What makes Gambia, The a unique country to travel to?
The Gambia is a developing country in western Africa. Its capital is Banjul. The official language is English, but many inhabitants speak indigenous languages such as Wolof or Mandinka. Facilities for tourism in the Banjul area and along the Atlantic coast south of the Gambia River are good; however, elsewhere, tourist facilities are limited in availability and quality.
Petty street crime is a problem in The Gambia. Travelers should be careful of pickpockets in crowded market areas and on ferries. Packages or luggage should never be left unattended, especially in taxis. U.S. citizens in The Gambia should be careful not to leave valuables or identity documents unsecured in hotel rooms or cars. Travelers should also be cautious of individuals who persistently offer unsolicited help.
Visitors and resident U.S. citizens may wish to leave their windows up and doors locked while driving due to several reported automobile burglaries, including theft from occupied cars stopped in traffic with windows open or doors unlocked. Long-term residents may wish to consider hiring security guards for their home to deter burglary and theft.
Women should avoid walking alone, especially after dark, including in beach and tourist areas. In addition, female visitors to The Gambia should be particularly cautious of men locally known as “bumsters,” who approach females wishing “just to get to know you,” or offering to be tour guides. Bumsters often use romance in hopes of gaining money and other assistance, or in the hope of departing The Gambia through marriage to a Westerner. Travelers are advised to be polite but decisive in turning down unwanted help or attempts at conversation.
Business fraud, long associated with other parts of West Africa, has also been reported in The Gambia. The U.S. embassy has received reports of several scams in which U.S. businesses sent, but did not receive, payment for shipments. U.S. citizens should be very suspicious of any unsolicited offers to participate in lucrative business opportunities, especially if they require financial disclosures, money transfers, large up-front investments, or promises of confidentiality. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. You should be suspicious of any unsolicited business proposal originating in The Gambia. Carefully scrutinize all proposals before you commit any funds, provide any goods or services, or undertake any travel. For additional information, please see the Department of State’s information on International Financial Scams.
The U.S. Embassy is frequently contacted by victims of romantic Internet scams and health-related plea-for-help scams perpetrated in The Gambia. Generally, a U.S. citizen befriends someone or gets engaged to someone over the Internet. This person, who can claim to be a U.S. citizen or a Gambian citizen, eventually requests financial assistance from the U.S. citizen to help pay for urgent medical treatment, to tide him or her over after a recent robbery, or to pay some form of alleged exit tax or government fine. In the vast majority of cases, the person with whom the U.S. citizen has been corresponding is using a fake identity and is in no need of assistance. In general, U.S. citizens are advised not to send money to anyone they have not met in person. For more information on this type of scam, please refer to the State Department brochure on International Financial Scams, specifically the section on Internet Dating and Romance Scams.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, you may be breaking local law too.
While you are traveling in The Gambia, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States; for instance, you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children, or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country, is a crime and is prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in The Gambia, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is not wherever you are traveling.
If you are arrested in The Gambia, Gambian authorities are required to notify the U.S. Embassy of your arrest. If you are concerned that the Department of State may not be aware of your situation, you should request the police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy of your arrest.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities in The Gambia are very limited, some treatments are unavailable, and emergency services can be unpredictable and unreliable. Travelers should carry their own supplies of prescription as well as over-the-counter medicines or treatments.
You can find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Malaria is a serious risk to travelers in The Gambia. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in The Gambia (and for up to one year after returning home) should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history, as well as what anti-malarial medications they have been taking.
Safety and Security
he Gambia has not experienced any recent acts of terrorism or large scale violence; however, much of its southern region borders the Casamance region of Senegal, which is home to a long-running, low-intensity conflict.
Demonstrations are rare in The Gambia.
Travelers driving a vehicle in The Gambia are obligated to stop at all roadblocks or road checkpoints in the country. Drivers should not reverse direction to avoid a road checkpoint or make any movements that security personnel may view as suspicious or provocative. Drivers who encounter a government motorcade should pull completely off the road and bring the car to a complete stop until the motorcade passes.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in The Gambia, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Travel in The Gambia can be difficult due to poor road conditions, particularly during the rainy season, which generally lasts from June through October. Although there are paved main roads in the greater Banjul area, many are poorly maintained and poorly lit. With the installation of street lights on roads in the Banjul area, some drivers no longer use their vehicle lights at night.
Most roads outside the Banjul area are still unlit and unpaved. Caution should be exercised when using taxis, particularly at night. Most taxis lack safety belts and many are not road-worthy. Livestock and pedestrians pose road hazards throughout the country, including in the greater Banjul area. Drivers and pedestrians should exercise extreme caution to prevent accidents.
Numerous accidents are caused by intoxicated drivers. Tests are rarely done to determine levels of intoxication. If you are suspected of causing an accident while intoxicated, and the case is taken to trial, you may be subject to a substantial fine or imprisonment.
The police do not consistently apply traffic laws and regulations, and sometimes compel drivers to pay fines on the spot for violations, real or contrived. Written citations/tickets are rarely given. Police periodically set up impromptu traffic stops on major streets to check for drivers’ licenses and proper insurance. Drivers should not attempt to drive around these traffic stops.
Government convoys frequently travel at high speeds and often in either or both lanes of traffic, including in the oncoming traffic lane, requiring cars to move off the road. Whenever there are police lights or sirens, drivers should move off the road immediately and completely. There are no trauma centers in The Gambia and severe accidents often require evacuation to Senegal or Europe.
Water transportation in the region is unsafe. Ferries rarely keep to their posted schedules. The ferries, which are poorly maintained and often overcrowded, usually lack sufficient numbers of life preservers for all passengers. U.S. citizens are advised to exit their cars during the crossing. The wooden dugout “pirogues” that also cross the Gambia River often leave shore overloaded and occasionally sink in the middle of the river.