interesting facts about The Gambia

7 Interesting Facts About The Gambia

The smallest country in continental Africa, The Gambia stretches across 11,300 sq. km of land. It’s best known for its 50-miles of gold sandy coastline, but there’s more to this west African country than sand, sea and surf. Did you know, for instance, that it’s nicknamed ‘the smiling coast of Africa’ due to its kind-hearted people? Here are a few more interesting facts about The Gambia you might not have heard before.

Interesting Facts About The Gambia

1. It has an unusual shape

The Gambia sits on a long and narrow strip of land, entirely surrounded by Senegal. At its narrowed point, the country is just 15 miles (25 km) wide, while at its widest it’s only 30 miles (50 km). The country stretches for close to 300 miles (480 km) from the Atlantic Coast to Senegal.

interesting facts about Gambia

2. It’s named after an important river

The Gambia is named after one of West Africa’s most important rivers – the River Gambia. It stretches 700 miles from north-western Guinea through the centre of The Gambia to the Atlantic Ocean. The river and river banks is home to some of the country’s most spectacular wildlife, including aardvarks, hyena, crocodiles, chameleons and bottle nose dolphins.

interesting facts about The Gambia

3. There are over 600 species of bird in The Gambia

The Gambia is a bird-watchers paradise. It’s home to 540 species, including hawks, hornbills and storks. The country is also on the line of flight of two double migrations in October, March and June.

Interesting Facts About The Gambia

4. You can visit a sacred crocodile pool in The Gambia

At the Kachikally Crocodile Pool, there are over 100 crocodiles of varying shapes, sizes and breeds. The small museum by the lakeside provides fascinating insights into the history of the site.

The ancient freshwater pool, located in Bakau, is also a popular pilgrimage site for women who wish to become pregnant. According to local lore, the fertility spirit – Kachikally – visited the lake around 500 years ago disguised as an old woman who pretended her daughter was drowning. She rewarded the family who helped her by entrusting the pool to their care and asking them to populate it with wildlife. The family released a pair of crocodiles into the pool to act as intermediaries with the spirit Kachikally – and the pool is now brimming with wildlife.

5. The Gambia played a major role in the Slave Trade

A small island – Kunte Kinte Island, formerly known as James Island – sits just off the coast of Gambia. It played a major role in the transatlantic slave trade as an important waypoint where hundreds of thousands of captives were transported downriver between the 16th and early 19th centuries. It was also a key player in the conflicts between Spain, France, Germany and England, which all fought for control over the strategic trading position. The island became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.

You might recognise it from Alex Hayley’s best-selling novel ‘Root’s, which was adopted for TV too. It’s now one of The Gambia’s most-visited attractions, with regular boat trip excursions travelling upstream every day.

interesting facts about The Gambia

6. A celebrity chimpanzee grew up in The Gambia

In the 1960s, American psychotherapists raised a chimpanzee called Lucy in Oklahoma They taught her to dress, use sign language and serve tea. She was almost as famous as the Beatles and even appeared in Life Magazine. But when she reached puberty, they took her to The Gambia where she spent the last decade of her life. Janis Carter, a student of the American pair, ended up living in the rainforest with her for eight years in a bit to try and encourage her to mix with other chimpanzees. She died in 1989.

Janis Carter still runs the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project in the Gambia on Baboon Island. Humans aren’t allowed to step onto the island but there are ‘chimp-viewing’ experiences available from boat tours.

interesting facts about The Gambia

7. For decades, Gambians had an unusual way of voting

For decades, instead of using ballot papers, Gambia’s cast votes with marbles. The system began in the early 1960s in order to address high levels of illiteracy in the country. The December 2021 elections employed the same system. Instead of ballot boxes, authorities place metal cylinders on a table inside the voting booth painted in the party colours with a photo of the candidate. Each voter drops a marble into the container representing their chosen candidate. When it comes to counting, authorities empty the marbles onto a square tray and count the number on the spot. It takes a long time but it’s a fair system.

Allie D'Almo

Allie is a passionate traveller with a hearty interest in great food and stories. She likes to travel slowly, particularly to underrated and underloved places. She’s lived in Italy and is now based in London, where she spends most of her time either plotting her next trip or writing about her last one.

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