It may be small, but The Gambia is crammed full of culture, history and natural beauty. Here are 10 interesting facts about The Gambia that you may not have known...
1. It's the smallest country in mainland Africa, making it even smaller than Yorkshire!
The Gambia is a long strip of land that follows the course of the River Gambia, and is situated on Africa's west coast, bordered on either side by Senegal.
It's incredibly narrow, measuring less than 30 miles wide at its widest! Although small, the country is densely populated with approximately 2.28 million people.
2. Agriculture is a major source of income
The Gambia's economy relies heavily on tourism, but the second biggest cash crop is groundnuts.
Around 80% of the population are employed in this sector, which is sensitive to adverse climatic conditions and still operates largely at a subsistence farming rather than commercial enterprise level.
3. The Gambia is predominantly a Muslim country
The country is also very tolerant of different religions, with a small number of Christians residing there too.
The festival of Ramadan is celebrated: a period of fasting occurring for one month every year.
This is followed six weeks later by Tobaski, a family celebration to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son, involving the purchase and slaughter of a ram for sharing with family, friends and the poor.
4. The Gambia is home to nine different tribes
The largest of these tribes is the Mandinka, along with the Fula and Wolof, all of whom live together harmoniously.
This does make learning any of the local language a bit trickier as there are several variations. Although as a former British colony, English is widely spoken.
5. There's close to 600 species of bird to look out for
The country is undoubtedly a birdwatcher’s paradise with 540 species to be discovered in the forests and by its banks.
As you venture further inland, you'll also see crocodiles and hippos residing in the river, not to mention Green Vervet and Red Colobus monkeys in several hotel gardens - so don't forget your camera!
6. During elections, Gambians vote using marbles
In a private booth, voters are presented with holes in the ground marked with each candidate. They then simply drop their marble into the hole they choose.
7. There is a sacred crocodile pool in Bakau
The Kachikally crocodile pool is home to around 100 crocodiles of varying shapes and sizes. They're all well looked after (and more importantly, well fed!) so pose no danger to the tourists who pass through on a daily basis. Whilst you're here though, do make sure to visit the small museum on the site as it provides much broader description of how and why the area came to be sanctified. It is still thought that the waters can bestow fertility and healing powers...The museum also has a number of different mystical artifacts relating to the local tribes and is a fascinating place to spend an hour.
8. It's named after the River Gambia, one of West Africa's major rivers
The river stretches 700 miles from north-western Guinea all the way to Banjul in The Gambia, before eventually spilling into the Atlantic Ocean.
The River Gambia runs directly through the middle of The Gambia, and it's along its mangrove-lined tributaries that you can find much of the country's wildlife.
9. The Gambia once sat at the centre of the slave trade
Kunte Kinte Island, formerly known as James Island, was once a major waypoint of the transatlantic slave trade, becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. American author, Alex Haley, highlighted the slave trade from this area in his best-selling book "Roots", also adapted for a TV mini series, as he traced his roots back to the banks of the River Gambia.
Today, you can travel upriver on an excursion to some of the landmarks, including the village where Haley's great, great grandfather, Kunte Kinteh, is said to have been born, and the museum of Slavery. The museum brings the past to the present by educating visitors about the history of transatlantic slavery in this region of West African. The artefacts on show include chain neck collars, foot cuffs and yokes, and the displays focus on the capture and subsequent horrifying journey across the Atlantic, known as the Middle Passage.
10. The Gambia has 50 miles of coastline
For such a tiny country, The Gambia has an impressive stretch of coastline.
It's these uncrowded sandy beaches and year-round sunshine that make The Gambia so popular with British holidaymakers in search of a sun-kissed beach holiday.
For more detail, check out our guide to The Gambia's best beaches.
Cape Point Beach
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