Curious about travelling to Gambia? We have the privilege of presenting an interview with writer and traveller Marlene Rindå Jikita, who returns time and again to her favourite country The Gambia. She shares her best tips on what to consider and what not to miss.
Marlene Rindå Jikita
Marlene has been blogging for 14 years on fdensammamamamman.seand shares her daily life and adventures on Instagram, where you can find her at @marlenerinda. Today she also writes the lifestyle magazine You in Focus.
Marlene loves travelling, especially to exotic countries. For example, she recently visited the Philippines and is currently in the Dominican Republic. Her favourite country is Gambia in West Africa, and we took the opportunity to ask Marlene a few questions about Gambia.
1. Say three words that symbolise Gambia for you!
Warm, friendly and calm.
2. When did you make your first trip to The Gambia and how did you come to travel there?
I went there on holiday at the age of 19, in 1989, with my parents and then fiancé, it was my big dream to go to Africa. At the time there wasn't much to choose from that wasn't many hours away and lots of changes, so it just sort of happened.
3. You have returned to The Gambia several times - why?
When we were there on holiday, I was offered a job and stayed. When I was back with the children a few years later we met a young man who we felt we wanted to help, then we ended up helping his family as well and now it's half his village.
We go back about every three years now, to see friends and make sure everything is ok in the village of Nema. We bring clothes, hygiene items, toys and food for several months.
4. you have got to know several Gambians. Can you tell us about the lives of ordinary people in The Gambia?
They have a very hard time! The Gambia is a poor country, totally dependent on tourism. The tourist season is very short, from October to April or so, and you have to fight for jobs and then earn money for the rest of the year. It's a hard life, but I've never met happier or more generous and caring people. You never see a sour face in The Gambia.
5. If you want to help, what is the best way to do so?
Then you go to a village a bit away from the tourist area. I can help with contacts to go to our village, but it is three hours away. The easiest way is to just go out and walk, you meet people and new friends everywhere.
Often you'll find someone in the hotel that you're particularly fond of, or a taxi driver who is happy to show you their home. As a thank you, you can bring a bag of rice, onions or a can of oil. But these people have jobs and are not at the bottom of the scale, so to speak.
You help just by travelling to Gambia, but if you want to make a real difference, you go to a village. 1100 Swedish kronor is enough for one meal a day for a quarter of a year for ten people. Our driver helps us to shop at the best price, and he is happy to help others too.
6. As a tourist, what should you not miss seeing and doing in The Gambia?
Don't miss out on just getting out of the hotel! Take a walk on the road or the beach, you'll have company and that's how you get to know the country.
I think you should take a boat trip on the Gambia River and visit one of the villages along the river, try your hand at fishing and check out the Kunta Kinte Island. This is where the slaves were taken before they were transported out into the world.
Of course, you should also visit the small and picturesque the capital city of BanjulBut don't settle for the market, go through everything and go to the beach and the harbour and see how people live there.
7. Where is the best/finest place to stay while on holiday?
There is not much to choose from as a tourist, almost all hotels are in the same place - Gambia is not that big after all. If you want it to be extremely quiet then you stay in Bakaubut the beach there is not so good. If you want peace and quiet with a nice beach, you should stay in Kotu. If you want a little more party and a decent beach, you will stay in Cololi.
8. What is the weather like? What is the best time of year to travel to Gambia?
It's always hot! The tourist season is from October to April, when it's around 30 degrees centigrade during the day - a hot heat with a gentle breeze from the Atlantic that means it never feels too hot. We like to be there in January-February when it's coldest at home. You can also go during our summer months, but there's a rainy season and many places are closed.
9. How is the food in The Gambia?
Superb! It's very flavourful, but not strong. The Gambia has plenty of peanuts and cashew, pumpkin, cassava, mango and lots of other good things. Everything is added to the food, preferably in the same pot!
