A two-day pitstop in the smallest country of Mainland Africa

This post is a continuation of the time I spent visiting my first two West African countries. Senegal and the Gambia. After a few days of exploration through Senegal, we were finally due to cross borders into the Gambia.

The morning of, we woke up early and hit the road right away. It was only about a half-hour drive to the border, and we had a full day planned on the other side. I was excited since this was going to be my first land crossing in a while, and I had been looking forward to visiting this country for quite a while.

My first land border in quite a while. Since we skipped sailing to the Gambia earlier this year (thanks to the river bridge being too low), I’m really looking forward to exploring the country now before continuing to the Casamance part of Senegal.

At the border, Senegal let us out without issues, getting into the Gambia however, took a little more effort. In the end, we actually had to bribe the officers to expedite the process and let us in.

Side Note: **This was not the first time I bribed an official in similar circumstances, and it probably won’t be the last time.

In the end, it all worked out and we got in without too long of a wait.

Gambia 101

The Gambia (officially the Republic of The Gambia), is a country in West Africa, and it is the smallest country within the continent’s mainland. It’s surrounded by Senegal on three borders, with the exception of having the Atlantic Ocean as the fourth and western border.

The country is a long and narrow strip of land which follows the course of the Gambian river, one of West-Africas most important rivers. With about 50 miles of coastline, the country measures less than 30 miles wide… at its widest point!

The Gambian River stretches 700 miles from north-western Guinea all the way to Banjul (the capital of Gambia), before eventually spilling into the Atlantic Ocean. It runs directly through the middle of The Gambia.

Like many other West African countries, slave trade is deeply rooted in its history. Its strategic positioning motivated colonies to settle along the river to facilitate shipping goods.


The first colonies were settled by the Portuguese. Eventually, in the 1700s Gambia was made part of the British Empire. With a turbulent history thereafter, it wasn’t until 1965 that the Gambia gained independence.

Since then, a tumultuous political climate has continued, with coups and exiles. A long history of bad governance has left half of the country living in dire poverty. Today, the country’s economy relies heavily on fishing, farming, and especially tourism, which has kind of sucked since 2020.

Earlier this year we seriously discussed visiting the Gambia with the boat. In the end, I decided to go the other way towards Brazil. I’ll explain why later… Going to Brazil was (by far) the better choice. Not only because I met Aland in Brazil and crossing the Atlantic was pretty epic. Also because it turns that that Gambia is a bit of a shit hole.

A 2-day pitstop on our way to Casamance was much better than circumventing Africa with our catamaran to encounter a place with not much to see and very little infrastructure. In the end, it wasn’t that bad and I was still looking forward to our 2-day pitstop.

From the Senegal/Gambia border, we drove for about an hour to the northern coast of the country. Our first stop was Kunta Kinteh, an island easily accessible by boat from the northwest part of the country.

Kunta Kinteh 101

Kunta Kinteh, formerly known as James Island and St Andrew’s Island, is an island in the Gambia River, about 19 miles from the river mouth.

The island has a pretty colorful history. It not only played a key role in the West African slave trade; it was also ruled by the Dutch, French, and English. Its history made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.

A little history…

The first records of European interaction with the island date back to the mid-1400s. A Portuguese expedition moored off the island to bury a fallen sailor, his name was Andrew, hence the island’s first name.

The first Europeans to settlements, however, came from the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, a vassal state of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 1600s. To their misfortune, the Russian invasion of Lithuania weakened Courland, and it lost its colonies in less than a decade.

By the 1700s the British finally occupied the Gambia and with it St. Andrews. During the change in governance, the island’s name was changed to James Island (after an English royal).

It was during English rule that the ivory, gold, and slave trade took off, making James Island a pivotal location, famous for this type of commerce.

British traders used to buy local slaves from the area and keep them on the island before sending them on their transatlantic voyage, never to return.

In the spotlight: Today, the island has become famous thanks to Alex Haley’s book and TV show “Roots”. In the story, the author claims to have traced his ancestry to a specific slave named “Kunta Kinteh”. This slave was among those shipped through James Island.

In 2011 at the request of a New York artist to Gambian President, it was renamed Kunta Kinteh Island. This was done to give the island a Gambian name.

Kunta Kinteh was destroyed and rebuilt several times between 1600 to 1800s. Both in conflicts between the English and French and by pirates. The island itself was abandoned by the British in 1870, after the Gambians independence; and these days, the biggest damage to the surviving structures is erosion caused by waters smashing onshore during high tide and heavy storms.

Gambian Ruins

We experienced the rough waters firsthand during our boat ride over, we even got pretty soaked thanks to the huge waves we encountered in the river. What’s more, about halfway, the motor actually stalled and the crew couldn’t get it to work. We had to paddle for about ten minutes; Abu (our guide) was pretty upset with the staff for putting us through that. Luckily, after a little bit, the motor started working again and we finally made it to the island.

