Is Gambia safe to travel to?

Apr 23, 2020 | Africa, Gambia, Global travel

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(Last updated on: 22/04/2020)

Gambia is beautiful. It such a colourful part of the world with fishing villages, bright blue skies, soft sandy beaches and so much nature to explore. It comes as no surprise that it’s on many people’s travel bucket lists!

But for a lot of travellers, there’s a big question mark when it comes to this West African country: is Gambia safe? In this article I will tell you the pros and cons to travelling in The Gambia based on my own personal experience and research.

Is Gambia safe

Crime rates in Gambia

Known as the Smiling Coast of Africa, you would imagine that Gambia is all about positivity and good vibes. In many places this is true! There is cultural diversity and plenty of developed tourism throughout Gambia.

But is Gambia safe? In terms of crime rates, they are quite high. But a lot of this comes down to petty crime – pickpocketing, scams and theft.

Most people will visit Gambia and not experience any crime whatsoever; just ensure you keep your wits about you. Pickpocketing is rife in many cities across the world, and there are many things you can do to avoid falling victim…

  • Wear a bumbag (also known as fanny pack or waist belt) and keep it under your t-shirt if possible. Keep your valuables in here.
  • Avoid looking too much like a tourist. Ditch the expensive jewellery and high-end branded clothing.
  • Take the bare minimum out and about with you. You don’t need to take all of your holiday currency out with you for the evening…
  • Avoid common pickpocketing traps: child beggars, fake fights, charity workers with clipboards etc.
  • Use your common sense, and keep your belongings close to you.
  • Be wary in crowded places such as nightclubs and busy beaches.

Many people who visit The Gambia say that they feel unsafe because of the bumsters. Gambian bumsters are men who follow (and sometimes harass) tourists in search of business, romance or money. Whilst these men can be a little bit intimidating, they are usually harmless.

Scams in Gambia

There are some scams that are common in Gambia.

Scams are not exclusive to this particular country, and similar scams have been found to take place in areas of Europe too.

One example is that many tourists are offered marijuana, to then discover minutes later that the police are waiting to extort money from them. This is a bribe, and a popular scam in Gambia.

People may offer you help in various situations, and a lot of the time they are after money. Be sensible. Try to verify the identity of whoever is offering you assistance.

See the beautiful side of Gambia here.

LGBT+ activity in Gambia

Unfortunately, LGBT+ activity (same-sex sexual activity) is illegal in Gambia.

Same-sex relationships have no legal recognition, and there is no protection offered to those who experience discrimination in relation to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Is Gambia safe for same-sex couples to travel to? For the most part, it isn’t hugely unsafe. Especially if you take a ‘no PDA’ approach to your trip! But it’s up to you to decide whether you want to spend time in a country where you cannot hold hands with your partner in public, and where you may always be worrying that someone has reported you to the authorities.

Sex tourism

The Gambian sex tourism industry is booming.

In contrast to other popular sex tourism destinations, such as Thailand or Amsterdam, The Gambia does not attract men in search of sexual activities, it attracts women.

Women, mostly from Europe frequently travel to The Gambia for sex tourism. Some are in search of a holiday romance and other seek long-term relationships.

Whilst the sex tourism industry is quite evident for anybody who travels to The Gambia, it has little impact on those who do not wish to be involved. Is Gambia safe? I would not let sex tourism put you off travelling here.

Gambia bumsters
A Gambian ‘bumster’ who befriended us during our trip

Healthcare

When visiting The Gambia you will probably need to take Malaria tablets (check with your Doctor before you travel). Malaria tablets can have side effects and can be costly, depending on which ones you choose to take.

The water is not clean to drink in The Gambia and food hygiene may not be at the same levels as it is in your home country. For this reason, there is a risk of getting an upset tummy during your trip. While this isn’t pleasant, the same can be said for many travel destinations, particularly in developing countries- and this wouldn’t necessarily put me off travelling there.

If you do become unwell in The Gambia, healthcare options are limited, particularly in remote areas. Make sure that have adequate travel insurance before you travel- I recommend World Nomads.

Staying safe in Gambia

Generally, travelling to and throughout Gambia is relatively safe. Violent crime incidents are few and far between, and terrorist threats are low. There isn’t a particularly high risk of natural disaster, and Gambia isn’t particularly more dangerous for women travelling alone.

So, is Gambia safe? There is no cut and fast answer to that question. As long as you take precautions like you would anywhere else, there is no reason to think that you may come to a huge amount of danger when visiting Gambia. It is a country with so much to offer in terms of nature and culture, nightlife and sunbathing spots. If you are not a particularly anxious traveller, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy a trip to the Smiling Coast of Africa!

gambia beach
I watched a band playing from my sun lounger on the beach in Kotu

The best places to stay

Of course, when travelling to Gambia some hotels are safer than others. Kotu and Kololi are the two biggest resort areas of Gambia – there is various accommodation on offer in these parts of the country, and they are well developed in terms of tourism. Here are some hotels that come highly recommended…

For pure luxury in Gambia, opt for Sunprime Tamala Beach in Kotu.

A small hotel with a 24-hour front desk, room service and a lovely lounge area, there are plenty of options to choose this accommodation. It’s close to the beach so you won’t have to travel far, and the hotel itself is fairly new – everything is clean, modern and safe. There is a bar and lounge area, a garden and an outdoor pool.

The hotel has free WiFi and free private parking available; car and bike hire can be arrange, and there are table tennis and darts facilities too. There are some bars and restaurants within a couple of miles but for the most part, the hotel is in its own slice of paradise. Sunprime Tamala Beach has CCTV in shared areas, 24-hour security and safety deposit boxes.

Bamboo Village Resort in Kololi is also a beautiful option.

Rooms have either a pool or garden view, and there is free private parking available. The hotel has a bar, free WiFi, a restaurant with special diet menus and room service availability. There are spa and wellness facilities to keep you relaxed, and 24-hour security too. Rooms have safety deposit boxes and there is CCTV in common areas. Plenty of entertainment is on offer at the resort too!

Is Gambia safe?

Overall, Gambia is safe to travel to. There are no permanent warnings in place that stop tourists and travellers heading to this part of West Africa. For more information on the question of “is Gambia safe?” head to your government website to find out more about what they advise in terms of travel to Gambia. 

It is a country with so much natural beauty, and there are definitely more friendly locals than there are scammers and petty criminals. Think smart, and you’ll have a wonderful time in this part of the world.

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Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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