10. What is the price situation? How should you think about tipping?
All domestic products are cheap, while imported products are of course more expensive. But even if it is cheap in our eyes, we should of course haggle, at least to half the price. If we pay too much, it will end up being more expensive for the locals. There are no rules about tipping, you give what you think.
11. What is the easiest way to travel to Gambia?
The easiest is charter, which is the cheapest and easiest. It is the only way to travel directly and takes about 8 hours. If you don't choose a charter, it takes at least a day, with several changes.
12. What is the best way to get around the country/between places?
We walk almost everywhere we go, it's not very far anywhere in the tourist area. If you want to go further away, you take a taxi, but there is also a local bus. The bus does not have a timetable, but goes just about anywhere. We have a friend who is a driver that we use if it is too far to walk. We are happy to provide contact, he also works as a guide, drives safely and has a nice car.
13. What about crime in The Gambia?
As in all countries, things happen, of course, especially in recent years when democracy has been introduced in the country. Then it gets a bit messy at first, but now it's like it used to be, I think.
I have never been afraid or exposed to anything and yet I have travelled around as a young woman alone or walked home alone at night. Of course you shouldn't flaunt your possessions or be gullible, but you shouldn't do that anywhere. Trust your gut feeling.
In recent years there have been men going around saying they have just got married or had a baby and trying to bring tourists home to congratulate the wife or look at the baby. This has merely been a way of luring tourists off the main street and then demanding money from them.
14. Most people in The Gambia are Muslim. How does this affect you as a tourist?
It has almost no effect at all, it's not noticeable. The only thing to remember is not to sunbathe topless, but people do it anyway.
15. Can you travel in Gambia as a single woman?
I have done this without any problems. But it is always good to be able to answer for yourself and maybe talk about the "husband" who is still in the hotel.
16. How do you deal with people who offer to carry/guide etc. to earn money?
You say thanks, but no thanks - firmly and lots of times. What you have to keep in mind is what I said at the beginning. The season for income is short, everyone is poor. We are their livelihood.
I usually recommend that you choose a guy who is then the one you turn to when needed, the rumour goes fast and everyone soon knows which guy "belongs" to whom. If I want to be left alone on the beach, I go a bit out into the water or wear headphones - then I can be left alone.
17. Are there dangerous animals in The Gambia?
There are no dangerous animals in the tourist area. The largest animal in the Gambia is the hippopotamus, which lives in the upper reaches of the Gambia River, while the other largest animals are hyenas and baboons. There have been so many land fires that hardly any animals are left anymore. But there are mosquitoes, of course, and you have to respect them, even if they are small.
18. Are there diseases to worry about? Do you need to be vaccinated?
Yes, you should definitely review your basic protection. Then you should also take malaria tablets, especially if you want to get out of the tourist area and look around. Almost everyone gets stomach flu at some point, I have no idea why - I never do and I eat everything. Bring charcoal tablets and immodium just in case and start at the first sign of symptoms.
19. What should you buy to take home with you?
Batik fabrics, wood sculptures and perhaps spices.
20. Do you have any other tips for travelling to Gambia?
My best advice is to have the courage to go out and talk to people. Take the help of taxi drivers and guides, they need work! Familiarise yourself with someone and come back to the village. Be prepared to be changed forever - Gambia does something to you that makes you come home with completely different values and priorities.
Gambia is a small country that has a big place in my heart. To have the privilege of helping an entire village is absolutely fantastic. When we got married in Sweden, the whole village in Gambia organised a wedding party. That's the mentality, you are happy, grateful and celebrate everything that can be celebrated. I can't recommend everyone to go there. You can make a real difference!
More tips on Gambia
I have lots of tips on my blog fdensammamamamman.se for beginners, my best tips, what to do, our visits to the village, etc. Check it out there and click on Gambia at the top of the list.
Next trip to Gambia
It will be a little while before we go next time, but it will probably be after New Year 2023 - then you can join us! We will definitely visit our village and everyone is welcome. Keep an eye on my blog when it gets closer!