The Gambia lies at 15° longitude at a point midway between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer, on the western coast of tropical Africa. It is surrounded on its northern, eastern and southern borders by the French-speaking, and much larger, country of Senegal. To the west of The Gambia lies the Atlantic Ocean. From north to south, The Gambia extends for a maximum of 48km, though the coastline with its bays and promontories is 80km in length. Moving inland from west to east, the country roughly follows the valley of the River Gambia inland for 480km. The country is mostly flat, with a maximum elevation of only 50m above sea level in a few places. With a total land area of only 11,300km2 The Gambia is the smallest country in continental Africa.
The Gambia has a warm climate that is characterised by a long dry season from mid-October to early June, followed by a short rainy season from mid-June to early October. July and September are the hottest months of the year with average daytime maximum temperatures of around 30°C. During this period there are frequent rainstorms that cool everything down for a while. From December to mid-February the average daytime temperature falls to around 24°C. After February the days get steadily hotter until the rains come in June. By the coast temperatures are generally slightly lower due to cooling offshore winds. Up-country the days are generally hotter and the nights cooler. Average rainfall per year is around 1020mm, but in the west of the country this can be much higher – up to 1700mm – while in the drier east it can be as low as 800mm. Over the past 40 years there has been a slight warming in the average temperatures experienced in The Gambia and a decrease in rainfall, probably due to global climate change.
In 1983 the population of The Gambia was 687,817, but this had grown by almost 51% to 1,038,175 in 1993, giving an annual growth rate of 4.2%. In the last 2013 census it is 1.7 million. The Gambia is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa.
Nearly 75% of the rural population is employed in agriculture, but this sector contributes only 20% to the country’s GDP. Crops are mainly grown for food and cash. The Gambia has a number of ethnic groups – Mandinka, Wolof, Serer, Fula, Serahuli, Tukulor, Manjango and Jola. The population is predominantly Muslim, with Christians making up the rest as well as small numbers of traditional animists.
Tourism in The Gambia started formally in 1965 when a Swedish tour operator, Vingressor, started to bring groups of Swedish tourists attracted by the country’s people, winter climate and beaches.. Today it is known to be a well-established destination mainly sold by tour operators for the same demand from European holiday makers. According to the 2010 Gambia Tourism Authority (now Gambia Tourism Board) figures international arrivals in 2009 was 124,621 and it fell to 91,099 in 2012. The four major source markets are UK, Benelux countries, Scandinavia and Germany. The country has 7000 beds and 3000 rooms with very low occupancy from April to October. (Eco-tourism strategy of the Gambia, October 2002).
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of friendly local people is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.