Thank you for your excellent Bradt Guide on The Gambia.
I would like to add some comments on Banjul itself, where I stayed for 6 days at the “Princess Diana” Hotel while making excursions around The Gambia in the short time I had. (I will hope to go back and make more extensive trips using the bus recommended and, as before, the bush taxis.)
Here are my comments:
I spent 6 days in Banjul, capital of Gambia, and I would like to recommend it. It’s a small town, on an island, and it is very “walkable” from the Arch (“Arch 22” at the beginning of the town coming from the Denton Bridge) down to the ferry harbour. From the Arch area, for example, you can walk down to Albert Market quite easily—in about 15/20 minutes, and from there to the Harbour it is another 15 minutes. (Or take a taxi from the Arch area for about 100 Dalasi.)
From the harbour it is quite easy to catch the (excellent) ferry across to Barra and then take a bush taxi to Albreda and Juffureh where the “Roots” saga is set. (All of this would cost you about £3 or £4 there and back.) But even if you take an organised excursion the trip will be the same—the ferry is excellent though crowded and the road from Barra to Albreda is rough no matter what vehicle you take—but definitely worth the trip. (After you reach Albreda, the boat/pirogue over to James Island, however, costs about £12—the pirogue will hold up to 6/7 people, however.)
Back to Banjul! I stayed at the Princess Diana Hotel, (near the arch) which is very simple, but very clean, with new bathroom features…good little shower and the water is warm though never hot. I paid 450 Dalasi per day (£8) for a single room. The people are very very nice and kind, and it is a safe place (also they kept giving me clean sheets every other day—unnecessary, but nice all the same.)
The other simple hotel nearby is the “Carlton” and the only other hotel in Banjul is the “Atlantic” (nearby and on the sea) which is huge and very expensive—though they will let you sit in the huge lobby any time (or in one of their outdoor restaurants) to use the internet.
There are several small mini market shops nearby in the center of Banjul—and also near Albert Market—where you can buy all sorts of snacks, etc. (Also plenty of cashpoints—near the market—the ECO Bank seems to be the most reliable.)
By far the best restaurant in Banjul is the simple but excellent “Ali Baba” Lebanese, on Nelson Mandela Street on the other side of the Albert Market—not posh but excellent and clean. (Best for lunch—up to about 5/6 pm, I think.)
I highly recommend the National Museum, and in general just walking around Banjul is easy…I was rarely hassled—even in the market, and what “bumsters” there were, were quite easily put off by a friendly chat and “no, I don’t want any help, thank you.”
Backstory: I had escaped from a “forest lodge” which was very nice, but almost impossible to find transportation, i.e., there are no bush taxis nearby and the cost of a car from the forest lodge was exorbitant, so finally I got a lift to Banjul, found the Hotel Diana, and was then able to access bush taxis going in all directions…just go down toward the Market from Arch 22, and with your back to the July 22 Square (big grassy field) walk a block and you will find all sorts of bush taxis—just ask for your destination.
By travelling this way you will see a lot, meet wonderful local people, it will cost relatively little, and you will aid the local economy—as opposed to staying at the huge hotels on the sea which cost an enormous amount—and do not aid many of the local people.
(And if you are already ensconced in one of the beach hotels, at least spend a day or two in Banjul, see the museum and the market, and eat at the Ali Baba. There is nothing to be afraid of, and I, as a single woman of a certain age, have a lot of experience travelling in predominately Islamic countries—and I have always been helped and “defended” if necessary by local people.)
(Oh, yes, women should cover their shoulders (loose cotton shirt, at least) and wear skirts or trousers covering down to the knee; this is only very basic courtesy in a Muslim country.)