Two of the geographical features of the Gambia are that the landscape is strongly shaped by the river of the same name, and that it is almost completely enclosed by the many times larger Senegal, because only a small stretch of coast on the Atlantic Ocean is the exception, where the mouth of the Gambia is located. Another feature of the country is that it is the smallest state territory in Africa, because the size is just half the area of Hesse. Nevertheless, there is a lot to see in this small African state – especially in nature, where you will primarily encounter wet savannah, but which also includes mangroves and which are generally very contrasting. Nature lovers can expect a great diversity of species in the flora with over 500 plant species, but also a diverse fauna that counts more than 540 species of birds, crocodiles, hippos, monkeys, antelopes and dolphins at the river mouth as well. The Abuko and Kiang West National Park or the Baboon Islang National Park are ideal for forays into nature. Nature in the form of a beach can also be enjoyed in Gambia: south of the capital Banjul, where some recommended beaches are located. However, you should also get to know its cultural side when traveling to Gambia. On the one hand, the country has a great ethnic diversity, on the other hand it harbors a number of relics from the colonial past – including magnificent buildings from the 19th century, which Banjul, but also Georgetown or Basse Santa Su offer you. Whoever goes upstream, towards Wassu, can marvel at stone circles that were built around 1,200 years ago. And for additional insights into the country’s culture and history, the country’s national museum is ideal.
Wassu stone circles
African riddle – the stone circles of Wassu
The black continent is full of secrets, and one of the great puzzles of Africa is the Wassu stone circles. After all, scientists have clarified the material and the age of these irregularly erected cylindrical stones. They are around 1500 years old, consist of laterite, which is common in Africa, and undoubtedly had a certain cultural significance in the lives of the people in Gambia. Since July 2006 the stone circles of Wassu are part of the world cultural heritage of UNESCO.
Sun worship or cult of the dead?
The reddish and relatively soft Leterite stone apparently comes from a quarry not far from Wassu in the Gambia hinterland. The stones were set up in an inexplicable sequence – all in all they are in Wassu, a small town northwest of Janjanbureh, 24. Scientists are still in the dark when deciphering these places of worship in Africa. It has not yet been proven whether this is evidence of sun worship. The stones protruding 1.30 meters from the ground could rather be the remains of a cult of the dead or the graves of former rulers. But even that is questioned by historians. The Wassu Stone Circles Museum provides interesting information about the mysterious finds and the cult.
A thousand megaliths on the banks of the Gambia
Some specimens of the Wassu stone circles have weathered or fallen over over the centuries. More recently, the region has established a tradition of placing small stones on the stone blocks after visiting the historic site. According to reports, they are supposed to bring good luck. After all, the circles are so interesting for the Gambia that they found their expression on a fifty note of the national currency. There are similar stone circles in the Gambian Kerbatch as well as in various regions in neighboring Senegal. In total, around a thousand megaliths have been counted on the banks of the Gambia River. The prehistoric finds weighing up to ten tons are the most important between the Sahara and the Horn of Africa.
The small town of Janjanbureh is located on Janjanbureh Island and has about 4000 inhabitants. The founding year of Georgetown, as the small town was formerly called, was in the year 1823. The place, which is located in the West African state of Gambia, quickly became the second most important trading center after Bathurst (today’s name Banjul). Only with the construction of the road and the associated shift of trade routes from the river to the road did the place lose its importance again. There are still some remains of the walls of the colonial buildings on the bank.
Janjanbureh’s slave house
In Janjanbureh you can still see the remains of a very dark African history: on the island in the Gambia River there is a slave house. Low, small and dark rooms and the chaining to the wall should make the slaves docile here. Since, of course, mainly strong men were chosen as workers, the slave traders were very afraid that they might succeed in attacking their tormentors. That is why you regularly and deliberately weakened the slaves mentally and physically.
On the other side of the river Gambia lies the Janjanbureh Camp, a beautiful lodge in the middle of palm trees and baobabs. Here tourists can enjoy their vacation in the midst of the original nature of the Gambia. Accommodation at Janjanbureh Camp is in typical, rustic Rundalows. These simple but cozy round huts have a brick bed with mosquito net, shower, toilet, candles and romantic kerosene lamps. In the camp there is also an open restaurant on the riverside, in the middle of the lush nature and surrounded by monkeys and colorful bird life. There is a lot to discover in and around the city of Janjanbureh. The place is the ideal starting point for exploring the Upper River Provinces and visiting the mysterious stone circles of Wassu.
The big city of Banjul has about 30,000 inhabitants and is the capital of the state of Gambia in West Africa. Besides Serrekunda, it is the most popular city in the Gambia for tourists. The Gambia’s capital, Banjul, is divided into three administrative areas, Portuguese Town, Half Die and Soldier Town, and can be easily explored by taxi or bus. The city has an extensive seaport, mainly petroleum products and peanuts are shipped here.
There is a lot to experience and see in the Gambia’s capital, Banjul: it starts with the triumphal arch “Arch 22”, which is the city’s landmark and is intended to commemorate the military coup in 1994. From here you have a wonderful view over the whole city. The huge Jammeh Mosque, which can hold around 6,000 worshipers, is also worth seeing for visitors to the area. There are also other smaller mosques and a Catholic church in the city. Banjul is lined with colonial-style buildings that now house museums, ministries and other facilities. One of these buildings also houses the interesting Gambian National Museum, which shows handicrafts, archaeological finds and cultural objects as well as exhibitions on colonial history and the recent history of the Gambia.
An important event and a magnet for visitors to Banjul is the Plymouth-Banjul Challenge, the annual car race. Participants in the race have to get by on a small amount of money en route and use a vehicle that does not exceed 100 pounds sterling. In memory of the Paris-Dakar Rally, the most important long-distance and desert rally in the world, the cars from Plymouth in southern England are expected to reach the north-west coast of Africa in just under twenty days. When the vehicles arrive, they are donated or sold on site.