BanjulCopyright: Damian Pankowiec/Shutterstock.com
BanjulThe low-rise Gambian capital might not be as advanced of a visitor hub as one would, perhaps, expect from a city of such national significance, but it certainly boasts some raw appeal contained within its pulsating and often rather hectic streets. Beyond Banjul proper lies the sprawling Serekunda — Gambia's most populous area — and the vacationer-favoured coastal settlements of Kololi, Bakau, Koto and Fajara.
The RegionThe best time to visit this part of the world is winter, when air humidity drops and temperatures become very bearable. The town of Banjul contains traces of architectural styles dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries, brought in by African migrants, Christian settlers, and European merchants from Britain, France, and Portugal. The outlying settlements of Bakau, Koto, Kololi, and Fajara are where tourist infrastructure has been developed to accommodate international visitors (this includes some rather refined eateries, top-notch accommodation and bars/clubs, in pleasant contrast to Banjul itself, where nightlife and evening entertainment are virtually non-existent). Apart from the characteristic street life, Gambia is a country of rare natural beauty, where travelers will get the chance to come in close contact with indigenous flora and fauna. There are several locations to explore in the immediate surroundings of Banjul, but true discovery awaits at slightly longer distances – the River Gambia National Park, for example, just under 300km east into the country.
Quick bites and cafesBanjul proper only has a couple of eateries to speak of. These are the Ali Baba Snack Bar (the town's most popular, where live entertainment sometimes takes place in the evenings) and King of Shawarma cafe. In the more touristy areas to the west, cafes are much easier to come upon and the selection is certainly wider. For non-alcoholic drinks, try the health-boosting baobab juice or wonjo juice, made from antioxidant-rich hibiscus.
Do & See
The small, gritty port town of Banjul rarely figures as the final destination on visitor itineraries. If a few hours is all you have, explore the Royal Albert Market – the town's busiest commercial grounds – and shop around Ecowas and Liberation Avenues. If time permits, pay a visit to Banjul's most known landmark (Arch 22) – sweeping views unfold from its top floor. For further pursuits, look to nearby settlements, abundant natural parks and the beaches of Gambia's coastline.
Dining options range widely by cuisine type and service quality, from cheap roadside eateries to fancier, upscale restaurants geared primarily at international visitors. Some traditional local dishes include the domada (a variety of peanut-based stew made with vegetables of the cook's choice, served on rice), benechin (or Jollof rice) — a one-pot rice dish made with meat or fish, chili, and various vegetables, and yassa (a simple chicken or fish dish with a side of rice).
Bars & Nightlife
Nightlife is virtually non-existent in Banjul, with its daytime population leaving the city for the Kombos, where many of those who work in Banjul live. For something slightly more exhilarating, see if you can catch a traditional music and/or dance performance at one of the local hotels, or head to the Senegambia strip where something is always happening despite the country's generally rather hushed and low-key night time entertainment.
One rule to remember when shopping in Gambia is to be ruthless at haggling - in most cases, prices may be brought down by at least one-third of the original number. Neither Banjul nor its surroundings offer much of the western-style shopping some travelers may be expecting to find - there are little to none of glass display stores or shopping centres, with most shopping carried out at local markets or straight off hawker stalls. Items worth bringing back home include woodwork (masks, especially), fabrics, traditional jewelry and crafts, and even local treats and foodstuffs.