We got to explore the ruins and learn about the history of the place before heading back to the shore for some lunch and to play around with some local children. We also visited a local slavery museum, we wanted to learn more about the slave trade history of The Gambia.

Kunta Kinteh Island – Alana protecting the Gambia from the Polygamists

African Children

Gambian River

Nr. 0 of our 7 future neocolonial kids

After the museum, we took the western road and headed over to the ferry to cross the waters once again, this time to Banjul – the capital of The Gambia, located on the south side of the river.

Side Note: There is a bridge in the Gambia that we could have taken instead of the ferry, but the bridge is a bit more inland, so it would have been a big detour to cross that way.

The bridge is a relatively new structure, only two years old, and the main reason we didn’t come to the Gambia with the catamaran earlier this year. You see, the fun part about visiting the Gambia by boat is being able to sail with hippos and crocodiles. The area where these animals hang is just after the bridge, where the saltwater ends and sweet water begins.

Sadly, the mast of our boat would not pass below the bridge so we decided to go to South America instead. At the end of the day, it all worked out for the best.

Back to the story… When we arrived at the ferry station, there was a massive lineup. It looked like we’d be waiting for at least 6 hours. Thankfully, Abu came through once again and worked his magic.


He offered to stay back with our car; this way, we could go on the next ferry as foot passengers. He talked to some people at the front of the line and before we knew it, we had exchanged some cash for their place in line.

The cash we gave them was probably equivalent to a week’s wage to them and inconsequential to us. Everyone was happy and we got to board the next ferry. The ride was very pleasant, we enjoyed beautiful views of the river and Banjul.


Our ferry

We arrived in Banjul and took a taxi straight to our hotel. Abu would be arriving at our hotel in about 6 hours with the car and our luggage. We booked our stay at the Coco Ocean. It was a very nice hotel located right on the beach and a bit secluded from the buzz of Banjul.

After checking in, we went for a walk to the beach. The whole area was super crowded with local children playing in the sand and in the ocean. It suddenly dawned on us that it was the weekend. At some point we stroke up a conversation with a couple of Gambian guys.


The Gambia is actually not french speaking like Senegal, as a former British colony, English is widely spoken. Although it is home to nine different tribes, all of which have their own dialect the largest are the Mandinka, Wolof, and Fula, in that order, all of whom live together harmoniously.

This means there are also several tribal languages including Mandinka and Wolof, which are spoken by a large part of the [Muslim] population. Considering schools are in English, most Gambians are at the very least bilingual, which was pretty cool.

We ended up talking to these guys for over an hour. One of them wants to study in Germany, so I tried to help him a bit with lots of tips, like, don’t do it.😉 Seriously though, it was a great and unexpected exchange.

I also took the opportunity to jump in the Atlantic Ocean, which is quite warm in that part of the world. All in all, we had a great time on the beach. After the water, I went back to the resort with Alana to get ready for a nice dinner at our resort.

The next day, we had a jam-packed tour of Gambia. We set out early in the morning to explore the capital, Banjul.

Coco Ocean Resort & Spa – Back to Atlantic Sunsets

Banjul 101

Banjul is the capital city of the Gambia, it sits on an island where the Gambian River meets the Atlantic Ocean, about 30 miles west of Kunta Kinteh Island.

There’s not much to see or do, so a few hours was enough time. We visited some of its colonial buildings like the National Museum, dedicated to Gambian culture and history.

The city’s main entrance is marked by a Gambian Arch d’triumph, a columned arch gateway – Arch 22. This monument was built by a former ruler, Yahya Jammeh as a tribute to the coup he threw in 1994. Interestingly enough, today, there is a museum at the top of the arch that depicts a really horrific picture of his time in power. Disclosing the many accounts of torture and all the other terrible things he did to his people.

Gambian Politics

The Gambia has only had 3 presidents. The first, Dawda Jawara, who ruled since the independence of Gambia until Yahya Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994. Jammeh remained a dictator for over a decade. As corrupt as they come, he siphoned billions from the country for personal benefit while half of the country starved.

In 2016 the country went to democratic elections to choose the next president and Adama Barrow was democratically elected as Gambia’s 3rd president.

Random Fact: During elections, Gambians vote with marbles. Each person goes into a private booth with wholes in the ground marked with each candidate. They choose by simply dropping their marble in their selected hole.

Initially, Jammeh conceded office; but quickly recanted and refused to accept the results. This debacle triggered a constitutional crisis and military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to force Jammeh into exile. He’s been living in Equatorial Guinea since.

Jammeh will go down in history as one of the most corrupt dictators to have stolen the most money from their country.

