Gambia's sex-tourism capital
Duration: At least two weeks
Kololi is only a 20-minute ride from Banjul’s airport, and as most flights arrive at night, many visitors opt for the convenience of the mid-sized town. As a result, you won’t only find a good selection of accommodations but tons of restaurants, bars, and clubs. Kololi also has a solid expat community, and you will likely meet other travelers, even during the off-season. Even though it’s conveniently located and offers lots of comfort for visitors, we highly recommend backpackers NOT to start their trip in Kololi unless they plan to spend a longer time and volunteer. Even after a few days, we could realize how the constant attempts of bumpsters would impact us and change our behavior. We became very weary and closed up, basically mistrusting almost everyone after only some days in town. It became tough to shake off our weariness even as we continued traveling. So, if you are planning on traveling to the Gambia, do yourself and the locals a favor and start your journey elsewhere to keep your mind and heart open towards the undoubtedly very friendly and genuine Gambians.
Heads up, our journey through the Gambia turned out to be quite nerve-wracking at times. But, looking back, we might have been more open and less aggravated if we hadn’t started our trip in Kololi. Why? Because there you’ll see tourism at its worst. A long tradition of sex tourism, all-inclusive tourism, and volunteerism have shaped the locals’ perceptions and expectations of foreigners. Due to the irresponsible tourism practices of mostly older women seeking companionship, “bumpsters,” young local men, have to build a career around it. As soon as you head outside the door, they will approach you trying to engage you in a conversation. Sadly, those conversations are never honest, and you’ll quickly realize that there are ulterior motives.
Volunteer in the Gambia
Kololi is undoubtedly the party and all-inclusive hub, but it’s also home to a solid Dutch ex-pat community. We were lucky to stumble into Busy Bee’s Apartment and met Claudette, one of the most impressive females we have met around the world. Through her, we were not only able to look a bit deeper and understand Gambian culture somewhat better, but we also realized that getting involved, working, and staying longer may be the only way to come to love Kololi. We were, and we maintain to be, very critical towards volunteer projects but found that, especially in the Gambia, many exciting social businesses are springing up. Busy Bee apartments are not the typical place to stay for short-term visitors, so we could meet volunteers from across the world and listen to their stories and experiences.
Enjoy the beach life
The miles-long, fine sandy beach, with its offer of beach bars, restaurants, and fruit bars, entices visitors to spend a fun day by the beach. Although we were traveling in shoulder season and were surprised by how uncrowded the beaches were, the beach was bursting with life only some weeks later. During the week, locals are not allowed to enter the beach area, a sad and weak effort to keep bumpsters at bay. We know this practice is not unusual, but it made us feel inadequate and somewhat guilty. Especially if you sit down at some of the beach bars and find yourself surrounded by white, old ladies with young Gambians. The sight of this spectacle never failed to make us either mad, sad or left us without words.
If you are not staying directly by the beach, you’ll find two main “entrances” to the beach. One entrance is by Poco Loco, a lot busier, and one by Solomon’s bar. We found that Fridays are the most relaxed days by the beach.
Party the night away in Senegambia
Senegambia is the most notorious place to party in all of Gambia. A strip lined with restaurants and bars blasting African tunes makes up the entertainment center. It’s nothing fancy and mostly very casual. Be aware that, of course, there is a lot of prostitution, too.
Get ready to travel the Gambia
How to get to Kololi
If you arrive at night, take a taxi. It shouldn’t cost more than $14. If you plan on traveling to the coastal area, you can take one of the frequent minibusses. You can reach bigger international buses from “Westfield,” about 20-30 mins from Kololi.
Our recommendation – Whatsapp Nesta: +220 7238475 – he was our driver and was probably THE nicest and most honest person we met in The Gambia.
Best time to visit the Gambia
The best time to travel to The Gambia is during the dry season, which runs from November to June. This is when the weather is most pleasant, and there is less risk of contracting malaria.
Sex-tourism in the Gambia
We admit it: we were shocked and often left speechless. While we travel the world, we have never become a witness or have been so heavily impacted by it. It almost seems like the long tradition of sex visitors has shaped the perception of what a white female tourist came for. It’s sad and frustrating for anyone who comes to the Gambia to get to know the country and its people.
Safety in the Gambia:
We have always felt very safe and didn’t experience any issues. The most significant “danger” are “bumpsters” annoying you or following around.
What are bumpsters?
Young Gambians, mainly males who aim to get into a relationship with you to get financial benefits, are waiting everywhere. You can’t avoid them as you walk the streets toward the beach. Sadly, there are only two options: you either don’t respond, or you will have to become very firm at some point. It made us feel horrible to be so distant and uncomfortable being so rude. Don’t ever give away your phone number. You will get non-stop texts and calls.
Bring your Lifestraw Go! The Gambia’s tap water is not safe to drink. The water does not go through the same purification process as in the EU, and diarrhea can occur in people who have not yet built up immunity to bacteria or other impurities in the water.
Biggest challenge for the responsible traveler
Trash: Plastic pollution is incredible! Bring collapsable food containers, cutlery, and your Lifestraw Pro!
Sex tourism: Sex tourism is a force in the Gambia and is incredibly challenging to witness.
Sunscreen: Protect The Gambia’s waters and wear reef-safe sunscreen.
Packing List the Gambia
When packing for a trip to The Gambia, remember that the weather is hot and humid year-round. However, the Gambia is also a predominantly Muslim country, so it’s essential to dress accordingly when away from beaches.
Check out our packing list come prepared!
Eco-friendly stays in the Gambia
Sadly, the Gambia is not a destination which attracts too many concious travlers making it even more crucial to make good choices when traveling the country. Despite the Gambia’s issues with sex tourism, there are a growing number of sustainable accommodation options available. From eco-lodges to solar-powered hotels, there are plenty of ways to enjoy your holiday while also helping to protect the environment. Here are our top picks for sustainable accommodation in The Gambia.
Places to visit in the Gambia
The smiling coast of Africa
Marrakesh mesmerized me from the second we left the cab. Surrounded by “guides” eager to lead us to our Riad. Never would we have found our Riad ourselves, even though the taxi left us only about 300 m from the entrance. The unimposing door was hiding the beautifully decorated and colorful Riad. We were confronted with the incredible detail of Moroccan style. We stood there with our mouths open. Deeply impressed and taken aback by so many impressions, so much beauty.
Are you traveling to Morocco and wondering what you should bring? Check out our packing list! No worries, we have tested and extended it with the things we wish we would have brought!
After visiting the blue medina of Chefchaouen, we were off for a more authentic experience. Meknès is not as often visited as its glamorous neighbor Fez. We really can’t understand why. To us, Meknès was a fascinating city to visit. It’s not as busy or big as its famous neighbor Meknes, but that only adds to its charm.