical affection in public is, in any case, something that is just not done in The Gambia. If you are going out and about with your partner – whether same-sex or hetero – refrain from kissing, hand-holding and other displays of affection which you might consider ok at home.
Is Gambia safe today? For the latest information and up-to-date advice on Gambia tourism problems, check out the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/the-gambia/safety-and-security.