Gambia travel guide

The Gambia may be mainland Africa's smallest nation, but it punches way above its weight in terms of attractions. With its glorious long sandy beaches, bustling architecturally-stunning towns and wealth of wildlife, it's perhaps the most striking of all West African countries. What's more, its people are kind and welcoming, giving The Gambia the reputation of being the 'The Smiling Coast'.

Virtually enveloped by its much larger neighbour Senegal, The Gambia's narrow landmass still retains its own clear identity, despite the colonial carve up of Africa. Although this accessible Anglophone country's more obvious draw is perhaps the joy of winter sun at good-value rates, its rich history and fascinating mix of cultures make it hard to pigeonhole. If you escape the sun loungers, you will uncover another side of the country, rich in eco-tourism opportunities, wilderness, wildlife and bird watching.

Inextricably linked to the Gambia River, one of Africa's great waterways, The Gambia comprises a varied landscape, featuring lush tropical forests, swamps, marshes and large areas of wooded savannah. Alongside this are Gambia's parks, reserves and riverbanks including Kiang West National Park and River Gambia National Park, where you’ll see all kinds of wildlife, including monkeys, crocodiles, a small population of hippos and well over 500 bird species.

Of course, one of the main attractions is the coast. There are only 80 kilometres of shoreline, but the beaches are some of the most stunning in the region. Relatively uncrowded and shaded by multitudes of swaying palm trees, you'll be forgiven for thinking you've stumbled on paradise. Tanji and Bakau are both working beaches, featuring arrays of colourful pirogues and little fishing boats, perfect for experiencing traditional activities. For awe-inspiring sunsets, pick a spot on Batokunku Beach and stretch out on the unspoilt sand.

Visitors keen to experience West African music and rural culture may head off the beaten track and up-country to simple, traditional villages. All year round you'll find vibrant festivals, events full of traditional drumming, energetic dancing as well as customary wrestling matches. But for many, it is The Gambia's idyllic cocktail of sunny days, warm welcomes and relaxing Atlantic beach resorts that lures them time and again to this little slice of African heaven.