Royal Albert Market
To experience the local side of The Gambia, there's no better place than the hustle & bustle of the Royal Albert Market. The pathways are lined with traders selling an array of local and imported goods. A very photogenic spot, largely down to the brightly coloured female dresses.
Kachikally Crocodile Pool
This crocodile pool is located in Bakau and is one of three sacred pools used for fertility rituals. There's approx 80 crocodiles roaming freely around the land and water with no barriers in place. You can get as close as you like for photos and even touch them if you so wish. The pool workers will regularly feed the crocodiles, which is quite the experience (although not a pleasant watch for vegetarians). The only disappointment is that there was no educational value to the tour, so the overall experience can definitely be improved.
Lamin Lodge Oyster Farm
Lamin Lodge is a small oyster farm nestled in the mangroves. A nice place to stop at the coffee shop on the water that's made entirely of mangrove wood. The workers will explain to you how the oyster trade helps the local community with job opportunities and much needed income. There's plenty of wild monkeys around the site, as well as some impressive artwork on wooden fence panels and tree murals.
Mangroves Boat Ride
The mangroves are located next to the oyster farm, so it's logical to combine the two. You can hop onto a wooden boat (non-motorized) and will pass through the mangroves. It's a peaceful 45 minutes to relax and perfect for bird-watchers.
There's a selection of beaches to satisfy the sun worshippers, although in my opinion, the standard is average. Seen as a nice place to chill, but does come with its drawbacks of being hassled by local sellers. Kotu Beach was the best I visited and a great spot to enjoy sunset.
Market Bazaar Fishing
As a keen photographer, the Bazaar Fishing Market in Tanji was one of my fave spots during my visit of The Gambia. You're seeing the fishing trade in full flow from start to finish. If you're there early, you'll see the fishermen reel in the morning catch on the adjoining beach, then late in the afternoon you'll see the fish drying, prior to being packaged and shipped off. There's large freezer units being powered by a generator which keep the fish cold enough to be sold on the local market throughout the day.
Visit a Local Village
Despite the tourism boom in recent years, there's many areas of The Gambia that are still facing daily hardship struggles. This is the daily grind in many local villages that are set back from the trail of hotels and guest houses. I chose to visit the village of Tanji where I spent a couple of hours integrating with the local community. I was aware of these villages beforehand, so had bought a number of gifts to put a smile on the children's faces. Not a typical tourist activity, but one I'd recommend for those wanting to give something back.
I chose to stay at Bakotu Hotel located in Serrekunda, and overall I was happy with the choice. When visiting smaller countries, I try to stay in locally run hotels where possible, instead of the large chains. The plus points were the clean equipped rooms, a spacious pool area, and a price point of $50 a night. The downside was that the WiFi only functioned in the lobby area, which is always a frustration. Kotu Beach is less than a 5 minute walk from the hotel.
Firstly, I wasn't overly impressed with any of the food options during my stay, but Rainbow Beach Bar was one of the more enjoyable ones. Located on the beach in Sanyang, offering a relaxed vibe, cold beer, and freshly cooked fish. The prices are very affordable and the atmosphere is relaxed, although there are still droves of local sellers parading through all of the restaurants.
You definitely don't need to hire a local guide to help you explore The Gambia. It's a very compact country where taxis and tuk-tuks are readily available throughout. However, if you do want to remove the hassle of constant bartering every time you step into a taxi, you can book some great affordable day excursions with Lam's Tours, who I would highly recommend.