Gambia—more often referred to as "The Gambia"—is a tiny country, the smallest nation (independent since 1965) on the continent of Africa. It is no more than 30 miles wide at any point, with its borders generally following the course of the Gambia River, which flows from east to west through its center and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Other than its small Atlantic coastline, the country is completely surrounded by the country of Senegal on the other three sides. In spite of its diminutive size, The Gambia has a rich and diverse cultural heritage as it shares historical slave trade roots with other nations in West Africa.
Travel to Gambia is popular with many African-Americans in the United States and others of African descent around the world who can trace their ancestry back to the slave trade of the mid-fifteenth century. Although a slave trade existed in many parts of Africa (domestically within Africa, trans-Sahara to Oman, and from East Africa to the Middle East) for centuries before the Portuguese arrived in West Africa, it did not come close to the nearly industrial trans-Atlantic slave trade to the colonies in the west, where this valuable human product was needed for the plantations of South America, the Caribbean, and the southern part of what would become the United States.
There are numerous specialty tours and vacation packages that cater especially to this trade. Gambia itself has a very popular Roots day excursion based on the epic book by Alex Haley. The day trip begins in the capital city of Banjul with a leisurely cruise upriver to the ancient trading center of Albreda where the Museum of Slavery is located. The excursion also visits the ancestral home of Kunta Kinte, Alex Haley's great-great-grandfather, which is still occupied by the family. Participants also visit historic James Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to explore the ruins of the fort where thousands of shackled slaves awaited export across the Atlantic. In addition to Senegal, other West African nations that share the slave heritage of The Gambia include Mauritania, Nigeria, Chad, and Benin.
Almost all who travel to Gambia will spend time on the country's beautiful Atlantic beaches. Although the coastline is small, there are a number of great beaches. The weather is excellent throughout most of the year, with 90-degree temperatures moderated by refreshing and cooling sea breezes. There are numerous Gambia hotels, including five-star properties like the Coco Ocean Resort and Spa, excellent three and four-star properties like the Bijilo Beach, and comfortable two-star properties like the Bungalow Beach. There are also a handful of newer unique boutique properties like the Sandele Bay Eco-Retreat. Inexpensive, all inclusive beach holidays in Africa are very popular with Europeans. They tend to patronize those regions that were former colonies of their country. Thus, travel to Gambia is very popular with tourists from the UK, and you can find great deals offered by UK operators that often include flights, meals, and other features.
Other attractions of The Gambia include bird watching (nearly 600 species), music, and dancing. In addition to the birdlife, you will find hippos in River Gambia National Park, baboons, monkeys (colobus, patas, callithrix, and vervets), a variety of small antelopes, wart hogs, crocodiles, and more. Bottle nose dolphins frequent the area around the mouth of the river, and often will accompany small boats on cruises up the river.