I degrees… We had some nice views from the arch and I took some cool 360 degrees photos of Banjul. Which, as I’ve mentioned, was not the most picturesque place, but it’s always nice to be able to get the lay of the land. From there, I was able to see the ocean and the Gambian river and all the land around.

Exploring the capital of The Gambia #Banjul

After the museums, we went to the local and lively, Albert Market. It’s a place where vendors sell all sorts of colorful textiles and local produce. Following the market, we continued going around Banjul and eventually making our way through Serekunda, the second-largest urban area in The Gambia.

We also visited The Kachikally, a sacred crocodile pond in Baku, this place is home to an obscene amount of crocodiles. The tiny pond had some 200 crocodiles of varying shapes and sizes chilling in the water and on land.

It’s such a sight, the place has actually become a bit of a tourist attraction. You go there, pay a guide, and then you’re photographed with a crocodile. Alana and I bought into it, and at first, she was a bit afraid. But then they assured us the crocs are “well taken care of” (well fed!), and they gave us a small crocodile for the picture so it was all ok.

Our new pet 🐊

There is a museum in the area that talks about how and why the area became sanctified. Today, it is still believed the waters have fertility and healing capabilities. The museum also displays different mystical artifacts associated with the local tribes giving great insight into local culture and customs.

Circumcision Costume to ban evil spirits. Just 10 years ago, people were still hunted and killed for witchcraft in this country

In the afternoon, we got to do another mangrove tour, but this time on the south side of the river. This is where the marina, or more accurately, the anchoring place of Gambia is located. There, we saw a lot of boats, actually, about 15 sailboats and catamarans anchored. I was not expecting to see that at all.

This is the spot where everyone brings their boat for safe harbor. The shallow mangroves keep the waves away and there are also some local facilities for boat owners.

Interestingly enough there was this German sailboat from this German guy I’d met in the Canary Islands. We’d met when he was on his way to The Gambia. To my surprise, the sailboat was there but he was nowhere to be found. So that was cool to see his boat there, knowing that he made it… Could have been us. 🤷‍♂️

More sailboats here than expected

From this “harbor” we chartered a small boat to give us a tour of the mangroves and the surroundings. At that time it was very low tide and there were a lot of locals collecting oysters and muscles from the ground. This meant we had to wade through the small channel, in about 12-18 inches of water. If the water level was higher, we could have used the motor to drive through this channel.

Picking oysters and mussels

To get to where we wanted to go, we had to wade for about a mile. We were going to visit this special place with one of the biggest Baobab trees in the Gambia. There’s even a whole little museum inside the tree. There is a little bed and lots of inscriptions inside, it was very interesting to see.

Big Baobab Tree

From there we went to this local restaurant and bar where they had a special celebration. Apparently, the date was a festive holiday. There were lots of people coming by the restaurant and on the streets.

Gambian children

More impressions of the Gambia 🇬🇲

We also visited a Batik Shop in the area. Batik is a well-respected, ancient art form and craft in Africa. Similar to the process for making African-print fabric but instead of using industrial printing tools it is all done totally by hand. These fabrics are used to make traditional and modern African clothing, accessories, and homeware.

I quite liked one of the t-shirts and bought it, so now I have a batik t-shirt. During this run through town, I spoke to some fishermen about what it’s like to live in the Gambia, and I must say, all my encounters with the locals were very pleasant.

Before getting back on the boat to Banjul, we went to another local restaurant which is famous for its monkeys… and no, they don’t serve monkeys – there’s just a bunch of monkeys running around everywhere. Sounds hectic, but Alana and I really enjoyed it. We even got to feed some popcorn to the monkeys! And before you go off, the popcorn was given to us (specifically to feed to the monkeys) by workers there, so relax, Karen.😉

Serious monkey


That’s pretty much all we did at this anchorage, which thinking back on it, wasn’t too bad. It could have been a nice place to come with the catamaran for a week or so. Very basic, but nice.

That evening we got back to the hotel and saw some more monkeys, a family with baby monkeys actually. As you can imagine, they were very cute. We almost took one with us to be our Staatenloss mascot. Alas, we settled for taking a bunch of pictures of them while they played around.

Monkey Family 😍🐒🐒

We enjoyed the beach and the pool at the resort one last time before going for a nice dinner at the resort restaurant. We shared a nice big steak which was prepared quite nicely. We were also pretty much the only other guests there, so really hard times for hotels there at the moment, but quite the intimate dinner for us.😍

Great resort

The next morning we were already set to leave the Gambia and drive south to the border with Senegal. We were headed back to Senegal, but this time to the southern part of the country, a region called Casamance.

Let’s leave that for the 4th and final chapter of my first West-African expedition!

Gambian Sunset