Banjul – located on an island where the Gambia River meets the Atlantic Ocean – is the small capital of the Gambia. Founded in 1816, the city now has a population of little less than 45,000.
We decided to visit Banjul on the first day of our trip to the Gambia. The trip to the capital was arranged by our tour operator, Ving, and it included a visit to a supermarket, sightseeing, exploring a local market, and a lunch at the beach. All in all we spent approximately 4-5 hours in the Gambian capital. The pros of going on an arranged tour is that you will be given quite a bit of information about the place. Life is quite comfortable and getting around is easy. However, it is my suspicion that the information would have been better if it would have been provided by a local instead. The reason I’m saying this is that a lot of what the Swedish tour operator told us vaguely reminded me of the articles on Wikipedia. As it turned out later, it would probably have been cheaper to hire a local taxi for the sightseeing as well.
Stop #1: the National Museum of the Gambia
Our first stop in Banjul was the National Museum of the Gambia. The museum is a small, but charming old colonial building. It combines art, culture and history, and it gives a good overview of the fascinating history and culture of the Gambia. We strolled around on our own, and sometimes I felt that there was not enough written information to give a clear meaning to all the objects at display.
Once we were done with our twenty minutes in the museum (I could have stayed for a little longer), we had the chance to take a look at local art that was being sold at some stands outside the building. We were also surrounded by local schoolchildren, who wanted to have their picture taken with us.
Fancy reading a little bit more about the museum? Then click here >>
Stop #2: Albert Market in Banjul
The Albert Market is a bustling meeting place near the river in Banjul. In reality it consists of three different markets; retail/wholesale, produce, and craft. When entering the market, the first thing that will hit you is the smell. Smell of fish. After that you will notice all the crowds and the noise. The market seems a labyrinth of alleys and stalls, so one must pay attention in order to keep track of the rest of the group. People will try their best to grab your attention and try to sell you all kinds of stuff you didn’t even know existed. You are expected to bargain – don’t worry if you don’t know how to do it, some kind soul will teach you how to do it. There is no need to feel shy either, you will be cured in no time.
I’m personally not a big fan of crowds, so the visit to the lively Albert Market was a slightly frustrating experience. We did, however, find some really beautiful souvenirs in the stalls. The vendors were used to blonde and red-faced Scandi-people, some of them even spoke Swedish. One of the more common phrases that reached us was “titta är gratis” (it’s free to look). I really don’t know what that phrase says about Swedish people!
Stop #3: Lunch
After the excitement at the market, it was time for lunch at the beach…
The tour included lunch at a beach bar/restaurant called Nefertiti. We were served a typically Gambian lunch with Chicken Yassa, rice, salad, and some other things. The food was delicious, the company was nice, the view was amazing and there was hardly anyone on the beach.
Stop #4: Arch 22 in Banjul
There are very few tall buildings in Banjul. Arch 22 – standing at 35 metres – is one of the tallest constructions in the Gambia. It was built in 1996 to commemorate the coup d’etat of 22 July 1994. When arriving at the monument, we were greeted by a crowd of young children who were asking for money and gifts. They were eventually chased away by a nice lady with a broom (I kid you not)(she was nice and she had a broom). The architecture of the monument is interesting, it was designed by a Senegalese architect called Pierre Goudiaby, but during the visit I was especially drawn to the textile museum on the top floor. There was an exhibition discussing the relationship between amulets and Islam in Africa. I greatly appreciated this opportunity to educate myself, as this was a topic that I had never even thought about before. In my opinion it’s often more interesting to bump into small exhibitions in random places than visiting a museum – you never know what you will learn!
However, the most spectacular thing about Arch 22 is the amazing view it offers of Banjul and its surroundings. The sight of the city, the sea, and the mangrove forest was well worth the climb in the dark (they were fixing the electricity while we were climbing down the stairs).
Once you’ve seen everything there is to see in Banjul (don’t forget to visit the passenger port!), we recommend you to try a local soft drink called Cocktail des Fruits, also known as fruit cocktail. It’s a bit like Fanta, but better!